Definition: What exactly is a career college? Career colleges are privately run schools (a small percentage are publicly funded) that offer career-oriented training programs leading to diplomas or certificates and, ultimately, to entry-level positions in a particular work field. Private career colleges (sometimes called PCCs) must be registered with and licensed by their respective provincial education ministry. Some private career colleges are single-firm businesses, while others are large multinational corporations with campuses across Canada and the United States; some are for profit while others are not-for-profit organizations. A career college may offer education in only a few related fields, or it may provide programs in a wide variety of career-oriented subjects. Similarly, some career college programs are aimed at training students very specifically for a particular job (arc-welder, for instance), while other programs teach skills that could be applied in a number of careers (such as computer technician programs which can lead to a wide range of employment options).
Demographics: It's difficult to come up with an exact number of career colleges in Canada (since some of the smaller, less established ones may come and go). However, there are well over 1,000, and a survey undertaken by HRSDC and the Canada Millennium Foundation in 2005 found that, depending on how one defines PCCs, the number could be as high as 2,400 schools with over 150,000 enrolments.
Canada's career colleges try to make learning accessible to as many students as possible; therefore, they can be found everywhere from large cities to small remote communities. This means there's a good chance one that meets your needs will be near you. Being spread across the country also means career colleges can provide regionally-based programs designed specifically to meet the needs of particular industries in particular communities. This includes cultural-specific programming at aboriginal career colleges. Career colleges therefore give back to their communities and contribute to their strength, vitality and growth: for instance, in 2006 private career colleges in BC contributed an estimated $300 million to the provincial economy.
And who goes to career college? Anyone who wants to get into the workforce and get a good-paying job quickly. The diversity of schools--in terms of size, programs, history, location and mandate--is matched by the diversity of students they serve: students with different needs, different career goals and different cultural, educational and economic backgrounds. Students can enter direct from high school heading towards their first skilled job or fulfilling university pre-requisites, or as mature students looking for a career change or skills upgrade. However, most everyone choosing to attend a private career college is there because they share a desire for focused and practical study that will make them competitive in the job market. This means a supportive learning environment of students with a common drive.
Delivery: What can career colleges offer you? Career colleges offer 1- and sometimes 2-year diploma and certificate programs in fields such as business, applied health services, human services, applied arts, information technology, beauty and personal services, applied business technology, trades & apprenticeships, culinary, travel and hospitality. Full-time and part-time studies are often available, as well as compressed schedules with classes in the mornings or evenings so learners can keep up with job or family responsibilities while studying. For those with real time-crunch issues, self-paced learning and online courses are also possible. Some accelerated programs are designed to be equivalent to longer programs, and many allow you to graduate into the work force in 12 months or less. However, this depends on the program: trades and technical programs often take between 3-12 months while health, media or information technology programs can range from 7- 23 months. Career colleges are focused on giving you what you need; usually, you only take courses relevant to your specialty without having to take electives, as at university and many community colleges. With class sizes generally between 5 and 30, career colleges offer more personalized attention for students than the big universities and community colleges. Also unlike universities and community colleges, career colleges often have variable intake dates, meaning applicants don't have to wait until next fall term to start their studies: you can start earning and pay your student debts off sooner.
Different and distinctive: What else is so different about career colleges in Canada? Because they are (mostly) privately-run, the curriculum stays up-to-date since courses can be changed at any time to reflect industry and market needs. Private career colleges compete for students, which means they tend to provide innovative programs simply not offered by universities and community colleges. Being licensed by a government ministry means instructors are audited to ensure they are qualified and have industry experience. Another special feature is their job search/ placement help. Some career colleges offer graduates lifetime job placement assistance. The industry practicum so often part of the curriculum means students already start making job connections while they're learning. Private career colleges are required to deliver Career Management Curriculum, including résumé writing, interviewing skills etc., and are also required to have a Financial Aid officer on site. Because most career colleges are smaller than universities and community colleges, school administrators or even instructors are often willing and able to meet with prospective students seeking information.
Deciding: So how will you decide? First you have to decide what you're interested in, then you have to find a school. Campus Starter's database of career colleges in Canada can help get you started. Once you've spotted a school that seems to suit your interest, check out their website. The site will tell you how to order a catalogue and who to call. Then call and even go visit--don't be shy! This is your education. When it comes to private career colleges you are essentially a buyer, so choose carefully the same way you would making any large investment of money and time. And take the time to explore the rest of Campus Starter's section on career colleges in Canada for even more information to help you jump start your career!