Attending a trade or vocational school to start your blue-collar career is a good idea. But, choosing the right school may seem overwhelming. Knowing the right questions to ask each trade school you are considering can help make that decision easier.
This list of questions is to help guide you through the school evaluation process. Reach out to your top picks, ask them the same questions, and compare the results. This should provide a good overview of which school is the best for your needs.
Is your school accredited?
Accreditation is an option a school has to validate the quality of their programs.
It is highly recommended you look at attending an accredited school versus one that is not accredited!
If a school has gone through the process of accreditation, it means they meet certain quality standards established by the accrediting agency. Not all states require certification or accreditation – so you definitely want to do your due diligence.
You can do a search on Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) to see if a vocational school is accredited. It also shows what agency it is accredited with.
You can also ask the school to provide names and phone numbers of the school’s licensing and accrediting organizations. This will allow you to check with them to see whether the school is up-to-date. Licensing is handled by state agencies.
In many states, private vocational schools are licensed through the state Department of Education. But some trades may have their own licensing requirements. For example, truck driver training schools may be licensed by the state transportation department.
What are the admissions requirements?
Schools may have certain prerequisites like a high school diploma or GED, entrance exams, interviews, etc. Knowing the requirements will allow you to prepare your application appropriately.
Is the curriculum up to date for my program of interest?
If you want to attend a lineman program, you will want to be sure it is up to date. Ask them how often they update curriculum for their programs. Specifically ask when the last update was done for the specific program you want to take.
Ask about the equipment and tools that will be used. How old are they, is new technology being used? These can all impact your training – and employment opportunities.
What are the sizes of the classes?
Some schools have a reputation for filling as many seats as possible. This can hurt the learning process. Ask the school what the average class sizes are for the program you are most interested. This should include any labs, or hands-on courses.
What is the graduation rate?
Graduation rate is the percentage of students that complete a program at a school. You want to look for schools with a higher graduation rate.
Is housing available?
If you need to attend a school that is not local to you, housing needs to be considered. You need to determine if the school offer housing, or will you need to find your own? Some school will have partnerships with local rentals and can help you find something in the area if they do not supply housing.
It is important to find out the costs for housing as well. If housing is on campus, is it included in the program fees or is it separate? How much will it be to rent housing?
Will your coursework transfer to another school?
Some students may want to continue on with their education after trade school.
For example, you may have earned a certificate in a medical trade and now want to go on to earn an Associate’s degree. In cases like this you will want to know if the courses you took in trade school will transfer to a community or 4-year college.
Not all courses from all schools transfer. Asking the trade school about their success rate with courses applying to another school can help you plan for your future.
Is crime at the school a problem?
Before making the decision to pack up and attend a school, you want to be sure you will be safe. You can ask the school for data on their crime rates.
You can also check for criminal offenses at trade schools across the United States on the US Department of Education Campus Safety website.
A lot of potential students are going to make their decision based on cost. While trade schools are significantly lower in cost than college, it is still a big investment. You should find out the length of the trade program you are interested in to ensure you can commit to the full time needed.
Clarify the cost for the program, housing, and also extra costs that may apply. Tools, books, and lab fees may be an additional cost in some schools.
If you are staying on campus be sure to ask about housing and food costs.
Are financial aid or scholarships available?
Trade school can be a great investment into your future, but it does not come without a cost. Sometimes these costs can be scary, but most schools can provide resources and assistance with financial aid. This can help you create a budget and plan that allows you to attend the school of your dreams.
Scholarships are also a great opportunity to make trade school more affordable. Ask the school if they have a list of scholarships available for you to apply to.
A great resource to learn more about financial aid can be found on StudentAid.
What is the schools refund or dropout policy?
Chances are low this will happen, but there is a chance you might find the school is not a good fit after you start. In this case you may want to leave the school entirely.
This is why you should understand the refund policy or any policies related to leaving after starting a program.
Can I tour the campus?
If resources allow, touring vocational schools is a great way to really see how well the school “fits”. Touring the campus lets you see the hands-on labs, classrooms, workshop areas, dorms, and other facilities. Make sure the learning environments match the types of workspaces you’ll be training in.
Can I observe a class?
Sitting in on a real class will give you a first-hand look at the teaching methods and classroom environment. It would be best to observe a class in the trade program you are most interested in.
Can I meet the instructors?
Meeting the instructors in the program you are interested in can help you see if you are a good fit for their personality. Ask them about their trade backgrounds and teaching experience to get a feel for the level of instruction you might receive.
Can I speak with current students?
Current students can give you an insider perspective of the student experience. If you are doing a tour, see if they can set you up with a few students in person. If you are not doing an in-person tour, ask if you can be put in touch with a few students to speak to.
Below are a few sample questions you can ask:
- Do the instructors seem knowledgeable and friendly?
- Do current students seem to like the program?
- Are they learning the various things they will need to land a job in the current market?
- What do they think of their instructors?
- Have they experienced issues with the school, instructors, or classes?
- What do they like most and least about the school or program?
Is job placement assistance available?
Many vocational and trade schools offer job placement assistance to help students get started.
If the school does offer job placement assistance, ask about the job placement rates (the percent of graduates placed in jobs). Compare these rates with those of other schools. Ask for information about the companies that recent graduates were placed in. If you would like to live in a specific area, see if they can assist you in that area.
Are there resources for alumni?
Alumni resources can help you maintain your career. These resources might include employment assistance, networking events, workshops, resume updates, and more.
So that sums of the questions! If the responses to these questions are good, then you may have found a winning school to attend.
Additional trade school assessment options
The above is a great start to making one of the biggest decisions of your life. But here are a few more ideas to verify what people really think about a school.
- Do a quick search on Reddit for the school and see what people are saying. There is a subreddit specifically about trade schools, but it is not super active. Doing a search may bring better results.
- Ask about the school on some social media accounts. You never know what friend or relative knows someone who went to a school you are considering.
- Do some research on LinkedIn. See how active the school is and read the comments to see what others think about the school. You can also do a search for those that attended the school and reach out to them for feedback.
What about all those online “best trade school lists”?
None of these lists represent what schools are really the best. It is why we do not offer “best trade school” articles. These are compiled lists of trade schools to gain traffic and earn ad revenue. There is no validity to these lists and there is no “best trade school”. The best trade school is the one that meets your unique goals and needs.