Best Trade Schools in California

Would you like to pursue a fulfilling, well-paid career? California trade schools can prepare you for in-demand jobs in under a year. Learn more here.

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by Alison Plaut

Updated August 10, 2022

Edited by Madison Hoehn
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Best Trade Schools in California
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California has some of the highest-paid tradespeople in the nation, making it an attractive place to go to trade school. Highly skilled work with ongoing training can also be a fulfilling lifelong career. Many tradespeople love what they do.

Tradespeople like cosmetologists, medical assistants, and surgical assistants are in high demand. Some well-paid professionals like airline pilots, computer programmers, and animators also don't need a college degree.

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Trade schools offer the potential to start earning quickly and build savings after high school graduation. People choose to go to trade school in California to start a career with little-to-no debt. Trade schools can either be used as a stepping stone into other careers or as longterm professional training.

Trade Jobs and Salaries in California

Many trade jobs in California only require applicants to possess postsecondary nondegree education, such as a high school diploma or GED. In addition, California has some of the highest average salaries for trade professionals like hairdressers and medical assistants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects some trade jobs are projected to grow as much as 19% from 2020 to 2030.

Below are some of the highest-employed trade jobs in California:

Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers

  • Projected employment growth (2020-2030): 6%
  • Average annual salary in California (May 2021): $52,130
  • Heavy and tractor-trailer drivers can start working in as little as a month with much lower education costs than bachelor's degree graduates. Some companies offer tuition reimbursement so drivers can start working debt-free. Walmart also offers truck drivers significantly higher starting salaries than most organizations. Projected job growth is on par with the national average.

Hairdressers, Hair Stylists, and Cosmetologists

  • Projected employment growth (2020-2030): 19%
  • Average annual salary in California (May 2021): $38,790
  • Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists in California make some of the highest salaries among these professionals in the country. According to the BLS, the national median pay for these workers was $29,680 per year in May 2021. These professionals can start working sooner and with lower education costs than graduates with bachelor's degrees. Projected job growth from 2020-2030 is significantly higher than the national average.

Medical Assistants

  • Projected employment growth (2020-2030): 18%
  • Average annual salary in California (May 2021): $44,780
  • Medical assistants in California have the highest average salaries in the nation among these professionals. These workers can gain employment in diverse clinical settings with as little as a year of training. Starting trade school to become a medical assistant is a comparatively quick, low-cost way to enter the medical field.

Motorboat Operators

  • Projected employment growth (2020-2030): 12%
  • Average annual salary in California (May 2021): $55,970
  • Jobs for water transportation workers, including motorboat operators, are projected to grow faster than average between 2020 and 2030. The average annual salary for motorboat operators was comparable to starting salaries in many careers that require a bachelor's or higher degree in May 2021. On-the-job training may be available or can be completed in as little as six months.

Surgical Technologists

  • Projected employment growth (2020-2030): 9%
  • Average annual salary in California (May 2021): $68,410
  • Surgical technicians have the opportunity to assist in surgeries. Accredited surgical technician programs can be completed in as few as 12-24 months, much less time than it takes to earn a bachelor's degree or higher. In California, surgical technologists earned higher-than-average salaries last year. Pursuing this position can be a good entry point for people considering a medical degree.

Trade Schools in California

Many of the professionals we rely on in day-to-day life were trained at trade schools. Trade schools teach students specialized skills that translate directly to their professions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are nearly 400 community colleges and trade schools in the state. Trade school programs vary widely in length. You can complete a five-week training program to become a truck driver or a 15-month training program to become a surgical assistant.

Jobs that fall under the trade category include:

  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • Truck Driver
  • HVAC Specialist
  • Hairdresser
  • Esthetician
  • Surgical Assistant
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Medical Assistant
  • Motorboat Operator
  • Landscape Architect
  • Long-Haul Truck Driver
  • Massage Therapist
  • Pilot

California is an excellent place to work as a tradesperson. According to the BLS, California plumbers, for instance, were the highest paid in the country in May 2021. San Francisco is the top-paying metro area for electricians in the country. Medical assistants in California also have the highest average salaries in the country among these professionals.

