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What to Look for When Choosing a Vocational School

Vocational schools, or trade schools, can be great places to learn important skills for your career development. Be aware, however, of what you are getting into before you commit to any one school.

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What Is a Vocational School?

Vocational schools, which may also be known as trade schools or career colleges, exist primarily to provide students with the education they need to perform a certain job. Vocational schools are not institutions that focus on a well-rounded, liberal arts education.

Vocational schools can be everything from local career centers, high schools, and technical institutes to actual vocational school facilities. Three types of vocational school systems exist: public, private non-profit and private for-profit.

Some of the many occupations a student can train for through vocational schools include automotive technician, electronics technician, paralegal, truck driver, hair stylist, welder, medical assistant, and licensed practical nurse (LPN). While vocational schools may have remedial classes to bring students up to speed and more advanced classes in writing and other courses, the main focus is on a specific job.

Another difference between traditional colleges/universities and vocational schools is the fact that vocational schools are similar to the apprenticeship style of learning. As such, vocational schools emphasize on-the-job training.

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Researching Vocational Schools

There are over 300 vocational or trade schools in the United States, each claiming they are the best. While many of these schools offer a good education and make few claims they can't back-up, potential students should do some research before making a commitment to their vocational school. The old adage 'if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is' applies here. The problem sometimes comes from certain for-profit vocational schools. In this case, more students equal more money for the people in charge, and that can lead to unsubstantiated claims made by the school for the sole purpose of boosting enrollment numbers.

The following questions and research tips may help you when looking for a vocational school:

  • Does the school offer the program you want?
  • Is the school/program licensed or accredited? If so, by whom?
  • What are the instructors' credentials?
  • Could I obtain the training I want from another school, such as a community/junior college?
  • Do I even need this additional education, or will the employer likely train me on-the-job?
  • What is the total cost (include tuition, books, uniforms, lab fees, etc.)?
  • Is financial aid available?
  • Have any complaints been filed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or State Attorney General's Office?
  • What is the school's reputation in the industry?
  • What other services does the school offer students and graduates?
  • What are the facilities and equipment in the labs like? Are they up to date?
  • Are there other tools or supplies you must purchase?
  • What are the program's completion and job placement rates? Debt upon graduation rate?
  • Will all my credits transfer if necessary?
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