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Tips For Choosing A College That’s Right For You

Posted by attorney Michele Casey

Choosing a college that’s right for you can be a difficult decision. You are going to invest time and money for an education and you expect that education to pay off in employment, career enhancement and/or a career change. As a consumer, you should thoroughly investigate your options.

There are several types of colleges you can choose from: community colleges and state schools; private non-profit institutions; and private for-profit/proprietary colleges. Any of these schools may be the right choice for you. To make sure you get the best value for your time and money, consider asking the following questions to help you make an informed decision.

Program Quality:

What type of program does the school offer and what kind of degree will you have once you successfully complete the program?

· Is the program entirely onsite at the educational institution? Is it online? Is it a blended program (mix of onsite and online)?

· Does the program include practical “hands-on" instruction (if applicable)?

· Does the program include a "real-world" internship (sometimes also referred to as an externship)?

· If there is an internship, is it a paid internship?

· What are the qualifications of the instructors?

· What credential do students receive upon completion of the program? Is it a certificate, diploma, degree, or traditional degree such as an Associate's Degree or Bachelor's Degree?

· What is the program’s completion rate (how many students who start the program actually complete it)?

· What is the success rate on any licensing or certification exams that the program may be preparing students for?

Enrollment Agreements:

There is no need to be in any hurry to sign an agreement. If you are not completely satisfied, delay making a decision. If the school is legitimate, it should be fine for you to wait a week before signing an agreement. Before you sign anything, ask yourself the following questions:

· Is the representative able to give evidence supporting any claims made about job opportunities, placement rates, and salaries or wages to be earned?

· Is the representative giving you time to think about your options or is she/he pressuring you to sign quickly?

· Have you read the enrollment agreement carefully, including the fine print, asked questions about points not understood, and taken time to reflect on the obligations listed on the contract?

· Does the enrollment agreement clearly state the cost of the program, method of payment, provisions for cancellation, and the school's refund policy?

· Before signing, have you thoroughly investigated the school and its course of instruction?

Financial Aid:

What does the program cost? Make sure to get all costs - tuition, books, lab fees, and any other fees.

· Is the cost of the course of instruction reasonable for the amount of training provided?

· Am I financially able to pay for the program?

· What is the school’s cancellation/refund policy?

· If I am taking out loans, how much time do I have to withdraw before the loans become my responsibility regardless of whether or not I finish the program? Remember – private and federal student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy and will stay with you the rest of your life.

· What is the average loan debt for school graduates?

Accreditation/Transferability of Credits:

Is the school nationally or regionally accredited? Credits from a regionally accredited school (in Illinois, the regional accreditor is the Higher Learning Commission) are, in general, more likely to transfer to other institutions. This is especially important for students who expect to carry on further study in the future.

· Is the admissions representative able to answer whether the school is nationally or regionally accredited?

· Can the admissions officer tell you who the school’s national or regional accreditor is, apart from simply saying the school is “accredited"?

Job Placement Rates:

Be wary of high job-placement rates or guaranteed minimum incomes after graduation. Press admissions representatives on these issues.

· What is the basis for the high graduation rates they cite?

· How can a school “guarantee" a minimum income upon graduation?

Job Prospects:

Request the names and phone numbers of recent graduates. Ask them: Did you find the training useful? Did you find work? A school that cannot put you in touch with satisfied customers is one you may want to avoid.

· Is this school the best source of training in the field and are there other public, private, or vocational options?

· Do I really need to complete this program to be employed in this field and are my prospects of getting a job good if I complete the program? Some entry-level positions in certain fields require only a high school diploma.

This is only a brief overview of issues to consider when choosing the right school for you.

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