What is a Trade School?

people who graduated from a trade school


A trade school is a post-secondary institution that offers vocational or technical training for hands-on careers. It’s a popular choice for students interested in practical industries.

Although they’re an option for high school graduates, they’re fairly different from regular four-year colleges. That’s because they focus on preparing graduates to enter the workforce quickly.

The reason behind the name ‘trade school’ is its emphasis on training students in specific trades or vocations. These educational institutions equip students with the knowledge and proficiency required for skilled labor jobs. Courses may span various fields, such as healthcare, construction, automotive, technology, and culinary arts, among others.

How Do Trade Schools Work?

Typically, trade school programs are shorter in length compared to four-year universities. Programs can range from a few months to two years, depending on the field and the complexity of the trade. The relatively shorter duration allows students to enter the workforce quickly while being well-prepared for their chosen career. In addition, trade schools offer a cost-effective alternative, as they usually have lower tuition fees and demand less time commitment than other traditional education options.

When you finish your course at a trade school, you’ll get a certificate, a diploma, or even an associate’s degree. This means you’ve learned the skills for a specific job, and employers know that and will want to hire you. Some trade schools even work with companies to help you get a job after graduation.

History of Trade Schools

The origins of trade schools in the United States date back to the early 20th century, when the country witnessed rapid industrialization and social change. As a result of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, which authorized federal funding for vocational education, specialized programs began to emerge in American schools.

The primary goal of early vocational education was to prepare students for careers not requiring bachelor’s degrees and to address the shortage of skilled labor. At the time, public schools were struggling to serve children of immigrants and farmers who were no longer learning trades from their parents.

Back then, the mindset towards vocational education was to train individuals in one specific job or career, honing specialized skills required for that industry. Critics argued that this form of education reinforced class distinction and led to tracking and segregating low-income and minority students into vocational programs.

As the 20th century progressed, technology and globalization increased demand for skilled workers, requiring more than just a high school education. By the late 1990s, vocational education faced an image problem as it became associated with struggling students and those with learning disabilities.

The early 2000s brought significant changes to vocational education as schools began incorporating academic standards, transforming vocational programs to prepare students for careers and higher education. The focus shifted to have career and college readiness. As a result, programs began to integrate academic instruction into career training and adding academic classes to vocational curriculums.

The 1917 Smith-Hughes Act marked the beginning of federal funding for vocational education, emphasizing its role in preparing for careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree.

Who is trade school for?

Trade schools are an ideal fit for individuals with a clear vision of their career path and inclined toward a specific trade or vocation. They suit those preferring hands-on working conditions and are adept at learning practical skills.

Whether you’re a recent high school graduate, someone desiring a career change, or an adult seeking to upgrade your skills, trade schools can be an attractive option if your career goals align with the offered programs.

However, it’s not just about personal preference or career goals. To be admitted to a trade school, potential students usually need to have a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). Some schools may also require an entrance exam score or a face-to-face interview.

Purpose and Function of Trade Schools

The required time commitment in trade schools is relatively short compared to traditional colleges.

While community colleges and universities offer technical programs, they don’t always meet the demand for jobs. Meanwhile, trade schools focus on specific trades.

The following points cover their purpose and function.

  1. Targeting individual trades – Helps in providing specific training tailored to specific trades.
  2. Emphasizing competencies – Focusing on competencies or mechanical trades required by the industry.
  3. Deepening understanding – Enhancing students’ understanding and proficiency in chosen fields.
  4. Bridging the gap – Connecting academic learning with real-world applications.
  5. Hands-on training – Offering practical or hands-on experience alongside theoretical knowledge.

Examples of Trade Schools

As the education landscape continues to evolve, so does the ascent of trade schools in the United States. These specialized institutions have witnessed steady growth, with an increment rate of 2.1% annually from 2018 to 2023.

With around 7,503 trade schools nationwide, trade schools offer a range of career-focused programs, each designed with industry trends and demands in mind.

