Choosing a School

When it comes to selecting an appropriate school for computer education, there are many factors a student should consider. All schools have strengths and weaknesses, and offer different computer courses with differing requirements for completion and accreditation. Ultimately, there are four main types of schools a student can attend.

Basic Computer Skills for Entrance to College (Example)

A popular system of schooling for people who want to get familiar with computers is community colleges. This is probably the most affordable option for students and rarely requires the student to relocate or commute in order to attend. The only drawback is that community colleges don't always offer good specialized or high-level courses. A student may be able to take general and intermediate courses at a community college and then transfer his credits to another school when he is ready for more specialized courses.

State colleges are a second way to receive a computer education. They offer more specialized coursework, and may have more advanced facilities than community colleges. They are also more expensive and may require the student to commute or relocate if there isn't a state college nearby. A four-year degree earned at a state or private college is generally required for any medium to high level job involving computers. Many state colleges recognize courses completed at other accredited schools and will apply these to a student’s requirements for a degree.

A third option for computer education is private schools. They usually offer students more challenging coursework and have smaller classes. Their facilities are often more advanced than those at state colleges. The downside of these schools is that, like state colleges, they may require relocation or commuting. They are also much more expensive than state colleges, and some scholarships do not apply to them. Degrees from some private schools can be very valuable and can almost ensure that a graduate will get a good job.

The fourth option, schools offering online college degrees, is growing in popularity. Many are accredited and recognized by employers. These are perfect for students who benefit from learning at their own pace, or do not have time to attend regularly scheduled classes. They lack the personal interaction of the other options but usually include some form of communication among the student and the instructor and classmates. A student should make sure that the online school in which he wants to enroll is accredited.


Choosing a School

There are two main uses of the word accreditation and both are important to students who want to start careers in information technology (IT). With regards to IT, the term refers to whether the student has taken enough courses to be considered proficient in a specialized field of technology. In a more general educational context, it indicates whether the school itself is recognized as being a good school.

When the word accreditation is used to describe a school or course, it means that school has applied for and meets certain standards set by the US government and/or technological institutions. The purpose of accreditation of colleges and courses is to make sure that they have high enough standards to be useful to those who attend them and to their future employers. Some colleges do not volunteer themselves for accreditation and others fail to meet the required standards.

A student should generally avoid courses and schools that are not accredited, but there are a few situations where a student might want to attend computer courses that aren't accredited.

If a course teaches basic skills, the student is sure of the quality of the education offered, and the courses are being taken toward a degree program, a non-accredited course can be much more affordable than an accredited one. Also, some non-accredited schools are respected enough that employers overlook the fact that they aren’t accredited. These are exceptions, and if students want to take advanced coursework at an accredited school, they may find that those classes are only available to those who have taken basic courses that are also from an accredited school. Also, many forms of financial aid are not offered to students who attend schools that are not accredited

There are three types of accreditation available for schools. These types depend on the kind of school and the quality of the education it offers. Students should make note of the type of accreditation their courses have. Class credits are sometimes not transferable between schools with different accreditation. Regional accreditation is used for state and private schools. National accreditation is generally used by trade schools. Programmatic accreditation is the most valued of the three, and it recognizes institutions that already have a form of accreditation but have an especially strong department that has earned special recognition.

Accreditation, when it is applied to students, refers to the student having taken a number of specialized courses that have prepared him to enter a specific field of work. A college degree is a form of accreditation, but when this term is used, it usually means that additional courses have been taken either in or outside of a standard college environment. These are sometimes required for employees who want to work in certain highly qualified IT fields where a normal course of education is not enough to prepare them for the job. There also might not be a standard college curriculum dedicated to these specific fields.

There are many different kinds of accreditation available for the different branches of information technology. While they are all useful and can strengthen a resume, only some are required. The more advanced the position the student wishes to achieve, the more likely accreditation will be useful or required.

Factors to Consider

When a student has decided to take computer courses or pursue an education in computer science, there are a number of things he should think about before signing up for classes. After the most basic factors, such as the distance a student is willing to travel and the expenses he is able to pay, the quality of education that a school offers should be the primary concern. Just because an educational facility has been accredited to meet general standards does not mean that all programs or courses are of the same quality. Even the same class within an institution may be different depending on the instructor. These are some of the factors that should be considered when a potential student is narrowing down his choices of where to study.

First, does the school or educational program offer a high-quality computer science curriculum? While no school is going to offer classes that they consider to be of low quality, some colleges are generally known to offer stronger programs in specific fields than others. A potential student should visit and look at the facilities of each school he is considering to see how strong the computer science department is. If the computers are old or outdated or if there are any other signs that the department doesn't receive much attention from college administrators, it might not offer the best computer program. Word of mouth can also be helpful since most students who already attend a college are generally aware of the college’s strengths and weaknesses.

The computer curriculum should also be considered. Does it offer the specific courses that the student needs for the branch of computer science in which he is interested? Are those courses offered regularly or only once a year, or even less often? Because the field of computer science is so large, even a school with a strong computer science department may not meet the needs of a student seeking to specialize in a certain career field.

The quality of the instructors should also be considered. Are there any notable professors on staff? If there are, schools usually makes this fact known to potential students. Do the instructors have real-world computer experience in the business world? How many of the courses are taught by actual professors as opposed to teaching assistants? An increasing number of colleges cut costs by having teaching assistants teach the lower level classes. This is not always a bad thing, but a student should make sure that he will receive high quality instruction as soon as he begins advancing in his studies.

What are the demands of the courses offered? Can classes be scheduled around a part- or full-time job? What is the average amount of time a student studies, and how often are students given assignments and tests? How flexible are these assignments?

Most questions can be answered on a tour of the campus. On a campus tour, potential students should be able to visit the department where they want to study. They can usually speak with a professor or a department advisor who can help answer any other questions. Students at many colleges also maintain websites where students can rate and review courses and instructors, and comment on other aspects of their department. Potential students should ask around or do a little research to see if a similar website exists for the school they are considering. Most of all, a potential student should never feel he has to attend a school that seems low quality. Too much money and time is at stake to be wasted on an accredited but poor education.


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