Occupational and Technical Schools
Attending a four-year liberal arts college has become a common
option for high school graduates. A liberal arts college education
gives students the opportunity to major in a specific subject while
studying a broad range of topics and graduates have greater
flexibility to explore many alternatives and interests in the job
However, there are other options available to students who have
specific career goals and may not be interested in a four-year
college for personal or financial reasons. One option is
occupational/technical school, also known as career college or
Occupational/technical courses provide students with
opportunities to acquire formal practical preparation for
semi-skilled, skilled, technical or professional careers in fields
like fashion design, electronics, cooking or automotive technology.
Most technical and occupational courses are offered by community
colleges, though certain states have their own technology
institutes with accreditation equivalent to that of other state
"There are many positive reasons for attending an
occupational/technical school," says Cheryl Beese, dean of
academics at Rockford Business College in Illinois. "A student is
more likely to receive a personalized education, meaning that the
student is viewed more as an individual rather than an enrollment
identification number. The student will learn technical skills
geared towards a career field, and all classes in their program of
study relate to their chosen field."
Questions to Ask
There are a number of inquiries that you should make before
choosing an occupational/technical school. A government publication
titled Career Colleges and Technical Schools: Questions to Ask
Before Enrolling, suggests students ask the following
- What kind of career and technical training do you want?
- Which schools offer the training or program you need?
- What preparation do you need for a particular job?
- Will employers accept the training as preparation for
- Is the school you are considering accredited and licensed?
- What are the requirements for admission?
- Will your coursework transfer to another school?
- Is crime at the school a problem?
- Should you visit the school?
- How much will you pay for the program or training?
- Is financial assistance or student aid available?
- Will you have to sign an enrollment contract?
- What is the school's refund policy?
- Will your program be delivered by distance education?
- Does the school offer job placement assistance?
- How can you avoid diploma mills and unaccredited colleges?
- Have students filed complaints against the school?
Research Schools Carefully
Finding the school that matches your goals and interests is
probably the easiest part of your search. CollegeInColorado.org can
help match occupations to programs, and programs to schools. If an
occupational/technical school exists in your area, you can phone or
visit the school to get basic information, and perhaps schedule an
appointment with an admissions officer to discuss what the school
has to offer.
There are several specific factors to consider when making your
final school selection, before signing up or handing over any
money. It's important to gather this information carefully.
According to an article from the Federal Trade Commission entitled
Facts for Consumers: Choosing a Career or Vocational School, here
are some of the steps students should take:
"Compare programs. Study the information from various schools to
learn what is required to graduate. Ask what you'll get when you
graduate -- a certificate in your chosen field or eligibility for a
clinical or other externship. Are licensing credits you earn at the
school transferable? If you decide to pursue additional training
and education, find out whether two- or four-year colleges accept
credits from any vocational or correspondence school you're
considering. If reputable schools and colleges say they don't, it
may be a sign that the vocational school is not well regarded.
"Investigate training alternatives, like community colleges. The
tuition may be less than at private schools. Also, some businesses
offer education programs through apprenticeships or on-the-job
Other important factors to consider include the instructors'
qualifications, whether the school assists graduates in finding
employment, and the percentage of graduates who find employment in
their chosen fields of study.
David Walker, dean of the Raleigh-Durham North Carolina Campus
of DeVry University, says, "The biggest advantage we have is the
experience of our instructors who are working in the fields in
which they teach. Accounting instructors are accountants working in
their field, and computer systems instructors are really working in
their field. Nationwide, 92 percent of our graduates are placed in
their field of study."
Many occupational/technical/career colleges are highly regarded
in the educational community. These include DeVry University, the
University of Phoenix, Kaplan College and ITT Technical Institute.
Schools like these are on a comparable footing with other state
schools when it comes to accreditation.
Accreditation means that a school has been officially accepted
in meeting the criteria set forth by an accrediting agency or
association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. If a
school is not accredited, any degree or certificate issued by that
school may not be considered acceptable proof of legitimate
Be aware that there are some occupational/technical/career
colleges that are regarded as diploma and certificate mills. Such
schools are not accredited, and offer diplomas in exchange for
money, but without providing adequate training. If the coursework
is delivered online, the instructors may lack qualifications to
teach the course. In some cases, an actual school does not even
Do the necessary research to verify the credentials of your
school before signing any contracts or paperwork. Check with the
U.S. Department of Education to see if your chosen school meets
their educational standards and is accredited by a sanctioned
agency. If you secured a personal loan to pay for courses at a
diploma mill, you will still be required to pay the lending
institution, even if your diploma turns out to be worthless.
How will you finance your career education at an accredited
school? Financial considerations include not only tuition, but also
the cost of books, lab fees, living costs and other miscellaneous
Some occupational/technical schools provide financial
assistance. Some offer scholarships and grants to offset costs.
Find out if the school offers payment plans or loans. You will want
to carefully read any documentation regarding repayment and
consequences of defaulting on loans or payment plans. You should
find out whether your chosen school meets the requirements that
allow you to apply for U.S. Department of Education student aid
programs, which may include grants and low-interest loans.
An occupational/technical/career-focused education can be a
positive and profitable experience that is well worth the time and
effort it takes. Besides gaining task-specific skills, students
experience teamwork and gain exposure to a variety of cultures.
Dawnna Williams, personnel officer at the public library in
Rockford, Ill. and graduate of DeVry University, says, "The online
environment was especially beneficial, since it brought students
together from all over the world. Group projects were required in
many of my classes, so my classmates and I were challenged with
working together in a virtual setting."
If occupations like automotive technician, paralegal, hair
stylist, truck driver, welder, medical assistant, electronics
technician or licensed practical nurse interest you, consider
exploring the occupational/technical school option. It may be a
good fit for you and your career goals.