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If you have never attended college or never expected to attend college, BUT now find yourself forced to obtain a college degree, then this can be a very scary, apprehensive time for you. There is so much to cover giving just the basics of college life that we could write a book about it. Hey, maybe someday we will. However, for now, we hope that the following basic tips will help give you some idea of what college is all about. College is a different culture with different rules, terminology, and procedures. You will need to learn to play by a different set of rules. This very long document will provide just some of the very basic tips that hopefully, will relieve some of your apprehension and help you through the college adventure.
Types of Colleges | Accreditation | Academic Counselors | Classes and Credits | Instructors | Semesters | Transferring Credits
Types of Colleges
Basically, there are about five main types of post secondary educational schools for you to obtain your degree, diploma, or certificate.
Universities: Usually, universities are known as schools where people can go to obtain their bachelor's degree, master's degree, or their Ph.D. Usually, the bachelor's degree takes about four years to achieve; the master's degree takes about two more years beyond the bachelor's degree, and the Ph.D. can take about four years beyond the bachelor's degree. The amount of years varies per person depending if you go to school full-time, and some other factors. To put it another way, from start, it takes about four years to obtain a bachelor's degree. From the beginning, it takes about six years to achieve the master's degree. In order to obtain a Ph.D., it takes about seven or eight years of college.
College is kind of a generic term. However, there are four-year colleges where students can obtain their bachelor's degree. This type of college does not offer the associate degree, masters degree, or Ph.D.
Community Colleges provide many roles. Many students attend community colleges in order to receive a two-year associate degree. There are many careers such as nurse, physical therapist, sonographer, respiratory therapist, and more that can be achieved with an associate degree. Many community colleges offer classes and programs that offer a certificate or degree for the "trades" such as welding and automotive mechanics. Community colleges have a tendency to be "community" schools that offer classes / programs that benefit the community. The "in-district" classes have a tendency to be MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE than classes at a regular four-year college or a university. Many students attend community colleges to pass as many classes as they can and then try to transfer those classes/credits to a university where they can continue to seek a bachelor's, master's, or Ph.D. degree.
PLEASE NOTE: If you attend a community college to obtain an associate degree, often it takes a little more than two years to achieve the degree. It depends on the availability of classes and other factors. However, in general, a very good degree that will lead to a very good job can be achieved between two and three years by going through a community college.
Trade (Vocational) School: There are many different "trade schools" out there, but a couple that are well-advertised that you may recognize are ITT Institute and DeVry. Basically, they are on-the-job type of training programs. You can receive a very good education for a trade that does not need a formal college degree for entry into the field. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the types of school listed here on this website. One of the BIG advantages of going to a trade school is that you do not need to take classes such as political science, astronomy, and other classes that you may NEVER need for a career, such as an automobile mechanic. However, the disadvantage is that you do not have a "college" degree. Trade (Vocational) schools HAVE COME A LONG WAY. Over the years, ITT Institute and DeVry have moved toward offering classes / degrees that help them compete with traditional colleges.
ACCREDITATION is an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT consideration when you attend college. We cover this topic in more detail below and you need to read it because accreditation is extremely important to take into consideration whichever school that you attend.
Choosing the type of school is a very personal decision. It is about tradeoffs. There are many, many people who receive their education/training through a trade school, obtain a great job, and are set for life. Still, others at some time in their life want something more and then find that they need to go to college in order to achieve "something more."
Online Colleges or Online Universities: If you are "old school" like me, you have no idea what I am talking about. Probably, you are saying "online classes, you have to be kidding?" Well, we are NOT kidding. You can receive a bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degree from an educational institution that is TOTALLY online. You do NOT go to a traditional brick and mortar building to take classes. It IS legitimate. There are pros and cons to online colleges that we cover elsewhere on this website. However, thousands and thousands of people are achieving their college degree from an accredited totally online college. The key is to take classes from an accredited, legitimate college. Just two examples that are well-known online colleges are the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University.
Listed above are five different types of post secondary educational schools where you can receive an education for a variety of careers. Every person is DIFFERENT. Each type of school offers a variety of options. Some of these schools are a good fit for some people while some of these schools are NOT a good fit. We can go into all kinds of things that you need to think about, but we do not have the time or space to get into that. Throughout this website, we will make you aware of some options, but there is just too much to say. PLEASE, really keep in mind to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of whichever school that you choose.
