Trade School Requirements

Is a High School Diploma or GED Required for Trade School?

There’s an increasing demand for skilled tradespeople for several reasons — from the advancement of technology to the changing nature of the workforce.

Trade schools offer an alternative to traditional schooling after you get your high school diploma.

They offer school work with practical training to help students succeed in their chosen career path. On top of that, their curriculum is highly focused on a specific skilled trade.

But do you need a diploma for trade school? If you don’t have a general education development (GED) or high school diploma, you’d be pleased to know that you can find a vocational school that accepts students who don’t have either!

To all aspiring certified nursing assistants, hair stylists, plumbers, and more, keep reading to know more about entering trade school without a high school diploma or GED.

Requirements for Trade School Admission

Trade schools tend to have simpler application processes than four-year colleges — with the main requirement being a GED or high school diploma.

These schools usually don’t need applicants to undergo standard admission tests like the ACT or SAT. Instead, they may require a placement test.

Requirements can vary per institution and state, but below are the common things that trade schools usually look for in applicants.

High School Diploma or GED

Trade schools normally require a high school diploma or GED certificate.

Trade schools tend to have a lower required minimum GPA than colleges for admission. However, some require a minimum GPA of 2.0.

If your GPA doesn’t meet the required minimum of a school, contact the school counselor to find out if there’s anything else you can do to be admitted.

However, if you don’t have a high school diploma or GED, you might miss out on scholarship opportunities like federal student loans.

That’s because most schools require students to have GED or high school diplomas in order to receive financial aid.

Despite that, you may still turn to the Ability to Benefit (ATB) program, which lets students without a high school diploma or GED receive financial aid. This means they can also get funding from federal financial aid programs, like the Pell Grant.

To qualify, you may have to pass a proficiency test or complete 6 credits toward an approved college degree or related academic certificate. You can talk to a financial aid counselor at your school to learn more about the ATB program.

Alternatively, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you’re eligible to receive financial aid through the ATB program.

Age Requirements

Normally, trade schools require candidates to be at least 17 years old to apply. Those with high school diplomas often automatically hit the age requirement.

Those younger than 17 will need parental consent to enroll. However, those who are 16 and a half years old might be able to apply if they have a release letter from their high school.

Specific Program Requirements

Trade schools accept students who don’t have any background in their chosen trade, so they might have relatively similar requirements across programs.

However, check with the school if there are specific requirements for your program.

Alternatives to a High School Diploma for Trade School Admission

Whether your trade school is part of a community college or not, you can check if your program accepts students who have good alternatives to high school diplomas.


If you don’t have a high school diploma, you can get a GED diploma instead.

A GED diploma is equivalent to a high school diploma — so even if you don’t receive a diploma from your local high school, you still have proof that you have the same aptitude as high school graduates.

It proves that you’ve completed a high school-level education.

The GED credential measures a student’s aptitude in the following fields: language arts, math, social studies, and science. It can help you get into trade schools or qualify for jobs that require high school diplomas.

Work Experience

Having work experience can make the learning process easier for you.

However, courses in trade schools are designed for beginners to build up enough knowledge and skills to be able to work productively and safely in their chosen careers.

Admittedly, you won’t learn everything about, for instance, medical assisting in their trade program. However, students will typically learn what they need to get hired — from there, they’ll learn more about their careers.


Similar to having work experience, having an apprenticeship before going to trade school can make the learning process easier for you.

However, trade school programs typically don’t have an “advanced” or “upper division” class. That’s because instructors don’t expect students to have any prior knowledge or experience about the trade.

It’s worth noting that trade schools differ from apprenticeships in a few notable ways.

The first difference is trade schools are educational institutions that give hands-on training. Meanwhile, apprenticeships focus on highly practical education that involves on-the-job training.

Apprentices also earn wages as they learn, while trade students don’t. However, you don’t strictly have to choose between one or the other; some occupations will require both.

Trade School Programs and Career Options

As you’ve now seen, not all trade schools require a high school diploma or GED. However, the school may ask you to take a placement test to see if you’re on par with the other students.

If you like working with people, then a medical assisting program, like dental assisting or cosmetology, will be right for you.

If you’re unsure what skilled trades are open to you, you can contact a school’s admissions counselor to ask about what a particular school offers.

Popular Trade School Programs

Though the programs below don’t require a high school diploma or GED, you may need a diploma if you want to achieve state licensing in the future. After all, some states require a high school or GED diploma before you can be licensed to work in them.

Several community colleges accept students in a vocational program while they also take classes in the GED program. However, this may mean it takes a bit longer for them to finish their programs.

If your program is connected with regionally accredited colleges, it means your career diploma comes from a school with a good reputation. Your local community college might be accredited too.

Going to an accredited school may also make a difference when you’re looking for a job since employers may prefer that.

On top of that, if you attend an accredited school, you may be able to receive financial aid, like federal student loans, to pay for your program.

There are many trade programs that don’t require a high school diploma or GED. They include the following.

