Attending a four-year liberal arts college has become a common option
for high school graduates. A liberal arts college education gives students
the opportunity to major in a specific subject while studying a broad range
A liberal arts education isn't typically associated with
a specific career path. Instead graduates have greater flexibility to explore
their interests in the job market. College graduates who majored in English,
for instance, could teach the subject, or use the skills acquired to work
in publishing, government, marketing, business, research or entertainment.
Like other liberal arts degrees, English is well-suited to careers that do
not require a particular major, but rather a diverse set of skills and achievements.
However, there are other options available to students who have specific
career goals and aren't interested in a four-year college for personal or
financial reasons. One option is vocational school, also known as career college,
technical school or trade school.
Vocational courses provide students
with opportunities to acquire formal practical preparation for semi-skilled,
skilled, technical or professional careers in fields like fashion design,
electronics, cooking or automotive technology. Most technical and vocational
courses are offered by community colleges, though certain states have their
own technology institutes with accreditation equivalent to that of other state
"There are many positive reasons for attending a vocational
school," says Cheryl Beese, dean of academics at Rockford Business College
in Illinois. "A student is more likely to receive a personalized education,
meaning that the student is viewed more as an individual rather than an enrollment
identification number. The student will learn technical skills geared towards
a career field, and all classes in their program of study relate to their
There are a number of inquiries that you should make
before choosing a vocational school. A government publication entitled Career
Colleges and Technical Schools: Questions to Ask Before Enrolling, suggests
students ask the following questions:
- What kind of career and technical training do you want?
- Which schools offer the training or program you need?
- What preparation do you need for a particular job?
- Will employers accept the training as preparation for employment?
- Is the school you are considering accredited and licensed?
- What are the requirements for admission?
- Will your coursework transfer to another school?
- Is crime at the school a problem?
- Should you visit the school?
- How much will you pay for the program or training?
- Is financial assistance or student aid available?
- Will you have to sign an enrollment contract?
- What is the school's refund policy?
- Will your program be delivered by distance education?
- Does the school offer job placement assistance?
- How can you avoid diploma mills and unaccredited colleges?
- Have students filed complaints against the school?
Finding the school that matches your goals and interests is probably
the easiest part of your search. Career exploration websites and software
can help match occupations to programs, and programs to schools. If a vocational
school exists in your area, you can phone or visit the school to get basic
information, and perhaps schedule an appointment with an admissions officer
to discuss what the school has to offer.
There are several specific
factors to consider when making your final school selection, before signing
up or handing over any money. It's important to gather this information carefully.
According to an article from the Federal Trade Commission entitled Facts for
Consumers: Choosing a Career or Vocational School, here are some of the steps
students should take:
- "Compare programs. Study the information from various schools to learn
what is required to graduate. Ask what you'll get when you graduate -- a certificate
in your chosen field or eligibility for a clinical or other externship. Are
licensing credits you earn at the school transferable? If you decide to pursue
additional training and education, find out whether two- or four-year colleges
accept credits from any vocational or correspondence school you're considering.
If reputable schools and colleges say they don't, it may be a sign that the
vocational school is not well regarded.
- "Investigate training alternatives, like community colleges. The tuition
may be less than at private schools. Also, some businesses offer education
programs through apprenticeships or on-the-job training."
Other important factors to consider include the instructors' qualifications,
whether the school assists graduates in finding employment, and the percentage
of graduates who find employment in their chosen fields of study.
Walker, dean of the Raleigh-Durham North Carolina Campus of DeVry University,
says, "The biggest advantage we have is the experience of our instructors
who are working in the fields in which they teach. Accounting instructors
are accountants working in their field, and computer systems instructors are
really working in their field. Nationwide, 92 percent of our graduates are
placed in their field of study."
Many vocational/career colleges are
highly regarded in the educational community. These include DeVry University,
the University of Phoenix, Kaplan College and ITT Technical Institute. Schools
like these are on a comparable footing with other state schools when it comes
Accreditation means that a school has been officially
accepted in meeting the criteria set forth by an accrediting agency or association
recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. If a school is not accredited,
any degree or certificate issued by that school may not be considered acceptable
proof of legitimate academic accomplishment.
Be aware that there are
some vocational/career colleges that are regarded as diploma and certificate
mills. Such schools are not accredited, and offer diplomas in exchange for
money, but without providing adequate training. If the coursework is delivered
online, the instructors may lack qualifications to teach the course. In some
cases, an actual school does not even exist.
Do the necessary research
to verify the credentials of your school before signing any contracts or paperwork.
Check with the U.S. Department of Education to see if your chosen school meets
their educational standards and is accredited by a sanctioned agency. If you
secured a personal loan to pay for courses at a diploma mill, you will still
be required to pay the lending institution, even if your diploma turns out
to be worthless.
How will you finance your career education at an
accredited school? Financial considerations include not only tuition, but
also the cost of books, lab fees, living costs and other miscellaneous expenses.
Some vocational schools provide financial assistance. Some offer
scholarships and grants to offset costs. Find out if the school offers payment
plans or loans. You will want to carefully read any documentation regarding
repayment and consequences of defaulting on loans or payment plans. You should
find out whether your chosen school meets the requirements that allow you
to apply for U.S. Department of Education student aid programs, which may
include grants and low-interest loans.
education can be a positive and profitable experience that is well worth the
time and effort it takes. Besides gaining task-specific skills, students experience
teamwork and gain exposure to a variety of cultures. Dawnna Williams, personnel
officer at the public library in Rockford, Ill. and graduate of DeVry University,
says, "The online environment was especially beneficial, since it brought
students together from all over the world. Group projects were required in
many of my classes, so my classmates and I were challenged with working together
in a virtual setting."
If occupations like automotive
technician, paralegal, hair stylist, truck driver, welder, medical assistant,
electronics technician or licensed practical nurse interest you, consider
exploring the vocational school option. It may be a good fit for you and your