Edition: High School
Part: 1 - - General Information about Postsecondary Opportunities
SectionTitle: Choosing a school carefully
In recent years, increasing attention has been given to the default rates for federal student loan programs. Studies show that many borrowers are unable to pay back their student loans because they withdrew from their educational programs or were unable to find good jobs after they graduated. The choice of an educational program and a school can be critical in helping students prepare for gainful employment after graduation.
Students who are seeking career training should be advised to consider the following factors before enrolling at any school.
ARE OPPORTUNITIES IN THE CAREER FIELD EXPANDING?
Some careers are relatively stable, such as computer programming, computer systems analysis, accounting, or teaching. Others fluctuate with the economy and changes in technology. For information on career fields, students might want to read the following publications:
Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Department of Labor (order document number S/N 029-001-03022 from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S.Government Printing Office at 202-512-1800)
Getting Skilled, Getting Ahead, published by the Accrediting Commission for Trade and Technical Schools
Occupational Projections and Training Data, published by the U.S. Department of Labor
College to Career: The Guide to Job Opportunities, by Joyce Slayton Mitchell
What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles
Students might also want to check the magazine section of the school library for trade and professional magazines and journals that have articles about jobs and training in specific career areas.
IS THE CAREER COMPATIBLE WITH THE STUDENT'S APTITUDE AND INTERESTS?
A school can be very good but not meet a particular student's specific needs. The type of career a student wants will directly influence the type of postsecondary education he or she will need to pursue (a two-year program, four-year program, or a career/vocational program). Most colleges use admissions tests to measure a student's aptitude. The most familiar college admission tests are the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the Achievement Tests, the American College Test (ACT), and the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). Students generally take these tests during their junior or senior years of high school.
DOES A SCHOOL HAVE A GOOD REPUTATION FOR EDUCATING AND PLACING ITS STUDENTS?
Students should check with the local Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, or consumer-protection division of their state attorney's office to find out if problems are reported at the schools they are considering. The Federal Student Aid Information Center has the most recent default rates for schools, which can indicate the success of the schools' students; a high default rate may be a sign that the school's graduates are having difficulty finding good-paying jobs. In addition, a default rate greater than 20 percent may eventually jeopardize the school's eligibility to award Federal Stafford and Federal PLUS Loans.
A student should also ask a school representative for the names of the school's accrediting and licensing organizations, which can provide information about the school. Prospective students have the right to ask for a copy of the documents describing a school's accreditation and licensing. If a school is accredited, an approved private educational agency or association has evaluated it and found it meets certain minimum requirements that the agency has set.
HOW MANY OF A SCHOOL'S STUDENTS GRADUATE AND FIND EMPLOYMENT IN THE CAREER FOR WHICH THEY TRAINED?
If a school advertises or tells prospective students that it has a successful job-placement program, it must be able to provide statistics, on request, that support that claim. Even if a school doesn't make job-placement claims, it doesn't hurt to ask the school about its graduation rate and job-placement rate. Students should find out if the program the school offers is necessary to get the type of job they want or if employers in that field provide on-the-job training. They should check with employers to see if the school has a good reputation.
In addition, if a school advertises job-placement rates, it must also advise students of any applicable state licensing requirements for the specific jobs for which students are trained. Students should determine if the course topics for their programs relate to these state requirements or other professional certification requirements.
Students should also ask about a school's graduation rate. If a high number of students drop out, it could mean they weren't satisfied with the education they received. It's also a good idea for interested students to talk to recent graduates about a school's courses, average class size, instructors, the quality of facilities and equipment, and the earning potential of graduates. If a school provides residence facilities, students should inspect them.
Students should be encouraged to do some "comparison shopping" before signing an enrollment contract. If there is more than one school offering a particular educational program in the area, a student should visit at least two of the schools before making a decision.
WHAT ARE A SCHOOL'S ADMINISTRATIVE AND ACADEMIC POLICIES?
For example, what is the school's refund policy? A school must provide this policy in writing to current and prospective students. The policy should explain what happens if a student registers for classes but never attends any or drops out of school within a short time after he or she starts. If the student receives any Federal student aid and a refund is made, some or all of the money will be returned to those aid programs or to the lender for the loans. Even if students don't finish their educational programs, they will have to repay whatever loans they received, minus the amount that was refunded to the lender.
Students should find out about a school's academic policies, such as the requirements for graduation and maintaining eligibility for financial aid. These policies are often grouped together as a "satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policy."
WHAT TYPES OF FINANCIAL AID DOES A SCHOOL OFFER? DOES A SCHOOL PARTICIPATE IN THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION'S STUDENT FINANCIAL AID PROGRAMS?
Students should find out what types of financial aid are available at schools where they are interested in applying, including information on all federal, state, local, private, and institutional financial aid programs. A student should ask which financial aid programs are available to students in the educational program he or she is interested in enrolling in, as not all educational programs at a school may be eligible for all aid programs.
The U.S. Department of Education uses specific legislative and regulatory criteria to determine whether a school and all of its educational programs are eligible for federal student aid programs. Just because a school participates in ED's student aid programs does not mean that ED has endorsed the quality of the education the school offers. The Department does not approve a school's curriculum, policies, or administrative practices, except as they relate to how the school operates federal student aid programs. It is up to the student to check out a school.
Students should also ask:
*How does the school select financial aid recipients?
*What are the school's application procedures and deadlines?
*How and when does the school deliver financial aid to its students?
*What are the interest rates and other terms of any student loans?
*What are the operating hours of the school's financial aid office?
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED FROM A VISIT TO A SCHOOL?
The real test of any school will be how a student feels about it after a visit. Students should consider making an appointment to visit a school while classes are in session. This will give a student a chance to attend classes and to talk with students in the program he or she is interested in. An especially important point to consider: Do the people at the school seem to want to help students learn and plan for their futures? A student should decide whether the school is a place he or she wants to be at least five days a week for the next six months to several years.