IT Pros On Choosing an IT School

Are you the “computer geek” who never got an IT degree? The one your family turns to when their Internet connection isn’t working? If your resume doesn’t quite communicate your skills to employers, maybe it’s time to build upon these talents with an IT school education.

Before you start investing in just any school, read our tips from IT professionals—advice the admissions office probably won’t tell you.

About the IT Industry You’re Entering…

The explosion of technology isn’t slowing down, meaning more and more job opportunities are opening up in IT. It also means that hundreds of IT schools and certificate programs are popping up. Each presents incredible, yet sometimes confusing options for prospective IT students. Do you enroll in a traditional four-year university (like the University of Texas at Austin) or a new-age for-profit college system (like ITT Technical Institute or DeVry University)? How do you know which school is right for you?

University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin by Derek Key

Experience Outside the Classroom is Key

Before diving into an IT degree, your best route may be to gain real-world experience first. That way, you can enter your future IT coursework more prepared and assured of your educational direction.

David Geiger, a systems administrator for a web and software company in Tampa Bay, FL, offered these words of wisdom: “Learn on your own for far less, and you will avoid wasted time and money on classes that won’t further your career.”

He recommends starting in an entry-level helpdesk or desktop support position to get experience. According to Geiger, “The IT world is yours after that. Doing support [work] will likely greatly clarify what you want to do in IT.”

IT Schools Have Their Benefits

The typical IT school focuses on turning IT novices into skilled technicians that can overcome technological challenges in the business world. Depending on your program, you’ll take classes on everything from network administration and database management to systems security and intrusion detection. And you can get your bachelor’s degree in four years just like any other traditional degree. However, not all IT schools are equal.

“Visit and tour multiple colleges and do your research,” said Alexander Hovis, an alum of ITT Tech and a systems support technician at IT services provider CenturyLink Technology Solutions. “Don’t just attend a college because someone tells you to…I however will say going to a technical college has its advantages as you get to weed out a lot of classes that most colleges will force you to take.”

Geiger described experiencing such advantages at the local tech school he attended. “It was cheap,” he said. “And I got A+, Network+, [and] Office certs.”

Since the IT industry highly values certifications, securing certs through school can turn into a great advantage when you start exploring the IT job market. Top certification options for entry-level IT pros include CompTia A+, CompTia Network+, Cisco and Microsoft/Linux certifications.

Some IT Pros Think Universities are Better

Charles Gallagher, a support technician for an IT government contractor and graduate of the University of Phoenix (UoP), doesn’t think technical colleges are the way to go. He said “If you are driven to the point where you want to go to college, specifically to go into IT, attend a regular school, not a for-profit place [like] UoP, DeVry, ITT, et al.”

However, Gallagher said he wound up choosing to get his IT degree from UoP, because his priorities were keeping his full-time job and supporting his family. The online University of Phoenix met those requirements.

With this seeming contradiction, Gallagher clarified that although many universities offer IT degrees, not all are up to par.

“Review the program requirements of the school,” he advised. “Look at the class descriptions. Many schools do not update their curriculum enough to be considered current.

How can you tell if the curriculum is current? Check out job descriptions advertised by big IT employers like Cisco and IBM, and match your classes to their requirements. You can also review the school’s placement metrics for its graduating students. Look at where their students end up. Does that sound like where you want to be?

Bottom Line? Get the Skills You Need

Gallagher put it simply: “No matter what degree you get, when you graduate, having any documented experience will put you ahead of your peers.”

Follow the IT pros’ advice. When you choose an IT school, make it your priority to acquire the IT skills you need to succeed. If the school teaches, for example, standard network administration, mobile application development, or business analytics, there’s a good chance it’s a valuable, up-to-date school that can lead you into real career opportunities.