High School Education.
A high school diploma or other certification of academic skills at the high school level is necessary for many of today’s jobs, and for admission into most training programs or institutions of higher education. If you finished high school but have lost your diploma, you can get a replacement diploma.
If you don’t have a high school diploma but want to get one, here are some possibilities:
General Educational Development (GED) CertificateThe General Educational Development (GED) certificate is a nationwide program for people 16 years of age and older who have not completed high school. The GED certification process administers tests in five subject areas:
GED candidates must take tests in person at locations designated by your State Board of Education. People who have successfully completed all five tests receive a certificate stating that their education is at American or Canadian high school education levels.Most states offer programs to help people pass the GED exams. Some states charge for these programs; fees vary from state to state. You can get information about the GED program and requirements in your state. You can look at some GED sample test questions to get an idea of how much preparation you might need.
Language Arts: Writing (also in Spanish or French)
Language Arts: Reading
Social Studies: American and world history, civics, government, economics, geography
Mathematics: Number operations, algebra, geometry, probability and statistics
Science: Life science, earth and space science, physical science
The GED program is most useful for people who intend to use it as a stepping stone to post high school education. Prospective employers may prefer a high school diploma to a GED.
National External Diploma Program (NEDP)If you live in one of the nine states that offer it, the National External Diploma Program (NEDP) might be a useful alternative to the GED.
The NEDP program is run through the local public schools. You can check the NEDP program Web site to see if it's available in your state.
The NEDP is for adults aged 21 or older who have not had recent schooling or test-taking experience, but who have acquired high school-level academic skills elsewhere than in high school.
If you apply for this program, you will be evaluated on your skills in reading, writing, and math, and also on entry-level job skills.
You then get a report that shows the skills you need to improve, plus a list of places where you can get that instruction or training.
When you complete the process, you will get another evaluation. If you pass, you will get an adult high school diploma.
High School OnlineOnline education is an increasingly popular option for all levels, including high school. This option is attractive because it’s convenient and flexible, but there are pitfalls related to quality and price. If you are considering online high school programs, the section on Educational Quality will be helpful to you. There is a wide variety of online education programs:
Some online high school programs are primarily directed to teenagers being home-schooled; others focus on adults coming back to school after a break.
Some online programs offer a very flexible, work-at-your-own-pace program, while others start at a basic level and work with groups in classes to complete a fixed curriculum.
Some provide online exams corrected by a teacher, while others leave it to the students to take and check their own exams.
Some offer access to help and instructors by phone and email; others offer only email access.
Some programs offer a high school diploma; others simply provide preparation for the GED. Some online options even make bogus offers, such as issuing their own GED certificate. (The state must issue the GED, following an exam the individual must take in person.)
Some plainly list their accreditation, but others say little or nothing about their credentials.
Some online programs are “dot-coms” (.com), which indicates that they are likely to be for-profit schools, while others are “dot-edus” (.edu), or nonprofit educational institutions.
Prices for online programs range from free to thousands of dollars.
Paying for High School EducationAlthough there are some no- or low-cost programs for people who want to complete high school, you may not find one that is accessible to you; or you may not have the resources to pay for needed exams, materials, or even low tuition. There are grants and scholarships for high school students in need:
You can find information about scholarships for high school students, and lists of scholarships at the following Web sites:
Many are funded by large companies or advocacy organizations.
Some are one-time grants; some are longer term.
Some are prizes for contests, such as essays on a given topic.
Post High School Education and Training
Post high school education includes any formal training after high school. The quality of high school education is extremely variable, so post high school education or training has become increasingly desirable. There are many kinds of higher education credentials, ranging from certificates of proficiency in specific skills to doctoral degrees.
There is no simple formula for what to learn, where to learn it, or how to pay for it.
If you’re not sure about what you want, the section on Career Planning offers ideas and suggestions about choosing a career. Before you embark on a career-training program, it is important to have a complete understanding of what the career entails, including your aptitude for the tasks involved, working hours, and career paths.
Your education process depends on your interests, career goals, priorities, and financial situation.
- Some people choose an educational goal, focus intensely on it, and zoom through on grants and loans to be repaid in the future.
- Others with the same goal may prefer to take more time and end up with less debt.
- Still others will take a course here and there, as time and resources permit.
- And some defer educational dreams, returning to school when financial pressures ease, to study subjects that interest them.
Because higher education is so flexible, you can usually adjust your plan if you change your mind about your goal, subject, or school, or if your financial situation changes.
Many careers have nonspecific or several different career paths. It’s worth thinking through all the possibilities before you embark on an expensive and perhaps unnecessary program.
