Trade Schools

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For many Americans, education can be the key to success, as it has been for years in the United States. It is a common fallacy that earning a bachelor’s degree is the only way to earn a respectable life. Even if many individuals advise students to enter college right out of high school, it might not always seem like the best course of action. High school seniors who want to start working as soon as possible after graduating frequently decide to pursue occupational licenses or career and technical certificates in specialized professions like cosmetology, welding, automotive services, or plumbing.


There are more “last mile” vocational-education programs now that bachelor’s programs are frequently too broad to accommodate the specialized training many occupations increasingly require. Sometimes, people with a high school diploma, an associate degree, or some college training make more money than people with bachelor’s degrees. In the upcoming years, it is projected that the infrastructure, manufacturing, and transportation sectors will all expand, and many employees in those sectors probably will not require a four-year degree.

The number of students attending traditional colleges has increased in the United States during the past century, rising from 13.2 million in 2000 to 16.9 million in 2016, a 28% increase, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The number of students enrolled in vocational schools has also increased, from 9.6 million in 1999 to 16 million in 2014.

Parents may feel uncertain about the career route their children decide to pursue due to the changing nature of the job and school markets. Vocational training may offer a safer route to secure employment. Still, parents may discourage their children from enrolling in these programs due to a lack of awareness and misconceptions about the trades. Early exposure to the idea of vocational training could help reduce stigma and show both students and parents that there are many different routes to a bright future. This guide provides in-depth information on trade schools to help them make informed decisions.

The Top Trade

With several different trades and vocational colleges available, here is a list of the top trade schools in the United States to help students narrow their college or program search.

What is a Trade

Although “trade school” is a typical name for a facility that offers profession-oriented education, broader terms like “career and technical college” and “vocational school” are more frequently used these days, partly to imply rigor. Trade schools are postsecondary institutions, like colleges and universities, that help students get ready for the workforce. These schools are experts at teaching students the hands-on skills necessary to carry out the regular tasks of a particular profession. In addition to offering credits that students can transfer to other colleges, these institutions frequently grant certificates rather than degrees.

Trade school programs, in contrast to traditional liberal arts colleges, concentrate primarily on the job-specific skills needed for employment. While a community or technical college associate degree program can give practical training, trade schools provide a more specialized education tailored toward particular industries and career choices. Students can enroll in trade school programs in a range of subject areas, including in-demand, lucrative professions like plumbing, carpentry, welding, construction, automotive technology, and electrical engineering. Students can find relatively quick, affordable routes to lucrative jobs through trade schools. A student can prepare for a career as a cosmetologist, computer technician, healthcare provider, electrician, auto mechanic, or other highly skilled professions in less than two years.

Community colleges frequently provide programs leading to vocational certification or licensure; some programs are funded by either nonprofit or for-profit businesses. A lot of these programs are accessible to anyone who wants to participate. Numerous programs last a year or fewer. Since programs are typically far shorter than those at traditional community colleges or four-year universities, students can acquire the necessary skills and training more rapidly and enter the profession to support themselves and their families.

Attending a trade school can be advantageous for those searching for a quick path to stable work. Students who attend trade schools can develop skills particular to their industry and work in professions that pay well and are in high demand. With over 1.3 million job opportunities yearly, more than 11 million Americans are employed in skilled trades.

What is Offered and What to Expect
with Trade Schools

In contrast to colleges offering associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, students can frequently earn an industry-recognized certification in less time. Construction, cosmetology, manufacturing, computer technology, personal services, healthcare assistance, automotive repair, and administrative training are all options available at trade schools. The top trade schools might concentrate on one particular profession or provide various career-focused programs. Small class sizes, which allow for more personalized instruction from instructors, are a frequent bonus trade schools offer. Here is an overview of trade schools:

1. Learning Modes

The goal of various trade schools is to provide students with the practical skills they will need for particular occupations. Many classes include hands-on learning opportunities so students can practice and develop the skills they will need in the workplace. Therefore programs emphasize experiential learning and gaining pertinent knowledge. Some typical learning modes included in trade school classes are:

Online Learning / Classroom Learning

The goal of various trade schools is to provide students with the practical skills they will need for particular occupations. Many classes include hands-on learning opportunities so students can practice and develop the skills they will need in the workplace. Therefore programs emphasize experiential learning and gaining pertinent knowledge. Some typical learning modes included in trade school classes are:

Virtual Learning

Virtual simulation is used by instructors in several skilled trades, such as welding or automotive repairs, to assist pupils in training more quickly and become accustomed to practices before beginning to use the strong gear or sophisticated equipment.