Accreditation is an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT consideration when you attend a college or trade school. You have to be VERY CAREFUL that you do NOT receive a degree from a "diploma mill" or some type of SCAM school. You NEED to make sure that the school AND the career program are accredited by the appropriate agencies. We will repeat this, you need to make sure that the school AND the specific career program is accredited by the appropriate agencies. This is critical to future employers and to the ability to of transferring your classes/credits to another school. For example, I went to a university to obtain a Master's Degree in Library Science. The university was accredited by "North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission." However, the Library Science program, offered by the university, HAD to be accredited by the "American Library Association." The "American Library Association" had to accredit the Library Science program so that employers would be assured that the graduates from this program would know the basics of how to be a Librarian. I am telling you that if the specific career program of Library Science was NOT accredited by the appropriate governing body (American Library Association) then I do NOT get a job as a professional Librarian. Almost, NO academic or major public library would hire me without the proper accreditation, which for Library Science, is the "American Library Association." I wanted to be a Librarian so I had to attend a properly accredited university that would have a Library Science program that was accredited by the "American Library Association." The same is true for many other careers. Nursing, Physical Therapy, and MANY other career programs have their own specific accrediting agency. Make sure the trade school or college is accredited by the appropriate organization. Make sure that the specific career program that you are pursuing is accredited by the appropriate organization. For more information on accreditation, please click on ACCREDITATION.
When most people hear the word "counseling," they think of psychiatric counseling. Although, at some time during the educational adventure you may feel that you need psychiatric counseling, the counseling that we are going to talk about is academic counseling. The academic counselor should become your best friend. The academic counselor (advisor) can do a lot of things but, basically, a very good academic counselor is critical for helping you keep on track through college. If you feel that your counselor is not doing a good job for you, THEN CHANGE COUNSELORS. When you choose a college for obtaining a particular degree for a specific career, the counselor should be able to tell you exactly, EXACTLY which classes to take in order to graduate with the specific degree that you want (need). There are all kinds of HORROR stories out there where a student takes all kinds of classes, gets close to graduation and things do not go well, such as finding out the last minute that he/she needs to take more unexpected classes. In these very difficult economic times, people cannot afford to take more classes than they need. The academic counselor is the person who needs to keep the student on the right path. See your counselor OFTEN. Make sure that you sign up for the CORRECT CLASSES.
The way that college works is that you need a specific number of "credits" to receive your degree. For a community college, an associate degree requires about 62 credits. For a four-year college or university, a bachelor's degree requires about 124 credits. This varies per college/school. Some classes are three credits each. Some classes are four or five credits for each class. You need to take enough classes to add up to 62 credits for an associate degree or 124 credits if you are in a university going for a bachelor's degree.
It would be GREAT if you could take any class available at the college in order to have the credits add up to the required number of credits for the degree. OH NO, no, no, no, no, no, it cannot be THAT simple. Most colleges require the student to take three or four classes in the humanities, three or four classes in the sciences, and three or four classes in English. On top of that, you need to take a specific number of classes in whichever field is going to be your major (specific field of study such as psychology, sociology, criminal justice, education, or whatever). There are requirements that a student needs to fulfill for a specific degree. The requirements differ per college. It is helpful to contact an academic counselor before committing to a college because the requirements at a particular college can be outrageous. If the requirements are unacceptable, then look at attending a different college with different requirements.
The length of classes can vary per institution, but generally, a typical three or four credit class will be four hours long. The college determines how those four hours are distributed over a week:
With the economy being the way it is, more and more educational institutions are becoming more accommodating to the schedules of students, especially working adults who have family responsibilities. The time and day may vary, but usually, a typical three or four credit class will amount to be four hours a week, especially if your school is on the 16-week semester system, and not the 10-week trimester system.
