TOP TEN TIPS
KNOW BEFORE YOU ENROLL
1. If a school sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
2. Beware of promises. Avoid schools that “guarantee jobs.” Some schools have ads claiming 90% job placement rate – that’s false advertising. Don’t believe promises about specific jobs or salaries you can get. Report any false advertising to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
3. Research. Research. Research. There are many resources to pick a college, especially the new GI Bill College Comparison tool at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Also check out the Education Department’s College Navigator, Department of Defense's TA Decide and Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America’s GI Bill Calculator.
4. If a school is pushing you to sign up, beware. Don’t sign up the same day. Reputable schools don’t harass you to enroll. Schools that pressure you don’t care about you. Don’t believe lines like, “Classes are starting soon; I won’t be able to save you a spot if you don’t enroll today.” This is a classic deception.
5. Find out all of your options. State universities and community colleges usually cost less and offer accredited, licensed programs, with reputations for quality. Before you sign up: Compare the costs. Compare the quality. Compare graduation rates in your field.
6. Not all accreditation is the same. Ask employers what they respect. Accreditation is not as straightforward as it seems. Not all accreditations are respected by future employers or by universities if you try to transfer credits later. And some specific careers require a license that you can't get if your program didn't have the "right" accreditation - such as nurses, massage therapists, social workers, dental assistants, truck drivers, lawyers, etc. Even big name schools might not have the right accreditation for your career success. For example, Kaplan has a law school and a dental assistant program; but because those programs aren't properly accredited you cannot practice those professions in most states. Don't take a school's word for it. Only go to a program that's accredited by the accreditation that employers in your field respect.
7. Don’t take their word for it. Find out for yourself. Some schools will mislead you. Don’t believe labels like “Veteran-Friendly,” “Military-Friendly,” and “Military-Approved” – some of these schools treat veterans terribly and are just after GI Bill dollars.
• Ask employers which schools they respect and recommend.
• Sit in on a class. Ask students what they think. Ask graduates about their jobs. Read on-line reviews.
• Find out what percentage of students actually graduate. Do most drop-out? What does that tell you?
• Do a web search – has the school been found guilty of defrauding students? Are there lawsuits pending? Is it the target of federal law enforcement action for deceiving students?
• Find out how much the school spends on education costs. If most of their money is spent on marketing, executive salaries, and aggressive recruiters, then educating students probably isn’t their main focus. Look at the federal data.
8. Make sure your credits transfer. Don’t find out too late that you signed up for worthless credits. What if you want to finish up at a public university or community college or what if you move? Make sure this school’s credits can transfer to a public university or community college (and ask the public university if that’s really true).
9. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand. Some schools trick students into signing “routine paperwork” that is actually loans from the school at very high interest rates. Take the papers home and study them; get help to make sure you understand what you’re signing. Watch out for hidden fees. Look twice at the interest rate on loans the school offers you. Don’t sign a promissory note that will let a school take out loans in your name. If you have student loans that aren't right or you were deceived about them, file a complaint with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
10. Find out how much your degree will actually cost. Be careful of taking on a lot of debt. Know all of the expenses beyond just the tuition. Are there additional fees for materials or technology? Do they charge extra if you change classes or majors, change locations? What if you withdraw, or want a transcript to transfer or after you graduate? Get the school’s tuition cancellation policy in writing. Make sure you can get a refund if you need to cancel or withdraw in the middle of the semester.
More tips from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:
8 Questions To Ask When Choosing a College After Military Service
More about accreditation: Why Should You Care about Accreditation When Picking a School?
Check out New York City's amazing "Know Before You Enroll" public education campaign on NYC buses & subway cars including:
Also check out VA's "Know Before You Go" video: