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Trade School vs College

trade school vs college

It has been drilled into students' heads for ages that going to college is an absolute must if they want a high paying job. Sure, everyone needs a skill to support themselves, but do those skills need to come from a four-year university? No, they do not. See highest paying trade school jobs.

After graduating high school, not everyone is interested in four more years of classes. Trade schools offer another option, one that can make a lot of sense practically and financially. One of the top reasons to choose trade school over traditional college is how fast you can train for a career. By taking the trade school route, a student can get into the workforce quickly—as few as 6 to 9 months for HVAC technician and medical assistant, and only 160 training hours for CDL truck driver.

What is a Trade School?

Trade school is hands-on education. It’s a learning format focused on teaching you a specific set of skills, so there aren’t as many general education courses (outside of 1-2) that pertain to the career. This dramatically reduces classroom time.

Trade schools have small class sizes, approximately 5-30 students. Small class sizes give you more one-on-one time with the instructor, making it easier to ask questions and receive answers.

There are online programs, plus evening and weekend classes. You'll come out of trade school with practical, hands-on experience in your chosen profession.

Vocational school education gets you into many well-paying careers. In 2020, for example, dental assistants in had an average annual pay of $42,310 (bls.gov). Electricians averaged an annual pay of $61,550, and HVAC technicians made an average annual pay of $53,410 (bls.gov). There are dozens of industries with hundreds of career roles to chose from; these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Additionally, the trades have many open positions, and since trades deal with essential life elements, they typically come with job stability. Skilled trades such as plumbing, electrical, and welding are experiencing shortages of qualified people. Medical & Healthcare—which many of the fastest-growing occupations fall under—and technology are also experiencing the same problem: more jobs opening and no one to fill them.

Those coming out of trade schools have good opportunities. Your specialized training will prepare you for a great career, and give you the necessary certifications to take on an entry-level job.

Read: What a Trade School Is & How to Apply

Cost of Trade School vs College

The average cost for a bachelor’s degree is $25,000-$50,000 per year, which adds up to $100,000-$200,000 for 4 years of attendance. That price tag is just tuition, and doesn’t include room and board.

There's good news: Trade school runs, on average, around $33,000 from start to finish, with many students only carrying a loan of around $10,000.

Not to mention, having a bachelor's degree doesn't even guarantee a high-paying job in your field of study. But because there is such a need for skilled tradesmen and women, vocational school grads often immediately find employment in their field, letting them start earning pay right away.

Trade School Scholarships & Grants

Read our list of scholarships for trade school.

Professional trade organizations, community colleges, and the state and federal government offer money in the form of grants and scholarships for students entering vocational programs. Trade school grants are a great option because, as with any other grant, they don’t have to be paid back. Grants can be combined, which means you can use more than one to lower the cost of trade school.

There are traditional school loans available, as well as school payment plans.

How Long Does Trade School Take?

One benefit of trade school is the speed to a diploma or degree. Traditional colleges and universities generally take 4 or more years to complete.

Cue in trade school. Programs can be completed in as few as 160 training hours for trucking, and as few as 6-10 months for many other careers, depending on which trade and whether you attend full or part time. On the table below, we summarize the length of the most common trade school programs:

Programs Length
HVAC Technician as few as 6 months
Dental Assistant as few as 10 months
Cosmetologist 1,500 - 2,100 training hours
Massage Therapist as few as 10 months
Welder as few as 10 months
Electrician as few as 10 months
Mechanic as few as 10 months
Commercial Truck Driver 160 training hours

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, don't forget to consider trade schools.

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