First-Generation Students’ Guide to Trade School

Interested in trade school but not sure where to start? What every first-generation student needs to know about trade school programs.

portrait of Kim-Ling Sun
by Kim-Ling Sun

Published on February 14, 2022 · Updated on May 13, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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First-Generation Students’ Guide to Trade School

Trying to decide what to do after earning your high school or GED diploma? Are you the first one in your family considering postsecondary education? Are you looking into trade schools?

First-generation students are described as being from families without a college-going tradition. Or neither of their parents has a college degree. So these students often have minimal exposure to navigating the world of career or postsecondary education in the United States.

Maybe you don't know anyone who attended trade school and want to learn more.

This guide can give you an overview of what to expect when thinking about pursuing a path to trade school.

What Is a Trade School?

Trade schools — also called vocational schools and technical schools — prepare students to enter the workplace. They focus on job-specific training and skills.

Trade school careers include electrician, plumber, web developer, welder, paralegal, and auto or aviation mechanic, among many others. Trade school programs are offered in many different industries.

Trade school differs from a traditional four-year college and university in several ways.

First, the average total cost of a trade school program is $33,000. Depending on the program, many cost less. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average full-time undergraduate costs — including tuition, room, and board — at a four-year institution is around $28,780. And that is for one year.

Also, a trade school education can get you into the workforce sooner. Students can typically earn trade school certificates and diplomas in as little as three months to two years.

Trade school also can give students a quicker path to a steady paycheck. According to Payscale, those with a technical or trade school education reported earning an average base salary of $53,000 a year, as of January 2022.

With earlier access to a salary and job, many prospective students may choose the trade school path. They may decide the benefits — job-specific training and a quicker path to the workforce — outweigh the time and cost incurred when pursuing a four-year degree.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Trade School

Can You Get Financial Aid for Trade Schools?

Students who decide to go to trade school are eligible for financial aid, including the federal Pell Grant. Grants do not need to be repaid. To start the process, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility.

Skilled Trades Are in High Demand

Those in many skilled trades occupations are in high demand.

With a rising number of people staying at and working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have focused on improving this space. They have decided to redesign their homes or even build new homes. Skilled workers will be needed for these projects.

Also, during the "Great Resignation," many people are leaving their jobs and seeking more fulfilling work. However, job satisfaction remains high for those in skilled trades. According to a report, 83% of these workers are moderately to extremely satisfied within their industry.

There is also high demand for the younger generation of skilled tradespeople.The current average age for skilled trades workers is the mid-40s, and many are closer to retirement.

Given these facts, the need for skilled trades workers will be in even higher demand in the coming years. This could give younger generations an opportunity to start their own businesses and become successful entrepreneurs.


First-generation students have many options and resources when it comes to continuing their education. Although many high school graduates focus on attending a four-year college or university, some may be wise to take a second look at the extensive options trade schools can provide.

The training that trade schools offer is often in high demand, offering graduates a path to a career. Some may even decide to use this training and start a business in a market ripe for entrepreneurship.

Frequently Asked Questions About Trade School

true What are the best trade school jobs?

Currently, the best jobs for trade school graduates include plumber, air-conditioning technician, electrician, paralegal, and pharmacy technician. They are in high demand and have promising earning potential. Trade schools offer training in a variety of fields.

true Are trade schools accredited?

Trade schools can have accreditation. Attending an accredited trade school allows students to apply for federal financial aid and can be helpful when you search for a job.

true Are you first-generation if your sibling went to trade school or college?

A person is a first-generation student if their parents did not attend trade school or a four-year college.

Feature Image: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

Trade schools can be a direct route to job stability, high salary potential, and personal fulfillment in your career. Learn more about the importance of trades in today's economy. Check out these five tips for first-generation college students. Learn how to improve your chances of success in college. Learn about the benefits of attending trade school. Decide if this pathway works for you and your career goals. 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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