A private occupational school, or proprietary school, is a privately owned and operated post-secondary school that teaches vocational or occupational skills. Proprietary schools DO NOT offer degrees. Instead, they offer courses in everything from computers to massage to medical assisting. The steps below might seem like a lot of work, but it is worth it. You might be spending several years of your life and thousands of dollars on these courses. The bottom line: you are a consumer who intends to purchase a product – your education! Make sure that you are getting quality for your money.
Questions to ask:
- Is the school licensed? A list of schools that are licensed to operate in Massachusetts can be found here.
- Is there school credible? You should also check to see if the school is accredited by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- How much will it cost? Make sure you do the math – a lot of money might be at stake. Make sure you understand the total cost of the program, including the costs of registration, supplies, and equipment. Before you take out a loan, use this loan calculator so that you understand your interest payments and how they’ll add up.
- How does the cost compare to a community college? You should check out community colleges in your area. Many programs can be completed for less money, and credits are more likely to be transferable.
- How can I get help paying for my training? Once again, shop around. You may find a better financial aid package than the one offered by the school with another lender.
- Can I transfer my coursework? If you think you might want to transfer to another school after completing your course or program, ask schools whether their courses can be transferred. Some schools have agreements with specific colleges to accept certain courses. If the school has such an agreement, ask for a copy of it. If the school has no such agreements, do not count on any credits transferring to another school.
- I am going to get a job? Be wary if a school guarantees your job placement or makes promises about how much money you will make. Schools can help you get the job you want, but they can’t guarantee it. The school should have information about its placement rate for graduates, as well as the names of companies that hire graduates.
- Shop around: Visit several schools and don’t sign anything until you’ve been to all the schools you plan to visit.
- Check it out: Ask the school if you can sit in on a current class like the one you’re interested in taking, and talk to current students of the school. Ask them if they would recommend the school to their friends.
- Talk to employers: Talk to people at the places you’re interested in working to see what kind of qualifications you’d need to work there and what experiences they’ve had with graduates of the school.
- Read the material: Read all materials the school gives you, especially the enrollment agreement and its refund policy.
- Don’t sign anything until you’re sure you understand it, particularly if you’re feeling pressure to sign up. Make sure you get everything you’ve been promised in writing.
- Keep copies of everything the school gives you, including certificates, tests, attendance records, grade reports, transcripts, etc. If you ever have a question or complaint, or if the school goes out of business, those materials will be extremely helpful.
If at any time you are concerned that your school is not providing you with adequate training, you should file a complaint under the school’s complaint resolution policy. If that doesn’t resolve your problem, you can file a complaint with the Office of Proprietary Schools. If you’ve taken out a student loan and you’re having problems with your school, you should also contact your loan company.
You may also consider filing complaints with any of the following organizations or the consumer protection office in your local city or town:
- Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division 617-727-4200
- The Better Business Bureau 508-652-4800 or toll free at 800-4-BBB-811
- Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation 617-973-8787 or 888-283-3757 (toll free, in MA only)
Am I ready to attend a proprietary school?
Students are more successful at proprietary schools when they speak, read, and write English well, and if they have a high school diploma or GED. If the school does not have an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course, please consider attending an ESOL course prior to enrolling in school. If you do not have a high school diploma, you should consider attending a GED preparation program prior to enrolling in a proprietary school. Free ESOL and GED programs are available throughout the state. Please call The Massachusetts Adult Literacy hotline at (800) 447-8844 to find an ESOL program near you.
The bottom line? If you don’t feel ready to attend a school, do not let a school pressure you into signing up anyway.
The information on this page is adopted from the Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Website