Shop Classes / Laboratories

Shop classes offer a safe atmosphere for experimentation and experience-building. For example, welding students learn how to perfect welds and work with various metals. A mannequin may be used as a practice subject for cosmetology and healthcare students before moving on to humans.

Practicums / Apprenticeships / Internships

An on-the-job training element is included in several authorized trade schools. Depending on the chosen field, the program may include a practicum, frequently applicable for legal and medical professions, or apprenticeships in the mechanical and construction industries. Some fields may require students to undergo an internship. In all cases, students are supervised by a qualified professional while they are at work.

2. Timeline

Students who attend trade schools can complete their degrees in less time than those who pursue a four-year degree. Most vocational or technical school programs last around a year, although they can span from a few weeks to two years. However, timelines depend primarily on the subject in question. For instance, while an automotive technician’s program may take 13 months to complete, an HVAC technician program may last between 6 months and 2 years. It is also noteworthy that some trades have an apprenticeship component that lasts several years. For example, an electrician may have to work under a professional as an apprentice for 4 to 5 years before going out on their own. In most cases, apprentices are compensated for their job; in certain cases, their employer or union will even cover the costs of their trade school.

3. Costs

One of the most frequent questions asked is, “how much does trade school cost?”. The cost of trade school tuition can range from $5,000 to $30,000 or more, depending on the program. Additional factors that affect the cost include the kind of school one attends (public or private), how long the program lasts, whether it is delivered in person or online, and whether the student is eligible for financial support. According to CollegeBoard, the average annual tuition for students living in the same district as their college is $3,770. In contrast, a private four-year institution typically costs $37,650 per year or $150,600 overall.

4. Admissions Requirements

Unlike universities, trade schools have a straightforward admissions procedure. In general, applicants must have a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED). In most cases, test results, essays, or letters of recommendation are not necessary to enter trade schools.

5. Accreditation

As with four-year universities, accreditation is a critical factor to consider with enrolling in a trade school. Those who need a license, certification, or other state clearance to work in their trade will almost certainly need to attend an accredited institution. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) is chartered by the United States Department of Education (USDE) to review trade and vocational schools, evaluating administrative processes, curriculum requirements, and student services. Schools providing online or hybrid programs must also be accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

An industry group or a state regulatory agency often oversees programmatic accreditation. The Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), for example, is in charge of veterinary technician program accreditation. Read more about the importance of accreditation in the guide to college accreditation.

6. Certification & Licensing

Industry certifications vouch for a candidate’s professionalism and subject-matter understanding. Depending on the program, students can obtain industry certifications that will add to their qualifications and give them an edge over the competition. For example, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) offers several certifications for those who have completed an automotive-related trade school program. In several professions, such as builders, cosmetologists, health care services, etc., one may also need to obtain a state license to work.  Attending trade schools get students ready for their licensure tests.

What is the Difference Between
Trade School and College?

Trade schools differ from traditional colleges and universities. With a few modifications, they can resemble community colleges quite closely. Sometimes the word “college” is used in place of the word “schools,” and trade schools are also referred to as vocational schools, career schools, or technical schools.

Comparing vocational schools to public and private four-year institutions reveals substantial differences. In addition to their majors, four-year students also take general education courses. In contrast, most trade schools only offer hands-on training and career-specific courses. Here is a quick look at the differences between trade schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges:

Trade SchoolCommunity CollegeFour-Year College
Trade-focussed coursework with hands-on training.Career-focused coursework with theoretical, lecture-based learning.Discipline-focused coursework with specialization options.
Most programs cost between $4,000 and $12,000.Most programs cost between $5,000 and $20,000.Annual tuition is frequently $20,000 or more.
Programs can be finished in as little as three months.Programs usually take up to 24 months to complete.Programs are usually completed in four years.
A certificate or an associate’s degree is awarded to graduates.An associate’s degree is awarded to graduates.A bachelor’s degree is awarded to graduates.

