Is Trade School Worth It?

Trade school provides a quick and affordable way to learn practical knowledge and technical skills needed for specific jobs.

With their career-oriented approach, vocational schools have gained popularity, and many trade school students now enjoy fulfilling careers.

But you may wonder, “Is trade school worth it?”

To assess its fit for you, learn how it differs from a four-year degree, discover high-paying trades, and weigh the pros and cons of trade school in this quick guide!

What is a Trade School

Trade schools, also called vocational education or technical schools, are postsecondary education institutions that offer special training programs for different skilled trades.

There are various different categories of trade schools for various industries, including health care, transportation, information technology, construction, and more.

Going to trade school prepares you for a job where you don’t have to sit at a desk all day.

Here are the basics of a trade school in a nutshell.

  • Trade school teaches a tradesman specialized skills for a specific job
  • The trade school curriculum typically doesn’t include general education courses
  • The programs are generally a few months to two years long
  • It’s usually cheaper than a bachelor’s degree
  • Trade school students get more hands-on job training in a technical school
  • Many opportunities in the job market await trade school graduates

Types of Trade Schools

There are two types of trade schools: public and private. While some trade schools specialize in one trade, others offer various programs for different career paths.

NOTE: College universities and community colleges offer programs not limited to a four-year degree; they can also offer associate degree diplomas or certificates.

  1. Public Trade Schools

Trade schools are available in public community colleges and technical colleges.

These schools are usually funded and operated by the government, making them either free (depending on the state) or low-cost.

They provide a variety of trade programs and financial aid that are open to all qualifying students.

Below are examples of such public trade schools.

  • North Central Kansas Technical College
  • Frontier Community College
  • Lancaster County Career and Technology Center
  • Northwood Technical College
  • Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture
  1. Private Trade Schools

Tuition fees fund private trade schools. Private individuals or companies may own them and have specific admission requirements.

These schools mostly cater to trade courses that align with the businesses that run them, so more financial aid for students is available.

They can also be categorized as not-for-profit or for-profit. Not-for-profit trade schools use their income to benefit students, while for-profit trade schools aim to generate profits for their owners.

Examples include the following.

  • Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (not-for-profit)
  • Rosedale Technical College (not-for-profit)
  • Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science (not-for-profit)
  • American Trade School (for-profit)
  • Strayer University (for-profit)

Trade School vs. College

While four-year schools work for many, assuming they are the best fit for everyone is a misconception. Trade school is an appealing postsecondary education option that’s also more affordable.

Many technical fields have aging workforces and constantly changing technologies. A traditional academic degree program may be unable to teach the skills needed for these essential jobs.

Trade schools excel in providing specific job skills at a lower cost, allowing entry into the workforce after a few months to two years. Traditional universities cater to research-oriented individuals and usually take a minimum of four years for a bachelor’s degree.

Now, “How much does trade school cost?”

Cost-wise, trade schools’ degree programs are more affordable at an average of $33,000, compared to around $27,000 per year for traditional colleges.

Trade schools prioritize hands-on training for skilled trades, while community colleges offer more general education courses.

Graduates from trade schools can be in high demand and have positive job prospects. Alternatively, traditional college students generally have higher overall earnings potential due to their broader scope of study.

Benefits of Trade School

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind turbine service technicians are projected to have the highest percent change (45%) in employment between 2022-32.

This positive trend isn’t limited to wind techs; the projected growth rate for various trade jobs is increasing, as shown in data from the United States BLS.

Besides growing job prospects, trade school graduates and students also enjoy the following key benefits.

Cost-Effectiveness

Trade school is an excellent choice for students looking to save money and avoid the burden of student or federal loans.

For instance, consider a student aspiring to become an electrician.

Rather than opting for a four-year Electrical Engineering college program with extensive general education classes, they can choose a trade school program instead.

An electrician trade school costs around $21,450 for the entire program, significantly less than the $57,590 per year for the college degree program.

Vocational school offers a shorter study duration, financial aid options, lower tuition payments, and direct hands-on vocational training.

Shorter Duration

Trade schools offer a quicker path to postsecondary certificates or diplomas. Fledgling tradesmen generally take about two years to finish school.

This expedited approach leads to more job experience in a shorter time frame. It also makes trade school an advantageous option for those looking to start their careers promptly.

Below are some of the shortest postsecondary programs at trade school.

  • HVAC Technicians: 6 months
  • Physical Therapy Assistant and Aide: 2-4 months
  • Dental Assistant: 3 months
  • Flight Attendant: 3-6 weeks
  • Electrician: 8-9 months

Hands-On Learning

Trade schools prioritize hands-on learning, focusing on practical skills that are immediately useful in the workplace. This approach suits those who thrive in interactive and applied learning environments.

Using real materials and equipment in real-life situations is the best way to learn problem-solving skills.

In other words, the more you practice solving real-world problems, the better you will become at it.

