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What is a Technical School?
Technical or vocational schools are either publicly or privately owned, for-profit or not-for-profit educational institutions that offer diplomas, certificates and two-year degree programs in many different fields of study. The main difference between technical schools and colleges is that they do not offer a Bachelor's degree. Technical school programs are often a more practical form of study with a focus on career preparation. Typical fields of study include healthcare, business, engineering, art and architecture. Technical schools vary from state to state, so check your own state for available programs. There are also a plethora of technical schools available online.
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About Technical School Programs in the US
Technical or vocational education are a viable option for many students who want to avoid or cannot afford to take the extra classes offered in a more traditional college education. Technical school students want a more accelerated course of study that will adequately prepare them for the workforce in their chosen field as quickly as possible.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) commissioned a ten year study about technical education entitled, “Vocational Education in the United States: Toward the Year 2000”. This study found a need for technical education based on increasing demands in the workplace for qualified workers. The findings concluded that students who focused on acquiring interest in a technical field of study while still high school; enrolled and completed a certificate in a technical school, did better faster in terms of earnings and overall career levels than there Bachelor-receiving counterparts.
The latest statistics, based on findings from 2001 to 2007 by the NCES, report comprehensive findings about enrollment in technical schools that receive financial aid from the US government. For instance, between 2001 and 2006, the number of technical schools increased 3% resulting in a total of 3,833 schools reported. (note: these schools receive some form of financial aid from the US government) Also, the same study found that in the year 2004, over one million students enrolled in technical schools for certificates. A snapshot of the year 2005 found that healthcare, consumer services, business and marketing communications were the most popular fields of study for technical school programs.
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Choosing the Right Technical School
Finding the right technical school program for you can take time. When looking for a technical school, consider the price, program delivery, the reputation of the school and the quality of the instruction.
Tuition for technical programs is generally not as high as a traditional college primarily because of the program length. Most technical programs will have some financial aid available depending upon the field and length of study. Technical schools often give financial aid in the form of incentives for enrolling early and discounts for enrolling in more courses at one time. Most technical schools also allow students to use educational and military loans through the government to pay for tuition. Be aware of additional fees for textbooks, registration and matriculation, technology and student activity.
With the advancement of instructional technology, technical schools can deliver course material in a variety of ways during all hours of the day. Options for delivery may include but are not limited to on-campus, satellite campus, limited meetings, online, television and video conferencing. Research the instructional options that are available and seek the most flexibility in class delivery.
Do your research before enrolling and paying for any classes. Visit the school’s website, talk with academic advisors and talk to students at the school. Beware of paper mills and schools that are not accredited by a national educational agency. Avoid getting certificates and degrees from unaccredited schools. Degrees from unaccredited schools are not transferable to traditional colleges and universities. Also many employers, especially in fields such as graphic design, engineering and healthcare, required degrees from accredited schools.
Quality of the instruction
Are the instructors highly qualified with degrees in the field? Since the length of technical programs are generally not long, having effective instructors who are good communicators and can provide informative and comprehensive learning materials are essential. Many schools, especially online ones have sample courses that you can take to get an idea of the instruction and learning activities.
Graduation and placement rate
Find out how many students finish in the suggested amount of time for your chosen field of study. Most schools will make this information available through documentation or by speaking with an admissions official. Also, ask about placement rates of the school’s graduates. Depending on the field of study, many schools will place directly into local employers that agree to hire their graduates. For instance, many graduates of healthcare programs have access to internships followed by full-time employment in local hospitals in their area. Find out if the school has such employment arrangements with local employers in your area.
When choosing technical school programs, remember to start ahead of your planned start time and do the necessary research to find the right one. Remember to avoid unaccredited programs with limited modes of delivery and instruction. Contact admissions representatives at the school and ask specific questions. A technical program with a solid reputation, good curriculum and high placement is worth the cost even if it is slightly higher.
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National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ctes/index.asp
“Vocational & Technical Schools West: More Than 2,300 Vocational Schools West of the Mississippi River”; Peterson's; 2009
Vocational & Technical Schools - East: More Than 2,600 Vocational Schools East of the Mississippi River; Peterson’s; 2009