Trade School vs. Apprenticeship

Before making a decision that’ll greatly impact your future career, it’s crucial to understand the different characteristics of a trade school vs. apprenticeship.

Both trade schools and apprenticeships allow you to pursue fulfilling careers without having to go through the conventional 4-year college route.

Whether you choose to attend a trade school or become an apprentice is a matter of preference. Let’s first understand the basics about both.


Trade Schools

Trade schools are also known as vocational schools or technical colleges. They’re a form of secondary school that gives you a more focused educational background than a traditional college.

Enrolling in a trade school is a much faster option compared to a traditional college.

You also don’t need to learn subjects that don’t fit your specific career goal. Trade school classes will take several months up to a few years to complete.

In trade school, curriculums are structured and focused on specific fields. This means the abilities you’ll learn are highly industry-relevant. Some trade schools also offer apprenticeships depending on your program.

Trade schools are available for careers in construction, automotive technology, culinary arts, cosmetology, plumbing, healthcare, information technology, and more. 

These schools are often accredited, offering certification and licensing training.

NOTE: To enter, you must be a state resident where you are applying for, and complete high school or get your GED. It may also be necessary to pass a placement exam.

Read more in our article called What is a Trade School?


Apprenticeships are also known as on-the-job training. This approach emphasizes the “learning by doing” method and is deeply rooted in mentor-mentee relationships. As the name implies, apprentices work alongside seasoned professionals.

Apprenticeships are available in fields like construction, plumbing, carpentry, and various other skilled crafts. Furthermore, apprenticeships allow individuals to learn their trade through practical experience while being paid.

You’ll typically need to apply through a local contractor or union to get into a program. The contract of apprenticeship is signed between the apprentice, the employer, and the apprentice organization.

While there are more than 22,000 apprenticeships registered in the country, competition is tough.

The duration of apprenticeships can vary widely. Journeymen can expect to spend 2-5 years before their apprenticeships are complete.

During this time, apprentices receive both theoretical knowledge and hands-on learning.

NOTE: Getting accepted into an apprenticeship isn’t always easy. But when you do decide to apply, make sure you have a high school diploma, GED (General Educational Development), or associate degree. You may also need to register as an apprentice with your state.

Historical Context

Trade schools and apprenticeships can be traced back centuries! As a formalized institution, trade schools gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution, when specialized skills became necessary in the workforce.

Apprenticeships, on the other hand, have been integral in human history. They were the first step of a fledgling tradesman’s career.

Medieval guilds and craftsmen passed down their abilities through hands-on learning. Over time, both systems have adapted to our changing society and its needs.

Duration and Structure

Trade School

When it comes to the duration of a trade school vs. apprenticeship, the time commitment involved in trade school typically ranges from a few months to 2 years or more.

These classes provide intensive training. Students graduate with a comprehensive skill set in a relatively short time frame.

For those who wish to deepen their expertise, there are even a few trades that offer apprenticeships while taking a trade school program. These typically take longer to finish.


An apprenticeship is more prolonged, often spanning around 2-5 years. However, you’ll be paid throughout. You must sign a contract to ensure you stick to your apprenticeship program’s duration.

This extended duration is designed to allow every apprentice to gain in-depth, hands-on learning experiences under the guidance of seasoned professionals.

In terms of structure, don’t expect to get a complete traditional classroom experience in either setup.


Trade School

The cost involved between a trade school vs. apprenticeship is crucial to your decision, especially if money is tight. Trade schools still involve tuition fees. However, they’re generally more affordable than your traditional 4-year colleges.

If the cost is a burden, exploring financial aid options might be a good idea. Many trade schools offer financial aid and scholarships.

However, you can also take out a student loan debt. It’s common for students to loan up to $10,000.


An apprenticeship, in contrast, is a paid position. Every apprentice will likely start with a low pay per hour.

Info from the U.S. Department of Labor states that the average apprentice is paid about $15/hour. However, this should increase as you progress with your apprenticeship program.

