It is true now more than ever, that education is the key to better employment. In today’s tough economic and job climate competition is stiff, so the more skills and knowledge you have the more attractive you will be to an employer who is receiving hundreds of resumes for one job opening. There is a ground swell of people who have, for one reason or another, decided it is time to continue or update their education. Annie Goldman, the Program Director for the Los Angeles Valley College’s Extension program, calls these people Re-Entry students. “Typically they are people who have a five to ten year gap between finishing High School or some college and continuing their education.” The average age is 35, however, people have gone back to school well into the fifties and sixties. The need to accommodate Re-Entry students has spawned numerous vocational schools and college extension programs.
Programs like the Learning Annex offer short seminars or courses on a wide variety of specific subjects that are eclectic and often geared towards personal growth rather than enhancing a career.
Vocational schools such as Chase, Bryman, UEI, American Career College offer training in careers ranging from Medical Assisting to Plumbing.
There are also specialized schools that focus on one field like Academy Pacific Travel College, Massage Therapy School or the Institute of Computer Technology.
Most of the area community colleges and universities offer extension courses which range from short one day seminars to full blown certificate programs in a wide variety of subjects that often include those offered by the vocational schools.
Before selecting a school or extension program it is important to decide what career you either want to enhance or transition into. The process should begin with identifying where your talents and interests lie. If you have an innate ability with numbers, computers or accounting would be appropriate, if you have good manual dexterity and like working with your hands, then being a technician or electrician might fit your needs.
Marla Lopez, a Paralegal student at the Los Angeles Valley Extension program, felt that with her logic, pension for writing and interest in legal procedures, being a paralegal was the best fit for her.
Once you have an idea of the type of education you feel comfortable with, the next step is to ask questions. Research the field or fields you are interested in to determine:
> Job availability – are people in the field in demand? Marla discovered that in good times or bad there will be litigation, that the field will always be busy and the need for Certified Paralegals was growing.
> Salary range – you have to know what you need and whether the profession will support that.
> How long the program takes – some, like the Paralegal program at Los Angeles Valley College can take as long as eleven months.
> If you are ready for the sacrifices that will need to be made.
Going back to school is not easy for those who have obligations such as work and family. Dr. Christine Zeppos of Chase college recommends to – “Make sure the commitment is there and it is priority your life. Being aware that it is a challenge will help to rally the support needed to accomplish your goal.” Annie Goldman agrees. “Family members have to support the student, accommodate their needs and make sacrifices of their own.” Open communication is essential because there will be times of doubt. Maria Lopez advises learning how to overcome, overwhelm and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. “One of the most important lessons I had to learn was to say, no.” Having understanding and supportive family and friends is just as important as personal stamina.
“Organization is the key, prioritizing the tasks in your life.” Annie Goldman adds. “Those who re-enter education from daily life do have an advantage in that they are used to a certain amount of juggling of job and family.” Adding education could be seen as just an extension of an already existing schedule.
Once you have selected a field of study, come to terms with the commitment that it will take, the next step is to choose a school.
Maria Lopez picked up a brochure on the extension program at Valley College. She called to look into the program to see if it fit her needs and signed up. “I needed night classes and someplace close by, it was perfect.”
The school selection process also requires research.
> What classes and times do they offer?
> What is the cost of the program? Many schools offer financial assistance, find out if you are eligible. The Extension courses are usually less expensive than the vocational schools.
> What is their location? Do they have more than one campus? Are they in the area that suits you?
> What is their reputation? How long have they been in business?.
Visit the schools, look at their facilities, “touch the bricks” as they say. Talk to students and teachers. Just as you determine if you feel comfortable in a certain work environment you need to feel comfortable in your educational setting. Ask about special programs designed to help you with your goals.
Dr. Zeppos describes a program that her school offers called SOAR which assists the student in focusing on their dreams and how to achieve them through education. Most vocational schools offer advisors to help you determine which are the best courses for you, talk to them.
John Shaw, was sixty five when he finally completed his Ph.D. He said, “I don’t even want to hang my degree on the wall, the only reason I did it was to have the satisfaction of the accomplishment.” If you choose to further your education for whatever reason, the outcome can not only mean increased job potential but a sense of accomplishment and self esteem.