Since we are talking about classes and this site is all about helping students, we should mention something that we hear all too often. Whether it is elementary, high school, or college, many of us will agree that we were forced to take classes and learn things that we will NEVER, EVER use. There are many reasons why a college degree is necessary for different occupations and it has to do with history, society, and subjects that we will not get into. One of the more common reasons that is mentioned that explains why a student is required to take such a broad, wide range of classes is that employers expect college graduates to have a "well-rounded" education. Employers expect college graduates to have certain "critical-thinking" skills, as well as the ability to read and write for what they face on the job. Whether you agree with this philosophy or not, this is college and you see why many people choose to go to trade schools. However, if you need a college degree, you need to try to adapt to the college culture and play by the rules. This website and other resources try to help you adapt to the culture and find ways around obstacles.
Teachers come with all kinds of experience. Depending on the college and the class, you can be taught by someone with a Ph.D. in the field of study or you can be taught by someone without a degree, but has A LOT of experience in the field of study. You may be taught by a full-time professor, or a student assistant who has taken quite a few classes in the particular subject area of the class that you are taking. If you take a college class, in all likelihood, you will be taught by an instructor who has, at least, a master's degree in the subject area. However, you need to be aware that the credentials of the teacher depends on the hiring practices of the educational institution.
We hope that you will encounter some excellent teachers because there are some great teachers out there. They have valuable knowledge and the ability to pass that knowledge onto you, with enthusiasm. They can use common sense and are lenient, but yet, are demanding in the respect and discipline that they want from you. Their assignments are created to help you gain the knowledge that you will need to succeed. This type of teacher cares and wants to see you succeed. The teacher and the students seem to be on the same page.
However, there are way too many teachers who are BAD teachers. Let's face it, it is a fact of school life. They are totally opposite of the excellent teachers that we described above. The bad teachers have outrageous, poorly-conceived assignments. It is questionable if this type of teacher really cares for you. They do not seem to relate well with the students and they do not seem to want to change. We could go on and on, but you get the idea that there are teachers that you want to avoid.
Different teachers have different styles of teaching while some students have different styles of learning. We have seen some students fail a class and then take that same class over again, but with a different teacher. This time, the student not only passed the class, but the student did well in the class. There are times that NEITHER the teacher nor the student are at fault. The problem is that the instructor's teaching method was not a good fit for the student's learning style.
Throughout this site, we try to bring attention to resources that can help make college life EASIER. DEFINITELY, the following resource is one of those resources. It is safe to say that the teacher can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE when it comes to learning and passing a class. The following website helps you find the right teacher. Ratemyprofessor.com is a website that has been around for a number of years. Students are able to make comments about the teachers and classes that they have taken. Students can go to Ratemyprofessor.com site, choose the state, choose the school, and view the comments written by students, about teachers. The teachers are listed alphabetically.
Ratemyprofessor.com is not without some critics and many of those critics are teachers. Without a doubt, grossly unfair, vindictive, venomous comments are hurled at teachers by students. On the opposite side, are comments from students that are deliriously, way too positive about the teacher. However, there are additional comments that are more "middle of the road." By looking at all the comments, most students can make out which comments are too negative, which comments are too positive, and which comments give the truth of what is really going on. Usually, it is easy to see if most of the comments are really negative, and if they are, then you need to question if you want to take that class with that particular teacher. If most of the comments are positive, then you might want to consider taking that class with that specific teacher.
Those of us on "The College and Career Library" staff are "old school." We did not have Ratemyprofessor.com to help us choose teachers and classes. When we were in college, we "networked" with our fellow students and "asked around" which teachers were good and which ones to stay away from. We understand the criticism of Ratemyprofessor.com, BUT if we were going to school, we would use Ratemyprofessor.com. We feel that it is possible to filter out the too negative and the too positive comments about a teacher, and then make an informed decision. You need to check out Ratemyprofessor.com site and see if it works for you.
At most colleges in the U.S., the school year runs on the semester or trimester system. Semesters are 15 or 16 weeks long and trimesters are about 10 weeks long. It appears that a majority of colleges in the U.S. take part in the semester system.
A typical semester system works like this:
Throughout this website, we mention that we try to be positive, but yet, realistic. This is one of those times where it is hard to be positive. The attempt for a student to transfer their credits / classes from one college to another college is a fact of college life. Just as much a fact of college life, though, is that thousands of students find out that some of their credits / classes will NOT transfer from their college to another college. The situation involving transferring of credits can be a real mess. If you are in the college scene long enough, you know how much of a mess this can be. If you are new to college, you may be asking "Why would I need to transfer my credits / classes?" "Why do credits not transfer?" We will not spend much time on this because it can be a mess. Did we say that this is a mess? Oh, yes we did. However, we will try to give some explanation.