- A senior executive in a large business may have gone through college and a graduate school of business, or she may have started at the business in an unskilled position straight out of high school.
- A professional artist or writer may have a Master of Fine Arts degree, or he may have no degree at all.
Technical and Trade Education
Many schools offer specialized training in fields such as cosmetology, plumbing, dental or medical skills, construction, auto repair, court reporting, or electronics.
Occupations like these require specific skills. Practitioners generally need a certificate or license.
Most of these occupations (unlike manufacturing jobs) won’t migrate overseas because they provide services needed locally.
You can get technical training at dedicated skills schools, community colleges, and, in some cases, through trade union programs.
Courses may be as short as four to six months, or as long as several years.
For some ideas about trade schools, you might look at this Web site , which lists schools by location for a variety of trades including auto body work, landscaping, welding, and mechanical drafting.
Community colleges are two-year public institutions that offer a broad range of courses, which lead to a certificate or associate degree, or serve as a bridge to a four-year college. Community colleges are extremely popular because they are relatively inexpensive and offer a wide range of options:
Most also offer online distance-learning programs for people who find it hard to get to campus.
Many have excellent reputations, and their credits are widely accepted at other institutions.
They also offer remedial work for students whose high school training was inadequate.
Entrance requirements are fairly simple:
Most community colleges accept a high school diploma or GED certificate to fulfill their entrance requirements.
Most also recognize home-schooling completion as the equivalent of high school for students aged 16 or older who have a copy of a signed home-school agreement between a parent and the school system where the student lived at the time.
If you are taking a course for personal enrichment or career improvement, you may not need the high school diploma.
Community colleges generally offer programs in
Among the many advantages you may find with community colleges are
Colleges and UniversitiesIn the United States, the line between “college” and “university” is blurred.
In general, a college is either a two-year school that confers an associate’s degree, like the community and technical schools described above, or a four-year school that offers a curriculum leading to a bachelor’s degree in a variety of subject areas.
A university is a collection of colleges that also offers master’s degrees and doctorates (the highest academic degrees).
But some colleges offer masters’ degrees or other graduate programs in some areas.
Some colleges are essentially professional schools, such as colleges of engineering.
Some colleges offer only postgraduate programs, such as law or business.
And some schools that offer college-like programs are called “institutes.”
In the United States four-year colleges and universities may be:
And, of course, there are online schools, which require few or no personal appearances by the students.
Public institutions, supported by state or city taxes;
Private institutions, which receive no outright government subsidies;
Residential schools, where most of the students come from elsewhere and live in school-supplied housing; or
“Commuter” schools, where most of the students live in the area and commute to school from their homes.
None of these characteristics is a reliable indicator of the quality of education provided, or an indicator of actual cost. Although tuitions at public institutions are usually far lower than at private schools, scholarships may make the private school equally affordable.
The essential requirement for admission to schools of advanced learning is a high school diploma. But four-year colleges and universities generally have additional requirements and measures:
Some state universities guarantee admission to students who have completed two years of community college with a given grade point average (GPA).
By far the most common and most important requirement is the applicant’s level of ability and likelihood of successfully graduating from the school, as indicated by his high school grades and entrance test results.
Most schools can accommodate only a limited number of students (although that number may be in the tens of thousands). If they have more qualified applicants than openings, schools will use criteria such as the applicants’ interests, geographic location, or cultural background to select who will be admitted.
Public universities will give preference to those who live in their area of service, usually charging higher tuition to those who live outside that area.
Private schools, in contrast, often seek “diversity,” preferring students whose lives and experiences represent a broad spectrum of race, economic status, geography, and culture.
Post High School Education OnlineBecause of its convenience, education online, or “distance learning,” is often attractive for people who must earn their living or care for family members while they seek their education. All the considerations listed under Educational Quality apply to online courses, with some additional precautions:
Consider also the structure of the program:
Technical support and reliability are a necessity. You need dependable access to the essential Internet sites, and someone to turn to for help if you have a technical problem.
Instructors must be proficient in the technical skills required, as well as in their educational specialties.
Student must have reasonable access to the instructor or a qualified assistant for questions about the course materials or assignments.
Students should get regular and personal feedback about how they are doing in the course.
For students in a course that requires hands-on activities, whether in a lab, a library, or an internship in the field, how does the institution provide for such activities, and how does it check the quality of the facilities where it sends its students?
If schools offer both on site and online courses, are the qualifications and experience of the online instructors comparable to those of the on site instructors?
Potential employers may not regard an online college or university degree with the same respect as a degree from a traditional school.
