Trade schools are a type of institution that prepares students for a specific job. They are also known as vocational schools.
A trade is just a field of work. In the context of this article, we are referring to trades as those you can learn by attending a vocational school. Examples include plumbers, mechanics, and electricians.
Going to college is more fashionable, and there are—on average—better career prospects, but the issue is way more complicated.
Getting into a trade is an excellent career choice. The U.S. is facing a shortage of tradespeople. Trade school also takes less time than college and it is way cheaper.
In this article, we are going to see the types of trade schools. We will also analyze the differences between colleges and trade schools. You will walk away with a better understanding of which type of institution is better for you.
Differences between Trade School and College
This is a classic debate among people. When you’re about to finish high school, you have to decide where to complete your education. You could also get directly into the workforce, but usually that’s only reserved for more extreme cases.
Here is a short list of differences between trade schools and colleges:
- Trade school takes less time to finish. While a bachelor’s degree takes about 4 years to get (accelerated programs exist, but they are an exception), trade school takes at most 2 years. Some courses can take as little as 8 months. There is also a minority of trade school courses that last up to 3 years. It’s still one year you are saving compared to college.
- Trade school is way more affordable than college. College costs vary wildly between schools. To put things in perspective, the average annual cost for a college degree is $9.410, whereas a full education at trade school will cost you anywhere between $5.000 and $15.000. Considering that you need 4 years of college to get a degree, there is quite the difference. Top colleges can cost tens of thousands dollars every year.
- College gives you better career prospects and makes you marketable for different jobs. On the other hand, trade schools prepare you for a specific job, so you are forced to look for that exact job once you’ve gotten your certification.
- Earnings are the hardest factor to compare. On average, college students earn more, but there are certain fields in which a skilled tradesperson is going to laugh all the way to the bank. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us dental hygienists have a median annual income of $77.090.
Not all college degrees are equal. While something like engineering will always guarantee you find employment, degrees in other fields aren’t always taken seriously by employers. Or maybe there just isn’t a need for what you studied at the moment. Tradesmen will always find a job in their field, especially now that there is a shortage of them.
Applying to Trade School
Getting into trade school is way easier than college. Getting into college is a gruesome path full of disappointment. Unless you are a top-tier student.
You have to get your GPA high enough for your course of choice, and you have to craft a compelling application. Usually, this involves proving you have work experience in your field of study, and showing why you are passionate about it. Some schools will also require letters of recommendation.
Compare it to the requirements for trade school.
All you need for trade school is your high-school diploma. Your GPA has to be at least 2.0 for trade school. Most colleges won’t even read your application if your GPA isn’t at least 2.8.
Trade schools also accept titles that are considered equivalent to a high school diploma, like a completion of a recognized home-schooling program.
8 Types of Trade Schools
There are many different trade schools. In this list, we went with the ones that are most in demand and have better growth outlooks in the next years. All of these trades have also been around for decades, if not more, so they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
We picked the jobs that offer the best combination between yearly salary and job growth outlook. We relied on the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s statistics to make this list.
Editor’s note: the average job growth outlook is around 4-5%, so if the job growth outlook is around those values it is expected to grow as fast as average. There are jobs that are expected to grow faster than others. The higher the growth outlook, the better your chances to find employment in the future.
- Median salary: $49.520 per year
- 8 years job growth outlook: 0%
Carpenters build things. There are different fields a carpenter can specialize in, for example you could become a construction or naval carpenter. Carpenters are ubiquitous. They work with their hands or with specialized machines. They work on building sites or shipyards.
Carpenters analyze a project, build it, and then make sure everything is in order so the construction is safe for everyone to use. Carpenters also deal with demolishing buildings when necessary.
If there is building to do, you’ll probably need a carpenter.
The biggest thing I’d worry about if I were to become a carpenter is that the job outlook in the next 8 years is not going to change. That means the profession isn’t expected to grow at all in numbers. Granted, since trade school takes so little time it shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s still something to consider.
- Median salary: $56.330 per year
- 8 years job growth outlook: 4%
Plumbers are a necessity in today’s world. They are responsible for the installation, maintenance, and reparation of water pipes and sanitation systems. They can work in residential, commercial, or industrial buildings. They can also work in road construction, since that’s where many water pipes are.
The plumber is the professional you call when a pipe in your house bursts and your apartment gets flooded. They can also repair appliances that work with water like sinks and toilets.
