Enrolling on a course is a big step, and a large expense. We don’t want you to waste your money. We only want you to register with us if we’re the best for you. We know we aren’t the only college. There are several organizations offering similar courses. So you could check out other colleges before making a decision. But it isn’t always easy to know what the differences are. Even the jargon we use can be obscure when you see it for the first time. And when you’ve made a choice, will the college live up to it claims and your expectations? Will the glossy website translate into a great course? So we’ve listed several factors for you to consider. We’ve also added a form you can download, personalize and print out. Click here to download the form.
Contact several colleges and use the form to distinguish between them. Some of these items will be more important to you than others. Focus on the three or four topics that are essential for you.
NOTE: This commentary is from the standpoint of distance learning. Choose between classroom learning and distance learning is a bigger issue that we can’t easily address here in detail. Studying full time at a college can be easier way to learn, but many people can’t choose that option, due to work or family commitments. And in some locations, some courses are only available by distance learning.
Below are a series of helpful questions you might want to ask when making your college choice:
1. Is the course printed, online or both?
There are big differences between a printed course or an online one.
A printed course is easier to use because you can flick backwards and forwards if you have to do an exercise or check something.
A printed addition may also come with additional items that the digital world can’t provide.
But a printed course not interactive (unless you also get access to an online edition).
An online course is likely to be cheaper. It gives you access to videos. You may be able to print it out. And some people even prefer to study online.
2. Do I get a named tutor? How can I contact my tutor?
Ideally you have a named tutor.
Note that contact with a support team’ or advisor’ is different from talking to a tutor who specializes in the subject.
The more expensive the course the better access you should expect.
Access to your tutor should be at least by email.
The best kind of access to your tutor is by phone, or by personal or group coaching conference call.
3. Is my tutor a practicing professional? Am I able to see the tutor’s qualifications?
Ideally a tutor will be an expert in their field. It’s even better if they practice their profession rather than just teaching it and marking assignments.
4. Do you publish student reviews? Where can I see them?
Reviews are really important when choosing a course.
The best reviews come from a third party review website.
You will always come across a few bad reviews. Every organization gets some. So pay more attention to the overall comments.
5. Can I see a list of course modules or units?
How do I study? Is the course made up of video, audio, printed materials, or a range of items?
Surprisingly, each college can provide quite different content for the course.
Compare the content for each college.
- How thorough or complete is it?
- Does it cover the information you need?
Some course consists of online videos. Others are only in the form of printed words. Others are a mix. In general it’s more interesting to have a range of content.
6. Does the course include modules on running a business or practice?
Would you like to become a professional and earn money after taking the course? If so, does the course include content on how to set up and run a business?
7. Can I see a sample of the content?
All courses are written by a professional. Some are dry and boring. Others are entertaining and engaging.
You are more likely to succeed if the course content is interesting.
8. What is included in the course?
Do you just get the modules? Or the course has other useful elements, such as guides?
9. How many assignments are there? Are they marked by a tutor, by computer, or not marked by anyone?
For assignments that are marked by the college, are they short essays, long essay, long essays, or Yes/No type questions.
There are three types of assignments (also called assessments)
- Tutor marked
- Computer marked
A good course will have tutor – marked assignments.
More complex assignments (and therefore more costly for the college) are once where every learner’s work is different. Typically they are essays. They can only be marked by a practitioner. These kind of assignment are more challenging for the learner, more interesting and more educationally useful.
10. You are more expensive/ cheaper than x. Why is that?
Compare the prices of different colleges. As with any purchase, price usually reflects quality.
What is your attitude towards price? Do you want something that is cheap but serviceable? Or you are worried about being disappointed?
11. For how long can I claim a refund? Do you give a refund?
Refund periods vary from the mean to the generous.
It’s good to have a sufficiently long refund period (at least 30 days) so you can return the course if it doesn’t suit you.
12. Is there a limit on how long I can take to finish?
Some colleges restrict the time you can take to study. This is so that the college doesn’t have an open ended commitment to you. Others charge extra if you want to study beyond their limit time.
Some colleges do not limit your time.
13. What accreditation does this course have?
Accreditation proves that an independent organization has validated the course, and /or your work.
There are several different types of accreditation.
• There are courses designed and controlled by the government. Different countries have their own systems:
UK: QCF, HNC/HND, GCSE, A level, Degree.
Australia: TAFE, VET
India: NCVT, MHRD
New Zealand: ITO
USA: varies by State
• Then there are accreditation bodies that are regulated by the government and accredited courses designed by the college.
They include ABC Awards, NCFE, Open College Network, City and Guilds, BTEC.
• There are also specific accreditation bodies for specific niches, such as CELTA for learning languages.
14. Ask a technical question, or any of the questions in this column, to check college’s responsiveness. Do you have a system for checking on my progress?
Try ringing the college and see how responsive they are. Does it feel like you’re in a call Centre?
Does the person you’re speaking to seem to understand the course?
Their response to your initial enquiry is a good measure of how good the course will be.
It is also good if the college has a way of checking that you are progressing well on your course.
15. In what country is my tutor based?
The location of the organization may or may not affect the course content and the service. To take an extreme example, if the college is thousands of miles away your contact may suffer, and there may be communication problems. Look for local support from the college.
16. In what year were you established?
Being new isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being long established means it’s unlikely to fail.
But sometimes long established colleges can be stuck in old ways.
This is not something you can make much use of.
17. Do you have an ethical statement?
Are you a living wage employer?
It’s nice to know that you have chosen a good organization to study with. Generally they are likely to perform better.
See if there is any evidence of ethical standards?
Is there an ‘About us’ page? What does it tell you, if anything?