Career Planning

Is Trade School Right for You?

Trade schools offer a direct route to high paying careers. Learn more about trade schools and the high demand for skilled laborers.

Shawna Newman

August 18, 2022

Is Trade School Right for You?
What are the trade school vs college pros and cons?
It is not easy to decide what career path you want to take as a young adult. It is a big decision as your job will be a big part of your future. You will be working in the career you choose for most of your life; it is important to pick a satisfying career or trade that will bring you joy throughout your life. No pressure! Some students find themselves challenged with the idea that you must go to a four-year college or university after you graduate high school in order to be successful. While attending college to earn your degree is a great choice for some students, there are other smart career pathways that are just as honorable: trade school, vocational school, and technical schools. If you believe college may not be the best option for you, talk to your family and high school counselor about trade school! Vocational and trade school education should be a part of every student’s educational-pathway discussion.

What is trade school?

Trade schools are post-secondary institutions that prepare students for a specific job in a skilled industry. Trade schools are also called vocational or technical schools (Vo-Tech). Students get hands-on learning based on the industry they choose to train for. A trade school program offers detailed coursework and industry certifications for a variety of mechanical and technical industries.

What is the difference between trade school and college?

Trade school programs offer core training related to a particular field. Students will jump right into a curriculum based on the trade they are studying. Many college students are working toward obtaining office careers. This type of job is sometimes referred to as a white-collar job. On the other hand, trade school students aspire to create products, fix and troubleshoot and operate all while working with their hands, in the field. This type of job is often referred to as a blue-collar job.

What are the benefits of going to trade school?

Skilled tradespeople have reliable jobs that pay very well, and there is a high demand for workers in all varieties of trades. A student’s trade school return on investment is worth it! There is plenty of work for skilled employees in the United States. These industries keep the United States economy up and running. There will always be a need for people that can work on building homes and offices, maintaining city infrastructures, and manufacturing products that are essential to everyday living.

The Pros and Cons of Trade School

The great news is that you have a lot of options after you graduate high school. Although it may seem overwhelming, use these options to formulate the post-high school plan that works for you. Your choice should ultimately be made based on what you would like to do with your career. Consider the trade school vs college pros and cons below to help you make the best choice.

Pros of Trade School

It takes less time to earn your trade school certification than it does to earn a college degree.
Vocational students can expect to learn their trade and enter the workforce in as little as a year, while it takes most college students at least four years to complete their degree program.
It is inexpensive to attend a trade school program.
Training program costs are substantially lower than the cost to attend college. You can attend trade school for as low as $5,000 per year, according to Forbes.
You will accrue less student debt, sometimes no student debt.
It will take fewer trade school scholarships to pay for vocational programs, meaning you have more opportunities to have your trade school education paid for in full.
Students graduate with a specific skill, making them ready to enter the job market immediately.
There is a strong demand for skilled laborers, meaning you will likely find employment quickly.
You could be paid as an apprentice while you learn and go on to make a great salary after training is complete.
Many companies use trade school apprenticeship programs to train future employees. In other words, some trade students have the option to get real-world work experience and entry-level pay while completing their job training.

Cons of Trade School

College graduates make more money in a lifetime.
While skilled workers earn great salaries, especially starting out in their careers, college graduates earn more money in the long run. According to Forbes, college graduates with bachelor’s degree earn approximately $2.8 million in their lifetime, while students with an associate degree (we will use this degree type to compare to a trade school education) earn $2 million in a lifetime. The moral is the more formal education you receive, the more money you will earn in your lifetime.
Holistic educational training is not part of the trade school curriculum.
College students receive broad learning experiences in subjects and areas like English, science, communication, etc. Many vocational programs do not offer this holistic type of education.
You will not have the college student-life experience.
Vocational and trade school programs do not offer robust student life programs.

Are trade schools worth it?

If you are confident that a skilled laborer career is right for you, then yes, trade schools are worth attending. It is important to do your research to find the right vo-tech or trade school program fit.

Skilled Trade Career Options

There are many trades to learn. Trade jobs lead to careers that pay well, especially when you compare average annual salaries with the cost to attend trade schools. A student may attend a trade or vocational school if they would like to become a: • Aircraft Mechanic – $65,380 Average Annual Salary • Boilermaker - $64,290 Average Annual Salary • Carpenter - $48,260 Average Annual Salary • Chef (Culinary) - $50,160 Average Annual Salary • Electrician - $60,040 Average Annual Salary • Dental Hygienist - $77,810 Average Annual Salary • Heavy Equipment Operator - $48,290 Average Annual Salary • HVAC Technician - $48,630 Average Annual Salary • IT Technician - $57,910 Average Annual Salary • Lineman (Electrical Power-Line Installer/Repairer) - $74,530 Average Annual Salary • Machinist - $47,940 Average Annual Salary • Paralegal - $56,230 Average Annual Salary • Plumber - $59,880 Average Annual Salary • Welder - $47,010 Average Annual Salary The professions mentioned above are only a few trade career possibilities. If you know you would like to work with your hands but do not know exactly what field to pursue, consider taking vocational (Vo-Tech) courses in high school to try out and/or learn about a variety of trades. Connect with your counselor to find job shadowing opportunities near you, too.

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