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What Is A Trade School?

By: Jill Caren / / Last Updated:
Trade Education

A trade school offers students the opportunity to learn a specific skill or career to help you get into the workforce quickly. They do not require other courses like college that are not aligned with a career, and offer both hands-on and classroom learning.

students in vocational school

If you are looking for a career that allows for minimal education and fast entry to the worforce, a trade career fits your needs.

To get into a trade career, you will need to attend what is called a trade school.

These are also sometimes called a vocational school or technical school. Community colleges also offer skilled trade programs as well.

In this article we will cover the following.

What Are trade schools?

A trade school is a post-secondary school that prepares you to work in a particular field that requires manual, mechanical, or technical skills.

These types of schools do not offer bachelor’s degrees, but you will graduate with a certificate of completion, and in some cases an Associate’s degree.

Carpentry, plumbing, welding, masonry, and other construction-related jobs are all programs you might find at a trade school. Of course there are many other skilled trades that these schools offer, like culinary, healthcare, manufacturing, and so more.

View our list of skilled trade occupations to see the many options!

what is a trade school - students at marine school

Most family members and friends probably assume that you will be going to a traditional four-year college to pursue a degree.

But what if you don’t feel that traditional college is the right path for your life?

Maybe you do not want the debt. Maybe the thought of sitting in classes for 4 years sounds like a form a torture for you.

Whatever the reason – a traditional college experience may not be right for you and that is why we wanted to introduce you to the alternative – vocational or trade schools!

It is OK to consider becoming a blue collar worker! Families have been raised on blue collar jobs for years!

College is not for everyone and the chance of you being successful in a trade job you love can be more fulfilling than any job a college degree can get you!

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.

Benefits of a trade school include:

  • They focus on practical knowledge and hands-on experience
  • Offer programs that you can complete 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

College vs Trade School

Below we will share some of the trade school vs college items to help you see which is better for you.

Colleges

Most colleges provide a foundation in what’s called a “liberal arts education,” which means that you need to learn to read, write, speak, think critically, and become exposed to a range of literary and historical knowledge as well as the natural and social sciences. 

Colleges market this well-rounded, liberal education experience as part of a broad focus. Nearly all college programs require two years of coursework in areas seemingly unrelated to your chosen field (your “major” to round out your education. College majors focus on the academic training needed for your chosen discipline, providing a certain amount of hands-on training through internships or externships particular to each academic major program. 

Some academic programs are pre-professional, while others are more general. However, most bachelor’s degree programs aim to prepare their students for primarily “white collar,” middle-class types of jobs that include teaching, business management, non-profit administration, scientific and healthcare fields, music, drama, media, and computer technology.

While two-year programs and community colleges providing Associates Degrees offer many of the same programs that vocational schools do, they also emphasize the need for a well-rounded education. They include coursework outside the needs of the chosen trade or discipline. Community colleges and university extensions are often the first places where you’ll get exposed to vocational-type courses. Many of them work in association with high schools when those schools offer secondary-level vocational training.

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 “book work,” those texts and exercises focus on learning specific to the chosen career.

For example, suppose you are studying to be a pharmacy technician at a vocational school. In that case, most of your coursework will focus on subjects directly applicable to that career, such as pharmacology and medical ethics, without the electives and liberal arts courses required in a degree program.

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

Career Opportunities

Colleges and universities offer standard two-year (Associate) or four years (Bachelor) degree programs, which means that if making a decent wage is your primary educational goal, you will have to wait before pursuing a job to get it.

Vocational schools often take as few as two years to complete. 

Sometimes, a program like a certificate program may take less time; others have self-guided programs through distance learning, so you can quickly begin working in your chosen field. Many vocational schools also have relationships with established businesses to make entering the workforce with your new certification easier.

Pros and cons of attending a trade school

When considering whether a vocational school education might be the right path for you, you will want to consider the pros and cons of attending one.

Beyond the advantages of focused career training and fast pacing, you may find several reasons to look at a vocational school as a serious choice.

Pros of Attending A Vocational School

More affordable
Less time to start career
Job stability

Cons of Attending A Vocational School

Limited career growth
Less financial aid options than college
Competition on graduation

You can read our full article on the the pros and cons of trade school.

As with any educational program, you can find downsides to choosing a vocational or trade school path. You miss out on the “college experience” of living in dorms, as well as many of the opportunities for socialization and extracurricular activity that university life has to offer.

