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Preparing for your post-secondary career can be daunting. The stress to meet grade requirements, the influence of your parents' academic wishes, and the looming question of to move or not to move constantly hangs in the back of your mind.

After you've perused the school websites and weighed all your options, you finally decide on your path: college. There's a plethora of advantages to an education within the Canadian college institutions, along with ample opportunity to jump right into the workforce after the two years are up.

And with industries looking to hire more diploma-accomplished graduates, high school students are starting to look at college as a viable option for their post-secondary experience.

The programs

Journalism at St. Clair College

Tuition: $3,471 for the first year

Real-world experience is what Veronique Mandal says is what sets St. Clair College apart from any other post-secondary institution.

We have a radio show, a live television show, a live TV newscast every day, and we produce an online and printed newspaper every week, she says, putting emphasis on their real-time broadcasts. And, as the coordinator of journalism, media convergence, and public relations program at the Windsor-based college in Ontario, she adds, we did this because we needed to make sure that the students who were learning to file and report across all the platforms actually used those platforms to work on.

During the two years, journalism students work in the NewsPlex within the school's MediaPlex introduced in 2010, where public relations and media convergence students also study. Our curriculum was actually built on a convergence platform, says Mandal. So that when our students enter the real world, they will be able to take a story for radio and turn it around for a television news story, write it for the newspaper, and they will be able to take photos and design websites.

With a hands-on education in-house, journalism students will also get hands-on experience in the field through two internship terms. For those who want to work in smaller areas they will intern at community newspapers or campus radio stations, Mandal explains. In addition to having internships here in Windsor with all of the major media, they also travel to many parts of the world for internships.

Civil Engineering Technology at Camosun College

Tuition: $3,958 average per year

They need to be good at math'it's so clich├® but it's so true, says Zo├½ Broom, chair of the department of civil engineering technology at Camosun College in Victoria, BC, when describing the ideal student for the program. We cannot rely on recipes to solve problems, so you have to be able to look at everything and figure out what needs to be done.

As compared to other Canadian colleges that may focus more on one area of civil engineering, the is fairly comprehensive and covers the subspecialties of civil engineering.

With highway design, urban services, and surveying, we really focus on utilizing computer software Civil 3D to the best of its ability, says Broom. Aiming to keep students Civil 3D native, she explains it's software that's very hard to learn on your own, and for students that graduate, a big asset for finding a job is being good at this program. 

Like university, the program covers topics in theory but also ensures students attain job skills through surveying and drafting. We also teach a lot of math, physics, the structural analysis, fluid mechanics, says Broom. What we teach will be much more applied and with just enough theory so they can apply it.

However, Broom warns that although the program is only two years in length, it is not easier than a university education. Anybody who thinks they can come in here because it's easier is in for a surprise, but they graduate with pretty amazing skills.

Practical Nursing at Fleming College

Tuition: $3,335 per semester

Practical nursing is considered the starting point to a nursing education in Canada and is offered in college, with the final designation as a registered practical nurse (RPN) after students have graduated and passed their RPN exams.

The community colleges are becoming the schooling of choice for students, says Saji Mon, program coordinator of practical nursing at Fleming College, in Peterborough, Ontario. A good percentage of all undergraduates in Canada go for the community college.

Students are also able to receive their provisional licence faster in college, meaning they'll be able to enter the nursing field two years ahead. There is no compromise in the quality and the quality of education in the community college, but the more important thing is they are easily able to get into the field.

With four semesters of courses like pharmacology, health and nursing theory, anatomy and physiology, students also get real world experience through clinical placements each semester. The first semester, the students will have the opportunity to understand various health care sectors and they'll be having opportunities to visit and practice in the hospitals and nursing homes, says Mon, while more hours will be spent in the clinical area in their second year. Finally, the consolidation phase is 440 hours where they will be selected to their area of nursing care and will be given a direct nursing home, hospital, community centre'and that's really based on their interests.


