How do I choose a proprietary school?

A private occupational school, or proprietary school, is a privately owned and operated post-secondary school that teaches vocational or occupational skills. Proprietary schools are non-degree granting schools that offer courses in everything from computers to massage therapy and from dog grooming to medical assisting. Programs are typically hands-on and flexible, offering both day and evening classes that range from several months to several years. Good programs use modern, state-of-the-art equipment, employ qualified instructors who usually have related work experience, and provide job placement assistance.

If you think that you might want to attend classes at a proprietary school, do some homework first. You might be spending several years of your life and thousands of dollars on these courses. The bottom line: you are a consumer who intends to purchase a product-your education!

  • Is the school licensed? Before signing up to attend a school, make sure the school is licensed with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Office of Proprietary Schools. A list of schools that are licensed to operate in Massachusetts can be found here. If the school is not licensed and isn't on our list of schools that are exempt from licensure, please contact us to determine whether the school needs to be licensed. Also check to see if the school is accredited by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau, the Office of the Attorney General (Consumer Complaint Hotline: 617-727-8400), and your city's or town's consumer protection office to see if they've handled any complaints against the school.

  • Shop around: Visit several schools and don't enroll or sign anything until you've been to all the schools you plan to visit. Get as much written information as you can, including course catalogs. Ask the school if you can sit in on a current class like the one you're interested in taking, and talk to current students of the school. Ask them if they would recommend the school to their friends.

  • Transferring coursework: If you think you might want to transfer to another school after completing your course or program, ask schools whether their courses can be transferred. Some schools have agreements with specific colleges to accept certain courses-if the school has such an agreement, ask for a copy of it. If the school has no such agreements, it is entirely up to each school to decide whether it will accept another school's coursework.

  • Getting a job: Be wary if a school guarantees your job placement or makes promises about how much money you will make. Schools can help you get the job you want, but they can't guarantee it and are prohibited from advertising such guarantees. So do some research-the school should have information about its placement rate for graduates, as well as the names of companies that hire graduates. Talk to graduates of the school and ask them how their training at the school helped them advance their careers. Also, talk to people at the places you're interested in working to see what kind of qualifications you'd need to work there and what experiences they've had with graduates of the school.

  • How much will it cost? Do the math-a lot of money might be at stake. Make sure you understand the total cost of the program, including the costs of registration, supplies, and equipment. If the school wants you to buy books or computers through them, do a price check at other stores or online to make sure you get a good price. If you take out a loan, make sure you understand your interest payments and how they'll add up.

  • How can I get help paying for my training? Once again, shop around. You may find a better financial aid package than the one offered by the school with another lender. There are also opportunities, if you qualify, for training grants from Massachusetts One-Stop Career Centers, Mass Rehab, or the Veterans Workforce Investment Program. Also, if your school is Title IV-approved, you may be able to get state or federal financial aid. If you use a private lender, shop around for the best interest rate-don't settle for the lender recommended by the school. Also, search for a lender that will pay your loan to the school in several installments (called "disbursements"). It's in your best interest to have the lender send payments for each session (e.g., quarter, trimester, semester) rather than paying the school one lump sum. (If your school closes, the loan company will hold you responsible for any money it paid to the school on your behalf-if the lender pays for your entire program up front, you may find yourself responsible for a large sum of money, even if you didn't take any classes.)

  • Read the material: Read all materials the school gives you, especially the enrollment agreement and its refund policy. Make sure that the school's enrollment agreement and refund policy comply with Massachusetts law. Don't sign anything until you're sure you understand it, particularly if you're feeling pressure to sign up. Make sure you get everything you've been promised in writing. Keep copies of everything the school gives you, including certificates, tests, attendance records, grade reports, transcripts, etc. If you ever have a question or complaint, or if the school goes out of business, those materials will be extremely helpful.

  • Filing complaints: If at any time you are concerned that your school is not providing you with adequate training, please file a complaint under the school's complaint resolution policy. If that doesn't resolve your problem, you can file a complaint with the Office of Proprietary Schools. If you've taken out a student loan and you're having problems with your school, you should also contact your loan company. You may also consider filing complaints with any of the following organizations or the consumer protection office in your local city or town:


  • Am I ready to attend a proprietary school? Students are more successful at proprietary schools when they speak, read, and write English well, and if they have a high school diploma or GED. If the school does not have an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course, please consider attending an ESOL course prior to enrolling in a proprietary school. If you do not have a high school diploma, you should consider attending a GED preparation program prior to enrolling in a proprietary school. Free ESOL and GED programs are available throughout the state. Please call The Massachusetts Adult Literacy hotline at (800) 447-8844 to find an ESOL program near you. If you don't feel ready to attend a school, do not let a school pressure you into signing up anyway.

  • Contact us: If you have comments, questions, or concerns about a Massachusetts private occupational school, please contact us!