Thursday, December 21, 2006

Choosing the Right School - REVISITED

As we're getting ready to start a new year, it's a good time to revisit the subject of choosing a post-secondary institution. If you are a graduating senior in high school, this is the time where you are looking at your post-secondary education options. This is also a popular time of year for non-traditional students (ex: working adults returning to school) to view their options as well.
Before continuing with this article, read the post that I made in July: Choosing the Right School

I cannot stress the importance of future students to investigate all of their options before making a selection. Students have so many misconceptions that they end up making poor choices. Here are some of the biggest mistakes that I've seen students make regarding their post-secondary education choice:

  • Students quickly choose to attend a for-profit institution because they assume their grades or test scores were too poor to get accepted in a college or university.

  • Students invest too much money in a field of study when they decide, mid-way through their studies, that it's not what they wanted to do when they "grow up".

  • Students don't spend enough time with investigating their options. For example, they choose a school without interviewing the professors and existing students or without sitting in on a class to see what it's going to be like.

  • The motivation for choosing a particular school has nothing to do with the quality of education. For example, students choose to attend a particular school because it's a "party school" or "it's the same school where 3 generations of my family attended".

Regional vs. National Accreditation
If you are looking to attend a school for a short period of time and transfer to another institution (ex: you are going to go to community college for two years and transfer to a four-year institution), you want to pay attention to how the school is accredited. If a school is nationally accredited, the credits will have less chance of transferring to a "traditional" college or university than it would if the school is regionally accredited. Believe it or not, regional accreditation carries more weight with most colleges and universities than national accreditation because the standards to be regionally accredited are more stringent. The boards that provide regional accreditation are the same boards that provide accreditation to the primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools.
If you are not interested in transferring to other schools, and you are only interested in a career education (brush up on existing skills, learn new skills for a different career path), make sure the school is either regionally or nationally accredited. Like I mentioned earlier, most employers don't care about where you got your degree. They only care if you got your degree from an accredited institution.

If you are going to invest tens of thousands of dollars in something, wouldn't you spend time investigating where you are going to get the best return on investment? Think of your post-secondary education as an investment. You need to thoroughly investigate all the options before making your choice. Here are some suggestions on what to investigate:

  1. Investigate the attrition (drop-out) rate of the school. If the attrition rate is high, that's a red flag.

  2. If you are looking at a for-profit school, investigate their job placement rating. Don't just look at a number; look at how they derive that number. For example, if you went to a school to study networking, and you are working at Best Buy, the school may marked you as "placed in your field".

  3. See if you can interview professors and other students independently. The recruiter may bring in shills that will talk positively of the school, so you want to be able to talk to a sample yourself so you can get an HONEST opinion.

  4. Talk to people that work in the field that you're interested in and get their perspective of schools. For example, if you are going to study computer programming, talk to some software engineers and computer programmers and get their opinion on schools that interest you.

  5. DO A COST COMPARISON Remember that "expensive" doesn't mean the "best", and "cheap" doesn't mean the "worst"

If you have any questions, please contact me or leave a comment. I'll be glad to help you as much as you can.

The Common Misconceptions Students Have Regarding Schools

  • My grades/SAT scores/ACT scores were too poor to get into a "regular" college
    If you have had less-than-stellar grades or testing scores, you may not have a really good chance with getting into Harvard or MIT, but you will still be able to go to a community college. Nearly all community colleges don't look at testing scores or grades for admission criteria. You may have to take some remedial classes, but this can be your opportunity to redeem yourself. If you are going to a four-year institution after you finish community college, the four-year institution will look at your record at community college for admission.

  • Community College is for losers; employers won't take that degree seriously
    First point: very few employers care about where you went to school or where you got your degree. The only thing that they care about regarding your degree is whether it came from an accredited institution. Community colleges are accredited by the same boards that accreditate the four-plus year universities. Second point: you can use that two year degree as a stepping stone to a four-year degree from a university. Here's a brain-teaser: What do you call the Harvard graduate who spent two years at a community college and finished his/her schooling at Harvard? Answer: A Harvard graduate.

  • For-profit learning institutions are a scam
    Not so fast. While I prefer community and non-profit colleges over the for-profit colleges, they are not a complete "scam". For-profit colleges are starting to act as their non-profit cousins. Some are going so far as to get accredited by the same boards that accreditate the non-profit universities, which gives a student more options should s/he decide to transfer or further his/her education. I would recommend a for-profit institution if:

    • You already work in the field in which you are studying and you need to quickly update your skillset, AND you are able to get enough funding for the school where you are able to go for almost free or free

1 comment:

Beezle said...

Very informative blog!