Selecting a Private Career School (PCS): A Consumer's Guide for Students


Introduction: There are over 100 private career schools in Maryland. This guide suggests some basic questions you should ask before you enroll in a program offered by a private career school. All private career schools in Maryland are approved by the state, and many are accredited by national associations.

Private career schools can offer the training needed to find a first job or learn new skills for a new career. The programs provide training in dozens of fields, ranging from electronic repair and computer operation to cosmetology and allied health. Thousands of Marylanders today hold rewarding jobs because of training they received at private career schools.

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Talk with People: Even before you begin exploring schools, take the time to talk about career goals with people whose opinions you respect: teachers and guidance counselors; parents; friends who are already working; and friends who have studied at career schools.

Comparison Shop: You can find the schools that specialize in the kind of training you want on the web page. Refer to web page listing of Approved Private Career Schools and Programs ​in Maryland for the names and addresses of schools as well as their program names, costs, and lengths.

Take the Time to Visit Several Schools: During these school visits, ask to attend class sessions to see the instruction firsthand. Talk with students who are currently enrolled at the school. Be a wise consumer and do your homework by asking lots of questions.

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Ask the Right Questions: Here is a checklist that will help you evaluate private career schools in Maryland:

  • Is the school authorized to operate? All private career schools, even if they do not charge for programs, must be approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission to operate. Refer to the web page which provides a listing of approved Private Career Schools and Programs in Maryland.
  • What is the admissions policy? Are there minimum entry requirements? Is a high school diploma or GED required? Smart education consumers do not enroll in programs for which they are not prepared.
  • Does the program offer the training you need? Examine the detailed descriptions of each program in the school's catalog. Pay special attention to the specific objectives, content, length, and any prerequisites--these tell you what you will learn, the duration of the program, and what you need to know before you start. Are there day and evening classes? What about the class size? How often are the programs offered? What percentage of students complete their programs, and how many find jobs in training-related positions?
  • What does the training facility have to offer? Tour the classroom areas where you would receive training. If special equipment is involved,  find out if it is "state of the art" equipment that is actually being used in the field you are considering entering. Are there enough supplies and equipment for each student?
  • What are the instructors' qualifications? Ask about the instructors' credentials and their backgrounds. If possible, talk with them or observe them conducting classes. Ask them what they expect you to learn as a student. How would you feel being a student in their classes?
  • Does the school offer job placement assistance? Many private career schools provide placement services as an integral part of their programs. Does the school which you are considering offer job placement assistance? Ask about the placement rates and compare them with the other schools you are visiting. Ask for information about recent graduates. Where did they go to work? Whenever possible, ask former students about their experience at the private career school you are considering. How did the training they received prepare them for the work world? Ask about entry-level salaries, and if possible, verify with employers.
  • What other support services are offered? Does the school make tutors and/or counselors available? Can a student repeat a part of the program if necessary? Can a student return later for free or low-cost refresher training?
  • What about financial assistance? Are there scholarships or deferred payment plans available? Are students attending the school eligible for federal student grant (PELL) and/or loan (Stafford) programs? Is the school approved for veterans educational benefits offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs?
  • How much does the program cost? Obtain a current schedule of the program costs which will include the tuition, fees, and the charges for books, supplies, special equipment and any other extras. Tuition and fees can vary widely among schools. This is an important aspect of your information gathering. Also, please keep in mind that students who borrow money to pay for their education are obligated to repay the money--even if they do not complete the program or find a job.
  • What is the refund policy? Private career schools in Maryland are required to refund tuition to students based on a minimum schedule established by the state and published in the school's catalog.

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Ask for a catalog: All students are entitled to a current catalog from any school which they are considering attending. Asking for a catalog does not obligate you to do anything. The catalog will include a great deal of useful information to help you make a reasoned decision in choosing a school. At a minimum, the catalog must contain comprehensive information including:

  • A detailed description of each training program and its required courses.
  • The school's class calendar.
  • Tuition and fees and methods of payment.
  • The cost of books, supplies, and materials.
  • A student's rights and responsibilities statement.
  • Policies regarding student attendance and satisfactory academic progress.
  • The student grievance procedure.

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Talk with potential employers: Once you've decided on a career field, talk with potential employers. Most people will take the time to help you as you research the career field that is right for you. Don't just drop in; call and make an appointment. Ask what kind of training or minimum requirements the employer requires of a new employee. Ask the employer if he or she has had any experience with the graduates of the private career school which you are considering attending. Ask where present employees got their training. When you've talked with one or two employers, take another look at the program you are thinking of taking. Will the program meet your needs?

Take your time: Never let yourself be rushed. Do a thorough job of researching the career field and how a particular program will meet your career needs.

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Review the enrollment contract: When you have made a decision about which school to attend, you will need to complete an enrollment contract. Read the contract carefully and remember that the contract is a legally binding document. Ask someone whose experience and advice you trust to review it with you. Make sure the contract specifically explains:

  • How much the program will cost
  • How long the program will last
  • The school's refund policy

By Maryland regulation, a student can withdraw within seven days of signing the enrollment contract and be refunded all money which has been paid. After the seven days, the student is obligated to pay certain costs as outlined in the school's refund policy. Ask any questions you have until you understand this policy thoroughly. Remember not to sign a contract which has blanks that have not been filled in. Also, remember to take and keep your copy of the enrollment contract.

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  • Is the school authorized to operate?
  • What is the admissions policy?
  • Does the program offer the training you need?
  • What does the training facility have to offer?
  • What are the instructors' qualifications?
  • Does the school offer job placement assistance?
  • What other support services are offered?
  • What about financial assistance?
  • How much does the program cost?
  • What is the refund policy?
  • Did you receive a catalog?​

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