Trade jobs are also in high demand. The BLS projects hairdresser and cosmetologist jobs to grow 19% between 2020 and 2030. Medical assistant, surgical assistant, and motorboat operator jobs are also expected to grow faster than the national average.

Average Cost of Trade School in California

How much does trade school cost? Average trade institution costs in California vary by program and school. For example, at CBD College in Los Angeles, the surgical technician program costs a total of $25,790. The dental and medical assistant programs cost about $15,500, and the pharmacy technician program costs roughly $12,400.

The tuition and fees for the cosmetology program at The Paul Mitchell School in San Diego total about $24,100. The Center for Employment Training charges about $14,500 for its HVAC and green technology technician program.

In contrast, the University of California system charges state residents about $13,100 per year, plus additional fees, which can total upwards of $35,000 annually. Compared to the cost of a bachelor's degree, trade school is relatively affordable.

Students can graduate from many trade school programs in just 12-20 months and start earning a salary sooner. Over time, a bachelor's degree may have a higher return on investment (ROI), but that depends on an individual student's career path, salary potential, and total debt. For many students, attending trade school provides an excellent ROI and a stable career.

Financial Aid for Trade Schools in California

For those in need of financial aid, there are several grants and scholarships for trade schools in California. Students may also qualify for student loans or deferred payment plans. Many of these scholarships have online applications. Application instructions can be found at the links below:

Scholarships for California Programs

Fulfilling Our Dreams Scholarship Program

Who qualifies for the scholarship: Students who have been accepted by or are enrolled in a degree program for nursing qualify. They must be a U.S. citizen who resides in or attends college in the Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, or Ventura counties of California.

Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.5, demonstrate financial need, and be willing to give back to the community. Students who meet these criteria are eligible, regardless of immigration status.

Apply for Scholarship

Deadline: May 1, 2022 Amount: $3,000

June Miller Nursing Education Scholarship

Who qualifies for the scholarship: Central American and Latino/a students who are San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Fernando Valley residents qualify.

Applicants must submit a personal statement, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and enrollment verification with their applications.

Apply for Scholarship

Deadline: May 1, 2022 Amount: $2,000

Imagine America Scholarships

Who qualifies for the scholarship: Students in California attending select trade schools qualify. These scholarships cover nearly every trade occupation.

Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.5 and demonstrate an ability to complete postsecondary education. Demonstrated financial need and a willingness to give back to the community are also required.

Apply for Scholarship

Deadline: December 31, 2022 Amount: Varies

Federal Grants for California Programs

Cal Grant Community College Entitlement Award

  • Who qualifies: Students enrolled at a California community college and who meet Cal Grant eligibility requirements qualify.
  • How much it covers: Award amount varies by grant type. It can be used to cover tuition and fees.
  • Deadline: September 2, 2022
  • Cal Grant eligibility requirements state that students must be residents of California for a minimum of a year, demonstrate financial need, and attend a qualifying California college. Cal Grant A requires students to possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 in high school or 2.4 in college. Cal Grant B requires learners to have a minimum GPA of 2.0 in high school or college and is only for low-income students.

Apply for Scholarship

Many trade schools offer flexible payment plans or financing. Check with your school about financial aid and payment options.

Accreditations in California

Trade schools can be accredited. Different trades are governed by different accrediting bodies. Be sure to check the accreditation requirements for your career path. The main accrediting body is the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges. In addition, the California Department of Industrials Relations has a list of approved trade schools.

Some programs, like CDL training to become a truck driver, do not possess accreditation. However, students still need to attend state-approved programs to be eligible for the exam.

For example, the California Certifying Board for Medical Assistants requires students to complete a program approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Bureau for Private and Postsecondary Education to be eligible for certification. In many trades, students might not be able to sit for the licensing exam if the program they completed wasn't accredited.

Apprenticeships in California

Apprenticeships and internships can be another path to learning a vocation. California offers apprenticeships in 40 trades. These include opportunities in HVAC, surveying, carpentry, and ironwork.

