Most high schools prepare students to attend a four-year college or university. For someone who prefers hands-on technical work, trade school can be a quicker, cheaper way to a fulfilling career path.
If you want to enter a hands-on career track without spending several more years at school, you might benefit more from attending trade school than university. Discover what trade school entails and how to decide which program is right for you.
What is a Trade School?
A trade school, also called a technical school or vocational school, is a school that prepares students for careers in various skilled trades. These trades include jobs in car repair, HVAC maintenance, nursing, hairstyling, culinary arts, and construction.
Unlike four-year college degree programs, which often emphasize general education courses, trade schools focus on teaching the technical skills required for the work.
Trade schools also offer more hands-on training, often through apprenticeships or similar training programs. By comparison, colleges may offer some job training, but it doesn’t match the in-depth training received through trade school. This approach means that when you leave your trade school program, you already have the experience you need to start working in your desired field.
Trade schools are considered postsecondary education, so they usually ask that you have a high school diploma or GED to begin a program. Once you enroll, your courses will cover everything you need to know about your chosen trade. If your program requires any prerequisites, they are typically built into your coursework as you progress.
Trade School Programs
Some trade schools offer a wide variety of programs, while others focus on a specific field like hairstyling. Most trade school certifications take around a year to complete; however, you may find programs that offer shorter or longer program lengths.
Some fields commonly featured in trade school programs include:
- Automotive work
- Beauty and cosmetology
- Computer repair
- Culinary arts
- Electrical work
- Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) work
- Welding and metal work
Specific fields may require set amounts of on-the-job training, and every school’s program differs. Both of these factors affect the length of the course. That’s why one school’s plumbing program might take 9 months while another’s takes 13 months to complete.
Trade School Costs
There’s no set cost for trade school: it depends on where you live, the trade you’re pursuing, and the specific trade school you attend. A trade school costs a fraction of a degree program and is a more affordable postsecondary education option.
According to the US Department of Education, the net price for an HVAC program ranges from as high as $29,267 a year to as low as $4,730 a year. By comparison, the annual tuition for a private non-profit college averages $37,600 a year. Since it takes at least four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, trade school tends to be easier on your wallet.
The US Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency List contains tuition data and average course completion time for many vocational fields. This tool can estimate tuition costs or find tuition for a specific trade school.
If you’re worried about affording trade school, look into financial aid. Grants, scholarships, and student loans cover trade school tuition. Fill out the FAFSA to see if you’re eligible for federal financial aid, and consider applying for scholarships to pay for what your grants or student loans don’t cover. You can use any financial aid you receive to cover the cost of trade school, like tuition or class supplies.
How Much Can You Make After Attending Trade School?
Because trade school offers a wide variety of potential careers, your salary after completing trade school depends on your trade. Generally speaking, even entry-level trade jobs pay reasonably well.
You might be able to estimate the average salary for a trade by looking at job postings. You can also find the average salary for various trades on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. For instance, from the earning data in 2021, you can determine that:
- Automotive technicians, on average, earn $46,880 a year
- Barbers and hairstylists earn $29,680 per year
- Electricians earn $60,040 per year
- Nurses earn $48,070 per year
- Welders earn $47,010 per year
How to Choose the Right Trade School
Even if you’re sure you want to pursue a trade, picking a trade school can be a challenging task. Luckily, trade schools don’t have a complicated application process. The most critical aspect of choosing a trade school is ensuring the school has the right program for you.
When researching programs, look for trade schools that offer training in the field you’re interested in. View several programs’ websites and compare listed courses, requirements, and pricing. You may find highly specialized programs that focus on the specific area you want to work in. Alternatively, you may opt for a broader program covering multiple aspects of your chosen field.
Explore more than just trade schools or vocational schools. Check out your local community college. Many colleges offer certified trade programs in addition to their degree programs.
Once you’re considering a specific trade school, always search the school on the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to make sure it’s an accredited institution. An unaccredited program might not teach you everything you need to know and lack standardized oversight, so employers are typically skeptical of certifications from unaccredited schools.
Finding a Job After Trade School
Attending trade school can be a fun, exciting way to start a rewarding career. No matter what trade you pursue, the specialized classes and hands-on experience provide invaluable career training. You can leave the program with your certification and confidence in your abilities to do the job.
After you receive certification for your trade, get started on your job search with JobsFuel. We offer helpful job-hunting and resume-building tips and a searchable database where you can find job opportunities in your area.