Are you thinking about finding a way to hone your skills and advance your education – but you know you don’t want to commit to a college program or can’t be bothered with college admissions and a four-year degree?
If you know that going to college is not the right choice for you, you might want to think about attending and getting a trade school degree. Trade schools, also known as vocational schools, are great options for people who want to get the hands-on training they need to secure a job but know that studying things like philosophy or earth science isn’t for them.
You’ll learn the hands-on skills at a trade school to enter directly into the workforce. So, what is a trade school exactly? Here’s everything you need to know about this unique educational option.
What Is a Trade School?
A trade school often referred to as a technical school, vocational college, or vocational school, is a secondary or postsecondary education meant to prepare students for a career in the skilled trades and provide them with the technical skills they need to work in a specific occupation.
Technical schools, traditionally, can either be privately or publithey are often often, they are for-profit entities. Program lengths at most trade schools vary, but you can expect to be in school anywhere from eight months to two years (or sometimes even slightly longer).
You won’t walk away from trade school with a four-year bachelor’s degree. Still, you will receive some credentials, trade school diplomas, or certificates that will indicate that you completed the program. Many vocational programs allow you to earn an associate degree.
What Do You Learn at a Trade School?
Just like Ivy League schools or community colleges, you can find just about different fields of study at a trade school. After finishing your program of study, you’ll be able to enter directly into the workforce, as you’ll have been provided with the skills you need to start work right away at an entry-level position.
Some standard trade school programs include:
- Dental hygiene
- Mechanical engineering
- Graphic design
- Automotive technician
- Computer technician
- Air conditioning (HVAC)
- Business administration
- Vet tech
- Massage therapy
Types of Trade Schools
All trade schools offer highly-specific training programs that are geared toward specific careers, from mechanical trades to automated technology. Each trade school will differ in its offerings. One might offer numerous training programs, while one might offer just one specific program (like HVAC).
Some are highly specialized with different variations of training in just one field. For example, if you attend an automotive technical school, all the programs therein will be focused on car mechanics, but there might be different specializations (such as auto detailing).
Benefits of Trade Schools
There are numerous benefits associated with attending trade schools aside from joining the skilled trade workforce. For starters, these programs require very little seat time, unlike four-year colleges. Most of the time, you’ll be able to finish your studies in just two years to get more direct job experience and move forward more quickly in your career.
That often translates to more money saved – you won’t have to go into debt with thousands of dollars worth of student loans to pay like those who get a college education.
You’ll also receive a more hands-on education for a specific job since most trade schools focus on a specific field. You won’t have any problem finding a job related directly to your skills because you’ll be trained in a unique area – an area that most other job seekers from a four-year college aren’t likely trained in.
Trade schools tend to offer training in highly lucrative fields, too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists earn a median annual salary of more than $76,000 per year. Considering you don’t have to attend traditional colleges to earn such a salary, that’s quite a return on investment!
You also don’t need to worry about the application process. While most colleges have strict admissions requirements that will necessitate taking the SAT or ACT and having high grades from your high school education, trade schools tend to be less strict with who they accept. Many even enroll high school seniors and sometimes juniors to get a jumpstart on their vocational training.
Another benefit of attending a trade school is that you’ll enjoy greater flexibility in your class schedules unlike when pursuing a four-year college degree. A trade school offers career services to help you make the transition into your career, and you usually need to have no experience to apply to entry-level positions.
Disadvantages of Trade Schools
As with anything, there are a few disadvantages to consider when applying to trade school.
Although trade school graduates earn higher salaries when they first embark on their careers – after all, no “entry-level” training is needed – college graduates earn more money throughout their careers than do trade school graduates. Even after you have adjusted the math for additional time and money spent in school, college graduates still end up slightly on top.
While some federal financial aid is often set aside for trade school enrollees, more financial aid (particularly at the governmental level) tends to be offered to students attending college programs.
Plus, let’s not forget that, at a trade school, you won’t have access to the “traditional” college experience. You won’t be able to join clubs, live in dorms, or attend campus parties. While you might make lasting friendships with the other students in your program, you aren’t able to “live it up” like you might at a traditional four-year university. You also won’t be taking broader courses, such as those in the humanities or general education courses, that you will see in a regular college program.
Finally, don’t forget that a trade school certificate will provide far less flexibility and job opportunities than a college diploma. Of course, that can be both a good thing and a bad thing. The downside to having such a set-in-stone certificate is that you can’t change your chosen career path easily, for example, that being a massage therapist isn’t right for you.
Is Trade School Expensive?
Trade school tends to be much more affordable than a traditional college diploma. College is quite expensive. At the same time, the average bachelor’s degree costs more than $127,000 (not even counting students who earn graduate degrees!). A trade school education usually costs around $33,000 total – from beginning to end.
Not only that, but many trade schools feature programs that allow high school students to enroll as part of their daily secondary school curriculum. In these cases, they are often able to attend tuition-free.
Many schools also offer scholarships, loans, and grants to offset the costs associated with technical training. This can make the educational institution a very inexpensive option for many students.
The Difference Between Trade School and College
Wondering whether trade school or college is right for you as a postsecondary education? There are a few significant differences between the two types of programs.
Trade schools tend to be much shorter than college programs, sometimes less than a year. They generally last only a few months or up to two years and technical school offers students with hands-on experience. While a college program will mainly consist of courses inside the classroom, a trade school program will have you spending most of your time in a workplace setting learning the skills needed for your chosen career.
The educational experience is different, too. You usually don’t have access to things like extracurriculars at a trade school. You’ll just attend classes, get your training, and move on.
How To Apply to Trade School
Ready to apply to trade school? Each program is unique, but most require a high school diploma or GED. If you don’t have a high school diploma, it may take a bit longer to be admitted, as you’ll need extra time to study for and pass the GED.
Another benefit of applying to trade school is that you will not need to complete essays or extracurriculars. Although there is usually a minimum age requirement (16 tends to be the norm, although there are some that require you to be even older – 17 or 18), you won’t need to jump through many hoops to get there.
Is Trade School Right for You?
Wondering if trade school is the right path for you? Chances are, if you’re interested in working in one of the trades (like as an electrician, a cosmetologist, or a dental hygienist), it’s an intelligent choice.
Not only will you be able to pursue training that will lead to the job of your dreams, but you can do so without spending a fortune or tons of time in school.
Before enrolling, ensure you’re signing up for a program that will meet your needs and goals. Look for schools that offer the programs you are most interested in and specialized tracks that can help you meet your career goals. Research the competitiveness of a program to find out whether it will help you pursue a successful career.
And finally, take some time to visit the school and chat with admissions representatives, guidance counselors, and most importantly, the teachers who instruct the courses you plan to take. This is often the best way to determine if a trade school is right for you.
Make plans to take this new step in your career. Going to a trade school is the right choice for many – and it’s an intelligent decision if you want job security and to be practically guaranteed a lucrative, rewarding career.