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All About Career Colleges

A traditional college education is simply not for everyone. America is always in need of skilled professionals, industry leaders, and service workers who get their training at top-notch career colleges. Career colleges offer very specialized training to goal-oriented students who know just the skills they need to make it and advance in a chosen profession.

Career colleges are often geared toward "nontraditional" students -- some of whom are adult career changers or even baby boomers -- and therefore gear many of their programs to accommodate busy adults. You won't find too many required courses in career schools that aren't directly related to the field you're pursuing -- it's all about focused and practical training. As such, career colleges tend to offer programs that can be completed in less time than a traditional four-year college degree, with a specific focus on practical applications in the workplace.

History of Career Colleges in America
According to the Imagine America Foundation, the history books agree that the first career school in America was founded in 1832. It was Foster's Commercial School of Boston, which offered specialized training in commerce. Almost immediately after, a couple of dozen career schools opened, focusing on teaching business skills. Today, Everest Institute in Pittsburgh, PA, (formerly called Duff's Mercantile College) is credited as the oldest private career school in the nation.

Another major milestone in the history of career schools was the creation of two major associations: The Association for Independent Colleges and Schools (AICS), and the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools (NATTS). In 1991, these groups merged to form the Career College Association (CCA), which changed its name to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities in 2010.

Benefits of Attending a Career College
In a career education program, you'll more than likely learn from instructors who are also industry professionals, and can speak to the realities and trends of their fields.

Oftentimes, career colleges provide students with training needed to pass certification or state licensing exams that are required to do a particular job. Some examples of this are in industries like beauty, health care, trades, and computer technology. And here's a stat to consider: According to Certification Magazine, those who achieve industry-recognized certifications earn approximately 16 percent more than non-certified employees.

As far as the experience of attending career colleges goes, students often find that their fellow classmates are like-minded, and everyday is an opportunity to network for future opportunities. Whether its finding a mentor from among your professors, exchanging ideas with other students, or attending school-sponsored events like career fairs or speaker series, career colleges aim to help students build new and improved careers for themselves.

Perhaps the biggest benefit, though, is the time factor. "The major advantage of a career college versus a community college is its more convenient or compacted scheduling," says Marty Nemko, an Oakland, CA-based college and career counselor, and author of the book, The All-in-One College Guide.

Difference Between Career Colleges and Other Forms of Higher Education
While the idea of a liberal arts core curriculum of learning is a worthy academic endeavor for some, at career colleges it's more about what a students needs to know in order to succeed in a given profession. Career colleges focus on practical, hands-on skills more so than the theory and lecture formats found at a traditional institution of higher learning.

How to Find Out More About Career Colleges
In order to find out more about career colleges, you'll have to do some digging to be sure the school and program you choose will have direct benefits to your career. It's also important to make sure you choose a reputable institution that's accredited. Here are some tips from Nemko on how to be sure you're making a good career college choice:

  • "Try to get a written estimate of the true cost of completing the entire program (not just the first year), including cash and loan financial aid," he says. Then ask yourself whether or not the convenience is worth the cost.
  • Visit an advanced class and afterwards ask the students if they feel the school is worth their investment. Nemko's rule: "Never choose a college without talking with five people that are paying the college, not those who are paid by the college, (like the tour guides or admission counselors)."
  • Ask yourself if attending a career college will help you. "Talk to a prospective employer in your target career: how much more hireable would you be with a degree/certificate from the career college than a community college or vice versa?"

Other questions to ask yourself, as reported at the CollegeSurfing Insider blog:

  • Is the school authorized to operate in its state?
  • Is the school accredited?
  • Do the school's programs meet your occupation's requirements for licensure and/or practice?
  • What is the school's refund policy?
  • Are the school's facilities and equipment up-to-date?
  • Does the school provide academic counseling?
  • What percentage of students complete their program of study?
  • Does the school provide job-placement assistance?
  • What percentage of the school's graduates find jobs?

Applying to a Career Colleges
Another perk of career colleges is that they are not as stringent when it comes to admissions and application requirements. Typically, career colleges have a rolling admissions deadline, meaning you can apply at any time of the year, with programs beginning at multiple times throughout the year (instead of the traditional fall/spring semester schedule you'd find at a university).

Depending on the type of program a student is pursuing at a career college will depend on the requirements for admission. That can range anywhere from filling out an application and going on a student interview to taking an exam or having prior experience or educational prerequisites completed.

Typical Length of Degree at Career Schools
Completing a program at a career school can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. It all depends on what type of diploma or certificate you're seeking, as well as if you're attending full- or part-time. As an example, a typical cosmetology program may require about nine months of training in order to prepare a student for state licensing exams, whereas an x-ray technician program can take anywhere from one or more years. Some career schools do award associate, or two-year, degrees as well.

It's important to get a sense of what's required to enter your field of interest before you commit to a career school program. For instance, if you need to become licensed or certified, you should check into state requirements to be sure you complete the hours required.

Skill Sets Developed in a Career School Degree Program
Career schools are all about skills -- practical, on-the-job skills that will be needed to land a job or advance your career. For the majority of career school programs, you'll learn from experienced professionals in your chosen field, and learn up-to-date techniques, technologies, and/or trends that are needed for success. Expect a lot of practical application of skills, case studies, and working in teams with peers on projects that mirror workplace projects.

Today's career colleges offer a variety of study options in numerous fields from business to beauty, technology to health care, culinary arts to design. Some schools/programs are highly specialized, such as those that focus on trades like aviation mechanics or HVAC technology, while others like office management or computer courses offer a broader skill set that can be adapted to a number of careers.

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