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The Vocational School Option

In an employment market that values candidates with job-ready skills, vocational training can be a worthwhile investment.

Vocational courses provide students with formal practical preparation for skilled careers in fields like fashion design, electronics, cooking or automotive technology. Most technical and vocational courses are offered by community colleges, though some states have their own technology institutes.

"One of the advantages of a student attending vocational schools is learning a set of skills that will get them a job as soon as they are done with the program," says Kevin Reynolds. He's an advisor for professional technical programs at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho.

"One other thing that I see a lot is that students who go into a vocational program are hands-on learners and are not ones that like theory and taking tests from a book," adds Reynolds. "They learn by doing."

And vocational training can pay off. A 2015 study by the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California-Davis found that people who completed a career technical education (CTE) degree or certificate earned an average of 25 percent more than people who had only a high school diploma.

So what should you look for in a vocational school? 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.

"Students need to do some research and find out how the college is accredited, how long has the college been around and find students who went there and ask questions," says Reynolds.

Accreditation is particularly important. 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 academic accomplishment.

Be wary of diploma 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 exist. Be sure to verify the credentials of your school before signing any contracts or paperwork.


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.