Community colleges

Many community colleges (sometimes called junior colleges) have trade programs, so anyone who attends community college can also pursue a trade. Some trades that a community college can offer include culinary, electrical, and plumbing.

NOTE: Community college is different from trade school since community college still has general ed. classes. A community college also leads to an associate degree, where you get a broad set of skills with lectures, books, and hands-on training. On the other hand, a trade school provides instruction for a certain trade.

Beauty schools

Beauty schools are for those who want to pursue a career in cosmetology. Students learn the art and science of cutting, coloring, and styling hair for men and women. They may also learn how to do nails and apply makeup.

Massage therapy schools

Massage therapy school teaches students therapeutic techniques to relieve their clients’ aches and pains. Students will also learn about the structure of the human body.

Medical programs

If you want to enter the healthcare industry, one option is to become a certified nursing assistant. Medical programs train students to work directly with patients and support nurses even during critical tasks. Other options include being a dental or medical assistant.

Technical schools

Technical programs include plumbing, welding, and refrigeration, among others. There are even programs to be an auto mechanic, HVAC technician, electrical technician, and CDR truck driver.

Culinary training

Culinary trade schools teach you professional cooking skills and the food service industry in general.

Career Opportunities After Trade School

Trade schools have a faster graduation timeline than colleges. Trade programs typically take 1 to 2 years to complete. However, you can earn some credentials within just a few weeks!

In fact, you can be a certified nursing assistant in just 6 weeks. Here are some general timelines for specific trades.

  • HVAC technician – 9 to 12 months
  • Welder – 7 to 9 months
  • Electrician – 12 months
  • Truck driver – 20 weeks
  • Medical/dental assistant – 9 months

But if you choose to work on your GED diploma at the same time, then you may take longer.

There are many potential career paths waiting for you after you get your trade school degree, regardless of what program you choose.

For instance, here are some career options for you if you’ve finished massage therapy school.

  • Massage therapist
  • Massage instructor
  • Acupuncturist
  • Chiropractor
  • Physical therapist

Or, if you finished beauty school, you can get a job as one of the following.

  • Hair Stylist
  • Shampoo assistant
  • Nail technician
  • Makeup artist
  • Barber

Regardless of the path you choose, you should first check if the state you want to work in needs you to have a GED or high school diploma to work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Trade schools prepare students for specialized hands-on jobs that other people typically aren’t trained to do. As such, trade programs will equip you with a new set of employable skills.

It’s very possible to get into trade schools without a high school diploma or GED. However, opportunities for financial aid may be limited.

Regardless, if you have more questions regarding the topic, keep reading

Can You Go to Trade School Without a High School Diploma?

Yes, you can go to trade school without a high school diploma or GED.

However, the school might require a placement test to see if you have the general knowledge needed to succeed in the program.

Not having a high school diploma or GED might also mean you have limited opportunities for financial aid.

Also, remember that even if your school accepts students without a high school diploma or GED, the state you want to work in may require either of those documents before you can be licensed.

What Are the Benefits of Trade School?

Trade schools provide trade-specific training, removing general education from the curriculum — which gives it some advantages over a four-year college.

  • Lower cost
  • Shorter graduation timeline
  • Fewer admission requirements
  • Real-world experience
  • Job assistance

What Are the Requirements for Trade School Admission?

The basic requirements for trade school admission include the following.

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Application form
  • Application fee
  • Entrance exam
  • At least 17 years of age

However, some vocational schools that don’t require a high school diploma or GED may have different requirements.

  • Certifications you’ve earned from skills-based training programs
  • Essay that talks about your trade school goals
  • High school transcript that shows the classes you’ve completed
  • Proficiency exam
  • Recommendation letters from supervisors

Essays, transcripts, and recommendation letters aren’t always required in lieu of GED or high school diplomas. However, they can improve your chances of being admitted.

That’s because they give the school more information about your background. These documents can be personal proof of your commitment to the trade you want to enter.

They can also explain why you’d be a good fit for the school and program you’re applying to.

What Are the Alternatives to a High School Diploma for Trade School Admission?

If you don’t have a high school diploma, you can present a GED diploma instead.

But if you don’t have a GED or HS diploma, you might be required to take a placement test. This lets the school know if you have the math, reading, and writing skills needed for the program.

What Are Some Popular Trade School Programs?

Some popular trade programs include:

  • Technical programs
  • Beauty schools
  • Massage therapy schools
  • Certified nursing assistant schools
  • Culinary schools


Trade school requirements typically include a high school degree or GED diploma. However, some schools don’t require students to have a high school diploma or GED.

You can check whether your local community college offers trade programs. Alternatively, guidance counselors from local high schools may be able to provide you with more information regarding trade schools in the area.

Trade schools have a faster timeline than an associate’s degree since their programs don’t have general education, so they’re highly focused on a certain trade.

However, be mindful that some trades require a high school diploma or GED before you get licensed. Fortunately, some trade schools also let you work on a GED diploma while also working on your trade.

On top of that, you might have limited opportunities to receive financial aid. Fortunately, the ATB program can help students without a high school diploma or GED qualify for financial aid programs.

More Pages in This Section