Some of examples of well known trade schools include:

1. Miller-Motte College

Miller-Motte College, with 11 convenient campuses across the U.S., stands out in the realm of trade schools. This ACCSC-accredited institution is known for its affordable and flexible programs covering areas like medical billing and coding, HVAC and Basic Refrigeration Training, Combination welding, and many more.

Miller-Motte’s focus on hands-on, skill-focused training is meticulously designed to cultivate students into competent professionals ready to succeed in their respective fields. Their commitment to academic excellence and vocational education makes them a leading choice for aspiring skilled workers.

2. Penn Foster

Penn Foster distinguishes itself as an exemplary online trade school, offering 59 diverse career diplomas that cater to the demands of the current marketplace. Its programs, such as Jewelry Design and Certified Personal Trainer, are self-paced, accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), and feature robust instructor support.

Penn Foster equips its students with applicable skills for immediate employment, making it a top choice for career-driven learners.

3. Blackstone Career Institute

Blackstone Career Institute has 20 entirely online career programs, providing convenience and flexibility for students. With DEAC accreditation, they focus on offering affordable education, especially for military members, veterans, and their families.

The institute’s self-paced learning allows for easy adjustment to students’ unique needs. By prioritizing quality and accessibility, Blackstone Career Institute promotes success for aspiring professionals across various fields.

4. Georgia Northwestern Technical College

Georgia Northwestern Technical College, accredited by SACSCOC, offers a range of online programs. Among the 36 options are diplomas and technical certificates in Business, Health, Industry, and Public Service.

Skilled trade choices include options like Automotive Technology, Drafting Technology, and a many more. One key advantage is their collaboration with local industries, ensuring course content meets current job market demands.

A few more examples include:

Why Do People Attend Trade Schools?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed that approximately 4 out of 10 students (38% percent) who began a bachelor’s degree in 2012 didn’t complete it within six years.

In light of this, trade schools are a worthwhile alternative, offering more practical training and direct career paths.

For some students, this career-focused approach might be more suitable, and the following benefits support this choice.

Practical Skills and Hands-on Training

Compared to four-year community colleges, trade schools provide a dynamic mix of in-classroom instruction and hands-on learning.

Students actively engage with tools and techniques relevant to their chosen field, gradually building skilled trades for specific jobs and careers.

This approach prepares students for the workforce, where they can apply their learned skills, identify and fix issues, and continually improve.

Trade schools may not offer general education courses since they emphasize practical training and job readiness.

Faster Entry into the Workforce

One major advantage of attending a trade school is the quicker path to earning an income.

Most programs take less than two years, allowing you to enter the workforce sooner than college or associate degrees. This shorter time means more job experience and reduces tuition costs and potential student loans.

Trade schools offer multiple start dates, reducing wait times for school applicants.

The streamlined nature of trade school education can be a major advantage for students looking to earn a salary as soon as possible.

Lower Cost of Education

The cost of attending trade schools are a major advantage for many students.

This is partly because most trade school programs are typically shorter in duration and have lower tuition fees than traditional college programs.

According to research from College Board, the average in-state student with a four-year degree at a public college spends around $27,000 per year, while out-of-state students spend $44,150.

In comparison, as per U.S. News, trade school students spend an average of $33,000 for their entire education.

Popular Trade School Programs

Some programs align with industries experiencing significant growth. Being aware of these programs can guide you to fields with expanding job opportunities.

Some of the best careers from trade schools include the following. Note that this list isn’t exhaustive and only offers a few examples.

  1. Automotive Technology – Auto Tech or Mechanic, Auto Body Repair, Motorcycle Repair.
  2. Business – Administrative Assistant, Marketing.
  3. Communications and Media – Advertising, Broadcasting, Communications.
  4. Technology – Cyber Security, Web Development.
  5. Building – Architecture, Construction.
  6. Beauty – Cosmetology programs, Barbering, Makeup Artist.
  7. Criminal Justice and Law – Paralegal, Private Investigator.
  8. Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management – Baking and Pastry Arts, Hospitality Management.
  9. Healthcare – Dental Hygienists, Nursing, Radiology Tech.
  10. Language Training Programs – Professional English/Spanish Translator
  11. Social Services – Counseling, Mortuary Science.
  12. Skilled Trades – Electrician, Refrigeration, Welding.
  13. Wellness – Massage Therapy, Physical Therapy, Personal Trainer.

