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Education After High School

It's a big investment of time, money, and effort, so you should carefully evaluate the school you're considering. Choosing the school you'll attend is one of the most important decisions you need to make. Another is how you're going to pay for your education. To help you and other students, the U.S. Department of Education offers a variety of student financial aid programs, which this publication describes.

It's up to you to check out a school. Just because a school participates in the federal student financial aid programs does not mean the DOE has endorsed the quality of the education the school offers. They do not approve a school's curricula, policies, or administrative practices, except as they relate to how the school operates the federal student financial aid programs.

What questions should I ask a school?

Some of the basic questions you should ask when considering a college or career school are:

  • Does the school offer the courses and major I want?
  • Do I meet the admissions requirements?
  • Does the school offer a high quality education at a reasonable price?
  • Does the school offer services I need and activities I'm interested in?
  • What are job placement rates for students who have recently graduated?

Most of this information is covered in a school's catalog or in its introductory brochures so make sure you get these from schools you're interested in attending. Also, the reference section of your local library has many books that provide information about colleges and career schools.

You can also find a lot of information on the Internet. Nearly all colleges and career schools have websites. If you know someone who attends or attended a school you're considering, ask that person his or her opinion of the school.

You should ask about the school's accreditation, licensing, student loan default rate, and campus security.

  • Find out the school's loan default rate (the percentage of students who attended the school, took out federal student loans, and later failed to repay their loans on time). You might not be able to get aid from some of our programs at a school that has a high default rate.
  • Get a copy of the school's campus security report. The campus security report provides information on the school's campus security policies and campus crime statistics. Schools must publish a campus security report every year and distribute it to all current students and employees of the school. In addition, if you contact a school and ask for admissions information, the school must inform you that its campus security report is available, provide you with a summary of the report, and let you know how you may get a copy. Parents and students can use the Internet to review crime statistics for many colleges, universities, and career schools. These statistics can be found here.
  • Talk to a high school counselor, local employers, and the state higher education agency. You can also see if any complaints about the school have been filed with the Better Business Bureau. Contact these organizations if you have a complaint about the school.

Find out the school's job placement rates (the percentage of students who are placed in jobs relevant to their courses of study).

  • If the school advertises its job placement rates, it must also publish the most recent employment statistics, graduation statistics, and any other information necessary to back up its claims. This information must be available at or before the time you apply for admission to the school. Also, check with local employers to see whether they have hired graduates from the school.

Find out about the school's refund policy.

  • If you enroll but never begin classes, you should get most of your money back. If you begin attending college but leave before completing your coursework, you may be able to get part of your money back.

Find out about financial aid availability at the school.

You have the right to receive the following information from the school:

  1. what the location, hours, and counseling procedures are for the school's financial aid office;
  2. what financial assistance is available, including information on all federal, state, local, private, and institutional financial aid programs;
  3. what the procedures and deadlines are for submitting applications for each available financial aid program;
  4. how the school selects financial aid recipients;
  5. how the school determines your financial need;
  6. how the school determines each type and amount of assistance in your financial aid package;
  7. how and when you'll receive your aid;
  8. how the school determines whether you're making satisfactory academic progress, and what happens if you're not (whether you continue to receive federal financial aid depends, in part, on whether you make satisfactory academic progress); and
  9. if you're offered a Federal Work-Study job, what the job is, what hours you must work, what your duties will be, what the pay will be, and how and when you'll be paid.

Find out about the school's return-of-aid policy.

  • If you receive federal student aid from any of the programs mentioned in this publication (except for Federal Work-Study), and you withdraw from school, some of that money may have to be returned by you or your school. Also, even if you don't finish your coursework, you'll have to repay the loan funds you received, less any amount your school has returned to your lender.

Find out the school's completion and transfer-out rates.

  • A school is required to disclose to current and prospective students the percentage of its students who complete the school's programs and the percentage of students who transfer out of the school.

Get a copy of the school's "equity-in-athletics" report.

  • Any coeducational school where you can receive federal student aid and where there's an intercollegiate athletic program must prepare an equity-in-athletics report giving financial and statistical information for men's and women's sports. This information makes students aware of a school's commitment to providing equitable athletic opportunities for its male and female students.

You also might want to compare your expected debt for attending the school to the money you expect to earn once you complete the educational program. If you borrow money to pay for all or a portion of your education, you'll need to earn or have access to enough money to repay your debt. Check the web or visit the library to learn more about the careers you are interested in. The U.S. Department of Labor publishes the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which includes a list of career choices and information on typical wages or salaries for many occupations. The Labor Department also publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which gives job descriptions, including starting salaries and annual income averages.

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