Before enrolling in a vocational or correspondence school, do some homework. The FTC provides the following information on how:
* Consider whether you need additional training or education to get the job you want. It's possible that the skills you'll need can be learned "on the job." Look at employment ads for positions that you're interested in and call the employer to learn what kind of experience is important for those positions.
* Investigate training alternatives, like community colleges. The tuition may be less than at private schools. Also, some businesses offer education programs through apprenticeships or on-the-job training.
* Compare programs. Study the information from various schools to learn what is required to graduate. Ask what you'll get when you graduate - a certificate in your chosen field or eligibility for a clinical or other externship? Are licensing credits you earn at the school transferable? If you decide to pursue additional training and education, find out whether colleges accept credits from any vocational or correspondence school you're considering. If reputable schools and colleges say they don't, it may be a sign that the vocational school is not well regarded.
* Find out as much as you can about the school's facilities. Ask about the types of computers and tools students use for training and what you, as a student, must provide. Visit the school and ask to see the classrooms and workshops.
* Ask about the instructors' qualifications and the size of classes. Sit in on a class. Are the students engaged? Is the teacher interesting?
* Get some idea of the program's success rate. Ask what percentage of students complete the program. A high dropout rate could mean that the program isn't valuable. Find out how many graduates find jobs in their chosen field and what is the average starting salary.
* Find out how much the program is going to cost. Are books, equipment, uniforms and lab fees included in the overall fee or are they extra?
* If you need financial assistance, find out whether the school provides it, and if so, what it offers. The U.S. Department of Education administers several major student aid programs in the forms of grants, loans and work-study programs. About two-thirds of all student financial aid comes from these programs. Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4 FED AID (1-800-433-3243) for a free copy of The Student Guide. It's also available at www.ed.gov/prog_info/SFA/StudentGuide.
* Ask for the names and phone numbers of the school's licensing and accrediting organizations. Check with these organizations to learn whether the school is up-to-date on its license and accreditation. Licensing is handled by state agencies. In many states, private vocational schools are licensed through the state Department of Education. Truck driver training schools, on the other hand, may be licensed by the state transportation department. Ask the school which state agency handles it's licensing. Accreditation is usually through a private education agency or association, which has evaluated the school and verified that it meets certain requirements. Accreditation can be an important clue to a school's ability to provide appropriate training and education - if the accrediting body is reputable. Your high-school guidance counselor, principal or teachers can tell you which accrediting bodies have worthy standards.
* Check with the Attorney General's office and your BBB to see whether any complaints have been filed against the school. A record of complaints may indicate questionable practices, but a lack of complaints doesn't necessarily mean that the school is without problems. Unscrupulous businesses or business people often change names and locations to hide complaint histories.