Read more about the types of trade schools.

What do you get from trade schools?

At a trade school, you obtain focused and practical training in a specific trade or occupation. Graduation typically results in a diploma, certificate, or an associate degree, depending on the program and school. The education you receive is directly aligned with industry standards and trends, which can provide you an edge in the job market.

Most importantly, trade schools equip you with hands-on skills and knowledge that are immediately applicable in the workplace. For this reason, a trade school gives you quicker access to skilled professions, saving time, and often cost, compared to traditional degree programs.

What To Expect When Starting Trade School

1. Immersive Learning Experience

Trade school education thrives on practical learning. Expect most of your learning to be hands-on, where you’ll use real-world equipment similar to what you’d encounter on the job. This approach helps in effectively mastering technical skills used in your field of interest.

2. A Defined Daily Schedule

Unlike traditional colleges, trade schools often follow a structured timetable. You’ll likely adhere to a regular school day, which could be every day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. This routine maximizes learning and promotes effective study habits.

3. Limited Student-to-Teacher Ratio

A characteristic feature of trade schools is their small class sizes. Most classes usually have 10 to 25 students, allowing for personalized attention from instructors and timely feedback. This fosters a conducive learning environment for better student performance.

4. List of Essential Materials

Depending on your chosen program, you might have to invest in specific tools or materials for your classes. This might initially seem costly but consider it a worthwhile investment towards your career.

5. Getting Ready for Professional Certification

Trade school programs aim to prepare students for professional licensing exams in their chosen field. So, expect your education to be directly tied to preparing for these certification exams. Holding these licenses will provide an edge in your prospective job market after graduation.

Who will be your teacher at trade school?

At trade schools, teachers are not just subject-matter experts, they are also experienced professionals from your chosen field of study. This means they have practical knowledge, having worked in those industries you’re passionate about. By sharing their first-hand experience and insights, they elevate the learning experience for students by bringing real-world scenarios into the classroom.

These teachers in trade schools play a pivotal role in bridging theory and practice, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of the profession and helping you set realistic expectations about the job market.

How many people attend trade schools per year?

Trade schools have seen a noticeable increase in enrollment rates in recent years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 120,000 students joined trade schools in 2023. This sharp increase reflects a rising interest in trade professions and a growing recognition of the wages, job security, and opportunities for entrepreneurship that vocational education can offer.

Moreover, in the context of skilled trades programs, they are experiencing a boom in interest. Latest figures from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reveal a surge in trade school interest. Many vocational programs, like mechanic and repair courses, construction, and culinary arts, are seeing significant growth. The enrollment rate in these courses has increased by double digits.

This trend became more prominent after the recent pandemic, which led over a million students to opt for employment over traditional college.

How to Find the Right Trade School for You

Choosing the right trade school for you is a critical step towards a promising and fulfilling career. Here are some pointers to guide you through the selection process.

1. Understand Your Career Goals and Interests

Trade schools specialize in professional training in targeted fields such as welding, automotive repair, or cosmetology. Having a clear understanding of your intended profession and a passionate interest in it is vital. This knowledge will allow you to consider schools offering programs that align with your ambitions.

2. Assess the College’s Reputation

A good trade school is recognized for high-quality vocational training that leads to gainful employment. This can be evaluated through their graduation rates, job placement rates, and alumni success stories. You should also check whether the school is accredited, which means that it meets certain standards of quality and integrity.

3. Consider Program Duration and Flexibility

The duration of trade school programs is generally shorter compared to typical four-year college degrees. However, variations exist depending on the field. If you need to balance your studies with employment commitments, look for schools offering programs with flexible schedules which may include part-time, evening, or online classes.