There will always be a need for plumbers. Water pipes are the foundations of life in the modern state. And we haven’t yet invented stuff that doesn’t break. Even if we did, someone has to know how to place it. The pay is also pretty good.
- Median salary: $56.900 per year
- 8 years job growth outlook: 8%
Electricians work with everything concerning bringing electricity to homes, shops, and factories. They install and test electrical equipment, and they repair or replace wiring and fixtures.
Electricity is a weird phenomenon when you think about it. We can’t observe it like, say, water.
With all the attention we are giving the environment, and the rise of things like electric cars and scooters, electrician jobs are expected to grow by 8% within the next 8 years. Plus, electricians gain a very nice salary. What’s there not to love?
- Median salary: $77.090 per year
- 8 years job growth outlook: 6%
Cleaning teeth might not be the most fashionable thing you’ll do in your life, but it’s going to be lucrative, that’s for sure. Teeth are crucial to humans, keeping them clean and in shape is a necessity. It’s also way cheaper than neglecting them and then have a dentist fix them.
As a dental hygienist, you’ll have lots of work. Of course, it requires you to be ok with having to look into people’s mouths. You’ll get paid a pretty penny to do it though. The job’s growth is also expected to be around 6%, which is higher than average. It means you have a very good chance of being employed once you’ve gotten your certificate.
5. Chef / Cook
- Median salary: $53,380 per year
- 8 years job growth outlook: 6%
Cooking is a noble art with high earning potential. If you love preparing food, a career as a cook or chef could be right for you. Working in a kitchen is not an easy task. The hours are long, and you won’t get much time off.
Holidays are a major income source for restaurants and hotels, so you’ll have to work on Christmas, Easter, and all other holidays. You’ll get paid handsomely for it though.
The money is good, and the job has a decent growth outlook. It’s a viable choice for a trade school.
- Median salary: $52,920 per year
- 8 years job growth outlook: 10%
Paralegals have excellent organizational and research skills they use to support lawyers in their daily jobs. As a paralegal, you’ll work closely with lawyers to draft documents, maintaining them, organizing files, and other administrative tasks.
A great perk of picking this field of work is how much it is projected to grow by 2029. You won’t have any issue finding employment if you get your paralegal certificate.
This is one of the longest courses in trade school, as it’s made up of 4 semester for a total of 2 years.
- Median salary: $66,680 per year
- 8 years job growth outlook: 5%
If planes are your passion, becoming an aircraft mechanic/technician could be your ticket to a long and prosperous career. Airplanes require a lot of maintenance, and they also need constant repairs.
Airplanes are at the heart of our economy. They are what makes our logistics so good nowadays. You won’t have any issue finding a job with a certificate in aviation from a trade school.
But if you are a convinced environmentalist, or you are anti-war, perhaps it’s not the choice for you. You could end up having to work on military aircraft. And airplanes are extremely polluting as of now. It’s up to what you see as right.
- Median salary: $86.850 per year
- 8 years job growth outlook: 7%
Radiation therapists use machines that use radiations to treat tumors. You will be dealing with people’s cancer issues. Radiation therapy can make cancer cells smaller, eventually killing them all.
Compared to most other medical professions, you don’t need to study for 10+ years before getting into the field. And it’s still a very lucrative job with a very good growth outlook.
Warning: this is one of the few trade schools programs that can last up to 3 years. Most trade programs only take 2 years at most.
There are many myths surrounding trade schools. There are also many myths surrounding college. These two combine to create unrealistic expectations and stress on students. They think they must absolutely go to college or their education will be worthless.
Some people think you can’t find a job without a college degree. That’s a blatant lie. In fact, unemployment rates in most trades is very low, and there are plenty of job openings for them.
Other people think that a college degree is the only way to earn a good living with a job. People lie, but stats don’t. As you can see from the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, many of the trades pay a lot.
So, now that we determined that trade school is a viable choice, when should you actually go to trade school? There are a couple of factors to consider.
One, when you are absolutely sure you don’t want to go to college. You don’t want to shackle yourself to a 4-years or more program, with all the costs.
Two, when you can’t afford college or don’t want to get in student debt. It is no secret that college is expensive, especially the top ones.
Three, when you want to get into the workforce as soon as possible. You can learn how to do a task, find a job, and start building up your finances. You are always in time to go back to college later on in life. There are plenty of options with the online colleges available in the States.
Does any of these sounds familiar? If so, trade school might be for you.