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Working Wise: How to Choose the Right Post-Secondary Program

Dear Working Wise,

My son is interested in computers, but he’s not sure which school or program he should go to. Do you have any tips on choosing a post-secondary school or program?
Signed, Hopeful Mom

January 12, 2017

Dear Hopeful,

There are a lot of choices when it comes to available career training programs. Choice is great, but with more than 2,500 different accredited post-secondary programs in Alberta, the number and variety of choices can feel a bit overwhelming.

Here are some tips to help your son decide which school and program is right for him.

  1. Check with employers and people who have your “dream job” to see what schools and programs they recommend.
  2. Find out if your target career has a professional association - like the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) - and ask if they recommend specific programs and schools.
  3. If you can’t ask someone, check out the Occupational Profiles on the OCCinfo website. These profiles include advice on required education / training for over 500 occupations.
  4. Also on the OCCinfo website you will find an Educational Programs section to help you narrow your search. You can search by program or school.
  5. Choose an accredited certificate, diploma or degree program, because employers are more likely to recognize these credentials.
  6. Read reviews of schools and programs. Macleans magazine, for example, conducts an annual survey of Canadian university students and publishes the rankings and information in their Education Hub.

Once you've narrowed down your list, you'll probably have a number of questions about those programs.

  1. How big are the class sizes?
  2. What are the entrance requirements and application deadline?
  3. What student services are available like housing, recreation, athletics, etc.
  4. Does the program start in September? Are there other possible entry dates?
  5. Does the program include a work experience component? If so, is it paid or unpaid?
  6. Who is responsible for arranging the work experience?
  7. What percentage of graduates find related employment?
  8. How much do tuition, books and supplies cost?

The best source of information about a particular program is the institution that offers the program. You can contact post-secondary institutions directly and request print materials or look for the information you need on their websites.

Most post-secondary institutions have open houses or information sessions in the spring. It's a great opportunity to look around the campus, check out the learning environment, ask about programs, and find out what student life is like.

You might also want to consider that location can affect how long you spend commuting or spend on living expenses.

The ALIS website includes a wide range of information, resources and tips to help you plan, choose, apply for, and pay for your post-secondary education, including an annual publication called Time to Choose...a Post-Secondary Education Program.

Good luck!

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/aldomurillo

Working Wise is a syndicated newspaper column prepared by the Government of Alberta to answer work-related questions from Albertans. Do you have a work-related question? You can send it to Charles Strachey (charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca), a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services.

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