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Trade School vs Traditional College

It has been drilled into many young students heads for ages, whether from parents, teachers or grandparents, that traditional college is an absolute must. Make the family proud, go to a four-year university. But, is a bachelor’s degree that important? Is it the end-all? Sure, everyone needs a skill to support themselves and their families but do those skills need to be obtained from expensive four-year universities (see: highest paying trade school careers)? Not to mention, not everyone is cut out for that four-year college experience. But, there is another option and one that makes so much sense, both practically and financially. Trade and vocational schools have been underrated and frowned upon for so long. But, that undeserved stigma is rapidly changing. More and more students are starting to look for a different path, especially now that the cost of advanced education is leaving people with sticker shock and massive amounts of debt. It’s no secret that those with bachelor’s degrees or higher have larger earning potential. But, when you weigh in the heavy-duty loan that has to be paid off once a job is secured, the bachelor’s degree doesn’t seem so fancy anymore. It might actually be more of burden. Financial isn’t the only reason to attend a trade school, however. Getting into the workforce quicker (as little as 6 weeks for nursing assistant, medical assistant, CDL driver and HVAC technician) with a qualified, certified skill, that’s probably the top reason to choose to look at trade schools over colleges. So, why should anyone consider trade school over traditional college? Read on; we will provide you with answers regarding the many benefits of choosing trade school over traditional college.

What is Trade School?

In trade school, because it’s so focused, there aren’t any general education courses outside of what pertains to the career, and therefore it dramatically reduces classroom time. Trade schools have smaller class sizes, averaging around 30 students. Compare that number to universities with class sizes sometimes reaching 100 students, especially when the class takes place in one of those giant lecture halls. Benefits of smaller class sizes are that it allows the student more one on one with the instructor, they have time to ask questions and receive answers, and they can contribute to the class, all of which have proven to enable students a better chance of educational success. And with trade schools having courses from criminal justice and EMT to STEM careers like electrician or computer & information technology you have lots of choices!

There are online programs though normally a considerable amount of practical or hands-on training is required for many skilled trades. Students actually come out of trade school with experience in their chosen profession. And, don’t let anyone fool you, a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee a high-paying job. There are many well-paying jobs that a vocational school education provides such as dental hygiene which brings in a median annual salary of $72,330, electricians who earn over $50,000 per year, and HVAC technicians who make a median annual wage of $45,110. Those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Go to: The Different Types of Trade Schools

Vocational education programs have made a real difference in the lives of countless young people nationwide; they build self-confidence and leadership skills by allowing students to utilize their unique gifts and talents. -Conrad Burns

Allegedly there will be a massive increase in job availability over the course of the next few years, and less than 1/3rd of these positions will require any type of traditional college degrees. Skilled trades such as plumbing, electric, and welding are experiencing shortages of qualified people, creating vacant spots in need of being filled. Healthcare, which eight out of the 20 of the fastest growing occupations fall under, and technology, are also experiencing the same problem; with more jobs opening and no one to step in to fill them. The number one trade, however, that is in need of experienced and qualified individuals is in the trucking industry . Because 1 out of 3 businesses are having a hard time staffing, those coming out of trade schools will find they may have better opportunities. However, because more people are starting to choose trades, there will be some competition for those available jobs.

Cost of Trade vs. Traditional

One massive argument to check off in the pro-column for trade school is, the average cost for a bachelor’s degree is $25,000 - $50,000 per year which adds up to $100,000-$200,000 for those four years of attendance. That price tag doesn’t include room and board or the fact that often a four-year degree can take a bit longer than the estimated four years. According to Market Watch, the graduate class of 2015 was sent out into the world with, not only their degree, but they have the largest student loan debt of any graduating class in US history. The burden of college costs has shifted from the government over to we, the people and it’s quite financially devastating. Let’s not even get started about master’s degrees and beyond because the amount it costs in relation to the amount of debt students leave with is, well, staggering. A quite horrifying example of this is was in 2016, more than 70% of college graduates were carrying a student loan debt over $37,000. And, that number will only rise through the years.

