Questions to Ask When Considering Trade School

Making the choice to attend trade school can be a turning point in your life. No matter how you look at it, it’s a big decision! In many cases, students contemplating enrolling in a trade school program are weighing the costs and benefits and considering alternatives like attending college or university, for instance. If you’re on the fence about whether or not trade school is right for you, a thorough Q&A is in order. In this article, our editors will outline some of the common questions they receive about trade school programs as well as in-depth information about this postsecondary alternative to a four-year school.

What Vocational Field Are You Interested In?

Narrowing down the options you have after high school graduation can be a chore. If you’re considering trade school programs, though, you’ll want to take some time to think about the various occupational fields you may want to work in. Although trade school programs are available in nearly every occupational field, they’re more prevalent in some fields as opposed to others. Here are some common industries and occupational categories to consider:

  • Healthcare and Allied Health Professions
  • Automotive and Mechanics
  • Construction and Industrial Trades
  • Business and Office Administration
  • Professional and Legal Studies
  • Early Childhood Care and Education
  • Personal Care and Wellness
  • Media and Communication

Within each of these categories are dozens of trade school jobs, including those that are in demand right now as well as trade school careers that pay well.

Where Do You Want to Work?

There are a lot of factors that determine job satisfaction, and your work environment is one of the top items on the list. For many students considering trade school programs, the idea of working in a corporate or office environment is unappealing. If you’re one of these students, you may envision the ideal workplace environment like a shop, garage, or even outdoor setting. Many trade school careers lend themselves to this type of job site. Motorcycle mechanics and auto body repair technicians spend their days slinging wrenches in garages. Construction workers and environmental engineering technicians perform many (if not all) of their duties outdoors.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some trade school jobs that land graduates in an office environment. Paralegals need only a trade school degree and work in law offices across the country. The same is true for some credentialed administrative assistants. By the same token, some university degrees prepare students for nontraditional work environments as well. Think of construction managers and engineers, for instance. Still, it’s safe to say that students with a desire for a less structured work environment will have more options with trade school programs versus four-year college degrees.

What Are My Financial Goals?

There’s a misconception that trade school programs aren’t lucrative. Perhaps that’s because graduates of four-year universities do tend to make more money on average. If you’re considering attending a technical or vocational school, though, don’t be dismayed. There are plenty of trade school careers that pay well. In fact, there are some trade school jobs that pay more than occupations requiring a bachelor’s and even master’s degree. Still, not all trade school jobs are alike, so you need to do your due diligence beforehand by researching common wages in the fields you’re interested in pursuing. Then, consider your financial goals, and think about where you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years, and beyond. Finally, narrow your trade schools career list to those positions that will accommodate your aspirations.  

To dispel the myth that trade school careers don’t pay well and to help you in your search for the best trade school programs, we’ve listed some high-paying vocational occupations, along with their mean annual earnings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • Air Traffic Controller: $130,420
  • Makeup Artists: $106,920
  • Radiation Therapist: $86,850
  • Nuclear Technician: $84,190
  • Dental Hygienists: $$77,090
  • Ship Engineers: $75,990
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: $70,380
  • Avionics Technicians: $66,680
  • Court Reporters: $61,660

How Much Will Trade School Cost?

For post-secondary students, one of the primary benefits of attending trade school programs is the cost savings over university tuition. Two-year technical and vocational schools tend to be significantly less expensive than four-year colleges, and since the programs are shorter, you’re only on the hook for tuition for a fraction of the time. According to The College Board, two-year technical schools cost just $3,440 per year on average compared to the $9,410 average tuition for four-year schools. That’s almost triple the expense.

Still, there are some trade school programs that are just as expensive as university degree programs, so if you’re on a budget, you’ll want to pay close attention to tuition numbers.  Students looking for the most educational bang for their buck may consider public two-year schools like community colleges, which are often comparable in terms of quality but offer trade school programs at a fraction of the costs associated with private technical and vocational schools.

How Can I Pay for Trade School?

Despite the reduced costs associated with trade school programs, some students still struggle to figure out how to make ends meet while enrolled in a two-year technical or vocational school. If this sounds familiar, you’ll be glad to know that as a trade school student, you may be eligible for many of the same financial aid resources available to university students as well as some additional ways to pay for school that are reserved solely for trade school students.