Career-Focused Education

Trade school programs are designed to prepare students for specific trades and occupations.

Unlike traditional college programs with general higher education requirements, trade schools’ curricula align with industry needs.

This targeted approach ensures students receive hands-on training. This means a trade school student can avoid general education classes taking time from their rigorous schedule.

For instance, dental hygienists would concentrate on technical skills directly related to dental hygiene instead of taking general education classes like literature.

Drawbacks of Trade School

Understanding the cons of trade school helps trade school students set realistic expectations to achieve fulfilling careers.

Here are some of the potential challenges that come with attending trade school.

Limited Academic Exposure

While trade schools excel in practical skills, they may need more comprehensive academic exposure.

These schools prioritize specialized training in specific trades, potentially limiting options for those valuing a broad-based education or soft skills courses.

A trade school may not be the best fit if you’re uncertain about your career path or want to be exposed to a wider variety of academic disciplines.

Attending trade school will also be difficult if you currently hold a part-time job, mainly due to its demanding schedule.

Lower Prestige

People usually think going to a four-year college is more impressive, and this can make it tough for those who choose to attend trade school.

Because of this, trade school students often struggle to overcome biases against their practical skills.

Also, trade school graduates may face challenges in advancing to managerial positions, as some employers require a college degree—regardless of experience and skills.

Nonetheless, what’s most important is picking the path and employer that fits your goals and interests.

Limited Networking Opportunities

Networking is key for career advancement. However, trade schools may provide fewer opportunities for it, especially when many trade school students graduate together.

Trade workers may also find it hard to transfer their skills to other careers.

Some people see this as a downside of trade school, but it depends on what’s important to you and how you like to make connections in your career.

Before getting into trade schools, always check if your chosen school has a good reputation and connections with employers.

Trade School vs. College

When comparing similarities and differences between trade schools and colleges, start by figuring out what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing.

To answer the question, “Is trade school worth it?” Here are more things you should know.

Comparison of Costs

Trade schools cost around $33,000 for overall education, while universities cost over $27,000 annually.

This lower school cost is attributed to the shorter program durations of trade schools.

Also, Student Loan Debt Statistics says that, on average, university students accumulate $32,637 in debt for a bachelor’s degree, while those with an associate’s degree have an average debt of $19,270.

However, the most cost-effective route for you will depend on specific programs, financial aid, and school locations. Outcomes are also dependent on industry, location, experience, and other factors.

Keep in mind that financial aid is available for both trade school and college.

Comparison of Duration

The duration of trade school programs is typically shorter, often completed in two years or just a few months.

This is because vocational schools’ accelerated pace and typically rigorous schedule allow learners to quickly finish school and prepare for trade jobs.

Bachelor’s degree programs typically take four years and have a broader academic focus.

Choose a trade school or vocational college if you want quick skills and job entry. If you prefer a comprehensive academic experience, go to college.

Comparison of Career Opportunities

Deciding between trade school and college boils down to your career goals. While trade school emphasizes practical skills for specific trades, some professions still demand a college degree.

The specialized nature of a trade school program limits career flexibility.

In our earlier example of electricians vs. electrical engineers, electricians might struggle to switch industries due to their specialized skills.

In contrast, electrical engineers, with a more adaptable skill set and broader scope of study, can easily explore different industries and career paths.

Also, although relevant work experience is often preferred, many employers favor college graduates for managerial positions.

Trade School Success Stories

Many trade school graduates have achieved successful and rewarding careers. These success stories show people who attended trade school and landed amazing jobs.

Through these stories, you can understand the diverse and exciting opportunities that await you after completing trade school.

Examples of Successful Trade School Graduates

These stories offer a glimpse into the potential benefits of choosing this educational path, showcasing how trade school students graduate and succeed in their chosen fields.

Let’s explore how their insight answers the question, “Is trade school worth it?”

“As opposed to four years, my trade school Makeup Artistry and Airbrushing program was completed in three months. The tuition was low, students got kits of quality material at the beginning of the program, there was little to no homework outside of the classroom, and I was able to network with other individuals who had the same goals and ambitions that I did. The hands-on experience required all of us to practice what we learned on each other instead of us having to study for an exam and never actually do what we were being taught.”

Emmie Pombo

“Growing up, I was never taught to see trade school as a pathway to a good career . . . But trade school helped me land the best job I’ve ever had. I only wish I had made this choice sooner.”

—Josh Akins

“I was sitting in a biology class that had a 45 percent pass rate I was taking for a required science credit . . . I was thinking, ‘This is great information I’m getting, but learning everything about a frog’s life cycle is not going to advance what I want to do.’ I like hands-on work. I like taking apart valves and figuring out how they work.”

—Franco Rodriguez

“After I finished secondary school, my father helped me get work in a factory as an apprentice. After a few months there, I felt that what I learned from my mentor was not enough to meet the demands of today’s job market. So, I came to this vocational school for retraining. I think my skill level now can compete with that of a technical director in the factory I used to work.”

