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Learning the Tricks of the Trade Schools

Quiz: How can you tell a good trade school from one that just wants your money? This test will help you separate the contenders from the pretenders.


Gentle reader:

The best private schools do an excellent job of preparing people without college degrees to make a good living. Sadly some other trade schools apparently exist for the sole purpose of separating students from their tuition, offering little pragmatic guidance. Follow the instructional "test" on this page to learn how to tell the teachers from the scoundrels.

Ms Work Wise

Readers of the Careers section first met Ms. Work Wise last November when the etiquette-savvy fictional character created by our readers joined real-life columnist Judith Martin (a.k.a. "Miss Manners") to address problems related to rudeness in the workplace. Ms. Work Wise returns in this issue to introduce stories on different types of training and will continue to appear as a voice in careers.


Many private trade schools do an excellent job of equipping their students with skills that will enable them to find good-paying jobs. Others are better at enriching themselves than educating their students.

Whether you plan to study cosmetology or food catering, data processing or drafting, visit the school as if you were planning to study journalism. Ask questions. Talk to students. Sit in on a class. Bring a list of questions.

Don't be shy. Use your intuition. And try this test. You'll find a few tips to help steer you to the right classroom.

True or False?

1. Many for-profit schools will charge me 25% of the total cost of the course even if I drop out after only one day.

2. It is rude to ask the school for names of employers who have hired its graduates so I can find out if they think the school does a good job of training students.

3. Many employers want to hire workers who not only know a particular trade but also have good math and English skills. Their view is that these workers will be the easiest to train as jobs and equipment become more sophisticated.

4. If I have to take a semester off or drop out due to illness, pregnancy or family problems, the school is not going to charge me and will be totally cool about refunding my money.

5. All schools' refund policies are the same.

6. It's best to just sign up on my first visit to the school. If I wait and take the enrollment contract and school catalog home to show to friends, my parents or my former high school career counselor, I'll probably put off the decision and miss out on a great opportunity.

7. If a recruiter who works for the school is willing to give me a few answers to the school's entrance exam, that's cool, right? If I just pass the math and English on the entrance exam--with a little help--I won't have any trouble passing the school's math and English classes on my own once I'm enrolled.

8. Everything I need to know about the school is in the catalog. It's a waste of time to ask instructors about their work experience and education or how long they've been teaching before I decide to enroll. There is no reason to ask them why they left the field to teach or whether they think there will be jobs in my field of interest in 10 years.

9. I'm not a reporter. It will seem like I'm snooping if I ask if teachers have regular office hours or if there are tutors who can work with me if I need extra help. It is safe to assume that teachers will be there after class if I need help.

10. If I need to work part time while in school, I may want to find a school that offers classes during the day, at night and on weekends.

11. If a school won't tell me what percentage of students graduate and how many of those graduates find jobs, I should consider attending another school.

12. Many students find it helpful to take a class or two at a community college before they decide to spend a few thousand dollars for their vocational training, particularly if they have never had any hands-on experience in the field in which they plan to study.

13. Schools that run lots of ads during soap operas and game shows will definitely be accredited and have a license because they are so well-known.

14. Some schools pay recruiters a bonus for every student they sign up. That recruiter will earn his bonus whether I graduate or not, so I will want to get information about the school from other people before I decide to enroll.

15. It isn't important if a school is accredited and has a license. All that means is that some nonprofit organization examined the school's academic program, facilities, faculty and financial stability and said the school met certain professional standards.

16. It's only window dressing if a school has career counselors and a well-equipped career counseling center.

17. Only students at accredited schools are eligible for government-backed loans and grants.

18. If you need information on vocational schools in California, this state agency will hang up on you, call you names and won't give you any useful information: the Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, (213) 897-9450.

ANSWERS: 1. True. 2. False. 3. True. 4. False. 5. False. 6. False. 7. False. 8. False. 9. False 10. True. 11. True. 12. True. 13. False. 14. True. 15. False 16. False. 17. True. 18. False.

Gali Kronenberg is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Times. He can be reached at

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