(ARA) - Everyone has their own motivations for deciding to go to college, but putting themselves in a better position to get a job after graduation is usually one of them. For career colleges, this factor is foremost in how they prepare their students for the careers upon graduation.
Traditional universities and career colleges each share the goal of educating students and preparing them for life after college, but the college experience can vary greatly between the two. Traditional universities often focus on giving students a broader educational experience developing skills like research and analysis that may be used in a variety of career fields. Career colleges tend to focus more on hands-on training in fields like health care and technology that demand a specific set of skills.
Some may know career colleges as vocational, tech or trade schools, and these days they have expanded to include many more careers than in the past. In addition to the traditional trades, career colleges focus on graphic design, technology, business and health care professions. They also offer flexible program schedules for students who work full time and want to advance their careers with new skills.
"Everything we do is focused on preparing students for the career path they have chosen, and we structure the programs to give them skills they need to be successful on the job," says John Keim, chief academic officer of Westwood College, which offers 35 career-focused degree programs across its 14 campuses.
If you're thinking about enrolling in college, have a career in mind and excel in a hands-on learning environment, a career college might be a good option for you. Here are a few points of distinction that make career colleges different from traditional universities:
* Curriculum designed to meet specific needs of employers. Programs offered by career colleges focus on specific tasks you will need to accomplish in your field of training. The goal of most career colleges is to have you ready to hit the ground running once you graduate, and they work with employers when developing their courses to make that happen.
* Hands-on training. Much of the curriculum of a career college will be spent focusing on actual tasks that will need to be completed on the job, as opposed to only textbooks and lectures. "Obtaining a degree from Westwood prepares you for what you will be asked to do in your career on day one," says Keim. "We do that by using a hands-on, experiential teaching approach - as opposed to the lecture-based approach."
* Technical skills. Career-focused training is most appropriate for jobs that require technical training. For example, students in graphic design get a lot of hands-on training with design programs like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop so they become proficient and are ready to work once they finish their degree.
* Staff with experience in the field of study. Where the staff of a traditional college might be comprised primarily of career educators, many staff members of career colleges are also working in the fields they teach and can help students gain a better understanding of what might be expected of them once they get a job.
Another important distinction between career and traditional colleges may be accreditation. If you are interested in applying for federal grants or loans, you'll need to enroll in a college that is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Accredited institutions also must complete reviews on a regular basis to make sure they are meeting educational standards. Career colleges are typically accredited by national accreditation agencies that measure faculty experience and outcomes such as graduation and employment rates. Traditional colleges are most often regionally accredited and are measured on areas such as student learning, teacher effectiveness, and resources available.
Also, it is important to know that credits from a nationally accredited school are unlikely to transfer unless there is a written agreement between the schools. The reason is what was mentioned earlier, career college classes provide customized, hands-on training making it difficult to match or gain credit for classes at other colleges.