Some people also argue that narrowing your educational scope to only career-oriented coursework and training is limiting.

Like any path of education and career preparation, vocational schools have their good points and not-so-good points. Suppose you’re looking for a less expensive way to get specific training and knowledge in a profession that interests you, and you want to go to work right away. In that case, a vocational school may be the choice for you.

Choosing the right trade school for you

So, you’ve decided that studying at a vocational school is the way to go. Now what?

When it comes to choosing the right trade school for you, consider several things:

Programs

Not all trade schools and career schools are created equal. The specific profession you are interested in will help you decide which direction you want to go.

For many hands-on trades, such as carpentry, masonry, and plumbing, the importance of in-person training cannot be overstated. These disciplines, and other mechanical and technical programs, require practical experience along with textbook learning. While you may find accessible in-person schooling limited in your region, you’ll need it if you’re pursuing one of these careers.

Medical and health science careers also require hands-on “lab” time. Most in-person and remote vocational school programs will allow for it. Many career schools that offer health science diplomas and certificates partner with hospitals, pharmacies, and other health organizations to get the internship time you would need to be entry-level ready when graduating.

Computer-based careers and business-related careers offer more remote flexibility. Many vocational and trade schools offer programs like accounting, bookkeeping, and IT training that you can complete through online study.

Some other common careers that vocational and trade schools offer include:

  • Cosmetologist
  • Welder
  • Electrician
  • Locksmith
  • Automotive and motorcycle mechanic
  • Pharmacy technician
  • Dental hygienist
  • Medical transcriptionist
  • Nursing
  • Graphic design
  • Computer repair
  • Allied health science careers including phlebotomist, ultrasound technician, and EKG technician

There are so many trade schools near you that are waiting for you to meet them!

Tuition Costs

Vocational school pricing is usually lower than tuition in colleges and universities. Still, 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.

Career school programs affiliated with established universities and colleges may require on-campus labs or externships that add to the overall cost. Tuition can be on-par with in-state college tuition rates per semester of study. Vocational schools can be less costly, offering students comprehensive career training for a set price.

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. 

Job Placement and Testing

When you’re looking for the ideal vocational school for you, you will also want to consider how helpful and supportive it will be when you finish the program. Many careers and disciplines have state licensure requirements, including the need to pass externships and state qualification exams. Vocational schools will often include these necessary requirements as part of the tuition fee for the course. They should also provide career counselors to help you.

Other Considerations

If you’re shopping for a vocational school, consider these factors as well:

  • 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?

Paying For Your Education

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.

Blue collar jobs and vocational school training

In recent years, you may have heard a lot of discussion about the importance of vocational and trade school training—and the blue-collar jobs they prepare you for. During the Coronavirus crisis of 2020, many people began to publicly acknowledge the indispensable role that blue-collar workers played in keeping our society running, as “essential workers,” when so much else shut down. 

Many European countries emphasize apprenticeships and trade education at the high school level. Still, the U.S. has been slow to follow suit. Now, with chronic unemployment among young people and a new appreciation for “essential” workers, blue-collar jobs and vocational training are starting to get their due consideration. 

Many high schools and influencers are encouraging the pursuit of trade careers, with the solid pay and stability of these jobs finding new appeal. Trade jobs also offer a degree of independence. Many who pursue these careers end up going into business for themselves in the end.

Grants and financial aid assistance have improved for vocational school education, as well. Trade schools were included in the federal government’s most recent educational stimulus plan, making it easier than ever before for you to pursue your career diploma or certificate.

Once looked upon as a kind of failure, vocational and trade school education is now seen as the valuable educational option that it should be. Skilled labor jobs, health science jobs, and design and technology jobs are all available and waiting for vocational grads to fill them. Vocational schools provide the skills and knowledge you need to be successful in them. More people are taking a good look at vocational training now as they realize that you don’t need a four-year degree if you want to make a good living in a reliable job. 

Finding the right path for you!

Are you interested in learning more about vocational training, blue-collar jobs, and the like?

You’ve come to the right place! We at Blue Collar Brain are all about providing you with information regarding careers, training, and more. We want you to succeed in a career that you enjoy and where you can make a good living.

Jill Caren
Jill Caren

Jill Caren is a self-taught web developer and SEO strategist with a passion for helping kids find their way in life. As a "lost" teen who found her way later in life, she hopes to help other teens know the many options that are out there for them! Jill can be found on LinkedIn at LinkedIn and Twitter.