What Is a Vocational School? And What Does It Offer?
A vocational school is any educational institution that is specifically geared toward helping students get employment-ready skills and knowledge for particular occupations. Vocational schools are also known by other terms. For example, a technical or vocational school is generally the same thing as a trade school or career college; the terms are usually interchangeable.
So a vocational program is any course of study or practical training offered by a trade school, technical institute, or vocational college that is designed to lead directly to career opportunities in a particular field. Traditionally, vocational programs focused on areas like construction, manufacturing, automotive service, or cosmetology, but today's vocational schools offer a much wider range of training options, as you can see from the extensive list of programs above.
At a trade school, you learn a combination of hands-on skills and theoretical knowledge directly related to the occupation you want to have. Depending on your intended vocation, you'll learn a range of very specific techniques using industry-relevant equipment in facilities that simulate real-world work settings. You'll also learn about any legal regulations or requirements that apply to your field. You may even get to practice your skills in an actual work setting as part of an included internship or externship.
Another defining characteristic of many vocational colleges and trade schools is the attention paid to the reality of students' everyday lives and diverse backgrounds. For example, unlike a lot of traditional academic institutions, career-driven schools tend to incorporate features like:
- Courses offered in the evening, on weekends, or even online
- Campuses that are more accessible and closer to where students live or work
- Easier admission processes
- Smaller class sizes
- Shorter, more streamlined programs
- Personalized, hands-on instruction in well-equipped training facilities that simulate real-world work settings
- Externships with actual employers
- Job search assistance
Simply put, vocational schools can often be defined by how they approach training busy adults who want to enter fast-growing industries in the quickest and most pragmatic way possible.
And there are clear advantages to a vocational education. Research has shown that post-secondary students who earn degrees in vocational fields of study are more likely to be employed full-time six years after beginning their education. In fact, one study showed that 85 percent of former students who earned a technical or career-based associate's degree had full-time jobs compared to only 73.3 percent of those who earned a more general academic one. And the percentage was also higher for students who attained a career-focused bachelor's degree (88.3 percent vs. 82.6 percent).1
As you can see, there are definite benefits to receiving vocational training: You can choose from more vocations than you might expect. You may have better employment outcomes. And you'll learn in a way that targets your real-world needs. (Check out this article about the value of vocational education to discover even more advantages.) So if you are already thinking, "I'm ready to find colleges near me," then you're ahead of the game. You just need to find the right program from among many possible colleges, universities, and trade schools. Programs that fit your aspirations might be offered at a school near you.
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Now that you know what a vocational (or technical or trade) school is and what you can learn from one, take this opportunity to discover convenient career-focused programs that are available in your area. Just enter your current zip code to get started!
1 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, website last visited on May 15, 2019.