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What Is A Trade School? A Complete Guide To Blue Collar Schools

Trade schools get students ready for blue-collar careers like plumbing, construction, and more.

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Updated December 17th, 2023

Trade schools can be called vocational schools, career schools, blue collar schools or technical schools. They all teach the required skills that are needed to get into a specific skilled trade.

Not all vocational careers require trade school, but it is recommended in most cases. Community colleges frequently offer some of the same programs that a trade school does.

This article will give you some good insight into what a trade school is, benefits, and how to choose one.

What is a Trade School?

A trade school is a school that prepares students for a skilled trade career. These schools focus on hands-on learning with some classroom education. This type of education allows students to learn a vocation much faster that a traditional college education.

Trade schools do not offer bachelor’s degrees. You will graduate a trade school with either a certificate of completion or an Associate’s degree. Common programs that vocational schools offer include:

  • Carpentry
  • Mechanical
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Welding
  • Masonry
  • Culinary
  • Healthcare (not doctors or nurses)
  • Cosmetology/Hair

All of these careers require very specific skills which are taught in a trade school. You will receive hands on training on how to use the tools, materials, and techniques that will make you successful.

what is a trade school - students at marine school

Trade School Benefits

  • They focus on practical knowledge and hands-on experience
  • Programs can be completed in two years or less
  • May assist in finding and internship or apprenticeship to learn a skill and preparation for certification or licensure
  • Cost less than four-year degree programs
  • No high GPA is required

Fun fact: About two-thirds of high school graduates under age 24 attend college, but about a third of them will not graduate. If you think you might be one of those one third – then read on to learn more about what an alternative education can do for you.

Community College vs Trade School

Community college vs trade school? Which is right for you? This will depend on your location and type of learning you are interested in.

Be sure to check out our trade school vs college article that goes into much more detail on this topic.

Community Colleges

Community colleges offer many of the same programs that a trade school offers. Taking the course at a community college can take longer and may require more traditional courses like math and english. They teach more theory and academics around a program.

Community colleges are more available in all areas making it easier to find one to attend.

Trade or Vocational Schools

Vocational schools put their emphasis on knowing how to do something more than theory and academic knowledge. While vocational programs include classroom education, it is highly relevant to the career you are choosing.

Trade schools are not available in all areas, so community college may be the only option.

Example: You are studying to be a pharmacy technician at a vocational school. In that school most of your coursework will focus on subjects directly applicable to that career. This might include classes such as pharmacology and medical ethics. In a community college you may also take required electives and liberal arts courses that are not necessarily aligned with the career.

Trade schools requirements for admission are also much easier than those of a college.

Examples of Trade Schools

Below are some trade school examples. These are not community colleges, but schools where you learn a specific trade.

  • Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics – PIA focuses only on careers in aviation. You can take an aviation maintenance technology program or an aviation electronics technology program.
  • The Refrigerations School – The Refrigeration School offers programs like electrical, HVAC, and welding. This is all they focus on and under a year you can be getting started as a skilled trade professional.
  • Performance Training Solutions – They PTS school only teaches how to become a heavy equipment operator. They offer classroom and hands-on learning to get you to the workforce as quickly as possible.

Be sure to check out the pros and cons of trade school before you decide to attend.

What to Look For In A Trade School

Choosing the right trade school is incredibly important to your success. Below are a few things you should consider when doing your research.

  • Is the school accredited and authorized by a reputable education oversight agency?
  • What are the school’s requirements for admission (high school diploma, GED, minimum age)?
  • What do graduates and current students have to say about the school and its programs?
  • Does it offer continuing education courses to further learning even after you have your certificate or diploma?
  • Do they offer any kind of job placement assistance?
17 Questions To Ask A Trade School
A worksheet to help you research trade schools. Never miss a question!
trade school questions pdf thumbnail

Trade School Tuition

Vocational school tuition is usually lower than four-year college tuition. Trade schools can range from a few thousand to more than $20,000 depending on the program you take. Community colleges may be cheaper for some programs, but may not provide assistance with testing for certification, job placement, or other important services.

Tuition costs can vary greatly depending on the specific school, the program, and additional fees.

  • State-funded schools are least expensive for in-state students since they rely on taxpayers for support.
  • Private non-profit programs charge more, and private for-profit programs are most costly.

If for some reason you do not qualify for any kind of grant or scholarship to cover the cost of tuition, taking out student loans is also an option. 

Paying for Trade School

Trade school programs might feel out of your reach when you start crunching the numbers, but you will be happy to know there are opportunities to earn scholarships and even get federal student aid to help.

Learn more about how you can pay for the trade school program you may want to get into! If you do not qualify for financial aid or scholarships you can take out student loans to help pay with your trade school tuition.


Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.