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The Right School

Choosing the Right School



Arkansas State University - Mountain Home

D. Peterson
Once you’ve identified what you want to go back to school to learn, how do you find the right school? Clearly, location and cost are big factors. If you live in a metropolitan area, you’ve got a lot more choices. Sometimes there can be so many choices that it’s difficult to know which one is best for you.

There are technical and career schools, universities, colleges, online schools, and more. What’s the difference?

Technical Schools

Technical schools offer training in specific careers that involve technology. Courses teach knowledge and skills focused on specific technical careers such as computer programming, graphic and web design, and electrical/electronic engineering, to name just a few. This is the kind of school you need for technical certification in particular computer programs and software. Technical degrees are also offered by many schools.

There are many good websites available to help you in your search for a technical school. Here are just two:

Career/Vocational/Trade Schools

Some people, and websites, consider technical and career schools the same, and these two types of schools do have the same focus: helping students prepare for a specific career versus a general, liberal arts education. I separate technical because all technical careers involve heavy, even exclusive, use of a computer. If the job you want is on a computer, a good technical school might be best for you.

Career schools offer a wide variety of programs involving specific skills for the following kinds of careers:

  • Mechanic
  • Hair stylist
  • Truck driver
  • Interior designer
  • Chef
  • Photographer

Many offer two-year associate degrees and professional certificates, and some even offer four-year degrees. Other programs might last just a few months.

Community/Junior Colleges

Community Colleges, sometimes referred to as Junior Colleges, offer two-year associate degrees that prepare students for transferring to a four-year college or university program. These colleges serve communities well by offering classes at a variety of times (days, evenings, and weekends), to make it easier for working people to attend. They’re also considerably less expensive than traditional colleges. Most also offer community education courses and seminars.


Universities, both state and private, offer the most edcuational options, from associate and bachelor’s degrees to master’s and doctorates in almost every field. As a result, universities are often very large organizations. This is something to be considered. You might find that kind of setting thrilling or intimidating. If you have a university available to you, check out all of the opportunities it offers before you make a decision.

Private Colleges

Private colleges offer bachelor’s degrees primarily, but many offer graduate degrees also. Many, if not most, are liberal arts schools, which means they provide a general education as opposed to one focused on a particular career, and focus on undergraduate degrees, both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science. The benefit of a liberal arts education is that it exposes students to a wide variety of disciplines, teaches them how to think both critically and creatively, and provides them with a well-rounded education that can be applied in almost any field.

Private colleges are often found in beautiful settings that create a sense of community. Many are affiliated with a religious denomination, and most are rather expensive.

Business Colleges

Business schools are pretty self-explanatory. They focus on business subjects: accounting, business administration, e-commerce, human resources, public relations, marketing, economics, project management…you get the idea.

  • Karen Schweitzer, About.com’s Guide to Business Schools, has a website full of everything you need to know if you’ve chosen an undergraduate degree in business or are after an MBA (Master’s in Business Administration).
  • BusinessSchools.com provides a good directory of both online and on campus schools.

Online Schools

Online schools are fantastically convenient. You can take classes anywhere in the world from your very own living room. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that. Going to school online, however, has its drawbacks. It’s important to thoroughly check out the school you’ve chosen to be sure it’s accredited or your credits will not be recognized or transferable.

Jamie Littlefield is the Guide to Distance Learning at About.com. She can guide you through the process of choosing the right online school for you.


If you have chosen theology, or religion, as your career, a seminary might be the best place for you to get your education. They are usually affiliated with a specific religion, although not always. Many colleges and universities also offer degrees in religion. Check out all of your options if this is your chosen path.


A military college might be the best choice if you know you want a military career. There are a lot of choices, including military prep schools, liberal arts junior colleges, four-year colleges, and academies for specific branches. About.com’s Guide to the U.S. Military, Rod Powers, can help you sort through the choices.

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