The Pros and Cons of Trade School

portrait of Liz Simmons
by Liz Simmons
Published on November 10, 2021

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Students who do not want to attend a traditional four-year college can attend trade school. Vocational school is often a faster, more affordable way to prepare for a well-paying career. Trade school programs allow learners to focus completely on their chosen field and develop career-relevant knowledge and skills.

Trade school jobs include occupations in many fields and industries. Some of the best-paying trade school positions include radiation therapist, elevator installer and repairer, web developer, and dental hygienist. Students who want to pursue non-trade careers may find that vocational school is not the right fit for them.

This guide discusses the pros and cons of trade school to help prospective students decide if this is the right path, or if they should consider traditional college instead.

Pros of Trade School

Hands-On Training

Trade school offers hands-on training and professional development, which prepare learners for entry-level jobs in their fields. Students learn by doing and can often begin their careers without extensive on-the-job training. Some trade school programs include internships or apprenticeships as part of the curriculum.

Applicable Skills

Trade school programs focus on career-relevant skills and training. Unlike a traditional college curriculum, a vocational school curriculum does not contain general education courses. Instead, students complete coursework solely in their fields of study. They graduate ready for a specific occupation.

Faster Education

A major benefit of trade school is that students can typically complete their education in two years or less — much less time than it takes to earn a college degree. Trade schools offer short-term, experiential education that prepares learners for entry-level positions or apprenticeships immediately after graduation.

Smaller Class Sizes

Trade school programs often offer smaller class sizes than traditional university programs, which means more one-on-one instruction from teachers. Students usually only take classes and complete training with others pursuing the same credential. This can help students build tight-knit communities and access networking opportunities within the school.

Reliable Job Industry

Trade school offers training for specialized, in-demand careers with greater job stability. Many trade school fields, like plumbing and HVAC, resist fluctuations in the economy that impact most industries. Even in the most challenging times, many trade jobs remain necessary, making them highly desirable.

Cons of Trade School

Limited Career Growth

Although trade school jobs can pay well, workers may face limited options for career growth. Managerial or supervisory jobs often require a college degree, so advancing in a trade career can prove to be difficult.

Also, because trade school prepares students for a specific occupation, it can limit a worker's future job opportunities. Trade school graduates may find it difficult to translate their skills from one industry to another.

On the other hand, a traditional college degree offers students a broader education and helps them develop transferable skills that can qualify them for many types of careers.

Limited School Options

There are countless four-year universities across the U.S. However, specialized training programs at vocational schools can be hard to find. You may need to relocate to study at a technical school offering the specific program you are interested in.

Limited Financial Aid Options

Limited financial aid options can pose another challenge for students considering trade school. Traditional college students receive access to grants, scholarships, federal student loans, and other financial aid programs to help them pay for school. Trade school students often have fewer financing opportunities.

Class Competition

When groups of trade school students graduate together, they may find it difficult to land jobs or apprenticeships in their area. Too many graduates in the same field can saturate the local market and cause high competition for entry-level jobs. Research the projected job growth rate for potential careers in your area before choosing a trade school program.

Rigorous Schedule

The accelerated pace of trade school allows learners to graduate and qualify for jobs quickly. However, this demanding schedule may not leave students with much free time while in school. Some trade school programs run year-round with few scheduled breaks. The ability to enter the workforce quickly may outweigh this downside to trade school.

Are Trade Schools Worth It?

The answer to this question depends on your career goals, budget, and personal circumstances. As described above, there are both pros and cons of trade school.

Trade school can provide a cost-effective route to an in-demand, well-paying career. However, potential job and salary opportunities vary significantly depending on what type of trade school program you choose. Other factors that influence the types of trade school jobs available include industry, employer, geographic location, and level of previous experience.

Consider the cost and length of prospective trade school programs, and balance that with your projected salary after graduation. Are there opportunities for career growth after completing this program? If you need to borrow money to pay for your education, where will you get it, and how long will it take you to pay back?

Trade school may present some downsides, like limited school and financial aid options. In the end, trade school programs offer many benefits to people seeking a skilled career that does not require a degree.

Do not forget to consider the intangible benefits of trade school, including learning new skills and having a built-in network for professional development. For many students, trade school is well worth it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Trade School

Is trade school better than four-year college?

The answer to this question depends on your career goals, personal preferences, and circumstances. There are pros and cons to both trade school and college because they offer different types of education.

Trade school can offer an alternative educational path for students seeking skilled careers in industries like healthcare, maintenance and repair, and information technology. Trade school programs provide hands-on training and career-relevant courses. Students often complete trade school programs more quickly and with less debt than their peers in four-year degree programs.

However, a traditional university program makes more sense for some students, particularly those pursuing careers that require a four-year degree. Weigh the benefits and drawbacks of trade school versus college before making your choice.

What are the admission requirements for trade school?

Requirements for trade school applications vary, but they are usually much less strict than college admissions criteria. Trade schools usually do not require a minimum GPA, standardized test scores, or prerequisite education.

Trade schools often require applicants to possess a high school diploma or GED certificate, but some institutions accept applicants who have not completed a high school education. Prospective trade school students typically fill out an application form and submit a small fee.

Some trade school programs require applicants to complete an entrance test or interview. In some cases, applicants also need prior relevant experience.

Trade school can train you for a variety of in-demand careers. Read on to learn how to choose a trade school. Trade school can offer a cheaper, faster alternative to traditional college. See what you can learn in trade school and what degrees you can earn. Learn about the benefits of attending trade school. Decide if this pathway works for you and your career goals.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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