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Career and Technical Colleges

Students in shop classIf you have a clear-cut career goal and would like to get into the job market quickly, you may want to consider a technical or other specialty program. Technical colleges vary widely in majors, length of programs, cost, and other characteristics, but they have one thing in common: an emphasis on hands-on training for a specific career.

What careers can technical colleges prepare you for? Common fields of study include health care (practical nursing, home health aide), computers, technology (electronics, auto mechanics, plumbing, heating and air conditioning), culinary arts, business, and more.

The specific degree or certificate may vary depending on your field, but two-year associate degrees are common. Some technical colleges do offer four-year degrees, or help students who wish to transfer to a four-year college after earning their two-year degree. If this interests you, make sure you ask about which credits might transfer to a four-year college.

You should take the same care in choosing a technical college as you would in choosing a liberal arts college. Visit the campus, talk to professors and students, and check out the courses and facilities for your intended major. If you're interested in a field that changes quickly (like electronics, machine technology, or computers), make sure the equipment and facilities are up-to-date.

Attending a technical college requires careful consideration. Financial aid is sometimes limited, and because of the specialized nature of technical programs, it may be difficult (or even impossible) to change majors without starting over.

Do as much research as possible before you start classes: read about the career fields that interest you, shadow someone who works in your chosen field, speak with local employers in your desired field to ascertain the reputation of programs you're considering, and ask plenty of questions about what a typical day on the job looks like.

You’ll also need to be a smart shopper. Some technical schools are for-profit colleges and have been the subject of federal investigations for improper recruiting and financial aid practices.

Take your time, and don't let yourself be pressured into a hasty decision. Be sure to verify information you receive from the college from a third party, such a licensing agency or the state or federal government.

There are many excellent proprietary schools, but it's worth the effort to research the reputation and financial stability of any technical college you're considering. As you start the college search process, check out this resource from the US Department of Education for advice on how to find the perfect career college or technical school.