The advantages

There are many advantages to choosing college: a two-year program, a better professor-to-student ratio, and ample job opportunities, just to name a few.

One of the most significant benefits of studying at college is the quality of education earned in a shorter amount of time and at a lower tuition cost compared to university. The students and the families have seen the value of attending a community college because it is a two year program and their credits can be transferred to their continuing four years, says Mon. The community colleges are made a better option as it is more affordable.

Small class sizes are what make the practical nursing program at Fleming College special. With an intake of 100 students in the fall semester and only 50 in the winter, students are able to have more intimate classroom settings compared to lectures of over 200 students, which are typically popular in universities. There's more concentration, more focus, and more focus on the knowledge imparted to the students.

Two years in the civil engineering program at Camosun College leads to a great career in the field, says Broom. If you do two years of engineering in university and then stop, you've pretty much got nothing, adding that there is little applied learning in the first two years of university.

In the MediaPlex at St. Clair College, students right away get hands-on experience writing, producing, recording, and converting information across all media platforms. The editors and producers expect you to know it all and to know it well, says Mandal. I think that's another thing that we place great emphasis on: it's not knowing how to do one thing really well and having a mediocre skill. It's so important for us to make sure that the students leave here and navigate across those platforms equally well.

She also doesn't object to additional education in university after students have graduated from the journalism program at St. Clair College. I don't think any amount of education is wasted.

To further education, bridging options are available for college graduates from both Camosun College and Fleming College. For the ones that take our program, they finish in two years and then go on to do our bridging program, which upgrades them so they can enter third-year university at UBC, says Broom, adding that the complete college and university experience will take five years. Not only do they have the education and theoretical background that a degree gives you but they have all the applied skills that their fellow classmates who just did university don't have.

At Fleming College, Mon says the school has a bridging agreement with Trent University's bachelor of nursing program, where students have the opportunity to become a registered nurse. They'll go straightaway into university in second year and they'll be benefitting, he explains. They have hands-on experience and pre-knowledge of things they are going to study.

For college graduates, the shortened period of time in university is a great incentive for students, Mandal says. If you go to university and don't have the same experience that you need, then coming here means that you can get credit for much of what you've done in university.

The jobs

Landing your big girl or big boy job just two years after high school graduation couldn't be any sweeter; more college graduates are finding their place in the industry right after they've received their diploma.

I would say two-thirds of them go out and find jobs and one-third of them will continue on to university, says Broom of civil engineering careers. [On the job] they're doing municipal design where they're doing asset management'which is huge these days, with all the existing labour needed in a city from roads, sewers, water mains, to general data collection. Other career paths include working for a consulting company on municipal work or structural design.

In the media world, Mandal says employers are taking notice of college graduates because of the convergence education when, in the past, they would solely hire from reputable journalism universities. Our students are getting jobs across the country and some are getting jobs in the US and some of them are taking the journalism education they get and they're taking that into other fields, such as law or with non-profits.

Career-hunting graduates from Fleming College benefit from the school's affiliation with surrounding health care organizations and facilities in Peterborough. Whenever our curriculum changes, we incorporate our stakeholders, says Mon. Our stakeholders are nursing homes and regional hospitals, so we invite them because they demand the skills and we need to produce according to their demands.

And as the health care system constantly changes, there's great opportunity for practical nursing students to find jobs. As a graduate, they are more knowledgeable and have skills to care for individuals, he says. They will be very fit for hospital care settings, community health agencies, industries, clinics, doctors' offices, and long-term care facilities. Their scope of employment is increasing and that's what I want to highlight.

Facts & Figures

  • 11,782,685 Canadians ages 25ÔÇô64 have a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree.
  • 732,450 students were enrolled in a Canadian college institution in the 2011/2012 school year.
  • The average cost for base college tuition in Canada is $2,676
  • Of the top 10 most popular college diploma programs, the top three are:
    • Business 27.1 per cent
    • Health 17.1 per cent
    • Engineering 9.3 per cent