Choosing a Vocational Program
Choosing a Vocational Program
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You have many considerations to take into account, even after you’ve decided that a vocational program is the right choice for you. There are many schools that teach trades, and the one that’s right for you depends on its costs, programs, and more. Knowing what resources are available at each school will help you narrow down your options to the ones that offer exactly what you need and will help you succeed.

Is your prospective institution accredited?

A school that is accredited is one that has been given the seal of approval by an independent accrediting agency. To earn accreditation, a school must demonstrate high admissions and academic standards during an evaluation, among other things. Schools that are not accredited may still be open and accepting students, but a credential from a nonaccredited school holds significantly less weight than one that comes from an accredited institution. As a result, graduates of nonaccredited schools may have trouble finding a job that accepts their credential or continuing their education. Additionally, students who attend nonaccredited institutions may not be eligible for federal financial aid. 

Does the school have a job placement program?

It will be a lot easier for you to find a job after graduation if your school has developed relationships with companies that employ professionals in your field. Contact a school representative to ask about job placement or apprenticeship programs and to find out how many students from the last graduating class gained employment with help from these programs. Even if your school can't help you after graduation, you may find that the career center can place you in an internship or training program with a company over the summer or in between classes. It wouldn’t hurt to also ask for the contact information of recent graduates so you can ask them about their job satisfaction.

What skills does the program value and teach?

Ask the program director what skills you will have acquired by the time you finish the program. The director should be able to give you specifics. If you receive a vague answer or a hand-wavy response, you should immediately question the credibility of the program. Also, consider asking someone currently employed in your prospective profession if what you will learn will be applicable to your future job.

Are the school’s facilities sufficient? Are they up-to-date?

When you join the workforce, will you be working on the same equipment or with the same materials and technology that you will be learning on while enrolled in a program? Since you will be paying a lot of money to go to school, your education should give you the direct experience necessary to gain employment at companies and the opportunity to use state-of-the-art resources. If you're going into a field where the technology and methods are constantly changing, take extra care to ensure you choose a school that will teach you the most up-to-date methods and allow you to use the most recently developed tools. If your field changes more slowly or has remained consistent over time, you don't have to worry quite so much about finding a school with the newest equipment.

Additionally, find out if you will be required to buy the tools and supplies needed for classes. Depending on your field, these supplies may not come cheap and this should be factored into the cost of your education. You may be able to keep some of these tools and use them when you begin your career (e.g., a set of shears if you're training to be a hair stylist), so don't buy the cheapest ones you can find. Consider it an investment.

How are the classes?

First, find out who will be teaching your classes. Are the teachers working or retired professionals in the field? If the school's instructors don't have any practical knowledge in the field, it's time to run the other direction. No matter how good someone is at teaching, you can't properly learn your trade from someone who has never experienced it. You want to go to an institution where your teachers have been trained in your field themselves, worked in your field, and maintained their credentials. Learning how to be an automotive technician from someone who hasn't maintained their credentials and isn't familiar with the current technology isn't going to be productive.

Once you're satisfied with the quality of the teaching staff, turn your focus to the classes themselves. What is the average class size? How much hands-on experience will you gain during class? How much time will you be expected to dedicate to each class outside of school? If you can, take a tour of the school and try to sit in on a class or two. Gauge the [glossary_exclude]interest[/glossary_exclude] level of the students in each class and evaluate the instructors. Are you interested in the material? Is the instructor easy to understand? Talk to students after class to learn more about their experiences in the program and with their instructors. Better yet, talk to the instructors about your [glossary_exclude]interest[/glossary_exclude] in the program; they should be able to answer anything you could think to ask.

How flexible is the school in terms of its scheduling?

Do you need to take online classes because of your schedule? Are they offered in the subject of your [glossary_exclude]interest[/glossary_exclude]? If so, is an online education sufficient, or is it recommended that you gain hands-on experience to later be successful in your chosen field? Does the school offer evening or weekend classes? Are there specific support systems in place for returning and adult students?

What are the statistics?

How many students who begin the program finish within a manageable time period? How many students finish their first years and decide not to return? How many have to take out loans to pay for school? On average, how much debt are they in when they graduate? What is the loan default rate? How many students pass their certification or licensing exams on their first attempts? How many find jobs in their fields within six months of graduation? The admissions office should have the answers to your questions, but be specific when you ask, and take any responses you get with a grain of salt. An admissions representative may tell you that 90% of graduates found employment in their field within six months of graduating, but they might not explain that of the 90%, half of them are working less than full time. The more specific you are in your questioning, the more likely you are to get an accurate response.

Page last updated: 07/2018