How to Choose the Right Healthcare School

September 7, 2015

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Choosing a healthcare career is a big life decision to make. But even if you already know that a future of helping others in health is the right path for you, your career planning is only beginning.

Figuring out what kind of education to get, where to get it, what career path to start on, and which program will best prepare you to get there can leave you feeling overwhelmed by the array of possibilities. And we get that. These are decisions you shouldn't have to make all by yourself — the more facts, advice, and experiences you can consider, the more confident you'll be that you're making the right choice.

That's why we created this simple, but powerful guide to help you get started.

It's important to look through your options and know what to consider — educational requirements, job prospects, and program quality — as well as to inform yourself about the various resources available to help you make your decision.

#1 Here's What You Don't Know About Your Healthcare Career Options. This Can Save You up to $150,000.

The first step is asking yourself what kind of healthcare career you want. Doctors and nurses are the first jobs that come to mind when we think of jobs in healthcare, but there are a world of possibilities that you may not be aware of. Not to mention some nursing programs and medical schools can cost up to $150,000.

Allied healthcare offers options which differ from traditional medical jobs like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. Despite being less well-known, positions in allied health are some of the fastest-growing in the field of medicine, with solid paychecks and advancement potential. Specializations tend to require fewer years of education, though some may require degrees in healthcare or even graduate programs.

Allied health professions support traditional medicine, nursing, and pharmacy work. These include jobs like technicians and technologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, hygienists, as well as administrative positions and many others.

Workers in these jobs make up to 60% of the US healthcare workforce and are in high demand. If you’re interested in a hands-on career where you work directly with patients, there’s an area of specialization for you.

#2 Three Crucial Things to Consider Before Choosing Your School

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You’re already drawn to the healthcare field, but what are some other critical points to consider when choosing healthcare schools? After looking at your job options in healthcare, you’ll want to narrow it down to a couple of possible fields of study. Allied health schools generally train students for a specific career.

If you’re not sure you’re ready to commit to a specialized position yet, career guidance can help, or you could consider graduate programs after completing a bachelor's degree. Programs in occupational therapy, nutrition and orthotics are just a few of the options for students with a bachelor's degree. Some community college programs, like those for medical assistants, will let you select an area of specialization during your studies.

When picking a program, you’ll want to think about the educational requirements for your future career, your prospects after graduation, and the quality of your courses:

Allied Healthcare Educational Requirements

If you’re eager to get started in a career in as short a time as possible, becoming a doctor may not be the right choice for you, but many positions have much shorter healthcare certification programs or even on-the-job training.

Because allied health careers cover such a wide range of jobs, educational requirements vary widely too, from on-the-job training up to master’s degrees.

Most allied health jobs require some professional training or certification, many requiring a certificate or associate degree. If you already have a degree or are looking to make a career change, allied healthcare programs can provide a shorter route to a satisfying new career. Some certification programs can be completed in less than a year.

If you’re not certain about your career path, a short healthcare training program can be an ideal stepping stone in your career; for instance, a phlebotomy technician (who draws blood and prepares it for testing) can be trained in as little as one month. Many phlebotomists later go on to careers as medical assistants, surgical technologists and other jobs requiring further training.

Top Healthcare Careers in Demand

If you’re choosing a career in healthcare, you probably already know you’re heading into an in-demand field. Your career prospects are great in many healthcare jobs, but it’s worth considering your options for your particular region and specialty area. For students who need financial assistance for their education, many healthcare training programs will lead you to a field where high employment rates won’t leave you worrying about repaying loans.

Look at some of the fastest-growing allied health careers to find out what kinds of professions will see the biggest demand in future years: these include jobs like medical lab technicians, physiotherapists, sonographers, dental hygienists and dietitians.

Whether you’re looking for a job that lets you stay in your area or you dream of relocating, healthcare careers are normally a safe bet. Healthcare professionals are in demand in most regions, though demand for specific jobs varies somewhat by state, and for licensed professions, the certification requirements can differ from state to state.

