Many graduating seniors picture their post-high-school years on a tree-lined campus, living in a dorm and attending lectures, but that life isn't for everyone. Alternatives, for those seeking...

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Many graduating seniors picture their post-high-school years on a tree-lined campus, living in a dorm and attending lectures, but that life isn’t for everyone. Alternatives, for those seeking them, include art schools, online schools, military academies, career schools and vocational programs offered by community colleges.

   Do your homework

Before enrolling in a private vocational school, check out its:

Facilities: Sit in on a class or take a tour.

Placement record: Ask how many sutdents are placed in jobs each year. If the school is involved in the Federal Student Loan Program, it must reveal placement rates.

Dropout rate: Often students leave a program that proves disappointing. If the school is involved in the Federal Student Loan Program, it must make its Track Record Disclosure Form available.

Level of training: Some occupations require state licensing and bonding, so it’s important to ask if the school meets these requirements. (To find out the requirements for a desired occupation, contact the Washington State Master License Service at 360-664-1400.)

Registration: Degree-granting schools must be registered with the Higher Education Coordinating Board. Nondegree-granting schools must be licensed by the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board. Cosmetology and barbering schools must be licensed by the Department of Licensing.

Patti Jones

Some, such as Washington State University’s Distance Degree Program and the Cornish College of the Arts, offer four-year bachelor’s degrees. Others award associate’s degrees or certificates that take fewer than four years to complete. At the Art Institute of Seattle (which offers both bachelor’s and associate’s degrees), you can earn a fashion-marketing diploma in six quarters. At South Seattle Community College, you can walk away with a practical-nursing certificate in three.

“We see all kinds of students applying to (alternative) schools,” says Leanne Hust, a counselor at Garfield High School. “Often they’re kids with good grades and SAT scores, who could go anywhere but want a school where they can focus on a special interest.”

Where can you learn more about such schools? Some have high profiles — the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City or the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. — but others require a bit more sleuthing. Start your search with your school counseling office. More places to look include:

An alternative path

Art Schools

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design,

They’re all here: Cornish, the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Links take you directly to each school’s Web site and let you e-mail each for more information.

Art Schools,

The plum décor may be a turnoff, but you’ll find links to schools offering programs in everything from animation to shoe design. Also: lists of art scholarships and articles on going to art grad school.

Career Schools

“Where Are You Going?” by the Washington State Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.

The booklet lets you scan occupations (baker, barber, watch repairer) and look up where to get training for each in Washington state. (If you want to fix watches, try North Seattle Community College.) It also gives you a sense of each field’s employment outlook in the state (barbers: 79 openings a year). To order, call Diane Donahoo at 360-753-0892. Or download from

The Vocational Information Center,

You can look up schools by state or specialty, and check if they are accredited, meaning they meet professional standards and qualify for federal grant and loan programs.

The Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board, . Mega-list of Washington schools, including community, technical and business colleges. The site also links to the following address:

Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board,

Lists private vocational schools, from the Seattle Midwifery School to the Business Computer Training Institute in Everett.

Long-Distance Learning

“Peterson’s Guide to Distance Learning Programs 2004,” Petersons Guides, 2003. $29.95. This 1,056-page tome lists all kinds of schools that let you learn from home.

American Distance Education Consortium,

A list of five dozen state universities and colleges offering students real degrees from their virtual programs.

Military and Maritime Schools

The service academies:

West Point (Army),
Annapolis (Navy),
Air Force,
Coast Guard,

The Association of Military Colleges and Schools,

Run by a nonprofit organization for schools with military programs approved by the Department of Defense, this site links to the home pages of 42 military schools.

The Merchant Marine Academy,

For folks hankering to transverse the trade routes of the seven seas, this site supplies details of the four-year program located in Kings Point, N.Y.

Seattle Maritime Academy,

Located in Ballard; trains students to work in commercial fishing, with the Merchant Marines and on workboats; offers certificates in marine deck technology and marine engineering technology.