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What's the deal with trade schools?


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     There is no doubt about it--trade schools offer some great opportunities. They offer instruction and training in many in-demand fields. They often operate without regard to the traditional school calendar, allowing students to complete a given program in less time. Students can focus only on what they need to be successful in a given field. (Forget about English Comp and Philosophy!) Financial aid is almost always available, as well as help with job placement.

     With all of that said, are there any negatives associated with trade schools? Well, there are certainly some areas for concern, and a well-informed student will want to be aware of them. One of these is the selection process. Trade schools spend big money on advertising and marketing in general (Just like many colleges do). They are expensive to operate, and the pressure to fill all available spots is intense. With that in mind, it is up to the student to be sure that they are well qualified for any program they enroll in. To put it another way, donít expect the admissions rep for your trade school to tell you that a particular program is not for you. Their job is to fill seats and bring in the money.

     Another area for concern is financial aid. Some trade schools are so good at walking students through the process that they almost make it too easy. Students often sign up for 9 month, 12 month, or 18 month program and realize a few months in that it really isnít where they want to be. Unfortunately, theyíve often borrowed enough to pay the school for the entire program, and are now responsible for the loans regardless of whether or not they complete the program.

     Finally, Iím afraid that trade schools are sometimes not the most cost-effective way to obtain a particular set of skills or certification. For example, many trade schools are now offering a Microsoft Office User Specialist (MOUS) certification program. This certification will allow the holder to demonstrate to employers proficiency in the use of Microsoft Office applications. As a student, I might decide that the program would help my prospects for employment. Before I took that program though, Iíd want to be sure I couldnít find a program leading to the exact same certification at a local community college at less expense to me.

     The bottom line is that with trade schools, like any major purchase, the student must make an informed decision. At the very least, find out what percentage of students in a given program graduate on schedule. Also ask where recent grads are employed, and how much theyíre earning. Iíd suggest a step further as well. Donít simply ask the school where their grads are employed. Make some inquiries of your own. If youíre considering spending thousands on tuition and a year or more of your life, doesnít it seem reasonable to spend an afternoon on the phone first to be sure the program delivers as promised?

     One way to do so would be as follows. If you plan to study auto repair, call several new car dealers and ask for the service department. Ask if they hire grads from "ABC Trade School." Do the same thing with several repair shops in the area. At that point, youíll have a better feel for just how valuable the training youíre considering will really be. Compare that to the total youíll be spending, and you can make an informed decision about the right course for you!

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