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Understanding Your Higher Education Options - Part 2

The decision about what schooling or training to pursue after high school is a critical one, and will require some research. There are plenty of options, each offering unique opportunities and price points, with some overlap among the different types. We’re here to try and make the decision process a bit easier.

In Part 1 of this series , we covered several avenues to consider when choosing post-secondary education. (Make sure you check it out!) You can learn about some other options below, including online colleges, liberal arts schools, technology colleges, and art and design schools.

5. Online Colleges—Offer academic degrees in select programs which can be earned from anywhere through study and attendance in internet-based courses.

While many universities and colleges offer courses (and even full fields of study) online, online colleges allow you to approach your post-secondary education exclusively through the internet. The flexibility that this option provides is compelling for many students, including single parents, those who work full-time, are in the military or living abroad, or who have physical disabilities that make it difficult to travel to campus.

If you’re considering distance learning, verify that the online college you are considering is regionally accredited to ensure the quality and marketability of your degree. It’s also wise to make sure that the field you intend to work in regularly hires graduates of online programs. It stands to reason, after all, that some programs are better suited to online-only education than others. So be sure to do your research.

Online colleges can provide significant cost-savings over the traditional on-campus education, but they do have their disadvantages as well. Along with the reputation for some unethical or fraudulent “diploma mill colleges”, online programs fall short in providing the social interaction and hands-on learning experiences that an in-person program can provide. Those seeking a more traditional college experience would be better served by an on-campus education.

6. Liberal Arts College—A four-year college focused on producing well-rounded individuals by providing education in a broad range of subjects, including literature, philosophy, history, languages, visual arts, math and social/hard sciences.

A focus on the liberal arts provides students with a broad educational foundation. Unlike technical or vocational schools, this type of education does not include skills-based or professional studies to prepare attendees for a particular career. Instead, liberal arts schools provide opportunities to explore varied interests and develop knowledge that can transfer to many vocations. This degree also teaches critical thinking skills, and helps students better understand, analyze and interpret information.

In addition, small class sizes allow more individualized attention than a typical university, allowing students to develop themselves intellectually in a more personalized environment. The downside is that students may require more specific training in their chosen profession post-graduation. This can make them less appealing to potential employers than graduates of a skills-based program.

A degree in the liberal arts is a good fit for a student who wants the versatility of a bachelor’s degree, but isn’t quite sure what they want to do yet. Many liberal arts colleges, while smaller than universities, also offer opportunities to gain advanced degrees.

7. Institutes of Technology or Technology Colleges-–Provide rigorous study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, culminating in an associates, bachelor’s or advanced degree.

If you’re interested in studying the STEM fields, you might find a technology college or institute a good fit. While many universities also offer a focus in these disciplines, technology institutes specialize in these subjects, enabling in-depth study with fewer general education requirements.

Attending a technology college is a good way to get the skills-focused education and professional training required to start a career in a technical or mechanical field upon graduation. Do your research on the educational requirements of your desired job to determine what degree program is the best fit. Most technology institutes offer options to get a two-year degree in a STEM field to qualify for immediate employment, or transfer to another school to complete a four-year degree.

8. Art and Design Schools—Specialize in comprehensive study of the visual arts, including painting, illustration, graphic design, sculpting and photography.

Have a passion for the arts? An art or design school might be a good fit, but dig further to decide which type is right for your talents and interests.

  • Non-profit. If you love art but still want a wide range of subjects included in your studies, consider a non-profit art school or a university with a well-known art/design program. Similar to a liberal arts school, non-profit art or design colleges (or programs) offer undergraduate and graduate degrees which include general education with an emphasis in the arts. You’ll spend a little less time in the studio, and a little more time taking liberal arts courses such as science, philosophy and history. Most major non-profit art schools belong to the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) , which helps ensure that those schools offer well-rounded degrees, so keep an eye out for that certification.

  • For-profit. If you are looking for a career in an artistic field, and want a more focused art education toward that end, a for-profit art school is probably a better fit. These programs offer the in-depth instruction to prepare you for a career in creative fields like painting, interior design, architecture or illustration. Most for-profit art schools offer a greater variety of degree and certificate options, so you can tailor your education to your particular job, and get to work quicker.

While this gives you a quick view of your major post-secondary options, every school and program is different. Taking the time to talk with teachers, a guidance counselor or mentor can help enormously in finding the institution and program that's best suited for you. It's important to base your area of study on your desired career. Having that endgame in mind will ensure you focus your studies on gaining the knowledge and skills to start on the right economic foot from day one.

Did you miss the first article in our Understanding Your Higher Education Options series? You can find it, and details about several other higher education options, by visiting the link above.