Earning a college degree can help you find better-paying jobs and positions of upward mobility. Understanding the types of degrees and the career paths they open can help you make college choices that are right for you.
Options for Each Degree
Depending on your goal, there are many options in the collegiate marketplace.
• Vocational and technical schools can train you in vocations so you can get a job right after graduation. These programs can give you the knowledge you need to take licensing exams or to prepare for an entry-level position in a technical trade. Depending on the program, you may also earn a diploma and certificate. The coursework in these programs is usually not transferable to other institutions of higher learning.
• Community colleges (junior colleges) typically offer a variety of two-year programs that give you the skills and knowledge you need for entry-level jobs. Credits for courses you complete for an associate's degree can usually be used toward a bachelor's degree at other accredited colleges. The cost of a community college is generally lower than that of four-year colleges and universities.
• Universities and colleges generally offer four-year and master's degrees. Institutions that offer medical degrees are nearly always affiliated with a nearby hospital in which students can perform their residencies and internships. Depending on the degree programs offered, research facilities and centers specializing in particular areas of study may be available as well.
In each educational category, you can do your coursework in brick-and-mortar classrooms, through online interfaces or with a combination of the two. Exploring the available options can help you achieve your educational and career goals in the most cost-efficient way possible.
Why Accreditation Matters
Accreditation is important when you are selecting a school. Accredited schools meet stringent requirements for their educational programs and curricula, ensuring that students who graduate from these institutions have acquired the skills and training necessary to compete in the job market.
In many cases, having a degree from an accredited program is a must to get a job in your chosen career.
Trends in the Cost of College
Over the last five years the average cost of attending college has gone up by about 18%. When room and board are figured into the total, the annual cost of a college education can easily exceed $40,000 at private nonprofit four-year universities. The cost is significantly lower at state colleges. It is important that you look at all scholarship and financial aid options.
Added Options and Convenience
While most schools offer at least some brick-and-mortar classes, the role of online learning is increasingly more common. Ensuring that online-only university courses are accredited and accepted by other institutions is critical . Accreditation is essential to ensure the portability of credits and their acceptance by other schools and potential employers. Online courses completed at an accredited school can offer added convenience for working adults and students with specific schedule requirements and limitations.
Choosing a Learning Method
For some students, attending classes in traditional brick-and-mortar settings can increase engagement and motivation. Others may enjoy the freedom and responsibility required to complete online coursework successfully. Time management can be critical in either environment. Additionally, as more colleges and universities embrace the online learning paradigm, many classes are combining online elements with classroom experience to create hybrid courses for their students.
Choosing an accredited college or university that offers the degree programs that you want and that has a good reputation can often pave the way for a rewarding career. The biggest challenge today is paying for your college education. Click here to get the basics of finding ways to help pay for your education.
Affording a College Education
As the costs of higher education continue to rise, you may be faced with tough decisions:
• Living at home vs. living on-campus
• Private vs. public university options
• Beginning studies at a two-year community college vs. four years at a single university or college
• Working to earn money for college vs. student loans
Your personal preferences and finances will dictate many of these decisions. Here are some of the most popular ways to fund higher education.
Students with high grades, exceptional test scores or special talents can sometimes qualify for scholarships. Private sector scholarships are designed for use at any accredited institution of higher learning. Institutional scholarships are specific to certain colleges or universities. Scholarship funds do not have to be repaid.
Federal and state agencies offer grants to deserving students based on financial need. The amount of grant money available to you will vary depending on your financial situation and the cost of tuition and fees at your educational institution. There are four basic categories of federal education grants:
• Pell grants are awarded to students pursuing their first bachelor's or professional degree. Amounts are based on your enrollment status, the amount of contribution expected from family members and the cost of attendance at your college or university.
•The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant offers added funding for students and can be combined with Pell grant funding in most cases.
• Iraq and Afghanistan Service grants are available to students whose parent or guardian lost his or her life during their military service in these countries.
• The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grants, also known as TEACH grants, are available to students pursuing a career in the teaching field.
State grants may also be available to supplement the federal options listed above.
Federal work-study programs allow you to earn money toward college by working part-time on or near campus. This can provide valuable experience while helping with college costs. Eligibility for these programs generally depends your individual and family income.
One of the most popular options for college funding is also among the most costly. Student loan debt in the U.S. is currently estimated at $1.2 trillion nationwide. Explore the options above to find ways to reduce your need for student loans.
Reducing the High Cost of Higher Education
Choosing a public university instead of the more expensive private institutions can sometimes bring the cost of tuition and fees down to a manageable level. Applying for multiple private sector scholarships as well as institution-specific programs can also provide added funding. Finally, some online college programs may be well-suited to students who must work during the day and attend courses on a more flexible schedule.
Because you have your own goals and priorities, you need to choose the options right for you. Consider all available options and create a cohesive plan for choosing a university, a degree program and the right solutions for funding the cost of your studies. These things will help ensure your success and lower your debt burden.