Note: “Community college” and “trade school” are frequently used interchangeably. Although many community colleges offer vocational, career, and trade programs, not all trade schools are community colleges.

What are the Benefits of
Trade Schools?

Many recent high school graduates are assessing the benefits and drawbacks of attending trade school in light of the current demand for trained tradespeople. Students who cannot or do not want to go to college may be able to pursue their education in vocational schools. A trade school diploma offers a reasonably quick path to a lucrative job. It is substantially less expensive than a four-year degree, allowing students to graduate more quickly and with less debt than they would have at a university or community college.  It also boosts graduates’ chances of receiving good income and long-term job security by preparing them for in-demand jobs. Gaining access to occupations that often remain secure during recessions and other uncertain times is another advantage of attending trade school. Even during economic downturns, demand for certain trades remains high.

The specialized curriculum structure is a trade school education’s main benefit. Students get ready for a job in the field of their choice on the very first day of school. There are no prerequisites for general education courses, electives, or a liberal arts core in trade school programs. Non-degree-granting trade school programs are condensed in comparison to associate and bachelor’s pathways. They also frequently provide flexible learning alternatives, such as part-time enrollment or evening programs, to fulfill the demands of people juggling employment, school, and/or family responsibilities.

The Pros and

There are several benefits to attending trade school versus a typical college program for the right student with the correct professional ambitions. For trade school students, the major advantages include relevant, focused instruction, quicker program completion timeframes, and overall affordability. However, there are also disadvantages to attending trade school. Some of the pros and cons are listed below:

Pros of Attending
Trade School

Relevant Coursework: Generally speaking, general education courses are not required of trade school students. The technical and applied components of their chosen profession are given additional attention in their studies through relevant and specific coursework.

Hands-on Approach: Many trade school courses offer practical instruction and hands-on training so that students can start using the skills they learn right away.

Quicker to Complete: Trade school programs usually last between six months and a year, unlike associate and bachelor’s programs, which can take much longer. Students can graduate and seek employment much faster.

Less Expensive: Costs at trade schools are typically less than those at four-year universities, making programs affordable and leading to less debt. The cost of attending each school varies, though.

Easy Employability: Many trade school students acquire skills that enable them to find in-demand jobs soon after graduation.

Cons of Attending
Trade School

Tighter Class Schedules: Because of the  small number of classes that offer a more direct route to employment or an apprenticeship, trade school students may find the class schedule to be hectic and rigorous.

Restricted Student Life: Student life activities, including on-campus housing, athletics, clubs, and other extracurricular activities, are uncommon at trade schools. Students hoping for a more conventional college experience might be let down by a lack of participation possibilities.

Limited Scope: A trade school diploma frequently only applies to one profession. Because students learn a skill that is so specialized in their program, it cannot be transferred to another trade or job opportunity.

Limited Financial Aid: While they might still have access to federal loans or grants, students in shorter programs may find it difficult to acquire financial assistance.If their programs continue for at least 15 weeks, trade school students can get financial aid equal to other students.

Limited Career Flexibility: Trade schools typically do not offer courses that offer broad information that students can apply to a variety of professional options, in contrast to the curricula at most colleges and universities.

Career Options and Job Outlook for
Trade School Students

Trade schools offer a variety of degrees and certificates, but they often offer practical instruction. Frequently, the career paths that trade schools provide are influenced by the local industry. To ascertain the necessity of new programs, trade schools collaborate closely with local businesses, partners, and experts from the industry to guarantee that their course content reflects modern techniques.

The amount of education needed for trades varies by industry. Students might not need to wait until they graduate from high school to begin learning a skill, depending on where they live. On the other hand, recent graduates from trade schools might take on apprentices when they begin a job or while still in school. Healthcare, avionics, automobiles, graphic design, computers, prisons, cosmetics, personal services, construction, culinary arts, and other different industries provide professions that trade school graduates can pursue.

