Trade School vs. Technical College
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- The demand for trade school has been driven by a labor shortage for skilled workers.
- Trade schools and technical colleges focus on preparing students to land entry-level jobs.
- Students at technical colleges can earn transferable credits, while students at trade schools usually don't.
Following a slump in the 1980s and 1990s, vocational education has taken off in the 21st century, rising from about 9.6 million students in 1999 to around 16 million in 2014. The increased demand for trade school has been driven by a labor shortage for skilled workers.
If you think a four-year college may not be for you, a trade school or technical college could be an appealing alternative. These schools help prepare students for many in-demand jobs, including electrician, construction worker, carpenter, plumber, and roofer.
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In this guide, you can compare trade schools vs. technical colleges and determine which path might be right for you.
What Is a Trade School?
A trade school is a postsecondary institution that provides hands-on training to prepare students for a specific job in the skilled trades. Many community colleges offer trade school programs — sometimes referred to as vocational education programs — as do private tech schools and institutes.
Trade school programs focus on job training. Students do not study academic subjects unrelated to the job they're training for. For instance, a carpentry student will most likely learn about measuring materials, blueprint reading, and project management instead of psychology and sociology.
Some common trade school jobs include:
- Childcare worker
- Dental assistant
- Legal assistant
- Nursing assistant
- Veterinarian assistant
Pros and Cons of Trade School
Trade schools may not be for everyone. Consider the pros and cons of trade school before deciding if this is the right path for you.
- They teach the skills needed for a specific entry-level career.
- They may offer night classes or other options for those who need to work while attending school.
- Trade schools often have small class sizes.
- Trade schools prepare students for jobs where the demand is high.
- Depending on the school you choose, the cost may be less than the cost of a college degree.
- You will be able to start your career much faster than the typical college student. Most trade school programs take less than two years to complete.
- You can increase your earning potential.
- Depending on the program, the cost can be high.
- There is no guarantee that you will land the job you trained for.
- Your trade school program may not award credits that can be transferred to another program if you change your mind about what you want to study.
- Depending on when the school offers classes, you may not be able to work while attending a trade school.
What Is a Technical College?
A technical college is a college that focuses on preparing students for a career. Technical college programs typically contain fewer general education credits than a typical community college associate degree program.
Technical colleges offer one-year certificate and two-year associate degree programs in a variety of areas. Some may also offer bachelor's degrees. If you decide later that you want to go back to school to earn a bachelor's degree, some of your credits may be transferable.
Common programs available at technical colleges include:
- Automotive maintenance technology
- Computer programming
- Dental hygiene
- Diesel technology
- Graphic design
- Heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration technology
- Information technology
Pros and Cons of Technical College
There are many things to consider when deciding whether a technical college is right for you. Here are some potential pros and cons of technical college:
- Most technical college programs take less time to complete than a bachelor's degree.
- Because the programs are shorter in duration, they tend to cost less than a four-year degree.
- Technical colleges focus more on career skills than on general education requirements.
- You can earn an associate degree.
- Your credits may transfer if you decide to continue your education.
- You can earn a good living after graduating from a technical college.
- Even though they are typically less expensive than a bachelor's degree, technical colleges can still be expensive.
- As with attending a trade school, there is no employment guarantee.
- You may not be able to work while attending a technical college.
Trade School vs. Technical College
Both trade schools and technical colleges focus on providing the skills students need to land an entry-level job in their chosen field. General education requirements are either nonexistent or minimal.
There are two major differences between a trade school and a technical college. The first is the career choices available to graduates. For example, if you want to be a cosmetologist or a welder, you might consider a trade school — these programs are not typically offered by technical colleges. Often, the choice between trade school or technical college will be determined by your career choice.
The other significant difference is that technical colleges typically award transferable credits, whereas trade schools do not. If you think you might want to go back to school later to earn a bachelor's degree, you might be better off attending a technical college and earning an associate degree.
Frequently Asked Questions About Trade Schools and Technical Colleges
Is it better to go to trade school or four-year college?
There are many things to consider when choosing between a trade school or a four-year college. One of the biggest considerations is your career choice. If you want to be a childcare worker, a trade school might be a good fit. However, if you want to get into nursing, you have more options. You could attend a trade school to become a certified nursing assistant, attend a technical college to become a licensed practical nurse, or attend a four-year college to earn your bachelor's degree and become a registered nurse. All of these paths will get you into nursing. However, you should consider the time they take and the income you are likely to generate in order to make the right choice.
Are technical schools considered a college?
Yes, technical schools that offer associate degrees are considered colleges. You can train for a variety of careers and earn college credits while doing so. If you decide later that you would like to get your bachelor's degree, some of the credits from technical school may transfer toward your bachelor's program. This could allow you to get your bachelor's degree in less than four years. If you think you might want to go back to school later, check to make sure that your technical college is regionally accredited. This will increase the chances that your credits will transfer.
Is technical college worth it?
A certificate or associate degree from a technical college can lead to a well-paying job. Technical college graduates can work as paralegals, dental hygienists, or electricians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salaries for these jobs ranged from $52,920-$77,090 per year in May 2020. To determine whether a program is worth it, you can consider the cost of the program, the time commitment, and the salary you expect to earn after completing the program. Think about how much time it will take to earn back your investment. Also, consider how much income you will lose if you're unable to work while earning your degree or certificate.
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