Additionally, many apprenticeship programs are sponsored by employers or unions that cover the cost of education and training. This allows individuals to complete school debt-free.

Curriculum & Learning Experience

Trade School

The curriculum in trade school vs. apprenticeship is very different. Trade school is structured and classroom-based. Apprenticeships are primarily on the job.

Some of the benefits of attending a trade school include learning theoretical knowledge alongside practical skills. You still get to experience hands-on training to prepare you for real-world scenarios. However, there is no pay involved.


If you become an apprentice, you get to work alongside professionals in your chosen field and apply your expertise in an actual workplace. Plus, if money is tight, there’s no need to seek financial aid.

An apprenticeship offers wages. This immersive approach allows students to hone technical abilities as well as essential soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.

For a more holistic experience, you can opt to take a trade that simultaneously allows you to study in a trade school while completing an internship. You will have to ask permission from your employer on this too.

Job Placement

Trade Schools

Upon establishing a new career, there will be varying prospects after you complete a trade school vs. apprenticeship. Trade schools often help their students when it comes to work placement.

These schools have employment connections within your chosen field that allow individuals to network with potential employers.


Many apprenticeships, being work-based learning experiences, often lead directly to employment. Many apprentices are hired by the companies they train with after they complete the program.

Pros and Cons of Trade Schools

Let’s first explore the advantages and drawbacks of trade schools and find out whether or not it’s the right choice for you!


A trade school offers several benefits. These include the following.

  • You get to learn a specific skilled trade. Trade schools provide in-depth knowledge and hands-on training that directly aligns with the industry’s requirements. Individuals get to use actual tools and equipment, enhancing their confidence and competence in their chosen path.
  • Trade school curricula have short durations. This way, every student gets to build a new career and start earning more money sooner.
  • Trade schools cost less than traditional college degrees. This affordability minimizes the need for financial aid and lessens student loan debt.
  • Trade school curricula are highly focused on practical skills. This ensures individuals graduate with expertise in their chosen professions.
  • Many trade professions are in high demand. This means they get excellent work prospects when they complete the program. These in-demand professions include electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, and more.
  • Trade schools often have strong ties with industries and employment partners. They facilitate networking opportunities and increase the chances of securing employment after graduation.


There are also drawbacks involved when choosing a trade school vs. apprenticeship. Here are some examples.

  • Trade school curricula are highly specialized. Graduates may have fewer options if they decide to shift careers later in life.
  • Credits earned in trade school may not always transfer to traditional colleges. When you decide to pursue higher studies, you’ll likely have to begin from scratch.
  • There can still be a social stigma associated with trade professions. This may affect perception and work satisfaction for some individuals.
  • There is limited academic exposure to broader educational experiences like the humanities, social sciences, and liberal arts.
  • Many trade professions involve physical labor in challenging conditions. It’s not always suitable for individuals with certain health concerns or physical limitations.

Pros and Cons of Apprenticeships

Now let’s cover the benefits and challenges of an apprenticeship.


Many apprenticeships share the following advantages.

  • A trade school apprenticeship has more hands-on training, allowing individuals to learn directly from experienced professionals in the field.
  • Apprentices receive pay or a stipend while they are learning. This feature allows individuals to support themselves and their families.
  • Apprenticeships combine some classroom instruction with practical training for a well-rounded education.
  • Apprentices get to work closely with mentors. This mentor-apprentice relationship builds both personal and professional growth.
  • Many industries recognize the experience gained through apprenticeships. Completing a program demonstrates a high level of competence and dedication.


Consider the following potential challenges before training as an apprentice.

