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Vocational Schools

For any number of reasons, many people forego college and opt for going to vocational schools instead. Vocational schools offer great opportunities for learning skills and trades that are needed in real life workplaces.

The beauty of vocational schools is that they can offer you a chance to learn about various industries, whether or not you might develop or enjoy the skills needed to work in them, but with a much more modest commitment of time and money than a four-year program would require.

Want to be a makeup artist, but your "makeovers" leave your subjects looking clownish? Better to find that out now in an initial class than to embark on a career for which your skills simply aren't a match.

Sadly, however, some vocational schools are little more than shams--diploma mills looking to make a quick buck. Consider the following tips from the Federal Trade Commission before choosing a school:

  • Determine if vocational training is even necessary. Many positions offer on-the-job training where you can get paid to learn the same skills.
  • Compare the curricula among competing programs. Are the courses the same? Do they offer similar skill sets?
  • Audit a course. The best way to tell if an instructor is worth his or her salt and to see how much individual attention is given to each student is to sit in on a course. if an instructor balks at this, that's a sign to walk away.
  • Ask for a list of program graduates who can give feedback about the school's educational value. Then ask those students for referrals to other people--after all, the school will most likely send you off to talk to straight A students who are likely to give glowing reviews.
  • Ask if materials, such as books and uniforms, are included in the cost of the program. Better programs are usually less likely to nickel-and-dime students.
  • Make sure the school is accredited--and don't just take the school's word for it. Ask for the name and number of its accrediting group. Then call that number and verify the accreditation.
  • Check to make sure there aren't inordinate numbers of complaints against the school lodged with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Check the Department of Education's searchable database of accredited schools nationwide: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/.

**Source: "Real World Careers: Why College Is Not The Only Path To Becoming Rich" by Betsy Cummings

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