Let’s say you’re considering skipping the traditional four-year college route and heading to trade school instead for your postsecondary education.
It offers practical training for specific jobs, and it’s cost-effective, quicker to finish, hands-on, and has good job placement rates.
However, they have limited academic opportunities, networks, credit transferability, and financial aid.
If trade school is on your radar, use this guide to weigh its pros and cons, compare it to community colleges, and get tips for prospective students.
Pros of Trade School
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a positive trend for many trade jobs from 2022–2032.
According to the same report, wind turbine service technicians even rank highest among the fastest-growing occupations, with 45% job growth.
Besides this positive outlook, students and future trade school graduates enjoy these key benefits, proving that trade schools are worth it and a good alternative to a college degree.
Cost-Effective Education and Shorter Duration
Trade school is typically less expensive than a traditional tertiary educational institution and takes less time, too. Finishing a vocational program generally takes just a few months up to two years.
According to the College Board, the average student with a four-year degree at a public college spends around $27,000 per year. In contrast, trade school students spend an average of $33,000 for their entire education.
This makes technical school a cost-effective route to a successful career. Saving on tuition fees means you may not have to rely on federal student loans.
Enrolling in a vocational school also opens doors to financial aid options, lower tuition payments, and hands-on vocational training.
This swift entry can be especially appealing for those eager to start their careers promptly and minimize the financial burden of prolonged education and expensive college tuition.
Some of the shortest programs at vocational schools are the following.
- HVAC Technicians (6 months)
- Welding (6-8 months)
- Truck Driver (3-6 weeks)
- Home Health Aide (3 months)
- Flight Attendant (3-6 weeks)
- Electrician (8-9 months)
Focused and Specialized Skills
Trade schools prioritize hands-on training, which means that students learn by doing.
This approach is beneficial because it allows students to develop practical skills that apply to many trade school fields. It may not be as in-depth as an apprenticeship, but it’s still practically on-the-job training.
This is what trade school hands-on training emphasizes.
- Students learn by doing. This is the most effective way for trade school students to learn new technical skills.
- Students develop practical skills that are immediately useful in the workplace. This makes them more marketable to employers.
- Students develop problem-solving skills. Students learn to identify and solve problems by working on real-world projects and equipment.
- Students build skilled trades for specific jobs and careers. When trade school students graduate, they can earn a good salary immediately.
Vocational schools focus on giving you specific technical skills for the job you want.
Unlike regular college education, you don’t have to spend time on general education courses that might not relate to your career, making trade school worth attending for a more focused education.
For example, if you’re becoming a welder, you won’t spend time on unrelated classes like literature or philosophy. Instead, you’ll concentrate on mastering specific methods like arc welding, MIG welding, TIG welding, and oxy-fuel welding.
This targeted trade school training makes you stand out to employers because you’re equipped with hands-on expertise in your field.
High Job Placement Rates
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 6.6% employment growth for trade school jobs.
Notably, trade schools boast high job placement rates, indicating that vocational college graduates can quickly land jobs soon after completing their program.
Here are some trade jobs that are expected to continue growing and their median annual salaries.
- Wind Turbine Service Technicians: 45% job growth, median salary of $57,320
- Home Health and Personal Care Aides: 22% job growth, median salary of $30,180
- Solar Photovoltaic Installers: 22% job growth, median salary of $45,230
- Veterinary Technologists and Technicians: 21% job growth, median salary of $38,240
- Veterinary Assistants & Laboratory Animal Caretakers: 20% job growth, median salary of $34,740
Cons of Trade School
The cons of trade school include fewer academic and networking chances, difficulty transferring credits, and limited financial aid.
Knowing about these downsides helps you know what the job prospects might be like, what salary to expect, and possible challenges you may encounter in the future.
Limited Academic Opportunities
A trade student’s focus on practical skills comes at the expense of broader academic exposure.
While excelling in specialized training for specific trades, trade schools may not offer a wide range of classes, limiting options for those seeking a more comprehensive education or soft skills courses.
This might be a major drawback if you’re uncertain about your career path or value exploration across multiple subjects.
Limited Management Opportunities
Although trade jobs can lead to lucrative careers, a trade school grad’s career growth may be constrained without a college degree or academic degree.
It can hinder career advancement as managerial or supervisory jobs often require a bachelor’s degree.
Additionally, trade school’s focus on specific occupations might limit a worker’s future job options, making it challenging to transition between industries.
Traditional college degrees, with their broader education and transferable skills, offer more versatility in career paths.
Limited Transferability of Credits
If you ever want to attend a university for a higher degree or more job opportunities, the credits you earned in trade school might not fully count.
This could mean starting over or taking extra classes, which might take more time and money. You’ll likely become overloaded due to the few scheduled breaks in a trade school program’s schedule.
Attending trade school may become an issue in the future if you plan to switch schools or pursue a bachelor’s degree in the future.
Limited Financial Aid Options
Trade schools may offer fewer financial aid options compared to traditional colleges.
While college students have access to grants, scholarships, and federal loans, trade school students may find fewer opportunities for financial assistance.
Fortunately, you can contact your school’s financial office and fill out the FAFSA to find out whether you’re eligible for financial aid.
TIP: Use the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) online tool to check if your trade course is accredited and qualifies for federal financial aid programs.
Choosing between trade school and four-year degree programs depends on the preferences and goals of your school search.
Trade school graduates get hands-on, cost-effective training for in-demand careers but consider the trade-offs like limited academic exposure and potential career constraints.
Just consider the trade-offs and weigh them against your career aspirations before you choose to attend trade school.