Generally, applicants must be 18 or older and able to perform the work of the trade. Some apprenticeship programs also require a high school diploma or GED certificate. There are also vocational high schools in California where students can learn a trade while earning a high school diploma.

Frequently Asked Questions About Technical Schools in California

How many trade schools are in California?

Trade schools, apprenticeships, and other training programs can all be considered when counting trade schools. For this reason, the exact number of trade schools in California depends on which institutions are included in the count.

There are over 80 trade schools listed with the California Department of Industrial Relations. According to NCES, there are about 400 1-2 year institutions in the state.

An apprenticeship is an alternative path that can allow you to enter many skilled trade professions without attending an official trade school. There are apprenticeship training programs in at least 40 vocations in California. Training for truck drivers occurs at driving schools that may not be listed as official "trade" institutions.

How do you get a scholarship in California?

There are many scholarships and grants for students in California. The Imagine America Foundation has scholarships available specifically for students attending trade schools in the state.

The California Student Aid Commission also offers a number of scholarship and financial aid options for students. This includes the Cal Grant in categories A, B, and C and scholarships for trade school students.

You may also find scholarships and grants offered by independent organizations. There are scholarships available for all levels of education, from trade school to graduate degree programs. UNIGO lists ten scholarships for students in California. The California State University system also lists more than 10 scholarships for students. California learners can also apply for national scholarships and specialized financial aid.

What is the hardest trade to learn?

The most difficult trade to learn depends on a student's skills, strengths, and schedule. Roofing is considered the most physically demanding trade. Other trades professionals must complete focused study for at least a year, including medical assistants, surgical assistants, and pharmacy technicians.

Other trades professionals who must complete set hours of training include:

  • HVAC technicians
  • Electricians
  • Wind turbine technicians
  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Elevator mechanics

Some professions don't require workers to earn a formal degree but require more extensive training and certification. These professionals include:

  • Commercial airline pilots
  • Computer programmers
  • Detective or criminal investigators
  • Web developers or web designers
  • Sound engineering technicians
  • Animators

What do trade schools offer?

Trade schools allow students to gain specialized training and start stable careers more quickly than four-year college degree programs. Trade schools almost always charge less in tuition and fees than traditional colleges and universities. Students can complete most trade school programs within 1-2 years.

In many trades, there are opportunities for further learning to stay competitive in the field. For people who enjoy being active, working outdoors, or working with their hands, trade school can be a worthwhile path to a fulfilling career.

Trade schools can also open doors for those who wish to become medical or surgical assistants, pharmacy technicians, hairdressers, cosmetologists, boat captains, airline pilots, carpenters, plumbers, or electricians.

Best California Trade Schools

Each program on the list will meet our criteria, being:

Independent Training & Apprenticeship Program

  • Private, for-profit
  • Independent Training & Apprenticeship Program
  • Cost: $21,990
  • Location: Sacramento, California
  • Application requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Graduation requirements: Students must complete 720 hours of instruction and pass California's certification exam. Apprenticeship programs involve 160 hours of classroom instruction per year, with 3-5 years of apprenticeship.
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • About the program: This training program prepares all types of electricians with practical on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and classroom instruction. The institution has a graduation rate of 94%.

San Francisco Institute of Esthetics & Cosmetology Inc

  • Private, for-profit
  • San Francisco Institute of Esthetics & Cosmetology Inc.
  • Cost: $18,110
  • Location: San Francisco, California
  • Application requirements: High school diploma or equivalent. Applicants are encouraged to take a tour.
  • Graduation requirements: Students must complete 1,000 hours for cosmetology or barbering; 600 hours for esthetics; and 400 hours for nail technology.
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences
  • About the program: This program partners with Paul Mitchell to offer four professional tracks. The school has a graduation rate of 91%.

