Know Before You Enroll


Nearly 400 for-profit schools operate in New York City. These schools enroll over 100,000 New Yorkers in courses of study ranging from air conditioning repair and cosmetology to medical technician training and English language courses. As the number of enrollees continues to grow, there is concern about these schools’ high cost and aggressive marketing, especially when few students are graduating and few graduates are finding jobs. For-profit schools widely market their services on subways and buses, TV and radio, and in community and ethnic newspapers, but many students are unaware of the potential implications of enrolling in a for-profit school or of the free and low-cost education and training programs that are available in our City.


Launched in November 2011 as a partnership between the former Mayor’s Office of Adult Education (MOAE) and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Office of Financial Empowerment, Know Before You Enroll is a public awareness education campaign that highlights abuses at proprietary and for-profit schools and encourages New Yorkers to research training programs, explore free and low-cost education options, be careful of taking on a large amount of school debt, get help understanding school contracts, and report negative experiences.  Components include:

  • testimonial advertisements featuring real New Yorkers (ads appeared on bus shelters, phone kiosks, and subway cars, online, and in major daily and community newspapers);
  • tips to help students protect their money;
  • online resources to equip New Yorkers with facts and options;
  • intake via 311 of complaints about schools in New York City that we share with the appropriate regulators;
  • free review of enrollment contracts and loan applications by volunteer financial and legal experts coordinated by NYC Service; and
  • free financial counseling for New Yorkers struggling with debt at the City’s Financial Empowerment Centers.

To address these issues at the statewide level, MOAE and DCA advocated in Albany with other City agencies and offices for stronger state oversight of non-degree granting for-profit schools.  Under the leadership of New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and New York State Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick, A7859A passed in 2012 to improve the systems to monitor, investigate, and respond to complaints about schools, track school operations and student outcomes, and hold proprietary schools to higher performance standards. 

OHCD then inherited the work and continued its collaboration with DCA.  The work was not limited to just New York State, as OHCD helped the campaign spread outside our five boroughs.  In collaboration with DCA, OHCD presented to 12 jurisdictions across the country about how to replicate the initiative in their communities.  Additionally, OHCD and DCA elevated the initiative to the national stage, providing guidance to veterans’ organizations as they replicated the NYC campaign and launched a veteran-specific campaign.  Find it at

As part of the campaign, the City began accepting complaints about predatory schools, which DCA batched and OHCD would send to appropriate regulators.  Since the campaign launched from November 2011 to April 2014, the City received more than 750 complaints.

Read the press release.
Get updates about Know Before You Enroll by following DCA on Twitter.


Read Nicolle's story in English (in PDF).
Read Garvin's story in English or Spanish (in PDF).
Read Samuel's story in English or Spanish (in PDF).



Before you take on debt or pay to enroll in a school or training program, do your homework first. Here are 10 important tips to help you protect your money.

(Download the tips in English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Arabic, French [in PDF]. To request paper copies of these tips, contact 311 and ask for Know Before You Enroll tips to be mailed to you for free.)

 1. Free and low-cost education and training options are available.
There are many free and low-cost options for adult education and training. You can attend classes at the Department of Education, City University of New York, public libraries, community-based organizations, Workforce1 Career Centers, and more.  To learn about these opportunities, contact 311 or use our online resources below.

2. If a school or training program sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Research, research, research.
Consider multiple schools before deciding which one is right for you. Ask for information on graduation and completion rates, student loan debt, and whether or not the credits you get will transfer to other schools. Sit in on a class, ask to speak to former students who have completed the program, and read reviews from real students in the NYC Training Guide. Ask to see a list of employers that hire graduates, and call those businesses to ask their opinion of the school. You should also research the general field you're interested in to make sure it's the right fit and there's potential for job availability and growth.  Go to online resources below to access the NYC Training Guide and to learn more about specific schools and programs.

4. Avoid unlicensed schools.
Some schools are operating illegally. If you go to an unlicensed school, you can't take exams to become licensed in many fields such as nursing. Click on the links below or call the New York State Education Department at (212) 643-4760 or (518) 474-3969 to check if a vocational or trade school is licensed. Remember, even if a school has a license, it might not be well-run, so research the school before you sign up. Contact 311 to make a complaint about an unlicensed school in New York City, or see tip #10 below to file a complaint about a school outside New York City.

5. Don't sign up the day you visit a school.
Before you sign up, you need to understand how much the program will cost and how you will pay for it. Do not make such an important decision on the spot! Take your time, and research the school. Use our online resources below to learn more about specific schools and programs.

6. Never sign anything you don't understand.
If a school pressures you to sign a contract or agreement on the spot, walk away. You have the right to bring home important forms so you can read them more carefully and review them with people you trust.

7. Ask for the school's tuition cancellation policy in writing.
The policy should describe how you can get a refund if you need to cancel or withdraw. However, once you have signed up, it can be tough to get your money back.

8. Be careful of taking on a lot of debt.
Some schools charge tens of thousands of dollars. Often, the "financial aid” that is available isn't free money, but rather loans you have to pay back – with interest. School loans last a long time, and there's a limit on how much money you can borrow. Loans can also lower your credit score if you don't pay them back on time. Make sure you understand the terms and will be able to make the payments. Remember that free and low-cost education and training options are available. See tip #1!

DCA’s Office of Financial Empowerment will show you ways to manage, save, and protect your money. Visit the site for important information about debt and credit, and for help finding a financial counselor or class.

9. Avoid schools that "guarantee employment" after you graduate.
A school can't guarantee that you'll get a job when you graduate. Many times, the schools that make these types of promises don't actually place you in a job.

Use our online resources below to learn more about specific schools and programs.

10. You have the right to file a complaint.
Did you enroll in a school or training program but didn't get what you were promised? You can file a complaint:

  • For a for-profit college or university in New York City, call 311, or contact 311 online.
  • For a vocational or trade school in New York City, call 311, or contact 311 online.
  • For security guard training programs, contact the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Office of Public Safety, Security Guard Program.


OHCD’s “Find a Class” search tool can help you locate free and low-cost programs in your neighborhood in New York City. You can refine your search by type of service offered (English for Speakers of Other Languages, Adult Basic Education/ Pre-GED®, GED®, or job training), borough, or ZIP code.

The NYC Training Guide provides important information about training classes, such as where the class is located and how much it will cost. You can also read the reviews from students to find out what they thought of the course. You can also search by school name. Learn how to use the guide (in PDF).

The College Navigator offers information on the tuition costs, graduation rates, average financial aid amount, and loan default rates of different schools and colleges.

The New York State Department of Education provides a list of licensed vocational and trade schools and a list of licensed colleges and universities.

The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services offers a list of approved security guard training programs and frequently asked questions about these programs.

Find more information in our Frequently Asked Questions.