Should I Take a Continuing Education Class?
Whether you’re contemplating a career change or looking to add some new skills to your current studio practice, “continuing education” or “adult extension” courses might seem tempting. At the school where I teach, a wide variety of classes are offered – from blacksmithing to computer animation, and everywhere in between. And of course, if you live in a big city, the possibilities of taking classes at nearby universities, colleges, trade schools, museums, non-profit spaces, and even some high schools, can seem almost endless.
But first of all, what are “continuing ed” or “adult extension” courses? Every school and every program is a little different. Most intensive courses run 6-8 weeks, with one meeting per week. There’s generally no application procedure where you have to submit your credentials and hope to get in; rather you simply sign up, pay your fee and attend. For a few advanced courses there will be prerequisites, but for the most part you do not need a portfolio in order to take one of these classes; in fact, taking one can actually be a good way to build up a portfolio for later use.
These courses are usually offered on the weekends or evenings, to accommodate the working schedule of most people. The students attending will likely be a mix of people of different ages, backgrounds, and skill levels – you will often have someone in their early 20s sitting next to a retiree, both of whom will bring their skills (and limitations) to the class. Taking one of these courses can be a great way to meet like-minded people who are interested in the same things you are, but be warned that everyone takes these courses for their own reasons. Some people will be taking them “for fun” or to meet other people in their community, while others will be all business and purely interested in doing the coursework and then headed home without socializing. Be clear with yourself about what you want out of it before you sign up, and this will help you pick a class that meets your expectations.
Probably the most important thing in choosing a course is to find one where you have an instructor you can relate to and who is well-versed in the kind of information you want to learn. See if you can meet the instructor before you sign up (many schools offer an open house just so prospective students can do this). Make sure that he or she is friendly and approachable – no sense in signing up for a course where the teacher makes you feel intimidated or uncomfortable right off the bat. They should be professional, as well, and able to juggle a wide variety of personalities and concerns.
Instructors vary greatly from place to place, as well. In many instances, you can have the exact same teacher as you would if you shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to be a full-time, matriculated student. This can be a great way to test the waters at a school that interests you, to get a feel of what being there would be like without committing to getting a degree. Sometimes schools have graduate students or new teachers in these courses. Don’t dismiss someone’s credentials right off the bat if they seem fresh out of school themselves – especially when it comes to anything involving computers or design, these are the teachers that can bring the most cutting edge information to class. Just remember that your needs are particular to you; make sure you find a teacher that suits you.
Costs for these classes will vary greatly, with a major deciding factor being whether or not you will receive college credit. My old high school offers some really good, basic, and inexpensive computer classes for people just getting started in design – but you don’t get any credit for it. This can still be a great opportunity though, if what you’re looking to do is to simply learn new software so that you can take those skills either to your current job or to build a portfolio for future opportunities. But if decide you need college credit for one reason or another, make sure that you check with the school you will transfer the credits to, to make sure they will apply them towards your degree. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much if the school where you’re taking an evening class offers credits, so much as it does that the school you want to transfer to will take them. Each college has their own rules about this, so investigate before you sign up.
Continuing education courses can offer a wonderful opportunity to freshen up your practice and keep up with the skills you need. With a little research and planning, you can find a course that suits you perfectly.