What Kinds of Trade Schools Are There?
- Many lucrative trades train workers in less than one year.
- Trade schools offer specialized education in growing fields like HVAC, medicine, and IT.
- Trade schools often accept new students who have no prior experience.
- Learning a trade usually costs less than pursuing a bachelor's degree.
What is trade school? Trade schools train students in specific professions or trades. These institutions often provide learners with a less expensive, faster alternative to traditional college and can lead to well-paying careers. They also specialize in hands-on training that is unique to trade jobs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the prevalence of occupational licenses in fields such as law, healthcare, and education has increased significantly in the last 50 years. As of 2018, over 43 million workers held certifications or licenses.
However, the BLS reported a decrease in college enrollment in 2020, with 62.7% of recent high school graduates enrolled in college — a drop from 66.2% in 2019. About 16.5 million people ages 16-24 were not in school at all, representing 43.9% of all people in that age group.
Although this enrollment drop was heavily influenced by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of high school graduates don't go on to pursue a postsecondary education every year. However, individuals who don't enroll in college may be interested in trade school as a way to increase their earning potential without committing to a full degree program.
Unlike traditional higher education, trade schools often train people to enter the workforce in months rather than years. They can prepare students for careers in fields like welding, carpeting, HVAC, medicine, and criminal justice.
Keep reading to learn more about the different kinds of trade schools, how to enroll, and what you can learn.
What Are Trade Schools?
Trade schools provide specific training for skilled crafts. Students may enroll in trade school — sometimes called vocational school — immediately following high school or after gaining some work experience. Trade schools can be stand-alone institutions or housed within a community college.
People as young as 16 can begin trade school, as long as they meet a school's requirements. Programs at trade schools provide hands-on experience through labs and workplaces. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some trade schools now offer virtual labs as well.
Students can pursue many specialities. For example, trade school programs in welding can prepare students for jobs in automotive fabrication or construction. HVAC trade schools can offer students the specialized skills needed to work as apprentices under licensed HVAC technicians. Many programs prepare students for trade school jobs in 6-12 months.
Should I Enroll in a Trade School?
You don't need any experience in your target field to enroll in trade school. When picking a school, begin by finding a program that suits your career goals. Although some schools welcome junior- and senior-level high school students, trade school programs may require applicants to have a high school or GED diploma. These programs usually last 6-24 months.
Online or hybrid delivery formats provide flexible learning environments. These may be especially appealing to students who have other commitments, such as children or work.
Trade schools typically provide specific career training at lower costs than four-year colleges. According to the College Board, the average in-district tuition for two-year colleges, which may offer trade programs, was $3,770 annually in 2020-21. In contrast, the average yearly tuition for in-state students attending public four-year colleges was $10,560.
Trade jobs also are known for their stability. Even during challenging economic times, many trade school jobs, such as auto mechanic, electrician, and medical assistant, are usually needed.
Different Types of Trade Schools
Frequently Asked Questions About Trade Schools
Top-paying trade school jobs include HVAC technicians, electricians, and radiology technicians. According to the BLS, the top 10% of HVAC technicians earned more than $80,820 a year in May 2020. Additionally, the highest 10% of electricians and radiologic and MRI technicians took home more than $90,000 annually.
If you want to learn a specific skill in a relatively short period of time, a trade school can help you achieve that goal. Trade schools usually cost less to attend than four-year colleges and offer pathways to apprenticeships and externships as carpenters, HVAC technicians, food preparers, and massage therapists.
You can complete the CDL program and earn your license to drive a commercial vehicle in less than six months. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers earned a median annual salary of $47,130, as of May 2020. CDL license requirements vary by state.
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