Each year, thousands of people in the United States decide to pursue career education. Their reasons are as varied as their backgrounds. Some have already found careers that they love but find they need more education to move up the corporate ladder. Others are unhappy in their current fields and see career education as a way to gain a fresh start. Still others are interested in increasing their earning potential. They are on the right track.According to the Princeton Review, bachelor’s degree holders can make around $2.1 million more over the course of their working lives than those without their bachelor’s degrees. Employers understand the benefits of more education, and they often are willing to provide higher salaries to employees with more training.
Step 1: Ask the Right Questions
Once you have made the decision to pursue your education, you need to ask yourself some important questions. The answers will guide you to Step 2, setting your goals.
������� Why do I want to pursue my education? Am I looking for a higher salary, more respect or responsibility at work, or a career change? Or am I interested in earning my degree for more personal reasons?
������� What position do I want?
������� Do I know someone who already has this position? If not, could I arrange an informational interview with someone I don’t already know?
������� What is the educational background of most people who currently have this position?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers an online Occupational Outlook Handbook that can answer many of your questions about different types of careers. Use the Handbook to find out:
������� Appropriate training, degrees, and majors
������� Job responsibilities
������� Working conditions
������� Up-to-date average incomes
������� Projected job growth compared to other careers
Step 2: Set Your Goals
Now that you know what position you’re after and what training you need to get it, you are ready to decide on your degree and major. For some jobs, such as engineering, your degree path is clear. For others, like human resources, many degree programs could prepare you, including undergraduate degrees in psychology, business, or the liberal arts.
Some degree programs, such as psychology, can vary considerably by school. Schools may offer either a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with a focus on research and science, or a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, which focuses more on counseling work. It is important to find degree program options that match your interests and job goals.
Step 3: Consider Online and Campus Degree Programs
Just a few years ago, you might never have considered earning your degree online. Today, however, high quality, accredited online degree programs abound. In fact, the Sloan Consortium reports that 65% of schools offering on-campus graduate courses and 63% of schools offering on-campus undergraduate courses now offer courses online. At most schools, the percentage of core faculty members that teach online courses is higher than the percentage that teach face-to-face courses. Message boards, e-mail, and chat technology might even allow you more one-on-one contact with your professor than you might find in traditional classes.
Online courses work best when students are self-motivated. The programs’ flexibility and convenience might sound perfect if you are already juggling other family and work commitments, but make sure that you are organized and responsible enough to keep up with your coursework. Campus-based courses offer a more structured learning experience. They provide opportunities for making friends and face-to-face interaction. However, you must worry about commuting to a campus and changing your work schedule to fit your class schedule.
Step 4: Narrow Down Your Choices
Now that you have found schools either online or on-campus, you are ready to pinpoint the best programs for you. The criteria for your decision vary based on the type of program you want.
Things to consider when choosing an online program:
������� Program reputation
������� Program length
������� How well technology is integrated in the program
������� Chances for interaction with professors
Things to consider when choosing an on-campus program:
������� Quality of facilities
������� Academic reputation
������� Campus safety and attractiveness
������� Diversity of student body
Make sure that all of the schools you are considering are accredited. Accredited schools have met stringent curriculum standards to ensure that you receive excellent training for your career.
Step 5: Assemble Your Applications
The first step toward completing your applications is finding or requesting them. Many schools’ websites offer applications you can download or complete online, while others require you to request an application which you will receive in the mail. To apply, you will need to complete the application, which usually requests information about your personal and educational background and one or more personal essays.
Many degree programs require you to complete a standardized test, such as the SAT or ACT for undergraduate degrees, the GRE for graduate degrees, and the LSAT, GMAT, or MCAT for law, business, and medicine degrees respectively. You usually need letters of recommendation from former instructors, transcripts from schools you have attended, and financial statements. Organization is key here. A planner with due dates and checklists of admissions requirements simplifies the application process.
Step 6: Track Down Financial Aid
There are two basic sources of financial aid: aid available from the U.S. government, and aid from private companies. Some aid is in the form of grants and scholarships, which you do not have to pay back. Other aid can be low-interest, subsidized loans. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the government provides aid to 9 million students a year, representing 60% of all student aid. Applying for financial aid from the government is easy. By completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you apply for all of the government’s financial aid programs, including Pell grants and Stafford and Perkins loans. Most financial aid packages include a mixture of grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities.
Lining up a career education might seem daunting. Early in your search, unanswered questions will probably abound. How do you know what type of education you need? Should you choose an on-campus or online degree program? Where should you look for financial aid? By taking a step-by-step approach to your career education, however, you can formulate a plan that perfectly meets your needs.
Publish date: October 28, 2007