5 Frequently Asked Questions About Trade Schools

Did you know that thousands upon thousands of students like you attend trade schools every year? It's true. Discover why trade schools are so popular by checking out the following questions and answers about the great opportunities they offer:


What is a trade school?

Also known as a career college, vocational school, or technical institute, this type of school provides an excellent alternative to a traditional four-year college or university. At its core, a trade or technical school is an educational institution that focuses on teaching marketable skills for particular careers. In contrast to many traditional colleges and universities, vocational schools offer streamlined training opportunities that often feature benefits like:

  • Less time between enrollment and graduation
  • Flexible class schedules, including evening and weekend classes
  • Personalized attention due to small class sizes
  • The chance to learn by doing through hands-on practice

Depending on the program you choose, you may also discover that a real-world externship is offered at a trade school you attend. Many trade schools maintain close connections with local employers seeking to hire new people who have job-ready skills. And nearly all trade schools offer access to career services so that their students and graduates have the opportunity to transition from school to career more easily. Those services frequently include help with things like:

  • Searching for jobs or internships
  • Crafting resumes and cover letters
  • Preparing for job interviews

So a trade school is often a terrific option for working adults, people with family commitments, or anyone who needs greater flexibility and convenience in their education. It's an option that provides the chance to learn in-demand skills for a specific career and enter the workforce more quickly than would otherwise be possible. Some trade schools even offer online programs so that students can learn at the places and times that best accommodate their lifestyles.

What kinds of programs can you take at a trade school?

You can go to a trade school for many different careers, including reliable vocations that are great for various types of people. Programs for almost all career sectors are available in trade schools throughout America. For example, there are trade schools for:

Some trade schools specialize in educating people for just one career sector (like health care). In contrast, others offer a mix of programs in multiple, often unrelated areas. Within each area, a trade school may offer a variety of programs for specific occupations. For example, a school with health care programs may offer opportunities to prepare for vocations like nursing, dental assisting, or medical office administration. Or a school with skilled trade programs may offer the chance to prepare for trades like HVAC technology, electrical work, or welding.

All kinds of trade schools are out there, from those that focus on one or two career categories to those that offer a much broader range of programs. But what they all tend to have in common is helping people like you develop in-demand skills for good vocations.

How long does it take to go to a trade school?

In most cases, it takes just two years or less to go to a trade school and graduate with a marketable credential. However, many trade schools offer the chance to earn more advanced credentials that take a little longer to obtain. But even then, the programs are often more streamlined than what you'll find at traditional colleges and universities. In fact, for the same types of programs, some trade schools make it possible to graduate sooner than you would be able to at traditional schools. Plus, unlike community colleges, private trade schools rarely have waitlists.

Here's how long it typically takes to earn various types of credentials at a trade school:

  • Continuing education certificate: As little as 2 weeks to 12 months
  • Pre-apprenticeship certificate: From about 3 months to slightly over a year
  • Career diploma or certificate: As little as 3 to 15 months
  • Associate degree: 18 months to 2 years
  • Bachelor's degree: About 3 to 4 years

In addition, some career colleges offer master's degree programs, which typically take an additional 18 to 24 months after you've earned a bachelor's degree.

How much does it cost to go to a trade school?

According to 2017-2018 figures from the Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center, it costs between $3,588 and $14,547 per year, on average, to go to a trade school for a two-year program. The cost varies depending on whether you attend a public school, private nonprofit school, or private for-profit school. Also, those numbers only represent tuition and fees. Depending on your program, you may have additional costs for books and supplies (though some trade schools include everything as part of the tuition).

Generally speaking, public trade schools are the least expensive option. However, they often have waitlists, and they aren't as abundantly available as private trade schools. Private schools also tend to offer greater convenience for busy adults. And their facilities are often more modern, with equipment that is more up to date.

Here's what the average yearly tuition and fees are for private post-secondary schools:

  • Less-than-2-year schools: $13,789 (for-profit) or $14,667 (nonprofit)
  • 2-year schools: $14,547 (for-profit) or $14,182 (nonprofit)
  • 4-year schools: $15,974 (for-profit) or $27,298 (nonprofit)

Keep in mind that you may not have to pay the full cost of attending a trade school. Most students qualify for some type of financial aid, making it possible to get their education even if they don't have much money. Many low-income students qualify for federal grants, which don't have to be repaid. Some students receive scholarships, which are essentially financial gifts. And the vast majority of students in America are eligible for federal student loans.

Nearly all trade schools have people on staff dedicated to helping students find and apply for financial aid.

Do you need a high school diploma to attend a trade school?

Not necessarily. It depends on the particular school you want to attend and the type of program you want to take. Having a high school diploma is certainly preferable to not having one. But you can also apply to almost any school if you have a GED. And some trade schools will enroll you without either of those credentials as long as you can pass a simple test of basic math and verbal skills.

If you don't have a high school diploma or GED, you may need to pass the Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) test to qualify for admission and/or financial aid. The ATB test simply ensures that you have the necessary skills for a college-level program.


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