  • Trade school/apprenticeship programs are highly competitive. Securing an apprenticeship might require a rigorous application and interview process.
  • Not all trades and professions offer formal apprenticeship curricula. Its availability will vary per region and field.
  • An apprenticeship is a long-term commitment. Not everyone may want to spend years learning a specific trade. This may not be suitable for those seeking immediate employment with better pay.
  • The pay might be lower than what fully qualified professionals earn. This lower pay can be a challenge for those with financial responsibilities.
  • An apprenticeship likely involves demanding work, exposure to hazardous materials, or challenging environmental conditions. Although you get paid, it might not be worth the health risks.
  • Apprenticeship schedules are rigid. If you have family obligations or other commitments, your time might not accommodate these.
  • An apprentice might lack the broader skill set that a more generalized education, such as a college degree, could provide.

Trade School vs. Apprenticeship: Which is Right for You?

Choosing between a trade school and an apprenticeship, or even taking both, is a crucial decision that can shape your career path.

Factors to Consider

To ensure you make the best decision, it’s important to weigh the following factors.

  • Requirements – Applying for either a trade school or apprenticeship will require you to submit your high school diploma or GED. There might be some diploma prerequisites for trade schools too.
  • Timeline – Work on your time management and consider when you want to graduate and start a career. Trade schools typically offer shorter programs, allowing you to graduate and start your career sooner.
  • Financial Situation –Are you in a position to pay for the cost of a trade school education, or do you need to get paid immediately? Apprentices get paid while learning, which can reduce the burden of cost.
  • Learning Style – Are you more inclined towards structured classroom instruction (trade school) or hands-on learning in a real-world setting (apprenticeship)?
  • Employment Connections – Inquire about employment connections and job placement rates. Some trade schools have strong relationships with certain employment partners. Similarly, an apprenticeship may lead directly to employment with sponsoring companies.

Making an Informed Decision

Here are the steps to take when choosing between a trade school, an apprenticeship, or even both.

  1. Extensively research every trade school or apprenticeship you’re considering. Explore factors like the cost, duration, curriculum, and work opportunities.
  2. Visit trade schools and potential apprenticeship employment partners. Meeting instructors, mentors, and future colleagues can provide a sense of the school or workplace culture.
  3. Reflect on your personal preferences, learning style, financial situation, and long-term career goals. Weigh these factors against the pros and cons of each option.
  4. Establish clear short-term and long-term career goals. Your decision should align with your aspirations and the path you envision for your professional journey.

Ultimately, the right choice between a trade school and an apprenticeship depends on your circumstances and aspirations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about the difference between a trade school and an apprenticeship here.

What Is the Difference Between a Trade School and an Apprenticeship?

There are many differences to consider when defining what a trade school is versus an apprenticeship. Here are some ways in which they differ.

  1. Trade schools offer both hands-on and classroom learning, while an apprenticeship primarily focuses on on-the-job training.
  2. You can learn while getting paid during an apprenticeship, as opposed to a trade school.
  3. Trade schools may also teach soft skills, such as communication, time management, and writing abilities, while an apprenticeship focuses on technical training.
  4. An apprenticeship can be difficult to get into, making you wait several months. On the other hand, you pay tuition to get into trade schools.

How Do I Find an Apprenticeship Program?

If you want to get paid while learning, consider the many apprenticeships you can find on through the Department of Labor. 

You can also research local trade unions, industry associations, or company websites. Networking with professionals in your desired field can get you valuable leads too.

Can I Switch From a Trade School to an Apprenticeship or Vice Versa?

Switching from a trade school to an apprenticeship or vice versa is possible in some cases. Although, don’t expect it to be a seamless transition.

This might cost you more than the possible advantages. The process will depend on the specific programs you took and the willingness of your bosses to recognize prior education or experience.

NOTE: Some trades require you to attend trade school and take an apprenticeship.


The choice between a trade school and an apprenticeship, or both, is a pivotal decision that shapes your career path.

To summarize, trade schools offer structured education and practical skills, while apprenticeships provide hands-on training and a chance to get paid.

Both avenues lead to a rewarding new career. No matter what path you choose or if you choose both, we hope you can start earning more money soon!

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