Perhaps the most important thing you should know about paying for trade school is that federal financial aid may be available to you, whether you’re pursuing an associate’s degree or certificate at a two-year school. In order to qualify for this aid, though, you need to choose a two-year school that is regionally or nationally accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-approved accrediting agency. You’ll also need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. Among the most common types of aid offered by the federal government are loans and grants; the former has to be paid back while the latter does not.

In addition to federal student aid, students studying for trade school careers in the United States may have other options when it comes to paying for school as well. For instance, scholarships are often available from the vocational schools themselves as well as from private organizations. These financial aid awards are granted according to both need and merit. Like grants, they do not have to be paid back.

Another option for students interested in qualifying for trade school jobs is education assistance programs offered by employers in various trades and industries. In order to fill open job slots, some companies will pay for students’ trade school programs in exchange for a commitment of employment upon graduation. Some employers pay the tuition outright while others reimburse the student for tuition expenses after the fact.

How Soon Can I Start Working?

Another advantage of trade school programs is their relative brevity compared to a bachelor’s degree from a college or university. While the standard completion time for an undergraduate degree program is four years, even the best trade school programs can be finished in much less time. In fact, the maximum amount of time you can expect to study in a trade school program is two years, so long as you study full-time. This is how long it takes to earn an associate’s degree—the highest credential offered at most trade schools. Diploma and certificate programs are also available, which take even less time to earn. A shorter academic program will not only save you money, but will also get you into the workforce faster so that you can start earning a regular paycheck.

Students who want to earn their credentials quickly so they can enter the workforce sooner rather than later should consider accelerated trade school programs. Available at select technical and vocational schools, these programs give students the opportunity to take a heavier course load in order to fulfill their certificate or degree requirements in less time.

Can I Attend Trade School Online?

When most people think of online learning at the postsecondary level, they imagine students working towards a bachelor’s or master’s degree at an online university. Indeed, this is a very common scenario in the world of distance learning. It’s not the only scenario, though. Distance education has expanded to encompass just about every area of education there is, from elementary school to doctoral studies, and yes, trade school programs.

While online trade school programs do exist, they’re not available in every vocational area. Some areas of study, like early childhood education and legal studies, for example, lend themselves to a virtual learning environment while others like auto repair or construction are less likely to translate to an online classroom. If the idea of attending classes online seems appealing, you’ll need to find out if online trade school programs are offered in your chosen area of study.

Another thing to keep in mind if you’re considering trade school programs online is that many of them are only partially available via distance education. It’s not uncommon to find some of the best trade school programs offered via a hybrid learning format. This means that some of the coursework for the program can be completed online while other components of the program require in-person attendance. For hybrid trade school programs, the in-person portion of the program is usually devoted to experiential learning activities such as labs, practicums, and workshops.

What Will My Class Schedule Be Like?

Students who enroll in trade school programs rarely consider school their only responsibility. While it may take priority, most students have other obligations, including jobs and even kids. Fortunately, two-year schools are often accommodating to their busy students, offering various modes of enrollment such as part-time, full-time, evening, and online classes. With all of these different options available, it’s possible for students with the most hectic schedules to find the best trade school programs for their busy lives.

The prevalence of online trade school programs has made community college and vocational school credentials more accessible than ever before. Now, students who lack the time or resources to attend classes in person can still train for trade school jobs via distance education. Typically, all you’ll need to be successful in these programs is a strong Internet connection and a lot of self-discipline. Students looking to complete trade school programs online should know that some of these distance learning options are more flexible than others.

Generally speaking, there are two basic types of online trade school programs—asynchronous and synchronous programs. Asynchronous online programs for students studying for trade school careers are the more convenient options because they let students make their own schedules for the most part. With these programs, students can log into their virtual learning platforms any time of the day or night to view lectures and other course content. On the other hand, synchronous online trade school programs are more structured and require students to attend their online classes on a prescribed schedule. This format is less flexible, but it does allow students the chance to interact with classmates and instructors who are online simultaneously. To choose the content delivery model that’s right for you, it’s best to consider both your schedule and your learning preferences.

Trade school programs can be worthwhile endeavors for students, but it’s vital to go into them with as much knowledge and direction as possible. While it’s important to learn what these schools have to offer in terms of preparing students for various trade school careers, it’s arguably just as crucial to know what exactly you want to do after graduation. With the right combination of information and self-reflection, it’s possible to find the best trade school programs for your budget, schedule, and future goals.

Sources:

Bambi Majumdar
Author

Melissa Anderson
Expert

Julie McCaulley
Editor-in-Chief