What is the "American Dream"? It's all about working to making a good life for yourself and others in your community. Which is exactly what career colleges in the US train students to do. There's a lot of hype around American universities and 4-year colleges: their reputations, history and so on. But it's not so much where you go to school as what you do with your education that counts. Knowledge is essential for a good job: in the cartoons, G.I. Joe used to say "knowing is half the battle." What's the other half? In today's job market, it's skills. Employers really look at a prospective employees skill set, and according to the bureau of Labor Statistics, 6 of the 10 fastest growing occupational categories require less than a four-year degree. Career colleges aim to provide practical, relevant career education and training so you can get the job you want quickly and with confidence. That's the first step on the road to fulfilling the dream. Sounds good, doesn't it? But what exactly can you expect from career colleges in the US?
Career colleges are privately run post-secondary schools that offer professional and technical career-oriented programs leading to bachelor's degrees, to associate degrees, short-term certificates and diplomas and, ultimately, to direct employment in a particular work field. Some career colleges are single-firm businesses, while others are large multinational corporations with campuses across the United States and Canada. A career college may offer education in a single field or a few related fields, or it may provide programs in a wide variety of career-oriented subjects. Similarly, some career college programs are aimed at training students very specifically for a particular job (arc-welder, for instance), while other programs teach skills that could be applied in a number of careers (such as computer technician programs which can lead to a wide range of employment options). Check out our program-specific pages to learn more about what you can expect from the different fields of study at American career colleges.
In 2006 there were 3,833 career colleges in the United States with total enrollment of about 2 million students. Career colleges try to make learning accessible to as many students as possible; therefore, they can be found everywhere from large cities to small communities. This means there's a good chance one that meets your needs will be near you. Being spread across the country also means career colleges can provide regionally-based programs designed specifically to meet the needs of particular industries in particular areas. Career colleges therefore give back to their communities and contribute to their strength, vitality and growth: for instance the Imagine America Foundation reported in May 2007 that private career colleges contributed $38.6 billion to the US economy in 2005.
And who goes to career college? Anyone who wants to get into the workforce and get a good-paying job quickly. The diversity of schools--in terms of size, programs, history, location and mandate--is matched by the diversity of students they serve: students with different needs, different career goals and different cultural, educational and economic backgrounds. For example, 37% percent of career college students are minorities, and almost 50% are the first generation in their families to pursue post-secondary education. Students can enter direct from high school heading towards their first skilled job or fulfilling university pre-requisites, or as mature students looking for a career change or skills upgrade. However, most everyone choosing to attend a private career college is there because they share a desire for focused and practical study that will make them competitive in the job market. This means a supportive learning environment of students with a common drive.
Career colleges provide educational programs in over 200 occupational fields, including accounting, allied health, office administration, law enforcement administration, culinary and hospitality management, emergency and other medical technologies, information technology, interior design, engineering technology, radio and television broadcasting, applied arts and more. These programs are often offered through flexible course schedules and sometimes online or distance options in order to meet the needs of students juggling study, work and personal commitments.
Apparently, this model works. The US Department of Education reports that 64% of career college students in certificate and associate degree programs graduate within three years, versus only 38% of students in similar programs at community college--where 45% drop out. Graduating is one thing: but do they get jobs? According to the Department of Education, in 2005, 76% of career college graduates were employed immediately after completing their studies.
Unlike public, not-for-profit colleges, most career colleges do not receive state government financial support. Which makes career colleges for-profit schools. But don't let that fact turn you off: being for-profit means the curriculum stays up-to-date, since courses can be changed at any time to reflect industry and market needs. Career colleges compete for students, which results in them offering innovative programs simply not offered by universities and community colleges. Another special feature is their job search/ placement help. Some career colleges offer graduates lifetime job placement assistance. The industry practicum so often part of the curriculum means students already start making job connections while they're learning. Career colleges usually also devote part of their curriculum to topics such as resume writing, interviewing skills, job search techniques, etc. Because most career colleges are smaller (and cheaper!) than universities and community colleges, school administrators or even instructors are often willing and able to meet with prospective students seeking information.
So how will you decide? First you have to decide what you're interested in, then you have to find a school that offers it. Schools in the USA's database of career colleges can help get you started. Once you've spotted a school that seems to suit your interest, check out their website. The site will tell you how to order a catalog and who to call. Then call and even go visit--don't be shy! This is your education. When it comes to private career colleges you are essentially a buyer, so choose carefully the same way you would making any large investment of money and time. And take the time to explore the rest of Schools in the USA's section on career colleges in the US for even more information to help you jump start your career!