What Are My Education Options?

The first thing you want to do when you find yourself unemployed is to start looking for a new job, probably something similar to what you were doing before. That makes sense if there are jobs available. But if jobs are scarce in your area, or in your industry, you may want to consider improving your education. Not only does more education make it easier to get a job in the short term, but it makes you more valuable to your employer in the long term, which translates to more job security and better pay. While the idea of pursuing more education might seem unrealistic or even intimidating, there are as many options for college, career education, and job training as there are people looking for work.

Four-Year College

This is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about higher education: Massive lecture halls, ivy-covered buildings, dorm food, and binge drinking. Four-year colleges offer you the opportunity to study a particular subject in depth while also taking elective courses that introduce you to new topics and let you pursue your interests.

One of the advantages of a four-year college is the opportunity to gain a more well-rounded education. Some colleges focus on in-depth career field education, while others prefer a liberal arts education program devoted to developing broader critical thinking, communications, and research skills. Either way, four-year colleges give you the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom with internships, extracurricular activities, and student clubs. Some employers require a four-year college degree, even if they don’t explicitly say so in a job posting. Even if they don’t require it, a four-year degree always improves your odds of landing an interview.

On the other hand, a traditional degree is expensive. According to the College Board, tuition and fees at a four-year college cost an average of $7,605 per year. Private colleges average a whopping $27,293 per year. Most people pay for school with loans, grants, and scholarships, but those may not cover everything, and they can leave you with a sizeable debt in addition to your degree. Traditional colleges can also take up a great deal of time in addition to money. Four years can be a very long time to try and live on loans, grants, and state assistance. While some schools offer accelerated degree options, they are very intense and often only cut a year off of the time it takes to earn your degree. Four-year colleges also require you to take courses outside your major, which can be expensive, time-consuming, and difficult.

Two-Year College

Two-year colleges, known as community colleges or junior colleges, offer some of the benefits of a four-year degree in less time and for far less money. Two-year colleges offer Associates degrees in most major areas of study, as well as career-specific degrees and certificates in just about any career field you can imagine.

There are some definite advantages to a two-year college degree. You can earn an Associate’s Degree in two years, or as little as eighteen months. Two-year colleges are also significantly less expensive, with an average tuition and fees cost of $2,713 per year. Many community colleges tailor their degree programs to specifically teach the skills that employers want in entry-level workers.

There are some downsides to an Associate’s Degree. Even people with Bachelor’s Degrees find themselves unemployed in a weak economy. This means that there is increased competition for every job posted, and four-year degrees are often more desirable to employers than two-year degrees. Some employers require four-year degrees and will not even consider applicants without them.

On the other hand, employers often consider people with four-year degrees to be overqualified for certain administrative and support jobs. People with more education, skills, and experience than a position requires will often use the job to pay bills, and quit as soon as they find something more to their liking. Employers don’t want to spend the time and money recruiting and training two new people, so an applicant with a lower but more targeted education may actually have an advantage in these positions.

Career Colleges and Trade Schools

While two-year colleges offer a condensed version of the four-year college experience, career colleges and trade schools offer targeted degree programs that teach you the specific skills you need to land a job in particular fields. Career colleges and trade schools offer Associates degrees and certification in fields ranging from medical assisting to auto repair.

If you are looking for a stable career in a field served by a career college, they have certain advantages over two-and-four-year colleges. Career college curriculums are very focused and targeted to teach you the skills you need to succeed. These schools typically employ experts in the career fields and work directly with employers to develop their training programs. They also require students to put their skills into practice in the field by completing externships with employers. These externships often leads to permanent jobs, and even when they don’t, many career colleges offer ongoing job placement assistance for years after completing your degree. Career colleges also have financing departments that work to find scholarships, grants, loans, and other funding options to fit your situation and make paying tuition as easy as possible.

The disadvantage to a degree from a career college or trade school is that they are virtually worthless outside of that particular field. A degree in medical billing isn’t likely to impress a design firm looking for a studio helper or a logistics company looking for a dispatcher. Because career colleges are accredited by different agencies than two-and four-year colleges, your credits from a career college may not transfer if you decide to go to another school. Before you invest in a career college or trade school, be sure it is really what you want to do.

Online Colleges

The variety of degrees, majors, and courses available online is almost unbelievable. Even Harvard University has online courses available. You can take a few classes to learn new skills, pursue a graduate degree to supplement your existing education, or even earn a complete four-year degree online.

Most of the advantages of an online education are pretty obvious. You get to learn from home (or the library, or the coffee shop, or the beach) instead of being stuck in a classroom. You can learn at your own pace, and go over material as many times as you need to get it. And because many traditional schools offer online degree programs, you get the benefits of a high quality education (not to mention a degree that looks good on a resume).

The downside of an online degree is that there are a lot of online schools out there that are not accredited or particularly reputable. These “diploma mills” either have very low standards, or just sell fake diplomas to anyone who can pay the fee. Most employers will check out a school they don’t recognize on your resume, and your chances are pretty slim if they find out you got your degree from an unaccredited school. Unfortunately, because of a few schools that practice this kind of deception, many employers see online degrees as second-class or even worthless, even if they come from well-known and accredited schools.

Conventional wisdom says that more education makes you more employable. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms it, saying that the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job, and the more money you make earn as a result. But remember that you are not a statistic. The education that you pursue should reflect your career goals, your ability, and your willingness to commit to a difficult long-term project

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