It can also be incredibly intimidating, having an agent from a TP in your house, or on the phone, applying the thumbscrews to try and get the hard sell. These people are trained to sell their company, and courses in the best possible light. And it is sometimes easier to just give in and sign up, rather than appear stupid (its a common technique, make you feel stupid for even doubting their spiel - no-one wants to apear stupid).
In an effort to help things a little, I have compiled a list of some of the things I feel to be essential in deciding on a Training Provider. Firstly, this assumes that you have considered other training models (such as self-study), and decided that you would prefer to use a TP.
1. Can I afford it? This may sound like an obvious question, but it can often get lost in the quest for certification, particularly when being bamboozled with figures by an agent ("Thats only £1.50 a week, hardly anything is it?"). This question is vitally important. No certification is worth getting yourself mired into a situation you cannot cope with. Think long and hard about this before committing to anything.
2. What value am I getting from the certification? Once you have decided if you can afford the cost, you need to decide if the certification in question is of value to you. Value cant be measured simply, and its hard to tell you how to do so. Everyone will place a different value on things. Questions such as "What will I actually learn from the course", and "How will this assist me in getting a job at X level from where i am right now", will all have bearing on the decision. Again, think carefully about this. If the answer is not much, then you possibly need to consider a different course.
3. What TP's are available for my area, that provide this course? Having made the decision that the course is for you, you need to research what companies are available for you. You want to find out who offers the course for your area, and how much they charge for it.
4. What exactly do I get for my money? You want to know what you are spending those hard-earned bucks on, so ask the TPs what format their courses take (self-study? tutored study with assignments? classes? e-learning?), how long the syllabus takes, what levels of support they offer, what materials they supply, what extras do they offer, etc. Get as much information about the course as you can. Do this for each TP on your list, so that you can compare the TP's against each other. Also, compare their syllabus with the objectives of the certification you are attempting to achieve - make sure what they give you is enough to understand the topics. This is obviously difficult to judge, since you dont yet know the material in most cases.
TIP: No TP can guarantee you a job, unless they themselves are employing you - and even then if you are rubbish they are unlikely to take you on. Nor can they guarantee you a specific salary. Both these points are variable, depending on numerous situations. Take any claims of this with a pinch of salt, and read the contract carefully to determine exactly what constraints they place upon such promises.
5. Do as much background research as you can on each TP. In this, google is your friend. Search online for news articles pertaining to the company, look for accounts from previous attendees, etc. A word of warning, however, people are far more likely to post bad things about a TP than good. Someone with a good experience is likely to be quieter in telling the world than if they had a bad experience.
6. Which of the TP's gives me the best value for money? Now its time to compare the TPs against each other. Again, each person will have their own weighting. Where I might place a greater emphasis on classes, you may prefer home study with a tutor setting assignments. Try to make a bulleted list for each provider, listing both positive and negative points, and compare them side by side. Try to narrow the field down to one option. Consider also the research you did for each TP.
7. Further clarification. Having narrowed your choices down to a few, go back to each of the TPs on your shortlist and look into them more thoroughly. Ask for samples of their course materials, or if you can attend one of their classes for an hour. Try to get a feel for each company, and their materials. After you do this, sit on the information for a while: think it over. The more you think about it, and weigh things up, the easier it will be for you to decide which to pick. Talk it over with friends and family, discuss the pros and cons of each with them, perhaps they will offer you an insight that will help you decide.
8. Having decided, ask for a copy of the contract/terms and conditions. Read over the contract carefully, and determine what you are binding yourself to. You dont want to sign up blind, and discover later that you agreed to having your firstborn taken away. If you are unsure about any terms, ask for clarifications. If you are happy with the terms, the cost, and everything else, then all that remains is to sign up.
I have a few final points to cover on this matter.
Firstly, never let a salesman/agent pressure you into deciding before you are comfortable. Take your time, think things over, and progress to the next stage when you feel ready, not when they tell you to.
Secondly, dont be afraid to ask for clarifications from them. If they want your business, they need to supply you with information necessary for you to make an informed decision as to whether you should sign up.
Finally, remember that these points are not the be all and end all. I do not presume that this is a definitive list, nor that it is all suitable for everyone. If you want to look into something, and its not here, do it. The only person who really matters in making a decision like this, is you! Dont let anyone tell you otherwise (unless they are paying for it - in which case they can probably make the decision for you).
Hopefully this will help anyone considering signing up to a TP.