Career Advice

Is Trade School a Good Option for You?

trade school tutor with students

Figuring out what type of education you need is tough. Especially, when the world around us is changing so fast. New tech. Smart tools. Innovative professions. What’s better though is that education is changing too, to accommodate the new reality of work. You have good ole’ college, online degrees and e-learning courses, and trade schools. 

Is trade school a good option for your career? Perhaps. It’s worth looking into, given that many high-demand jobs today do not require a four-year college degree. Instead, they require very specific vocational training and certifications that trade schools provide. 

What is a Trade School, Really?

A trade school is a place of learning that gets students job-ready for careers that require specific skills. Some are part of public secondary schools, but most are for high school graduates who do not choose to go to four-year colleges.

Once you graduate from high school, you have three choices – low level job, college (academic), or vocational (trade) school. Again, what a trade school does is give you training that will take you far above those low-level paying jobs, but will not require the longer, more complicated college education.

Some of the skill programs trade schools offer are the following:

  • electrician
  • welder
  • plumber
  • HVAC technician
  • IT careers – programming/coding, networking, cybersecurity, etc.
  • dental technician
  • practical nursing
  • paralegal
  • …and more.

Why Trade Schools and Vocational Programs are Catching on Today

If you have ever watched the TV show, “Dirty Jobs,” you know the host Mike Rowe. Here is what he had to say about the cost of a college education:

 “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.” 

True. College is getting more expensive. Plus, it no longer guarantees you good employment when you do graduate. This and other reasons are why trade schools have become so much more popular these days.  Let’s unpack these reasons.

Trade Schools Have an Attractive Price Tag

According to the American College Board, the average annual tuition and fees for a 4-year degree at a private college/university was $32,410 in 2018. This same organization reports the following average annual costs as well.

  • In-state students in public colleges paid $9,410 on average
  • Out-of-state students in public universities paid $23,890.

This is not the whole story, though. You can multiply each of these annual tuition costs by four to get the average cost for a full degree program. Then, you must add the costs of room and board, books and other incidental costs (e.g., lab fees), and the price tag is pretty hefty!

But here’s the real kicker: The cost of going to college is increasing 8 times (!!!) faster than wages growth.

Most people who go to college have to take out student loans. And here are a few shockers. In the first quarter of 2019, total student loan debt in the U.S. rose to $1.53 trillion, averaging out to about $37,000 per student.

Now, compare this cost to that of two-year vocational programs – an average of $33,000, taking into account both public and private schools.

Trade Schools Get You into the Job Market Faster

Four-year colleges are not “movers and shakers” when it comes to making changes in their programs of study. They cling to the need to graduate “well-rounded” students and so require lots of general education courses that can take up the first two years of a program.

But trade schools provide programs without the general education requirements, streamlining degrees/certifications to a maximum of two years, oftentimes, less. Really, does a welder need to study Shakespeare? Trade schools say “no.”

Students who want to get out into the world of work and begin to earn money as soon as possible, will find that trade schools meet that goal better.

How Much Can You Earn After Trade School?

You may be surprised to know that some trade school graduates earn over $50,000 per year.

Welders get an average $54,000+ a year, while a good dental hygienist salary can go well into the $70,000-$80,000 range.

Obviously, different vocational careers result in a wide variety of annual incomes (vet techs, for example, will earn less than a certified IT networking pro), but so do jobs for college graduates.

In our previous post, we shared several other high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree.

So, Is Trade School for You?

Look, this is a personal decision. But if you are a high school grad, with no more training or education, your career path is limited. You will be employed in low-paying jobs. And many of these are being taken over by technology. Your future is not bright. So, what should you do?

Ultimately, your options are two-fold:

  • You can launch into a college degree program with its cost and future debt to pay off,
  • Or you can explore your options through trade school programs.

Trade schools cost far less, and their roster of programs keeps expanding year-after-year. So, think about it.

Finally, remember that education comes as the last section on your resume. If you have tons of hands-on experience and some solid past accomplishments, most employers would prefer that + any school to a “fancy school” with no experience.


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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