I Was A Potted Plant

Have you ever watched an aircraft mechanic at a party or a wedding in which he knew only one or two people, and the other guests were "professional types" on his wife's side of the family?

The ninth truth is getting a four-year college degree will take anywhere from 18 months to 6 years. A two-year degree averages about 18 months to earn. Colleges, just like mechanics, are different. Do plenty of research up front, in order to reduce the amount of actual course time required to earn a degree.

The tenth truth is any college degree will markedly improve your vocabulary, as well as your reading, writing, and communications skills. Your mind will be stretched, and once your mind is opened to new ideas and information, you will never be quite the same again. But, no matter what degree you get, I assure you that your chances for promotion will improve, and, at the very least, you will no longer be forced into playing the role of a poorly watered potted plant.

Let's get started.

The first thing that will hit you when you begin your research for what college offers you the best degree program to fit your needs is the terminology of academia. These folks have nine different words for everything. They call external degree programs by such names as non-traditional or innovative programs, alternative education, distance learning, faculty-directed courses, or independent study, to name just a few.

Make sure that you only deal with colleges that have been accredited and approved by a nationwide accredited association such as the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, etc.

When you boil all the blood and fat from the rhetoric, external degree programs give you college credit hours for education and for life experiences, earned outside of the formal college environment. Some of these external degree programs require classroom participation (residence), others do not.

One book that is usually available in your local library is Peterson's Guide to Distance Learning Programs (1998). In its 614 pages, it lists hundreds of colleges and universities that offer distance learning, along with fax numbers and Internet web sites for the colleges. Another resource is Bear's Guide to Earning College Degrees Non-Traditionally, (12th edition, 1997). It focuses on 500 accredited schools and programs, has a separate and distinct section on unaccredited schools, and another section on disreputable organizations. If you have access to a computer, you can pull up other resources on the Internet by typing in http://www.uwex.edu/disted/catalog/other.htm.

I recommend that you focus your research to target at least three accredited colleges that at least on the surface, can fulfill your needs. All three colleges will require you to submit a "portfolio" of your life experience and accomplishments for review. List your formal and informal education, and be prepared to back-up your claims. For example, your three-year tour in the military is considered informal training and qualifies you for three credit hours in military arts. If you presently operate your own business, or have operated one in the past, you may get up to six credits in business administration. Remember every college is different, so include everything in your portfolio such as awards, technical training, even your hobbies and participation in volunteer work.

Your portfolio is then evaluated by the college and usually for a fee that runs between $50 to $1,000. I recommend that you send your portfolio to at least three colleges. Why? Because I guarantee that each of your life experience evaluations will be different, so while the initial up front evaluation costs would be higher, the added costs would be more than paid back if one of the colleges gives you a whole bunch more credits than the other two.

Additional information about these assessments is available through the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL, 243 South Wabash Ave. #800 , Chicago , IL 60604 .

Other assessment programs:

If you are in the military reserves, you can get either college credit or a degree for courses taken in the military or passing tests approved by defense activity for non-traditional education service. For more information, call them at DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support), Pensacola , FL , Tel: (850) 452-1089.

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