Los Angeles College of Aesthetics

  • Private, for-profit
  • Los Angeles College of Aesthetics
  • Cost: $16,160
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Application requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate. In case of no high school diploma, applicants must be 18 years old and pass the Ability to Benefit exam.
  • Graduation requirements: Students must complete 1,600 hours (48 weeks) for cosmetology; 25 weeks for esthetician or teacher trainee; 24 weeks for massage therapy; 15 weeks for nail technician; and 57 weeks for barbering.
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences
  • About the program: The school offers six professional paths: cosmetology, esthetician, massage therapy, barbering, nail technician, and teacher trainee. The program has an 87% graduation rate.

Brownson Technical School

  • Private, for-profit
  • Brownson Technical School
  • Cost: $29,520
  • Location: Anaheim, California
  • Application requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate
  • Graduation requirements: Students must possess an overall grade of 70% or more plus 90% attendance. Students must also fulfill all financial obligations to the school and complete all requirements within 1.5 times the normal time or less.
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • About the program: Offers vocational technician training in heating, air conditioning, ventilation and refrigeration, and maintenance technology. The school has an 87% graduation rate.

Lyle's College of Beauty

  • Private, for-profit
  • Lyle's College of Beauty
  • Cost: $15,280
  • Location: Bakersfield, California
  • Application requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate
  • Graduation requirements: Students must complete 1,600 hours for cosmetology; 600 hours for esthetician; and 400 hours for manicuring.
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences
  • About the program: Lyle's College of Beauty has offered cosmetology, manicuring, and esthetics courses for more than 43 years. The school has an 83% graduation rate.

My Beauty & Barber College

  • Private, for-profit
  • My Beauty & Barber College
  • Cost: $17,700
  • Location: Sacramento, California
  • Application requirements: Contact the school for more information.
  • Graduation requirements: Students complete 1,000 hours for the cosmetology and barbering programs, usually within seven months and two weeks.
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences
  • About the program: The school offers four professional tracks: cosmetology, barbering, esthetician, and manicuring. The school has an 83% graduation rate.

Paul Mitchell the School, San Diego

  • Private, for-profit
  • Paul Mitchell the School-San Diego
  • Cost: $19,440
  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Application requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Graduation requirements: Students must complete 1,000 hours for cosmetology; 1,000 hours for barbering; 600 hours for esthetician; and 245 hours for makeup.
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences
  • About the program: The school offers four tracks for professionals: cosmetology, barbering, esthetics, and makeup. Students can also combine programs to earn more than one certification. The school has an 81% graduation rate.

International College of Beauty Arts & Sciences

  • Private, for-profit
  • International College of Beauty Arts & Sciences
  • Cost: $21,340
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Application requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate required.
  • Graduation requirements: Students complete 1,600 hours for cosmetology; 1,500 hours for barbering; 600 hours for manicuring; or 600 hours for esthetics.
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences
  • About the program: The school offers hybrid format courses with four tracks: esthetics, cosmetology, barbering, and manicuring. The school has an 81% graduation rate.

MIXED Institute of Cosmetology & Barber

  • Private, for-profit
  • MIXED Institute of Cosmetology & Barber homepage
  • Cost: $16,960
  • Location: Sacramento, California
  • Application requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate. Applicants must also submit a photo ID, social security card, or birth certificate.
  • Graduation requirements: Students complete 1,600 hours for cosmetology; 1,500 hours for barbering; or 400 hours for salon services.
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences
  • About the program: With three tracks, this program offers practical training in salon services, barbering, and cosmetology. The institution has an 80% graduation rate.

Federico Beauty Institute

  • Private, for-profit
  • Federico Beauty Institute
  • Cost: $17,590
  • Location: Sacramento, California
  • Admission requirements: Prospective students need to meet with an admissions representative and tour the facility. A passing score on a timed 50-question aptitude test is required for admission.
  • Graduation requirements: Students can choose between 1,000-hour cosmetology and barber courses or a five-month esthetics course.
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences
  • About the program: The school offers hands-on cosmetology, barber, and esthetician training and certification in cosmetology. The school's graduation rate is 80%.

Other Notable California Trade Schools

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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