By Laura Stevens
Professional education is one of the best career investments you can make, but it does cost money and time. Read this list before you commit.
Online or on site? Intensive boot camp or normal duration? With the abundance of options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. To help you prioritize your needs and find a program that will serve your goals and suit your lifestyle, consider the following features.
1. The promise of the program: Does the course offer real-world applications of the content? Will you receive certification? Find out how in-depth the work is and if you’ll have a usable professional portfolio (if applicable) upon completion. You’ll want to examine the relevance of the course content to your current job, your career goals, and any opportunities that might present themselves in the future.
2. Duration: Programs are typically designed to fit the working professional’s busy schedule. As the name suggests, boot camps are fast-paced and intense. If you’re comfortable with and can commit to the academic rigor and condensed schedule, you should have no problem completing this type of course. On the other hand, a class that extends over several weeks or months is likely to delve deeper into the course content, leaving you with a more thorough understanding of the skills taught. You may even be able to implement some of your new skills at work as you go through the course.
3. Online vs. in person: Online classes are often self-paced, which means they can take longer to complete, but you have a lot of flexibility with time. You may or may not have some online collaboration with classmates and interaction with the instructor. If you have the self-discipline to stay on track, this could be the better choice. A classroom setting offers the benefit of interfacing directly with your instructor and classmates, and the course has a definite start and end date. Consider your learning style and which environment will inspire you to stay focused and committed. Read more about learning styles.
4. Affordability: Tuitions range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, depending on the type of certification, the rigor of the course and the quality of the academic institution. Be sure to inquire whether your employer covers professional development or continuing education expenses, and check if the program itself offers any kind of payment plan or discounts. If needed, you might consider taking out a loan, or applying for financial aid from the federal government through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). They offer financial aid for some continuing education programs even if it’s been years since you earned your college degree.
5. Reputation of the institution: Hiring managers will be impressed when they see a top academic institution on your resume. While there are some quality, up-and-coming organizations that specialize in business tech classes, remember this is your career we’re talking about. To ensure a positive impression, go with a solid, reputable school or organization that your potential employer is sure to recognize. A well-known institution is also likely to offer better support services.
6. Career services and support: So you finish the course, then what? This is probably the most important service to look for because long after the program has ended, your success will depend not only on the quality of the course, but on the tools you’re given to put your newly acquired skills into action. Does the program include support services to introduce you to hiring companies, or do they just offer tips on how to go about finding job leads? How long will the support services stay in touch with you? Ask about this before signing up, and look for any available success stories or reviews for more insight.
Laura Stevens is a marketing communications writer and content strategist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.
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