3 Questions to Ask Before Choosing your Post-Secondary Path: Part 1

Since the “Great Recession” took hold of our economy in 2009, thousands of laid off Canadians have decided to go back to school before re-entering the workforce.  Economic downturns can be opportune times to upgrade skills through training or higher education.  People who have been in the same job or industry for too long can transition into a new field.  Alternatively, others will use the chance to supplement their experience in their chosen field with a credential to make them more competitive.

Returning to school is a very exciting time.  It allows you to learn new skills that will help you achieve long-term goals.  It can also be an expensive and time consuming venture.  Before you make a snap decision about where to study or what program to take, here are three questions to keep in mind to ensure you are making the right choice for your career path

1. Is the school/program recongnized in the field?

2. Are the graduates working?

3. Will my choice leave the door open for further studies?

In this 3 part series, we will explore each of these questions individually.  I hope the information will shine some light on some of the common challenges I see when people are trying to set their educational goals.  By considering questions like these in the planning stages of your journey, you will feel more confident that the decision you make will be the very best one for you.

1. Is the school/program recognized in the field?

A good starting point in the educational research process is to determine whether the school or program you want to take has a strong reputation in the workforce.  Irresponsibly, many people don’t take the time to do their homework to see if their school/program is recognized in the field before they jump in feet-first.  These folks, and I’ve worked with many, can end up wasting thousands of dollars and a year or more of their time only to find out the credential they graduate with isn’t worth the paper it was printed on in their industry.

In my experience, people who don’t evaluate the reputation of their school or program thoroughly beforehand usually make one of two key mistakes:

First, some simply assume that their school of choice is recognized because it is well known.   More often than not, this information gets passed along casually through word-of-mouth.  Maybe they have a friend or family member who went to the school and had no trouble finding a job afterwards.  Or maybe a former colleague loved their experience there.  While these types of informal reviews can be encouraging, you should recognize that most people will have positive things to say about their educational experiences.  People don’t want to look foolish by admitting they should have gotten their training at a different institution.  As such, informal feedback about your post-secondary options shouldn’t be taken entirely at face value.  The opinions of employers in the industry are the ones that matter most.   You need pay attention to what they have to say instead of relying too heavily on the people in your social circle (unless, of course, they work in the field!). Some institutions are better than others at preparing students with the practical skills they need to be successful on the job.  Your chances of finding employment go up significantly if you can be certain that your school/program has a solid reputation not only in the community but in the relevant sector of the labour market as well.

The second mistake I often see people make is putting too much emphasis on the credential itself as opposed to WHERE they go for training.  A common assumption is that it doesn’t matter what school I choose, as long as I come out with the diploma I need.  WRONG!  There are huge differences in the quality of programming at different schools.  For example, in BC public schools are usually regarded by employers more favourably than private schools.  But even if you prefer the flexibility of the private school option, you should make sure you are choosing an accredited institution because they are typically better than non-accredited schools.  The PCTIA is a great tool for determining whether a private school is accredited.

Further, just because one program at a specific school is good, this doesn’t mean that every program they offer is effective.  It is crucial to recognize that different types of schools have different specialties.  People looking to get into IT are likely to find better education at a technical school.  Someone who wants to get into community service is probably better suited to a community college setting.  You’ll find that many schools today offer a full continuum of training options for careers in multiple facets of the labour market.  Being aware of what your school does WELL is a critical consideration.  The same program at two different institutions can differ significantly.   I have seen (too) many people come across my path who went into training with the mentality that it was the credential, not the school that mattered most in their educational decision.  Sadly, many of them end up back at square one after making the wrong choice. Only now they have wasted valuable time and are thousands of dollars in debt after getting a certification from a school that has no industry pull.  No need to waste time and money, this is such an easily avoidable scenario if you have this discussion with employers first!

*Ryan Paulson is a Career & Employment Information Specialist @ Pacific Community Resources Society.  He contributes to the MyERC blog through www.myerc.ca.  Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn at http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/ryan-paulson/15/603/11b.

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  1. 3 Questions to Ask Before Choosing your Post-Secondary Path: Part 3 « The My ERC Blog
  2. 3 Questions to Ask Before Choosing your Post-Secondary Path: Part 2 « The My ERC Blog

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