Are students required to be available at fixed times for discussion, or from time to time for a face-to-face meeting?
Are tests self-corrected, or reviewed and corrected by instructors?
Does your computer have the required technical capabilities?
Educational QualityMost people who go to school want both to learn and to get credit for the learning. So it is extremely important to check the quality of any educational institution you’re thinking of attending.
Following are some topics to consider when you are assessing the quality of a school.
Schools range from the ultimate in prestige and achievement to outright fakes that hand out worthless certificates to people who may have paid them thousands of dollars.
Local schools with little or no widespread prestige may offer excellent programs.
Large, expensive, nationally prominent schools may have great prestige, but they may offer programs of uneven quality with little flexibility or personal attention to their students.
AccreditationAccreditation certifies that the services and operations of an educational institution meet certain professionally accepted standards. Accrediting agencies are also responsible for monitoring schools in their specific areas of education or training. There are dozens of accrediting agencies, but not all are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
If you think you may want to apply for government loans to help fund your education, you must enroll at an institution accredited by an agency that the government recognizes.
Any school or training program you consider should be accredited by a “recognized” accrediting agency, one you can find on the government’s list. If it is not, its certificates or diplomas will be of doubtful value. You can find more information and a complete list of national accrediting agencies here.
There are two types of recognized accrediting agencies: national and regional. Schools accredited by national accrediting organizations are
There are dozens of national accrediting agencies.
generally for-profit, and
offer vocational, technical and career training.
Schools accredited by regional agencies
Some are general, such as the Distance Education and Training Council.
Others, like the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, focus on specific fields.
There are only six regional accrediting agencies. They are all called “Association of Colleges and Schools,” preceded by the regions they cover:
are generally academically oriented, nonprofit institutions, and
include both public and private colleges and universities.
There are also dozens of accreditation organizations that do not have government recognition.
Their endorsement is of limited value because it does not necessarily conform to the standards of the recognized accreditors.
The government will not fund education at schools that lack accreditation from a recognized organization.
Course Offerings and CurriculumOnce you are satisfied with its accreditation, you will want to make sure that any institution you enroll in offers the curriculum, or course of instruction, that will qualify you to meet your goal.
If, for instance, you’re interested in cooking or food service, you can find hundreds of schools that offer training in culinary arts:
- Offerings range from a certificate after six months to a bachelor’s degree after three years—all “culinary arts” certifications.
- You can specialize in a given cuisine, such as French or Italian, or in a given focus area, such as pastry cooking or restaurant management.
- And if you’re in it to earn a living, you don’t want to find yourself in a “cooking is my favorite hobby” class.
Here are some ways to confirm that a school’s curriculum meets your needs:
If engineering is your interest, you will want to make sure that any school you consider offers a few of the 25 or more engineering specialties you might prefer; otherwise, you may find yourself qualifying for a certificate as a building engineer, a very different occupation.
Check the career descriptions at the U.S. Government Department of Labor Web site for a list of the qualifications you will need for a career or careers you are considering, and see how they compare with the school’s offerings.
Review and compare the courses and requirements of three or four different institutions that offer the certificate or degree you want. They should all be similar, even though differently presented. For instance, some schools require specific courses in particular areas, while others require a given number of courses in each of certain fields, and still others have no required courses.
If you want to advance in a field you are already working in, talk to a supervisor or qualified co-worker about the training they think would be most helpful.
Meet with a career counselor or dean at the school you are considering and talk about how the course the school offers provides the qualifications you need.
Talk to graduates of the school who are doing the work you are interested in.
Quality of InstructionQuality of instruction is more difficult to measure than some of the other aspects of an educational program or institution. Accrediting agencies measure instructors’ degrees and other qualifications, but this doesn’t tell you about their teaching methods or abilities.
A course taught by Instructor X may be informative and exciting, while the same course taught by Instructor Z may be boring and trite.
Some courses lend themselves to large lecture format, while others require small classes with hands-on assistance from the instructor. Depending on the subject, you may be able to make your own judgment. For instance, a science course that lacks hands-on laboratory instruction is probably not the best training.
Some courses, especially in the arts, offer products, such as performances or exhibits, which will give you an idea of their quality.
Probably the best way to judge quality of instruction is to sit in on a few classes. Unfortunately, this is often not possible or practical.
If you are considering a community college, you can find out whether its credits are accepted by four-year accredited colleges and universities or other institutions where you may want to transfer for advanced training.
Some schools offer online reviews of teachers, written by students who have taken their courses.
