How Much Does Trade School Cost?

Trade school costs about $17,600 on average, but prices vary depending on school type and trade.
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and data writer for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evaluati...
Published on June 2, 2023
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Data Summary

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    The average annual net cost for trade school is around $17,600.[1]
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    Net cost is what students pay after grants, scholarships, or in-district discounts.
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    Trade schools' annual net costs range from $12,000-$20,000, depending on the school type.Note Reference [1]
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    The annual net cost for electrician, medical assistant, and auto technician trade schools average of roughly $17,000-$22,000.Note Reference [1]
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    Motorcycle mechanic, veterinary technician, and truck driver trade schools cost an average of roughly $5,000-$13,000.Note Reference [1]
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    Workers with a trade certificate earned a median annual salary of $44,400 as of 2021.[2] That's $6,100 a year more than the median salary for workers with just a high school diploma.

Trade careers are diverse, spanning the construction, healthcare, and technological industries. They can be highly satisfying and financially rewarding. Plus, you don't need a four-year degree to start working and earning money.

This report covers the average price tag for the non-degree credential you'll need to land a trade job. It also explains some of the expenses you might not have accounted for.

How Much Do Trade Schools Cost?

The average annual cost of trade school is around $17,600.Note Reference [1] That's according to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) record of schools' net price — the price students pay after grants and scholarships.

For comparison, the average net price of a four-year degree is $14,080 per year, or over $56,000 for four years.[3] Trade certificate programs can take less than a year to complete or up to two years.

Trade School Cost by School Type

You can complete your trades training and education at different types of schools, which vary in cost.

  • For-Profit Trade Schools — $20,030: Most trade certificate programs are run through private, for-profit trade schools and technical institutes. But these schools aren't always the most cost-effective option.
  • Nonprofit Trade Schools — $16,500: Nonprofit training centers, career colleges, and hospitals may provide trade certificate programs at a fraction of the cost of for-profit trade schools.
  • Public Trade Schools and Community Colleges — $12,200: Public technical colleges, vocational schools, and community colleges may offer the most affordable trade certificate programs. Community colleges also offer associate degree programs, which may help you more quickly land higher-paying careers in some trades.

Behind the Numbers

To find the average cost of trade school, we analyzed data from the NCES College Navigator database.

Specifically, we found the average annual net tuition costs of schools offering under-two-year certificates in the following program categories:

  • Communications technologies/technicians and support services
  • Computer information sciences
  • Construction trades
  • Engineering technologies/technicians
  • Health professions (including nursing)
  • Legal professions
  • Mechanic and repair technologies/technicians
  • Natural resources and conservation
  • Precision production (including metalwork, woodwork, boiler making, and more)
  • Science technologies/technicians
  • Transportation and materials moving

Next, we organized these schools by their largest program. We used this information to report on trade school cost by program, below.

Trade School Cost by Career Paths

The average cost of trade school differs for different career paths.Note Reference [1]

  • Electrician trade school costs an average of about $17,200.
  • The average automotive technology or technician certificate program costs about $22,300.
  • On average, trade certificates to become a nurse assistant, commercial vehicle driver, veterinary technician, or motorcycle repair technician cost less than $15,000.

Did you know…

You might not need to attend a trade school to start working in a skilled trade.

Many people train for jobs in plumbing, construction, automotive repair, welding, and other fields through apprenticeships. Apprenticeships allow you to earn while you learn.

Typically, apprentices work under supervision to learn the skills they need. After work hours, they attend classes to strengthen the skills they're developing.

Costs Beyond Tuition

If you're considering going to trade school, remember that you'll have other costs in addition to tuition. These costs can make a difference in your budget.

Books and Supplies: $1,500

Like a degree-granting program, the classes you take in trade school may require textbooks, technology, and other classroom supplies. Trades programs may also include costs for tools or equipment you need for class.

According to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, in 2018-2019, the average non-degree granting program estimated that books and supplies cost students $1,518.[4]

Housing: $8,000-$18,000

Very few trade and technical colleges offer on-campus housing. Among those that did in 2018-2019, the average cost of room and board was about $8,690.Note Reference [4]

That could be lower than average rent prices. According to ApartmentList March 2023 state-level rent estimates, renting an apartment in the U.S. costs $1,000-$1,500 a month on average, or $12,000-$18,000 a year.[5]

Apprenticeships: Varies

Your state might require you to complete an apprenticeship to work in some trades — even if you attend trade school.

You might be thinking, Wait, I thought apprenticeships were supposed to pay me. That's right, but you still may have some costs to cover, such as:

  • Basic tools for your apprenticeship, like a screwdriver and plier set for mechanical work
  • Apprenticeship license fees, which apply in some states
  • Union dues

Opportunity Cost: 9-18 Months of Lost Salary

If you're attending trade school full time, you're not working full time. So technically, you're missing out on earnings in the short term. However, there could be a payoff in store for the long term.

Trade School Return on Investment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers with just a high school diploma made a median salary of roughly $38,300 in 2021. Workers with a postsecondary non-degree award, like a trade certificate, earned a median salary of $44,400.Note Reference [2] That's an extra $6,100 a year.

It's also important to consider job growth and average salaries in your prospective trade.

Projected Job Growth for Popular Career Paths in the Trades
Career Path Projected Job Growth 2021-2031
Medical Assistant 16%
Dental Assistant 8%
Electrician 7%
All Occupations 5%
HVAC Mechanics and Installers 5%
Truck and Bus Driver 4%
Auto Technician 1%
Source: BLSNote Reference [6]

Beyond the salary numbers, a career in trades can be rewarding and entrepreneurial. In 2021, Angi's Skilled Trades in America report showed:[7]

  • 83% of tradespeople in home and construction trades reported being somewhat or very satisfied with their career.
  • Their top driver of job satisfaction was finding meaning and value in their work.
  • 50% of home and construction tradespeople were business owners or entrepreneurs.

How Does Trade School ROI Compare to a Bachelor's Degree?

That depends. In general, more education corresponds with higher pay for entry-level positions.Note Reference [2] Why? Because having a degree may qualify you for more and higher-paying jobs. Plus, a recent Workday report found that workers with bachelor's degrees earned 15% more than non-degree workers in the same jobs.

However, bachelor's degrees also come at a higher price, requiring many students to take on student loan debt. And some jobs just don't require a four-year degree.

Bottom line: If your goal is to make the most money with the least debt, consider earning a lower-cost, high-value bachelor's degree. But if you want to pursue a trade because it's the career path and lifestyle you want, you probably won't need a bachelor's degree. So why spend the money?