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Choosing a technical or vocational program depends on many factors. Educational format, accreditation, curriculum, and career placement are all important to consider. One thing you can control regardless of the institution you choose is how much effort you put in.

4 Steps to Evaluating a Technical Training Program

It can be tough to evaluate trade schools, especially if you are relatively new to a particular field. There are many programs as well as a variety of institution types. Additionally, degree programs and certifications can take months or longer to earn, and tuition can be expensive. No one wants to waste time and money only to find that they are ill-suited to a particular career path or that there aren't jobs available in the field they have selected.

As a result, students investigating vocational programs should do their homework before even applying to a program. Taking some time to think about your skills and interests now can prevent headaches down the road. Here are some things to consider as you evaluate vocational schools.

Step 1: Think about what's right for you

Yes, there are plenty of vocational programs that can lead to lucrative careers. However, not everyone is suited to every type of job. For example, do you enjoy working with technology? Perhaps a computer or IT-related career is a natural fit. Or maybe healthy living is your passion. If so, a career in health care, the dental industry or nursing may be the way to go.

Remember to think about both the technical skills required for a particular job as well as the working environment. If you enjoy working independently, then perhaps you are well-suited for a career in IT where work may be completed remotely. If customer service excites you, then a career in cosmetology may be just the ticket. If you're a perfectionist, then you may be interested in learning more about what it takes to become a machinist.

Step 2: Consider where you're starting from

People enter or even change careers under very different circumstances. This diversity means there is something for everyone. However, it also means that you want to be strategic in selecting the program that will prepare you for the career you want as quickly as possible. For example, if you never completed your high school diploma, that's probably going to be first on your to-do list!

From there, learn about the educational attainment that is required for entry-level positions in your chosen field. For some careers, an associate degree in a related area or even a certificate may be all you need. However, other careers require that you have a bachelor's or even a master's degree in order to be a competitive applicant. While you don't want to be in school longer than you have to, you also don't want to earn a credential that is insufficient for your goals.

Step 3: Pick a program

So you've narrowed down the types of careers you are interested in and the amount of education required to get your foot in the door. Now the tricky part begins: it's time to evaluate vocational programs and pick the school and format that are right for you. There are numerous considerations at this stage:

  • Is an online program right for you? If online classes are a natural choice given your chosen vocation then you may have more options in terms of institutions and programs. However, online education isn't the best fit for every career goal.
  • Do you need or want to attend in-person classes? If so, is there a trade school close to you that offers the program you are interested in? If there isn't a program nearby, are you willing or able to move? Note that if a program isn't offered at a nearby school, there may not be jobs in that field available in that area, either.
  • Is it important that the institution you attend is accredited? This may be important to ensure that the program meets potential future employers' standards. In addition, if you will be relying on federal financial aid to help pay for school, accreditation may be a crucial factor.
  • What kind of resources are available for current students and alumni? For example, is there an office that can help identify and coordinate internships or supervised clinical hours? Is the equipment you will use up to industry standards? Is there a career center that can assist you as you finish the program and begin applying for jobs?

If you are able to take a class or two prior to starting a program officially, that may help you evaluate trade programs and determine whether a particular program or institution is a good fit.

Step 4: Give it your all

You may have heard the saying that what goes in, is what comes out. What does that mean if you are evaluating vocational schools? Simply put, it means that the institution that you pick may not be the most important factor to your future success. No matter what school or program you choose, the amount of effort and care you put into your education may be what sets you apart from the rest of the pack.

How do you do that? Go to every class (or listen to every lecture/complete every lesson, if the program is online). Don't settle for "getting the gist of it" -- study until you know the required material backwards and forwards. Take advantage of your teachers by asking them questions. If there is a career center, don't wait until your last semester to make contact. Network and keep in touch with faculty, staff, and fellow students. You never know where your next opportunity might come from.

Sources:

  1. Choosing a Trade, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Canada, http://www.careersintrades.ca/index.php?page=choosing-a-trade&hl=en_CA
  2. Choosing a Vocational School, Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information, August 2012, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0241-choosing-vocational-school
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