Paying for Post High School EducationEven at a public college or university, the costs may be huge. When you invest in post-high school training, it’s critically important to confirm that the return will justify your costs. Some for-profit institutions charge so much, especially for skills- and trades-training, that your earnings may never cover your tuition costs.
Another important consideration in planning for post-secondary education is how you will pay for it.Essentially, there are three options:Most people use more than one of these methods, and some use all of them.You can find good descriptions of the possibilities and helpful information at these Web sites:The choices and process for educational funding are so complicated that you may want to download or even get a print copy of the government booklet, Funding Education Beyond High School: The Guide to Federal Student Aid. You can order it online, by phone at 1-800-394-7084 or 1-877-433-7827, or by writing to ED Pubs, Educational Publications Center, U.S. Dept of Education, PO Box 1398, Jessup, MD 20794.
Most colleges and universities have a financial aid office, whose representatives will give you helpful advice about the best way to pay your student costs. By and large, college financial aid officials are knowledgeable and caring. But their perspective will be different from yours. They don’t have to pay your bills, and they do have an interest in getting you to enroll; so they may be less concerned than you are about how to repay large amounts of debt.
Reducing Your Costs
The best way to fund your education is to pay as you go. This means
looking for the most economical program that meets your needs,
using savings and current income from jobs,
seeking grants and scholarships,
or finding work-study programs
to reduce your costs.
Textbooks can be very expensive. You can reduce costs for textbooks by buying used books either in the school bookstore on by searching online. You will find numerous used textbook sites by googling "used textbooks." You can also rent textbooks. A good place to look is http://www.textbookrentals.com/ , which compares price of different companies for the titles you need.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
To find out more about your eligibility for grants and loans, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is required when you are applying for government assistance.
Most private institutions use the FAFSA as a basis for their decisions about grants, work-study programs, and loans.
To learn about this form, go to the government's FAFSA site. There you will find a link to the “FAFSA4caster,” which you can fill out to get an estimate of your eligibility for federal aid.
After you submit the completed form, you will get a “Student Aid Report” that lists the “Expected Family Contribution,” or the amount the federal government has determined you should pay to attend the school or schools you plan to attend.
Another useful resource is Ultimate FAFSA Resource Guide
Scholarships and grants
Scholarships and grants are gifts of money or reductions in tuition. There are numerous sources of grants and scholarships:
- The federal government issues Pell grants, based on need. You can find out more about these grants.
- Individual colleges and universities offer grants, scholarships, and work-study assistance based on need and/or merit. Most schools will ask you to submit the FAFSA, the same form as the federal government uses, to calculate need. The amount of available funds may be limited, and schools’ formulas for determining need may differ from school to school. One Web site, www.guaranteed-scholarships.com, lists colleges and universities that offer financial aid not limited by number to all who meet the listed criteria, some as simple as "living on campus."
- Private scholarships are offered by many organizations, sometimes as prizes. You can get information about these “private” scholarships at commercial sites like Scholarships.com and Fastweb. com, as well as from the sites above. To get information at these sites, you may have to give information about yourself that may be useful to their owners.
- Companies and unions may offer scholarships and grants to employees and their families. If you or a family member work at a large corporation, or belong to a union, don’t overlook this possibility. http://www.unionplus.org/college-education-financing/union-plus-scholarship lists scholarships available for those affiliated with unions.
- You may be eligible for scholarships based on religion, race, or ethnicity, or even location. See http://collegeprowler.com/scholarships/ or https://www.mycollegeoptions.org/scholarship-search-by-location.aspx search-by-location.aspx for scholarships listed by category.
- If you are in the military or are interested in a career in the military,consider a military source of aid. All military options require a commitment to a term of service upon completion of the course. Options include
- Aid for members of the military and their families.
- Reserve officers’ training corps (ROTC).
- Scholarships and stipends for graduate training in areas such as medicine and law.
- You also can look at the Web sites of the armed services academies (the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the quasi-military Coast Guard) and the government-supported Merchant Marine Academy. There is a list of academies and links to their Web sites here
- There are usually no restrictions on the number of scholarships you may hold, so you might want to apply for several and use as many as you can get.
- Loan forgiveness programs are a possibility for people interested in certain occupations, such as teaching.
- In these programs, if you are employed in a public service job for 10 years after graduation, and you have made regular payments on your loans, the remaining principal and interest on your federal loan are eliminated.
- Covered occupations include firefighters, law enforcement personnel, public health and public social workers, public school teachers, and public librarians, among others.
- Here is more information about loan forgiveness programs.
Work-study programs offer reductions in costs in exchange for part-time work:
- The federal government sponsors work-study programs at thousands of colleges.
