Most careers require that you complete a certain amount of training or education in order to develop the necessary skills to perform your chosen profession. Once you have selected which career you would like to pursue, the next step is to identify and select a training or education program that will help you achieve your career goals. As you make decisions about the type of career path you would like to follow, you should keep notes about the requirements and qualifications needed to enter your target career. These qualifications will often include education or training that can only be acquired at schools offering specialized programs. By taking notes and making lists of questions, you can keep your goals clearly in mind as you begin to explore and evaluate programs.
Perhaps the best way to begin identifying reputable education and training programs for consideration is to have conversations with professionals already working in your target career. While their own training may have been completed years before, professionals generally have valuable experience and useful insights that can prove indispensible for people hoping to follow a similar career path. Professionals will know which training programs have good reputations within the field, which have knowledgeable faculty, and which offer training that best translates to adequate preparation for the inevitable challenges one faces on the job.
You can also learn more about training and education programs from public libraries and the career counseling offices at community colleges and municipal centers. Veterans can take advantage of resources available through the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition to conducting a simple search on Google or other search engines, you can find program information on job and training resource websites maintained by state and local governments.
In the online or print documentation about any given program, you should find a program mission statement or other description of the program's guiding principles. Reading this statement can help you evaluate whether the stated goals and philosophy of the education or training program align with your own beliefs and goals. You should generally be cautious about entering into any program whose stated mission does not coincide with your own beliefs and professional goals.
Program brochures or other documentation should clearly state the program's admission requirements. Some programs may require that applicants hold a degree or meet a minimum score on a specific aptitude test. They may also outline a minimum grade point average (GPA) in prior coursework or identify specific courses as prerequisites for the program. Application materials will typically include several letters of recommendation. You can prepare for this requirement in advance by contacting former instructors and requesting recommendations.
Other elements that may be considered during the admissions process include a formal letter of application, a statement of purpose, and a written explanation of work experience that includes any relevant volunteer and professional service. You should prepare these materials in advance. You may also be asked to undergo an interview process prior to admission.
In reading the admission materials for a program, you should pay attention to any listed prerequisites. These are typically courses or other training you are required to have completed before entering the program. If you have not completed the necessary prerequisites, contact an
admissions officer for the program for more information about how you can satisfy this requirement for admission. Note that certain prerequisites can sometimes be taken concurrently with the beginning course-work and that other prerequisites may sometimes be waived based on professional or life experience.
If tuition costs seem unusually low, investigate whether there are separate fees for technology, transportation, or student activities that are already included in tuition figures for other programs. Sometimes additional technology or materials fees are added to tuition for particular courses. You should ask about these fees in advance so that you can factor them into the total cost of attendance. Lower than average tuition may also be a red flag that a program is not recruiting high-level staff or investing in necessary technology. Although you want to minimize your expenses, it is important to investigate each institution you consider in order to make sure that you are not compromising your education to do so. If tuition costs seem high, you will want to ensure that the additional expense comes with added value to the program. Expensive programs should offer greater prestige, more experienced or notable faculty, more extensive training, or proven career success for graduates.
Another important consideration when comparing schools is what sort of financial assistance each can offer. If you plan on using financial assistance to pay for your education or training, you should inquire at the institution's financial aid office or ask an admissions counselor about available school resources during the application process. Most schools offer a number of ways to help students pay for their schooling.
Financial assistance can be offered by the schools themselves, through government agencies, or through a variety of professional and/or social organizations. Grants and scholarships typically do not require you to repay any of the money you receive. While student loans must be paid back, they tend to have low interest rates and do not require you to begin making payments until your schooling is completed. Many graduate programs also offer research fellowships or teaching assistantships that provide students with tuition breaks or modest stipends.
Additional financial support may be available for minorities, individuals with disabilities, and students from disadvantaged or underprivileged backgrounds.
You should always review the curriculum of an education or training program to understand precisely which courses you will be expected to complete, how many classes are required for graduation, and how long the overall program can be expected to take. While some programs offer students greater flexibility in choosing and scheduling their own courses, most specialized degrees or certificates have a clearly defined core of courses that are required for all students. You should also be aware that many education programs offer optional additional training courses in specialized areas of focus. While these further specializations usually cost money and take more time, they can make graduates more competitive in the job market.
While researching each program, make sure that program websites include the names, qualifications, and biographical profiles of faculty members. Paying close attention to information about the faculty is essential because so much of your day-to-day experience of a program will be determined by your interactions with these teachers. Faculty members design and teach classes, planning daily lessons, making textbook selections, and developing quizzes, exams, and term projects. They are also responsible for evaluating and grading student performance, so getting a strong sense of their values and expectations can help you decide whether a program and its faculty are right for you.
Several important factors to keep in mind when evaluating the instructors in a program are faculty degrees and other qualifications, whether faculty members teach full or part time, and what the student-to-faculty ratio is. The faculty in academic and professional programs will almost uniformly hold advanced degrees, often doctorates, but may not have much practical work experience. For other programs such those for business or technical certification, advanced degrees are less important than extensive professional experience.
This balance between academic training and real-world experience also factors into an institution's preference for either full-time or part-time faculty. Faculty with more academic standing need to work full time in order to maintain professionalism within their discipline. However, faculty whose primary qualifications are work related often prefer to teach part time in order to remain active in their fields and to maintain their practical knowledge of current trends and practices. You should be wary of academic programs that try to cut corners by employing only part-time academic faculty. These faculty members often teach a large number of courses and may work at multiple institutions. As a result, the amount of time they can devote to each individual student may be limited.
Student-teacher ratios are another important factor to consider when evaluating programs because they indicate the level of personal attention a student is likely to receive from instructors. Generally speaking, a lower ratio of students to faculty members will create a more supportive and personalized education experience. Programs with a lower ratio also tend to be more expensive, however, since faculty salaries and administrative costs must be largely supported by tuition even with lower enrollment.
Part of the research and evaluation process for any program should ideally include a review of the professional certification requirements for the target career. Reviewing curriculum and syllabus materials in the program's promotional literature will help you ensure that all the basic training and subject requirements you need will be met by the program. In addition, you should be aware that entry into many careers may involve complex board examination and licensure requirements. Any reputable program should offer courses that will adequately prepare you to pass qualifying exams and acquire any needed professional licensing to enter the workplace after completing the course of study.
Most reputable education and training programs will maintain statistics about the successful job placement of program graduates. If the program brochure or website does not present this information, you should request these statistics from the admissions office. It is also important to pay attention not only to job placement figures but also to average entry-level salaries.