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Trade School Financial Aid Options From FAFSA®  to Loans

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By Jill Caren
Updated November 28th, 2023
piggy bank on financial aid form

Trade school can be a big investment. Some programs may be a couple of thousand dollars, while others may be $20,000 or more. But, there are several trade school financial aid options that can help with the burden.

Financial aid can cover your tuition, housing, and program fees. What is covered will depend on the aid you receive, school you attend, and program you enroll in. This article will offer options for getting money to attend trade school. This includes loans, grants, scholarships, and employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement programs.

trade school financial aid form with piggy bank on top

What Is FAFSA and Can It Be Used for Trade School?

Yes, FAFSA can be used for vocational and trade school education.

FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is usually more common among college students, but FAFSA can also be used for trade school. But, not all schools are part of the program. You will need to verify with the school you are most interested in to verify their participation.

Schools that are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges are typical participating schools. Once you find out that the school does participate, then you can begin the application process.

Some of the additional financial opportunities below do require the submission of a FAFSA application.

Trade School Financial Aid Options

Before you even consider attending a trade school, you should know the trade school requirements as well as the costs to attend the school of your choice. It is important to speak to a financial counselor at the school who can help you confirm which options or opportunities might be available to you to offset the financial responsibility.

Obtaining financial aid for trade school is not as straightforward as it is for a college or university degree. Below, we look at the options available to secure financial assistance so you can attend trade school.

Federal Student Loans

A federal student loan is a loan the federal government issues to students who are in financial need. If you take out a federal student loan to cover your trade school costs, you have to pay it back with interest.

Two types of federal student loans are available:

Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. To qualify for the former, you have to demonstrate financial need, but the interest rate is relatively low. Direct Unsubsidized Loans’ interest rates are higher, but you don’t have to demonstrate financial need to qualify.

The federal government offers student loans at fixed interest rates for the loan’s life, and you can opt for an income-driven repayment plan. With this plan, a set percentage of your income will go towards repaying your student loan. The repayment period for a federal student loan starts six months after graduation.

To apply for a federal student loan, you must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, providing your financial and federal tax information.

Private Student Loans

A private student loan is a loan from a private lender, such as a credit union or bank. The application process for a private student loan depends on the lender’s policy, but most institutions allow applicants to apply online.

A private student loan doesn’t fall under federal financial aid, and you don’t have to complete a FAFSA form to apply. However, you should only apply for a private loan if you know how much you need to borrow to cover your education expenses.

Generally, private student loans don’t offer the same benefits as federal student loans. For example, the interest rates of private loans are higher than those of federal loans. The repayment period for private loans typically also starts immediately after graduation with no six-month grace period.

On the upside, a private loan allows you to cover a wide range of costs in addition to tuition fees, including accommodation, books, and living expenses.

Federal Grants

A federal grant is a gift aid from the federal government, and it differs from a student loan in that you don’t have to repay the funds. To apply for a federal grant, you have to complete and submit a FAFSA form and provide your and your parents’ financial and tax information.

Various types of federal grants are available as financial aid for trade schools. Federal Pell Grants have a maximum amount of $6,195 and cover up to six academic tears of funding. According to the federal government, this grant is available to students in exceptional financial need who take part in programs leading to undergraduate qualifications.

A Federal Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is financial aid available to students whose parents or guardians died due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan. If you didn’t qualify for the Federal Pell Grant because of your expected family contribution but meet the remaining eligibility requirements, you can apply for this grant.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program

The Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program is a type of federal grant available to students who have the lowest expected family contributions to finance post-secondary expenses. The FSEOG program is also available if you are a Federal Pell Grant recipient.

To apply for an FSEOG grant, you have to file a FAFSA form to demonstrate your financial need. The trade school where you plan on enrolling must be a participating post-secondary institution. A participating institution applies annually for FSEOG allocation by submitting a Fiscal Operations Report and application to the U.S. Department of Education.

Trade School Scholarships

A scholarship is a money-based award you can use to pay education-related expenses, it is basically free money for trade school. Trade schools and professional associations in your career field can base this award on academic performance, talent, or merit. An institution may also award a scholarship to students in financial need or who meet specific career goals.

Scholarships do not need to be paid back! This makes them much more competitive to receive as the applicant pool is usually very large.

Whether you can qualify for a scholarship depends on the specific program, and scholarships are not only available through trade schools. You can also research other sources, such as foundations, non-profit organizations, and private businesses.

The Blue Collar Brain scholarship is an annual scholarship just for trade school students, so you can apply for that. There is also a list of other vocational scholarships on

Federal Parent Loans

If you are applying to trade school, your biological, adoptive, or stepparents can apply for a Direct PLUS Loan. This federal loan from the U.S. Department of Education covers expenses that other forms of financial aid don’t.

Parents have to repay the federal parent loan at an interest rate that stays fixed for the life of the loan. In 2020, the interest rate for the Direct PLUS Loan was 7.08%. Other costs, such as loan fees, may apply as well.

To qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan, your parents will need a good credit history. However, it may be possible to apply with a poor credit history if the applicant can provide documentation proving extenuating circumstances. All applicants must complete and submit a FAFSA form and meet federal student aid general eligibility requirements to succeed in their application.

Tuition Reimbursement Incentive Programs

Employing companies often offer Tuition Reimbursement Incentive Programs (TRIP) as part of their benefits packages. Employers provide these benefits to attract and retain talented employees and develop their skills. Tuition reimbursement is also a tax-deductible expense.

Tuition reimbursement incentive programs vary from company to company. In most cases, employees have to pay their tuition fees upfront. Upon completing a semester or graduation, the employer would refund a portion or the full amount of the costs.

The financial aid you receive as part of a TRIP may only cover your tuition fees. Alternately, the company can make the funds available to cover additional expenses, including textbooks, travel, or internet fees.

Employers may limit their tuition reimbursement programs to specific subjects or trade schools. When applying for jobs, pay attention to the terms of employers’ tuition reimbursement incentive programs to ensure that you receive funding for training that aligns with your career goals.

If you take part in a tuition reimbursement program, you may have to remain with the company for a predetermined time following graduation. Employers insert this clause to ensure that they don’t pay for training that benefits their competition.

Below are some commonly asked questions about trade schools, costs, and duration to help you!

Join The Military

Maybe you never gave this a thought, but when you serve our country, there are often opportunities for you to attend a vocational school that can cover a part or even all of your tuition.

You can opt to join AmeriCorps, US service academies, ROTC, or the GI Bill.

Each has its own unique opportunities to assist you with secondary education.

Frequently Asked Questions

Final Thoughts

The information provided here is a general overview of options for paying for trade school. It is not a comprehensive list as there are just so many resources that we may not even be able to easily find.

The best way to learn all of your options – some of which may be school-specific, is to reach out to the financial aid office at the school you would like to attend. There is so much help out there for you, and they may be able to assist you in finding even more money!

Jill Caren is a self-taught web developer and SEO strategist with a passion for helping people. She has contributed articles to, and more to help promote skilled trades as a career path. As a "lost" teen who found her way later in life, she co-founded Blue Collar Brain to help other teens and young adults know the many options that are out there for them!

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