4. Evaluate the Cost

Although typically cheaper than conventional four-year colleges, the cost of trade school training can still pose a significant financial burden. Consider the available financial aid and potential scholarships and carefully assess the overall cost-effectiveness of your chosen program relative to your budget and expected salary post-graduation.

5. Visit the Prospective Schools

Consider visiting your potential choice of schools when feasible. Participate in campus tours, sample a couple of classes, and engage in conversational exchanges with instructors and current students. This firsthand interaction gives you an insight into the institution’s culture, community, and teaching style.

Accreditation and Certification

Choosing an accredited trade school is crucial for ensuring quality education. That’s because accreditation acts as a quality control measure for both schools and specific programs.

Institutional accreditation covers the entire school, while programmatic accreditation certifies individual programs.

Accreditation granted by organizations like ACCSC or COE verifies that a school meets specific standards.

Accrediting agencies regularly review the curriculum, certification exams, instructor qualifications, policies, and student success rates to maintain standards.

The U.S. Department of Education authorizes these accrediting agencies.

Meanwhile, students must complete an accredited program for industry certifications and state licensing agencies to receive diplomas or trade certificates.

How to Choose the Right Trade School

Once you’ve chosen your program, take these three steps to find the right school.

Doing so can help you select a trade school that aligns with your career goals, strengths, and interests, emphasizing hands-on learning in specific areas.

Researching Trade Schools

When choosing a trade school, thorough research is essential. Look into the school’s reputation, faculty qualifications, facilities, and the success rates of graduates who are pursuing jobs in their chosen fields.

Here are some tips for researching trade schools.

  1. Visit the school’s website and read program descriptions.
  2. Talk to current and former students for their insights.
  3. Read online reviews of the school.
  4. Contact the admissions office for program details, tuition payments, fees, and federal financial aid.
  5. Visit the school in person to experience the campus and meet with instructors.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Trade School

Consider location, cost, available programs, and the school’s connections with industry partners. A well-rounded evaluation ensures that the chosen trade school aligns with your educational and career objectives.

Here are some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a trade school.

  • Accreditation – Choosing an accredited trade school to ensure it meets certain quality standards is important.
  • Program offerings – When choosing a school, ensure they offer the program and courses necessary for your chosen career or specific job choice.
  • Reputation – When researching a school, speak to current and former students to learn about the quality of instruction, job placement rates, and overall experience.
  • Compare school costs – Costs vary even among trade schools, so comparing before deciding is crucial.
  • Learn about student support services – Explore various financial aid options, including private loans, grants, federal student loans, and scholarships, to help cover the cost of the trade program you choose.

Questions to Ask When Evaluating Trade Schools

Choosing to study in a technical school is a big decision. You need to ensure that your decision is financially and professionally sound.

Before enrolling in a trade school program, consider these 10 key questions.

  1. What kind of salary can I expect? – Investigate the expected salary upon graduation from independent sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics to ensure accurate and reliable information.
  2. What job will I be prepared for? – Understand the career level you’ll be qualified for post-graduation by researching the skills taught by the school and the corresponding job possibilities.
  3. Does the school offer financial aid and scholarships? – Inquire about available financial aid options and scholarship programs to make your education more affordable.
  4. Does the school have a good reputation and employer relationships? – Research the school’s reputation and industry partnerships to ensure it aligns with your career goals.
  5. What is your graduation rate? – Evaluate the school’s graduation rate to gauge the quality of instruction and the relevance of courses to the real world.
  6. What kind of job placement assistance do you offer? – Inquire about the school’s commitment to helping graduates secure positions in their chosen fields.
  7. Do employers offer tuition reimbursement or incentive programs? – Explore potential opportunities for tuition reimbursement from employers after graduation.
  8. What are the future prospects for this field? – Research the future outlook of your chosen field to ensure you’re investing in a career with growth potential.
  9. Is the school flexible with scheduling? – Are evening or weekend classes available? Is there support for returning and adult students?
  10. Do they provide chances to obtain credits for high school students? – Certain trade schools offer courses that count after a student has received their high school diploma and later decides to go to college.



More Pages in This Section