—Tang Zheng

High-Paying Trades

Check out this quick list of high-paying trade school jobs across various industries.

  1. Construction Manager
  • Median Annual Salary: $101,480
  • Duration: 1-2 years

Growing populations will need more buildings. The construction industry will need managers to service this consistent demand.

  1. Elevator and Escalator Installer and Repairer
  • Median Annual Salary: $99,000
  • Duration: 4-year apprenticeship

The demand for this trade job is linked to new construction. Ongoing maintenance, updates, repairs, and the installation of advanced equipment will continue to drive demand for them.

  1. Dental Hygienist
  • Median Annual Salary: $81,400
  • Duration: 2-3 years

The need for dental hygienists is set to increase because more states are permitting them to work at the top of their training.

  1. Aircraft Mechanics
  • Median Annual Salary: $70,010
  • Duration: 18 to 24 months

More mechanics will be needed to maintain and care for the growing number of aircraft.

  1. Electrician
  • Median Annual Salary: $60,240
  • Duration: 9 months–2 years

Electricians are vital for installing and replacing power systems in buildings. With the rise of alternative energy sources like solar and wind, the demand for electricians is expected to grow.

  1. Plumbers
  • Median Annual Salary: $60,090 per year
  • Duration: 2–4 years apprenticeship

Plumbers are always needed due to new construction and the maintenance of existing plumbing systems in homes and buildings.

  1. Wind Turbine Service Technicians
  • Median Annual Salary: $57,320
  • Duration: 2 years

Taller wind turbines with larger blades are cheaper, so wind power is now more competitive with other forms of power.

  1. Medical Assistant
  • Median Annual Salary: $38,270
  • Duration: 1 or 2 years

More medical assistants will be needed to help doctors and nurses in doctors’ offices and other clinics.

  1. Culinary Arts (Bakers)
  • Median Annual Salary: $32,780
  • Duration: 1 or 2 years

Many people love baked goods, such as cereals, breads, and snacks, because they are convenient and taste good. So, more bakers are needed to make and sell them.

  1. Criminal Justice (Correctional Officers and Bailiffs)
  • Median Annual Salary: $49,610
  • Duration: 2-year associate’s degree

Even though fewer correctional officers and bailiffs will be needed in the future, there will still be many job openings each year.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about trade school and the question, “Is trade school worth it?” here.

What Is the Average Salary for Trade School Graduates?

According to data from ZipRecruiter, a job-searching platform, the average annual pay for individuals with trade school jobs is $66,465.

Trade school graduates can earn diverse salaries, with the majority falling between $48,500 and $81,000 annually.

This salary range suggests numerous opportunities for career advancement and increased pay based on skills, location, years of experience, and other factors.

How Long Does It Take To Complete a Trade School Program?

Attending trade school programs has different durations but generally lasts from a few months to two years.

Diploma programs usually last from three months to one year, while associate programs take a bit longer, typically up to two years.

For example, welding students might take 6 to 9 months to get a diploma or trade certificate. Conversely, criminal justice requires a 2-year associate degree, and dental hygienists could take 2 to 3 years.

Nonetheless, programs are generally shorter for students attending trade school than a traditional college.

What Are the Most Popular Trade School Programs?

Several high-paying trades from trade school also have positive job prospects.

Especially in mechanical trades, these programs are popular because they offer the opportunity to learn the skills needed to get a good-paying job without going to four-year colleges.

  1. Construction management
  2. Elevator and escalator installation and repair
  3. Dental hygiene
  4. Aircraft mechanics
  5. Electrician
  6. Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
  7. Wind Turbine Service Technicians
  8. Medical assistant
  9. Culinary arts (baking)
  10. Criminal justice (correctional officers and bailiffs)

Can You Transfer Credits From a Trade School to a College?

Yes, credits from a trade school or community college can transfer to a four-year college, but it depends on the school.

Admission requirements for a four-year institute are typically more extensive.

To ensure credit transfer is possible, consult an academic advisor, inquire about degree requirements, and seek financial aid if necessary.

This is why students in high schools should ask themselves, “Is trade school worth it?” especially if they plan on attending college education later on.

Are Trade Schools Worth It in the Long Run?

Trade school offers a cost-effective path to a well-paying career, but the outcome can vary based on your chosen program.

Vocational training can lead to excellent career opportunities. Additionally, trades provide strong job security, even during economic downturns.

Therefore, trade schools can be a great investment for your future.

Conclusion

Many trade school jobs have kept up, even in bad economic times. People still need to hire plumbers, electricians, and other skilled trades.

Trade schools excel at hands-on training for seriously sought-after, specialized jobs.

It’s like getting the exact skilled trade employers are looking for.

So, if you’re all about practicality, hands-on job training, and skipping the long academic route, and still asking: “Are trade schools worth it?” The answer is yes!

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