Listed below are some common trade school jobs, their median annual salaries in 2021, and projected job outlook (2020 to 2030):

  • Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers: $61,760 | 2% (slower than average)
  • Heating, Air Conditioning, & Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers: $48,630 | 5% (slower than average)
  • Fire Inspector: $63,080 | 11% (faster than average)
  • Barbers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists: $29,680 | 19% (much faster than average)
  • Air Traffic Controllers: $129,750 | 4% (slower than average)
  • Electricians: $60,040 | 9% (as fast as average)
  • Carpenters: $48,260 | 2% (slower than average)
  • Aerospace Engineering & Operations Technologists and Technicians: $73,580 | 9% (as fast as average)
  • Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics: $46,880 | 0% (little or no change)
  • Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides: $61,520 | 34% (much faster than average)
  • Theatrical and Performance Makeup Artists: $124,380 | NA
  • Nuclear Technicians: $99,340 | -12% (decline)
  • Construction Managers: $98,890 | 11% (faster than average)
  • Court Reporters and Simultaneous Captioners: $60,380 | 3% (slower than average)
  • Dental Hygienists: $77,810 | 11% (faster than average)

Some of the sectors in which trade school graduates find work include:

  • Production (builders, engine assemblers, metal fabricators, nuclear reactor operators, trimmers, cutters, power dispatchers, welders, etc.)
  • Food Preparation and Service (bartenders, servers, dishwashers, etc.)
  • Installation, Maintenance, and Repair (machine and equipment servicers and technicians (e.g., HVAC, aircraft, automotive, appliance), electricians, home installers, etc.)
  • (assistants in medical administration, therapy, phlebotomy, nursing, hygiene, diagnostics, etc.)
  • Logistics (aviation, water, and land drivers, technicians, specialists, operators, inspectors, etc.)
  • Construction and Extraction (masons of all kinds, setters, finishers, carpenters, roofers, oil and gas drillers, miners, blasters, etc.)

Scholarships for
Trade Schools

Despite trade school being less expensive than college, some students may still require financial assistance. Scholarships are an excellent way to reduce the financial burden of education. Students would do well in completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and looking for scholarships that cater to trade school programs. Here are a few such scholarships and federal aid to explore:-

Scholarship Description Award/AmountApplication Deadline
American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Vocational ScholarshipAmerican Postal Workers Union (APWU) Vocational Scholarship is awarded to students for specialized training in fields like culinary arts, electrician, medical or dental assistant, auto mechanic, real estate, IT/computer education, massage therapy, cosmetology, etc. Programs that qualify might range in length from nine months to three years.Up to $3,000March 31, each year
Federal Grant – Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)Each member school’s financial aid office oversees the FSEOG program independently. But because not every school takes part in the program, students should contact the school’s financial aid office to check if the institution offers the FSEOG.$100 to $4,000 per yearApply through the FAFSA on October 01, each year
Federal Grant – Pell GrantThe Pell Grant from the federal government is awarded to undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need and do not already hold a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.Up to $6,895Apply through the FAFSA on October 01, each year
NAWIC Founders Scholarship Foundation (NFSF)Through higher education, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Founders’ Scholarship Foundation (NFSF) supports the development of skilled laborers for the construction sector. Nearly every professional field is represented in the construction sector, including project management, administrative, trade, legal, insurance, financial, and business owner.$500 to $2,500February 28, each year
Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs ScholarshipsNuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, the foundation of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, Intl.,  provides scholarships for students pursuing degrees leading to manufacturing careers.Up to $3,500March 31, 2024

FAQs on Trade

Are there trade school programs online?

Many trade school programs have migrated to the online model or use a hybrid or blended learning approach due to the pandemic’s forced social isolation and distancing. With several programs, students can learn theoretical material virtually. However, for programs requiring laboratory work, hands-on experience, or technical instruction, students must be on campus for a specified duration.

Is going to trade school worth it?

Is trade school better than college?

Do you need a high school diploma to get into trade school?

What is a degree from a trade school called?

Bottom Line

Despite the many advantages of trade school, not everyone is a good fit for them and the careers they can lead to. The physical and mental demands of a trade profession can include exposure to the environment, frequent travel, irregular work schedules, and potentially dangerous circumstances. However, the bottom line is that a trade school education is like a gleam of light in today’s uncertain global economy, given the pandemic, the collapsing economy, and the dismal job market prospects for many. Skilled workers are more in demand now because so few businesses are opening up again, but there is a persistent challenge in meeting that need. Any economy depends on trained labor, but there is a clear scarcity of these individuals – an opportunity to exploit. Only, one must be sure that the program they select has a continuous demand on the job market and closely aligns with one’s interests and innate skills.