- Your FAFSA status determines your eligibility for these programs.
- Programs may involve working off-campus at nonprofit or public agencies.
- Another possibility is school-funded part-time work on campus.
- These jobs are not based on your FAFSA status and are not considered part of a financial aid package.
- Income from regular campus jobs is taxable and will be considered as a resource in financial aid requests.
Education LoansBecause advanced education often results in greater income, education is one of the few areas in which borrowing money sometimes makes sense. But it is important to think carefully before you borrow about when and how you will repay any loans. If you are not familiar with the basics, you can read the section on borrowing and lending money for an overview of what’s involved in taking out a loan.
Government policies make it very easy to get an education loan, but banks and other lending institutions are under no obligation to point out possible difficulties in repaying loans.
Your ability to repay loans will depend on your future earnings. You don’t want to find yourself owing tens of thousands of dollars on an income that isn’t enough to cover loan payments without hardship.
To figure out how much you can afford to borrow:
- Start by making a rough estimate of the income you realistically expect to have after you complete your education.
- Subtract your living costs (including taxes).
- Set aside part of the remainder for savings and emergencies.
- What’s left is approximately what you will have available to pay off your loan.
Federal student loans
The federal government makes a variety of loans:
A subsidized loan is one that does not accumulate interest while the student is in school. To get this kind of loan, a student must be deemed eligible through the FAFSA process.
Students may also get a federal loan without FAFSA eligibility. These loans are not subsidized, and interest does accrue while the student is in school.
The government guarantees both kinds of loans, but the borrower must borrow from regular banks or other lenders. Loan fees and repayment terms will vary.
Some schools do not require students to go through a bank; instead, the schools receive money for loans directly from the government, which they pass on to the students.
There are limits on the amount you can borrow. The limits vary depending on your situation.
Federal loans carry an interest rate fixed by the government.
Private student loansPrivate student loans are another possibility, although they probably will be more expensive and more difficult to get.
You can find a good summary of these options at www.SimpleTuition.com.
Unless you have a steady job and a good credit rating, you will probably need a co-signer for a private loan, someone who is willing and able to pay off the loan should you fail to do so.
The interest rate for a private student loan is not regulated, and rates will vary depending on the bank and your financial situation.
Payments may be deferred while you are enrolled in school.
Borrowing limits may be higher.
A recent innovation involves private lending on a personal basis between individuals.
- Lenders set a fixed interest rate and formalize a loan agreement.
- There is a one-time fee for students and a management fee for the lenders.
- The site works on an auction basis, offering three-year loans at fixed rates.
- This business charges a fee, currently 3% or a minimum of $50, for finalizing a loan.
- Monthly payments are withdrawn automatically from your bank account.
School-sponsored emergency loans
School-sponsored emergency loans may be available in situations in which anticipated loans or grants are slow in coming, or when students have unexpected financial problems and must apply for loans at the last minute. These bridge loans are intended only to tide students over until a more permanent arrangement is set. Most of these loans need to be repaid within weeks.
Credit for Education at Foreign InstitutionsYou may be a U.S. citizen currently living outside the United States, or you have lived or expect to be living in another country. If you have taken college courses abroad or are interested in doing so, there are several potential ways to receive academic credit in the United States for your study abroad.
American-Sponsored Study AbroadMany American colleges and universities sponsor study-abroad programs. Some will even pre-approve independent study abroad.
Participants in these programs can confirm in advance what credit the parent institution awards.
Programs administered by an accredited American institution will generally be recognized by other American institutions.
Credit for Study Abroad Not Sponsored by an American InstitutionFor those who have studied outside the United States without pre-approval from an American institution, it is more complicated to get credit.
There is no centralized authority in the United States for recognition of degrees or credentials received outside the country.
It is up to the admitting, hiring, or licensing institution to determine recognition for studies completed abroad.
Different institutions have different requirements and procedures. If you want to seek credit for courses or degrees you have acquired abroad, consult the institution or organization involved about the process and information it requires.
Many institutions depend on the recommendations of credential-evaluating services, independent organizations that research and compare the programs of foreign school to those of American schools.
Usually the person seeking the credit must pay for an independent analysis of the degree or credential in question. Costs vary, depending on the complexity of the investigation.
The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions (AACRA), for instance, charges a basic fee of $75 for its Foreign Education Credentials services. In addition to filling out an application form, applicants must submit copies of all foreign educational records in their original language (accompanied by a literal translation into English, signed by the translator, if they are in another language). You must submit payment with your application. AACRA does not accept personal checks, but you can pay either by money order or credit card.