Healthcare Program Quality

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Though factors like location, cost or program structure are the first considerations for some students, the most important factor in your decision should be the quality of the program.

Factor 1: School Reputation

Reputation is one way to judge schools, but don’t presume that it immediately means the best program. Is the school well-known for the program you want to study? One college may be a big-name school, but it might only be great for law and literature, while a smaller school in your area provides the best healthcare education. Plus, a well-known school may no longer be as competitive as it once was, so it's important to look into its current standing.

Factor 2: Official Rankings

College rankings are a good place to start for colleges and universities. However, it’s important to take a deeper look at the less obvious details:

  • Does the program offer hands-on training such as internships?
  • Will you be certified for work upon completion, if your profession is licensed, or ready to take professional exams?
  • Talking with guidance counselors or professionals in your field can help give you a better idea of which programs are highly regarded.

Factor 3: Campus Life

Life on campus is also important in thinking about quality. Talking with current or former students, taking a tour and speaking with admissions professionals can help give you a good sense of what your experience would be like.

  • How large are class sizes?
  • Is the school administration helpful and supportive?
  • Does the environment feel like a good fit for you?

#3 The Right Way to Start Your Search

You’ve read up on the steps to take in choosing a study program and selecting a satisfying career. Where should you go next?

College Fairs

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If you’re in high school or a recent graduate, college fairs can be a great resource for you to learn about many different programs in a short period of time.

Fairs may be organized for your school, your school district or city; keep an eye out for events near you. Admission is free but pre-registration may be required. Admissions professionals are way ahead of you and schedules for spring 2016 are already available.

Fairs give you the opportunity to gain an overview of many healthcare schools and programs quickly, and it’s a lot more hands-on than browsing the internet. Admissions staff can set you up with school catalogs, information about healthcare degrees and certification programs, program requirements and application deadlines, as well as information about life on campus. Representatives may also be able to set up admissions interviews.

Often you’ll speak not only with admissions staff, but with current students or recent graduates. College fairs are like getting a mini tour from many schools at once, without a day of driving for each one. These events are typically open to anyone in the community, so even if you’re several years out of school, or want to transfer, they can be a good way to begin surveying your options.

Admissions Consultations

Once you’ve begun narrowing down your options, individual consultations with admissions staff at a college are the best way to learn more about whether a particular program is the right fit for you. Skilled admissions staff at healthcare schools will even advise you on alternate program options if they don’t think your choice is the best fit for you.

This is especially critical for students looking at graduate programs, or with previous higher education or relevant professional experience. Admissions professionals can help advise you on any transfer credit or advanced standing you’re likely to receive at the school, which may affect your choice of programs or schools.

Admissions staff will give you the most important information on pre-requisites, exams, deadlines and financial aid, as well as some of the information you want to know about your healthcare job search after graduation. This is also the time for you to get a sense of what life on campus is like, since it's a great opportunity to take a tour and speak with current students.

Guidance Counselors

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Career guidance should be a required step in any student’s education, and it doesn’t stop with high school. Your high school guidance counselor may be a great source of information on colleges, but they may have less to say about what you’ll do when you finish a degree. Still, your high school guidance office is a great place to turn for advice if you’re still a student. Your school counselor can advise you on programs based on your interests, courses, and grades.

Colleges and institutes of higher education all offer academic counseling, which should ideally also include career counseling services, where they can help you figure out your next step or assist with information on job openings and the job search process. Check out this interview with a career guidance counselor to learn more about the choices that prospective high school students and college students preparing for a career need to consider.

What's Your Next Step?

Once you have more information about what programs are out there and can decide what factors are most important to you, you can start making a shortlist of programs to apply to.

Then you’re ready to start hands-on research like talking to admissions staff at your selected schools, healthcare professionals you know who can help advise you, and current students to help determine which programs are the best fit for you.

Don’t forget to keep admissions deadlines in mind as you start your research!

Need some more ideas for a satisfying and well-paid career in allied health? Take a look at some great options among the 14 top-paying careers in allied health.