Help Choosing a School or College
How Do You Know Which School or Program is Best for You
If you are planning to attend a private school or college in the state of Florida, PLEASE, for your own protection, contact this office before you proceed, to see if the particular institution is licensed or approved by the Commission for Independent Education. We may also be able to confirm whether those in other states are recognized. In addition, if you are planning to attend an institution in a foreign country, you should know that foreign countries exercise varying levels of control over their private institutions, so the quality may range from excellent to none at all. Also, foreign colleges and universities have different structures and requirements than American ones. There is no accreditation in foreign countries. Please feel free to contact us for more information.
If You Are A Student:
If college or some other kind of study beyond high school is in your future, you need to know as much as possible about your educational options. There are many quality institutions of higher education in Florida, but some may offer a better match than others. How do you know which to choose? This information, published by the Commission for Independent Education, an agency of the Florida Department of Education, is designed to help you ask the right questions, know where to find the answers, know what you are getting into, and to make the decision that is best for your future.
Learn about what you are getting into before you sign any paperwork:
- Find out whether the degrees or programs offered by the college or school will be accepted for jobs in the field you want. Don't just talk with the school officials, ask local employers in that field whether they hire people with training from the college or school you are considering. Ask whether those employees are satisfactorily trained for jobs in that field. Would the employer be happy to hire more graduates from this college or school?
- Learn whether you can use the credits earned at this college or school to enter another college or school, if you later decide to transfer or to continue your education. Ask the registrar or admissions officer of the other college, to which you might transfer someday, whether they will accept credits from this school for transfer.
- See if the college or school is licensed to operate in Florida (or in the state where it is located). Licensed colleges and schools have met minimum standards set by the state.
- Find out whether the college or school is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. Accredited colleges have met high standards set by their professional peers. Usually, transfer is easier between colleges or universities that are accredited by the same agency. There is more information about accreditation later on this same page.
- Distance education: courses over the Internet, campus-free degrees, and the like, often appeal to people who want to pursue an education while holding a full-time job. Be aware that because many such programs are new, a number are neither regulated nor accredited. Again, talk to employers in your chosen field to see if they will accept degrees earned by these "study at home" means. You may also contact this office for more information.
- Get a copy of the college's or school's catalog, and READ IT CAREFULLY. Be sure you understand all policies, especially the REFUND POLICY. If you have any questions about these policies, ask an official of the college or school.
- Visit the college or school if possible to see firsthand if it's everything you want. Actually going to the college or school is the BEST way to know if it is right for you. If you can, visit more than one college or school to have a basis for comparison.
- Find out which other colleges or schools offer the same or similar programs so you can compare costs and other points.
- If you plan to enter a profession that requires that you pass a licensing examination (such as accounting, psychology, interior design, mental health counseling, etc.), make sure that the degree you receive from the college of your choice will enable you to sit for the exam in the state of Florida, as well as in any other state where you may practice. You can check with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation at 850-487-1395 for further guidance
- Don't believe it, if it's too good to be true! Don't be misled by recruiters who tell you anything like this:
- "We'll pay you $50 a week if you come to our school!"
- "Of course you can transfer to other colleges. No Problem."
- "It won't cost you a thing to attend this school--the government will pay everything."
- "We guarantee you a job after graduation."
- "You can get a degree in 27 days."
- Don't be pressured by recruiters into making a hasty decision. There's plenty of time, no matter what they might tell you. Take your time. Ask questions. Talk to other people and other colleges or schools. Check it out. Furthering your education can be expensive, so be a wise consumer.
- Before you sign ANY papers, be sure you understand what they say. You may be obligating yourself to repay a hefty loan, and graduate already in debt! Further, failure to pay off that debt, EVEN IF YOU WEREN'T AWARE OF IT, will cause a bad credit rating -- and then you can't buy a car or get a credit card. Be aware that you will owe the money, even if you don't like the education you received!
- Be sure you understand about student financial aid, so you will know the difference between a GRANT (you don't have to repay) and a LOAN (you do have to pay back), and know which one or what combination you have. KNOW YOUR OBLIGATIONS for repayment.
If the college's or school's financial aid officer doesn't quite make it clear, you can call the Florida Department of Education, Office of Student Financial Assistance, toll free at (888) 827-2004, or the US Department of Education 800-433-3243 (4 FED AID) for more information.
For other questions, call:
- Private degree-granting colleges and universities, toll-free 888-224-6684, or
- Public universities 850-201-7202
- Public community colleges 850-245-0407
- Private vocational, technical, trade and business schools, toll-free 888-224-6684
- GED Testing Office 850-245-0449
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools 800-248-7701
- Equal Educational Opportunities 850-245-0511
- Veterans Approving Agency 850-488-6598
- Office of Teacher Certification 850-488-6159
Your high school guidance counselor or public library may also be able to help you find more information on planning your career.
What if I don't have my high school diploma?
Ask your local school board about a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). They are free, or inexpensive, and are accepted by many employers, armed services, colleges, universities, and schools. Be very wary of schools advertising high school diplomas by mail. They are usually very expensive and are NOT recognized by many colleges, career schools, or employers.
Will the state recognize my credits or degree from this college or school?
This question is not simple to answer. "The State" consists of many different agencies, each of which may have its own standards and/or definition for "recognition." To get a state job, generally you need a degree from an accredited college. Some positions require that your college be accredited by SACS (the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), but others are not as specific.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation generally means that a college or school has been evaluated by a group of educators, and meets the accrediting agency's standards. This process is VOLUNTARY for the college; it is not "required." However, accreditation is required for financial aid eligibility, recognition of degrees or credits by employers or other colleges, universities, or schools, easy transfer of credits, acceptance into another school, and other education-related opportunities.
Be aware that some so-called "accrediting agencies" may not be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, or may even be bogus! A current listing of recognized "accrediting agencies" maybe found on the US Department of Education's web site. Check with this office before you send money to any college, even if it claims to be accredited.
If You Are An Employer:
Please take the time to check the credentials of every prospective employee, before you offer to hire him or her.
Be aware that some questionable colleges and schools deliberately use names that are similar to those of well-known colleges or schools. Check it out with our office.
Some people claim to have degrees, diplomas, or certificates they do not really have. Contact the Commission's office or the school that the credential came from for verification.
Before you agree to reimburse or compensate an employee for courses taken at any private college or school, through the Internet, or through correspondence, you may contact the Commission's office first to see if the college or school is licensed and/or accredited. If you would like to file a complaint against a private degree-granting institution or vocational school operating in the State of Florida, or share information with the Commission's office, please contact the Commission at the following e-mail CIEINFO@fldoe.org or call our toll-free hotline at 888-224-6684.