By Thomas Hauck

You’ve just graduated from high school and you’re making career plans . Or you’re a working adult and you’re ready for a job change. You decide to get career training, and you start to research technical schools and colleges. The question is–what can you expect by earning your certificate or degree?

You’ve heard the claims made by some career schools in advertisements. For example, a computer school might claim that after earning your computer network certificate, you could expect to earn $50,000 a year as an IT specialist. You may have heard ads that state that certain career fields–say, medical assisting or massage therapy–are booming, and with training you could expect to get your dream job in one of these growing fields.

Getting career training is a good thing. But exaggerated promises are counterproductive. You know that building a rewarding career for yourself is a challenging process, and that in this difficult economy there is no “magic bullet” for success. You need some straight talk about career schools and jobs.

So, what should you expect from a career education program ?

Expect to gain job skills. That’s why you go to a career school–to learn new skills and increase your value in the job marketplace. A career school won’t make you popular, or happier, or transform your life overnight. What a good career school can do is give you greater knowledge and experience that will help you qualify for a rewarding and higher-paying career. You’ll be better equipped to compete for the best jobs, and you’ll have more confidence when you walk in for that important job interview. A good career school can help you change your life one step at a time, in a way that you can feel good about.

Choose a program you love. There’s no substitute for your own passion. Don’t sign up for a program just because they say it’s “hot.” Follow your heart. If you love to draw and paint, you might want to consider a graphic arts program. If you love to help people feel better, perhaps massage therapy is for you.

Check out real-world training opportunities . Many schools provide training with equipment and conditions found in the job environment. If you’re considering a program in cosmetology, make sure that the school offers hands-on training under salon conditions. If you are entering an automotive program, make sure the school has up-to-date equipment and the opportunity to do real work on real vehicles.

Schools aren’t employment agencies. Most schools want to help their grads get rewarding careers, and offer career development services. The school’s career office may assist you to spruce up your résumé and even provide job leads. But no school will guarantee a job to anyone. It’s up to you to get out there and nail that job interview.

You may need state or federal certification to get some jobs. Earning your degree will prepare you for a certification exam, but you need to pass it on your own. For example, if you complete a home health aide program, federal law requires home health aides to pass a competency test covering a wide range of areas. All states require barbers, cosmetologists, and many other personal appearance workers to be licensed. Your school should provide information on what you need to do to take any required certification tests.

Don’t believe the hype. Some schools may convey the impression that you’re guaranteed a high-paying job after graduation, and may even give expected salary figures. Reputable and accredited schools follow employment trends very closely, and most career schools don’t offer programs in career areas that are not in demand. However, there are no assurances-a career school can help you get qualified and can help you be more competitive in the job marketplace, but it can’t guarantee you a job.

Do not buy a degree from a “diploma mill.” If you have a lapse in personal ethics and are considering buying a degree, think again. Employers aren’t naïve. They know all about the diploma mills and you will not get past the front door of the human resources office. Plus, you are only hurting yourself because if you buy a diploma, you won’t have any skills! If by some chance you get hired you’ll find yourself up the creek without a paddle.

How can you decide what job training program is right for you? The best way is to do your research online . Go to a reputable school directory website. Browse through the career schools and programs. Check out online programs, too. See if the career schools are accredited and if they offer financial aid. When you’ve narrowed down your choices to the top four or five, then email them through the directory. The schools you have chosen will either contact you or send you information. You can apply to as many schools as you want within your budget and how much time you have. And then you’ll be ready to enroll, earn your certificate or degree, and prepare for a rewarding career.

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