Trade school runs, on average, around $33,000 from start to finish, with many students only carrying a loan of around $10,000 which doesn’t seem so massive in comparison to the loans needing to be paid back by those with bachelor’s degrees. This huge monetary savings makes trade school look really attractive. Not to mention, students are often placed into jobs in their niche, enabling them to start earning a salary upon their obtaining the diploma or certificate.

Scholarships and Grants

When we make college more affordable, we make the American dream more achievable. -Bill Clinton

In the past, there hasn’t been much money available to students heading to vocational schools, but things have changed drastically due to the fact more people are opting to travel the trade school route. Professional trade organizations, community colleges, and the state and federal government are now offering money in the form of grants and scholarships for students entering vocational schools. Some states host lottery grants that aren’t based upon on high school grade point averages, and they give a small textbook reimbursement. There are traditional school loans available, as well. Trade school grants are a great option because, as with any other grant, they don’t have to be paid back. Grants are stackable which means you can combine more than one to lower the cost of trade school. There are so many financing options available for those heading to trade school making money less of an obstacle for those who desire a career but worry about how they will pay for

Length of Time Spent in School

Traditional colleges and universities generally take four years to complete, although it can take longer depending on the student’s course load. Sometimes, college can take five to six years to finally earn that bachelor’s degree. This is largely due to the fact that college curriculum includes courses that have virtually nothing to do with the student’s major. What a waste of time and money, both which could be spent not only on program-specific courses, shortening the amount of classroom time, but also being out in the real world, working and earning a salary.

Cue in trade school. Programs can be completed in six months to two years, depending on which trade and whether the student attends full or part-time. On the table below, we summarized the length of the most common trade school programs:

Program Length
HVAC Technician 2 years
Dental Hygiene 2 years
Cosmetology School 1,500 - 2,100 training hours
Massage Therapy 300 - 1,000 training hours
Welder 4 years including apprenticeship
Electrician 2-4 years with apprenticeship
Mechanic 2-5 years with apprenticeship
Commercial Trucking 7 weeks


When it comes to salaries, trade school graduates aren’t making much less than their traditional college counterparts. The median salary of entry level positions of trade jobs is $35,720. Bachelor’s degree holders, when they begin working, only make around $11,000 more annually than those who received trade school diplomas, and that's assuming they can even find a job in their chosen field. That may seem like a lot but consider that every month they are paying an average of $200-$350, or around $3,000 annually, on their student loan. That brings the salary down to almost equal rather quickly. Also, keep in mind that those coming out of trade school are in the workforce an average of two years longer than traditional college students, so they’ve been bringing home the bacon that much longer. That’s an average earning of over $75,000 they have made before the person with the bachelor’s degree even pounds the pavement in search of a job.

Another fact is that more and more job positions are being filled offshore to keep company costs down. However, trade school positions, ones that need a physical body present, are not easily filled by going elsewhere. Trade skill workers such as plumbers, mechanics, and electricians need to be available to show up when needed, this type of work can not be done via the Internet. There is a great need for more skilled workers since the present workforce is beginning to age. More jobs will open once the older guys start retiring, calling for the younger set to jump into their shoes and hit the ground running.

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.-Albert Einstein

Wrapping It Up And An Infographic

Did you know that 40% of the student body will drop out of a four-year college? FORTY PERCENT. That’s a massive number of students. And, they will still have to pay back the money borrowed. Drop out rates for trade schools, in 2013, was only 1.6%. Those numbers scream volumes! Choosing to go to trade school over college is a viable option for so many reasons. The cost for trade school is significantly lower than traditional college. The amount of time spent in a classroom is reduced because the courses are subject-specific as opposed to taking classes that are not relevant to the chosen profession. And, salaries for those coming out of trade school are pretty competitive to their bachelor degree bearing counterparts, especially when you weigh in the fact that most students come out of universities burdened in debt that takes forever to pay back. Added to all the great facts about trade school versus college, most trade schools offer their graduating student’s job placement which practically guarantees they start to earn immediately upon receiving their certificate or diploma! Furthering your education is always a fantastic idea and it’s best to explore your options when it comes to going to a trade school or college. So from public service careers in criminal justice to jobs with solid growth potential like certified nursing assistant ones, don't forget to consider trade schools.