By Sarah Wright
1. Independent Research
There are a few ways you can find out whether the for-profit school you're applying to is legit. One is to check to make sure it's accredited, and in good standing with its accrediting body. This U.S. Department of Education database is a good source of information about accredited schools. Additionally, you can contact the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against a specific school. Also, performing a Web search to see if the school you're interested in has come under fire is a good step to take as well.
2. Check out Professional Organizations
Professional organizations are great sources of information for specific career fields. These organizations usually have websites that provide answers to those who aspire to work in that specific field. Often, an easy Web search can help you find answers regarding what kind of education and training is necessary for the field you're interested in. If the guidelines outlined by the organization are in line with what's offered by the program you're applying to, you can feel reasonably confident that you're taking a good step toward the career you want.
If your field is one that requires licensure or certification, professional organizations or certification and licensure boards can be a similarly excellent source of useful information. Finding out what's required for licensure or certification, and then comparing those requirements to what's offered by a degree program, can be a great way of finding out whether you'll actually be paying for something that's going to prepare you to go where you want to go.
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3. Use School Resources
Though job-placement statistics can be falsified, it's more difficult to falsify information that comes straight from a program graduate. Ask the school you're applying to if they have an alumni network or a database of graduates who are willing to speak to prospective students. Reaching out to someone who's already gone through the program and come out with a great job can help you feel better about your decision to attend a specific program. Plus, making connections with already-successful graduates can lay a good networking foundation for you to use after graduation.
4. Talk to Local Professionals
Talking with established professionals in your field of interest, including those who didn't attend your school, is a great way to find out whether the steps you're going to take will be sufficient. If the professionals you talk to voice concern over the school you've chosen, you might want to see if the program you're interested in is available elsewhere. A school's reputation can have a big impact on how people see the value of your education.
5. Set Realistic Expectations
If you're risking everything in the hopes that a degree program will have a big payoff, you might not be making a very smart decision. The fact is that the job market is still quite competitive, and simply getting a degree is no guarantee that you'll get a job. Despite what admissions recruiters at a school are telling you, you shouldn't bet everything you have on a degree.
If the thought of for-profit education makes you nervous, you can take many of the same programs at a local community college.