5 Frequently Asked Questions About Trade Schools
Millions of potential students like you attend trade schools every year. Learn about trade schools and why people are increasingly choosing career training programs over a four-year college degree below.
- What is a trade school?
- What kinds of programs can you take at a trade school?
- How long does it take to go to a trade school?
- How much does it cost to go to a trade school?
- Do you need a high school diploma to attend a trade school?
What is a trade school?
"Trade school" can also be known as any combination of the terms trade/vocational/career/technical and school/college/institute. Fundamentally, a trade or technical school is an educational institution that focuses on teaching marketable skills for particular careers. Trade schools are excellent alternatives to traditional colleges or universities and offer streamlined training opportunities and 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 training
Depending on your program, you may also discover that a real-world externship is offered at a trade school near you. These types of technical colleges often maintain close connections with local employers seeking to hire new people with job-ready skills. And nearly all 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
Trade school is a terrific option for working adults, people with family commitments, or anyone who needs greater flexibility and convenience in their education. It provides the chance to learn in-demand skills for a specific career and to enter the workforce more quickly than would be possible without the practical, hands-on experience you get with specialized training focused on a single career path.
Online programs are often available, so students can learn or take additional training 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 a variety of careers, including reliable vocations that are great for various kinds of people. Trade school programs exist across America and in almost all career sectors, including:
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, respiratory therapy, 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. These types of vocational and technical schools may be more specialized and focus on one or two career categories, or they may offer a wide variety of programs. But what they all tend to have in common is helping people like you develop the skills you need to fulfill the job duties of a good vocation.
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 four-year 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
Some career colleges also 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 non-profit 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 schools include everything as part of the tuition).
Public trade schools are typically 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 consistent with modern industry standards, with equipment and tools that are 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 (non-profit)
- 2-year schools: $14,547 (for-profit) or $14,182 (non-profit)
- 4-year schools: $15,974 (for-profit) or $27,298 (non-profit)
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 vocational 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 school you want to attend and the 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 will enroll you without either of those credentials if you can pass a simple test of basic math and verbal skills.
You may need to pass the Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) test to qualify for admission or financial aid if you don't have a high school diploma or GED. The ATB test ensures that you have the necessary technical skills for a college-level program.
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