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The process of applying to career colleges is similar from state to state. Therefore, the information provided below on the application process is a guide for students applying to American career colleges in general, and is relevant to schools in all states. For the most current and specific details, students should therefore also refer to individual state higher education agencies, as well as individual career colleges.

Applying to career colleges should begin well before your chosen program starts. Career colleges are generally private, independent institutions, so application requirements will differ from college to college even within a state; some have limited-enrollment programs with competitive admission, others offer open admission on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, applications can vary greatly depending on the school and the program.

How to apply

Step 1: find out what's required
Start by contacting the school directly: browse the college's website, request a catalog or brochure, email an admissions representative.

Requirements and supporting documents
US career colleges can range from "open admission" (requiring only a high school diploma or simply that you be over the age of 18) to more specific academic requirements, such as certain grades in particular subjects. Some vocational programs have additional course pre-requisites, and others may require a lower grade of educational completion (Grade 8 or 10, for example). Requirements are usually specified on a program-to-program basis. Additional requirements may include reference letters, current résumé, criminal record check, CPR certification, health and immunization record, portfolio, personal essay or letter of intent. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) may be recognized by some schools.

The main required supporting documents are official high school transcripts (or any post-secondary transcripts, if relevant). Students applying directly to a second-language training program may not be required to submit educational documents.

International students are generally required to submit proof of English proficiency, which can be through standardized language test scores or a college's own admissions test. Different career colleges accept different tests and require different scores, so be sure to find out the specifics.

International students must also show that the quality of the education they received is comparable to that of American institutions. Career colleges each have their own criteria for recognizing international student qualifications. Therefore, applicants should contact the college's admissions office to ask about assessing international qualifications. Certified translations into English for all documents in other languages are usually requested, and the college admissions office can inform you about requirements for translation and exactly what qualifications they recognize. You can also consult one of the US's credential evaluation services, which provide an evaluation of how your credentials compare with American credentials. Know that there is no federal or state regulation of these services. However, there are two national associations of credential evaluation services with published standards that members must adhere to. Choosing a credential evaluation service that has membership in one of these national organizations is a good way to ensure they are legitimate and professional. The two national organizations are the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) and the Association of International Credentials Evaluators (AICE).

Step 2: know when to apply
Because the programs are so different--from audio engineering to visual art, welding to hairstyling--program duration and start dates also vary. Some career colleges offer continuous enrollment with programs starting every month, week or even every day; others operate on a more traditional semester system with a fall and/ or winter intake. Many career colleges therefore have no cut-off dates for admission and instead process applications all year round. Others have specific deadlines after which applications are no longer considered. Career colleges with internal scholarships and bursaries may encourage early application in order to qualify for these awards and financial assistance. Make sure you know when any required tests are offered (such as language tests) so that you can be sure to get the scores to the college by the deadline. Some exams are only offered at certain times of the year, so make sure you find out when you can write the one(s) you need.

Step 3: submit your application
The career college applications themselves generally consist of a downloaded form or a form completed and submitted electronically on the school's website. The application also usually includes a non-refundable application fee of anywhere between $25-$100, as specified by the institution. School transcripts can be asked for in two ways: you may be asked for official transcripts from your high school to be sent directly to the college, or you may simply be allowed to provide a photocopy. Often, international students are required to pay a tuition deposit (up to 50% of the fees for your first year), which can be paid by Visa, MasterCard, check or wire transfer. Admission is considered confirmed when the career college receives your signed acceptance of their admissions offer along with the tuition fee deposit. Be advised that most international student fees are non-refundable.

Because private career colleges are just that--private--they are run like a business and should be approached as though you are buying a product. This means you should find out about tuition costs, equipment/ facilities, refund policy (should you decide not to complete the program) and reputation. Most career colleges publish a statement of student rights and responsibilities on their websites: be sure to read it carefully.
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