Picking a Computer School

Finding a university that offers computer technology degrees is easy.  But finding a quality school that fits with your learning style is not. 

There are plenty of trade schools that advertise themselves as computer schools, but a quick check will show that the academic program consists of a few classes with outmoded technology.  So do your homework. Some things to consider when picking a school:

Access to the technological tools

Check to see how many computers are available for studentsí use.  What are the lab hours?  What software is loaded on every computer?  Is the software up to date?  

Some schools only provide limited access to tools like Maya and 3D, and force students to sign up for time on computers.  You will want almost 24-hour access to labs to work on those late-night projects. 

If you want to pursue multimedia studies, you will want the latest versions of the software, on computers and work stations that can handle large graphics-intensive files. Networking students should have access to servers and their own workstations to reconfigure.

Flexible Academic Program

Check the curriculum and requirements for a degree: what exactly is required to graduate with a degree from this school? Be wary of schools that rigidly force students to follow a set academic timeline, without regard to the studentsí own preferences or experience.

Are there enough majors (or areas of emphasis)?  Beware of schools that offer just vague-sounding majors in Computer Technology or Information Technology.  Each major should have multiple options.  For example, a student majoring in Multimedia should have the option of focusing on digital animation, video production and web design, among others.

Do students have the option of designing their own academic program or taking independent study?  Advanced-level students who are disciplined and focused should be given the opportunity to work on their own projects, like creating their own animated movies or game mods.

Academic Focus

Beware of programs that only focus on mastering how to use the software tools.  Thatís important, but only part of the picture.

A well-rounded technological academic program includes course work on game concepts and theory.  A program that focuses on encouraging students to explore their ideas will mean an exciting, innovative school experience Ė instead of dull tutorials that you can get out of a book.   

A technological program is more than just teaching about hardware and software. Employers expect professionals to work on teams. So if you ever want to climb the ranks, you will need leadership and organizational skills, like  documentation, scheduling and project management.

Talk to the Students

On your campus visit, ask the students why they chose the school and how they feel about their decision now:

Talk to the Counselors

Before you tour the school, schedule an appointment with a counselor and make a reservation for a tour.  Don't try an unscheduled visit with the school's Admissions Office. Often, the counselors have already been scheduled and won't be available to help you.  Some questions to ask:

Portfolio Focus

Think of this way: grades mean nothing if you want to succeed in the world of technology.  If you leave college with a fantastic portfolio, you will succeed.

Look for a school that encourages students to complete a portfolio by graduation. Some schools offer portfolio classes to help seniors polish their final projects, write resumes and conduct a job search.

Instructors

Check the listing of academic instructors and their credentials. How many have their masterís degrees or PhDs? Beware of schools that will draft their advanced-level students into teaching courses.

Are instructors required to have a set amount of office hours when they are open to giving students help with projects and advice? Do they act as advisors to students? Become involved with their projects? Enlist students to participate in the instructorsí own projects?

Credit for Credit

Check the academic credentials of the school. The accreditation determines whether you can receive federal loans or use your academic credits to transfer to another school.

Check how much transfer credits the school will accept, if you have already taken college-level courses. Some colleges will let you test out of certain basic-level courses like English and humanities, so look into that option. Testing out of core courses can save you big bucks.


Related Information


Financial Aid Information

Fields and Facts about Multimedia

Professional Development and Training in Arizona

UATs Arizona Masters of Technology Program

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