Do you want to continue your education, but want an alternative to college? The good news is there are options outside of the traditional two- and four-year higher education programs that appeal to a broad range of goals, interests, levels of investment, and time commitment. The challenge is that it can be a daunting task to narrow down the many options to what best aligns with what you hope to gain..
Recent surveys of U.S. adults found a greater interest in non-degree skills training, like online boot camps and certifications, than in traditional associate and bachelor's degrees. And the market has responded. There are more than 650,000 different kinds of short-term credentials awarded across the United States! But not all programs are created equal nor do they carry the same weight in the eye of the employer. This is why it’s important to find a program that aligns with your career goals, but is also valued and respected by the industry in which you want to work.
Why Certifications Matter
Certified professionals stand a far better chance of being hired or promoted than self-taught experts. Take IT certifications for example. They validate one’s competencies and increase your credibility in the eyes of an employer. According to CompTIA, around 91% of employers say that IT certifications play a critical role in their hiring decision. Moreover, 72% of employers actually require an IT certification for certain job openings, 67% will use them to measure a candidate’s work ethic and determination, and 60% use them to confirm a candidate’s expertise. If that’s not enough to convince you, 92% of employers say certified employees will even receive higher starting salaries. And pleasing an employer is only part of it. Here’s why you should value earning a certification in your profession as well.
Staying Current - Certification programs ensure you’re up to date with current technology. This equips you with critical skills to succeed and keep up with your peers.
Job Promotion - Certifications help you advance in companies by ensuring you have relevant skills the company can use immediately. When the opportunity to grow presents itself, you will be prepared to rise to the next level.
Invest In Yourself - Being proactive about your continuing education shows employers you are committed to growing your skills. Investing in yourself gives employers reason to want to invest in you, too.
How To Assess The Value Of A Short-Term Program
Unfortunately, there is no tool or technology that allows students and job-seekers to easily compare key aspects of short-term skill training programs by price, length of study, and job and salary outcomes. There are a number of sites that allow you to compare colleges and college programs, including certificate tracks, but data on job placements and salary are often missing, as are data on programs offered by most non-college education providers. The second-best thing is to heed the advice of career experts, and here’s some of the top tips they have to offer students considering a skill training program.
Ask what specific skills are taught in the program. Inquire whether the provider is accredited by an official body or, in the case of an industry certification, whether it's recognized by the industry in question.
Inquire about a program's outcomes. What percentage of students complete the program? How many get jobs? What jobs do they actually get? What's their average starting salary? Ask whether the credential you're exploring will count toward a degree, and whether it's transferable, for example, to another college.
Research the job outlook and salary in your area. The number of openings and salary will vary location-by-location so do your homework and find trusted advice that pertains to your career goals.
Talk to employers about what they're looking for in candidates, and to people with the job you want about how they got there. What credentials do they value? What skills are most important? Even if you’re not yet ready to apply for a position, learn about the position! Plus, the connections you make by speaking with potential employers now can lead to real career opportunities for you down the road.
Consider cost vs. value. Once you have a good grasp on the job and salary outlook of a career you're eyeing, compare that to the cost of the program as holistically as possible. Ask what kind of financial aid and other support is available to students. And don’t overlook the value of built-in career support. Look for programs that include on-the-job training and/or help connecting with internships or apprenticeships.
Watch out for red flags. If someone's offering an expensive program and saying that you'll make enough to pay it back at the other end, that's cause for concern. There are very few programs out there that can guarantee that you're going to land a position that enables you to quickly pay back significant loans, especially entry-level jobs. Education is an investment, but you should not overextend yourself beyond what is sensible.
While personal criteria like your field of interest, budget, and time commitment can often be enough to help you select the right skill training program, there are many other important factors to consider when making your selection. By evaluating the course criteria, reading reviews, and speaking with students and staff, you'll gain a valuable window into what the experience may entail.
Be sure to also look to trusted, community-based resources, like NuPaths, who can offer free guidance, answer your questions, and give you honest feedback. Being well informed before you make a decision will allow you to choose confidently and to focus on making the most of the program so that you ultimately reach your goals. For more information about affordable, high-value, skill training programs, visit www.nupaths.org.