Thinking about going back to school? Or perhaps you are about to graduate high school next year and you are starting to think about which school to choose? If you think about it, there are a lot of post-secondary institutions in the city… public and private, and if you are going to invest a year, or two, or four years, you probably want to make the right decision.
When I graduated from high school, I applied to two schools — the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU). My family and friends pretty much drilled it into me that those were the only two acceptable universities to go to… and now, I definitely do not feel that way. There are so many careers that exist in the city that do not require you to go to UBC or SFU. There are also many schools out there offering a variety of programs, and I want to help you think about what may be important for you when investing into a school program.
Before we dive into the things you should consider, here are the reasons why I think it is important to research and think carefully about the school you invest your time and money in. These are all real examples that either myself or people I know have experienced. If you do not do your research, later on you may find yourself:
- Completing your program but not being able to find a job.
- Taking a longer time than necessary to get to your ideal career.
- Drowning in student loan debt and in a career field you hate.
- Applying to another school program immediately after you finish your degree (and no, I don’t mean applying for a post-graduate degree either) because you realized your degree is useless.
- Spending more time studying than getting practical experience in your field of interest.
- Spending more money on your tuition than what is normally the case.
- Missing out on financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
- Choosing a school for no other reason, but because your friends chose it.
So with that out of the way, here are 9 things to consider when you are researching your post-secondary programs of choice.
Consider your employment prospects after graduation.
When you graduate from your program, you are likely going to be looking for a job. For the program that you are looking at, will the degree or certificate you get be enough to take you to the next step of your career? How does the school prepare you for entering the workforce?
It is no surprise that employers are looking to hire candidates with some sort of experience. The reality is… everyone has a degree. Because of this, I highly recommend joining a program that has work-integrated learning — this can be a practicum, internship, or co-op program that the school offers for students. Gaining work experience is a lot easier if it is integrated into your program because the school already has connections to employers. Students who have related experience to their career field have an easier time finding a job after graduation. Both the student and employer benefit from work-integrated learning because the student gets work experience and the employer gets to “trial run” a potential future hire at a low cost.
Evaluate how the courses relate to your career goals.
Does the school that you are interested in have the courses you are interested in? This may be obvious… but I feel like it needs to be said. If you are interested in working in 3D animation in the future, UBC does not have the animation classes that you would need in order to learn how to animate. If you are unsure what courses you might interested in, then I highly recommend you attend information sessions and talk to the speakers who can tell you more about the course, assignments, and employment prospects. If you have no idea what courses you are interested in, you may want to do some self-discovery with a career counsellor (like our Career Counsellors at Crossroads) before you invest thousands of dollars into a program.
Determine how valuable the school’s reputation is.
While I believe your passion and work ethic for progressing in your career field is a lot more important than the name of your school, I feel like reputation does play a role in some instances. Some schools have better reputations because they have better programs, and some schools have a strong reputation because they have been around for a long time. In some cases, employers might have connections and preferences to what schools they want to hire new graduates from. If you are going to invest into your education, you might as well choose the school with the better chances of you getting hired.
If you are planning to work locally, then the reputation of the school is not as important (as long as the school is accredited the same as other schools). However, if you are planning to work overseas, then the name of your school may carry more weight. The chances of an employer outside of Canada recognizing SFU, Langara, or Douglas College over an internationally recognized school like UBC is slim to none.
Consider the location and the commute time.
Where would you like to study? Do you want to move to a new city and live in student residences? If that is the case, you will want to make sure your finances are in order. If possible, you will want to visit the school before making your final decision as well.
Even if you staying in the same city, you will still want to consider location. I lived in Burnaby and commuted to the UBC Point Grey campus everyday, which took a little over an hour (one-way). Every person I knew who shared the same commute as me felt like it was torture. By the time I got home from school, I was exhausted from the commute and I joined many people who fell asleep on the bus or skytrain. When I decided to go back to school to study career development and take my classes at the SFU Surrey campus, I really had to think about whether I could commute for an hour again. In the end, my career goal was more important than my commute time and I also learned that listening to podcasts kept my mind more active.
Research tuition costs and financial aid opportunities.
Paying for post-secondary education can be expensive. Before you commit, research the approximate tuition costs for your program. Usually this information can be found on the school’s website, but if it is not, you can always contact the school. Also, look at potential scholarships or grants that you can apply for. Anything to lessen your student loan debt is a win, honestly. Here is an example of the tuition costs for one semester for a UBC student. You can calculate approximately how much your costs will be after four years.
Also, it is a well-known fact that private schools have higher tuition than public schools. There are various reasons why someone may choose a private school over a public school (ie. specialized program) but please do compare the costs so you can make the best decision for yourself and your future.
Consider your learning ability in relation to class sizes.
In high school, your class size is generally limited to 30 students maximum. Your teacher knows your name, you know the rest of your class, and the teacher will probably care if you miss a class. Are you ready for a first-year university class with 200 or more students? Your teacher does not know your name, you might make a few friends if you are lucky to find them again, and honestly, the teacher could not care less if you missed class. For some people, this may make it harder to focus in class because you are not forced to be engaged in learning the material.
Other school programs have limited class sizes. At UBC, my smallest class size was probably 40 students, and this was upper-level credits in human resources. I thought that was pretty good. But when I did my continuing studies course at SFU, there were 17 people. I did way better in my classes, my instructor cared about every student’s success, and I always paid attention. Now I am an advocate for smaller class sizes if your focus is on being engaged in your learning.
Review the school’s learning facilities.
When was the last time the school received an upgrade? Are you using the latest equipment and technology of your industry? Or will you be learning a software or techniques that no one in the industry uses anymore. I must admit, with newer facilities, it does feel like a nicer environment to learn in. UBC has newer buildings and older buildings, and when I was a student there, I definitely enjoyed the larger desks and better screens in the new buildings. Now UBC has a new aquatic centre, a new student union building, and much more… but I can definitely tell you that the current students are paying for it (but hey, they also benefit from it too).
Consider the school’s extra-curricular activities and clubs.
Employers want to see well-rounded candidates. Your GPA is not the most important part of your job application, even though you still need to do relatively well. Does the school you are interested in have extra-curricular activities that will enhance your learning or skills? Participating in a case competition or being a leader in a student club can develop your skills and make you stand out in your job applications. This is especially important when you graduate because you likely have very little experience on paper. Also, if you have hobbies or interests, your school can be a great place to meet like-minded students and make life-long friends.
Identify your back-up options.
Because post-secondary programs can be competitive, not everyone gets accepted into their first choice. It would be wise to research and apply to some schools as a back-up. For your back-up school, if you do plan to transfer, make sure you are taking the right course credits so you can transfer successfully and not spend more money on tuition than necessary.