For example, let's say that you live in large, urban city. You have access to a community college AND a university. You decide that you want to get a bachelor's degree in nursing. You want to take as many classes as you can at the community college because the classes are much less expensive than taking the same classes at the university. The requirement for the bachelor's degree in nursing at the university is 120 credits, so you take as many credits as you can at the community college and hope that your credits will transfer to the university. According to your community college academic counselor, you can take 20 classes at the community college that will add up to 60 credits. Each class is three credits. That means that you can take half of the classes that you need for the bachelor's degree, at the community college to save money. You spend two years at the community college passing the 20 classes and it is time to transfer those credits/classes to the university. It is time to transfer your 60 credits from the community college and get ready to take another 20 classes (60 credits) at the university to complete the 120 credits requirement for the bachelor's degree. Let's go over that again:
SO, after two years at the community college, it is time to transfer your credits to the university. OH,OH. OH, no, no, no, no. The university tells you that four of the classes will not transfer from the community college. That means that all of your work, time, effort, energy, frustration, and MONEY were for NOTHING for those four classes. N O T H I N G.
It happens. This does NOT happen to everyone. We want to believe that a majority of students do not face this. However, we have heard enough stories to know that this happens way too much. There are a number of reasons why this happens. We will mention just a few. Let's take a look at the nursing student scenario that we just mentioned. It is very possible that while the student was at the community college (for two years) that the university changed its nursing bachelor's degree requirements. Some of the classes that the student was taking at the community college were no longer required at the university. In the meantime, the university decided to add a few classes that the student at the community college did not know.
Here is another reason why some credits / classes do not transfer from one college to another. Colleges have a tendency to accept credits / classes that they offer at their particular college, also. Let's continue to use the nursing scenario as mentioned above. Let's say that the student took an environmental science class at the community college. However, the university does not offer an environmental science class. It is likely that the university will NOT accept credits for a class that the university does not offer, or recognize.
Accreditation is another concern for transferring credits. If you take classes from a school that is not properly accredited OR is accredited by an organization that a university does not recognize, those credits will NOT transfer.
We will repeat that transferring credits can be so messy. We have heard so many HORROR stories. We do not know if we should say this, but we will, transferring credits is a flaw in the educational system. To those people who take all their classes from one college, graduate from that college, and then never have to go to another school again, they will never know the issues with trying to transfer credits. However, with the economy being the way it is, many people are going back to school to "retool." In all likelihood, they are trying to transfer some credits from one school to another and finding that some credits will not transfer. We understand. We have been there and done that.
The best advice that we can give is to advise students to work with the academic counselors. If you know that you are going to transfer to another college, then you may want to keep in contact with the academic counselor at the school that you are currently attending AND the academic counselor at your future school. Usually, general classes will transfer, such as the entry level classes of sciences and humanities. Some examples would be astronomy 101, biology 101, and computer science 101. It is the special class that might not transfer because not every college offers some of the specialties, such as automobile mechanics, welding, and chemical processing.
There are some subjects that are tough to handle when trying to pass a class. For me, it was anything related to math. Teachers teach the subject and will help you the best that they can, but their time is limited. They have multiple classes to teach, a large number of students to help, committees and meetings to attend as part of their faculty duties and on top of all of this, they want to have A LIFE just like you want to have a life. Many colleges will have a tutoring department or free tutoring services for the major subject areas. Often, the tutors are paid professionals in their field of expertise, paid student assistants who have a lot of knowledge in the particular field of study, or volunteers who know what they are talking about. I have seen some students spend more time in the tutoring center than they do in class. If I had known about tutoring services when I went to college, I would have spent more time in the tutoring center than class, too.
Most colleges will have something called a Writing Center. It is a fact of college life that students will be writing papers, research reports, and other such writing activities. Students will need to deal with things such as thesis statements, introductions, conclusions, informational or persuasive reports, MLA style of writing, APA style of writing, citations, in-text citations, bibliographies, works cited page and ....... well .......more STUFF related to writing. The Writing Center, or some service at your college similar to this, will be staffed by people who can help you with all this ....... well ....... writing STUFF.
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