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Trade, Technical, and Vocational School: What You Need To Know

Two students in a workshop cut pieces of metal.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

The importance of attending college is a discussion you are probably familiar with. It is a song sung to students throughout their lives, and by the beginning of secondary school, it is on the mind of nearly every student.

Having a college degree as a way to a well-paying career and a comfortable lifestyle prompts millions of Americans and students from around the world to attend one of the thousands of colleges in the United States in hopes of achieving just that.

Unfortunately, it also pressures low-income and middle-class students to take out massive private or federal student loans to pay for the increasing expenses that education brings.

Since the pandemic, more and more people are seeking affordable and fast ways to learn employable skills as student debt in the country continues to mount. Some universities offer solely online courses of study to enroll in while others provide online certifications in certain fields.

These are just some ways individuals sharpen and expand their professional expertise for a lower price. While graduating from a community college with an associate’s degree or a four-year university with a bachelor’s degree still presents immense financial and career advantages to those who seek it, the reality is that not everyone will thrive in this environment.

In fact, colleges do not always present the tools and resources needed to enter into every job field available. It can be frustrating to see a list of majors and minors that do not exactly align with your career goals.

For students with job aspirations that are not available in colleges and want to jump straight into the work-force after high school, another option is waiting for you. There are educational institutions that present a similar path to financial independence and stability that university offers, but without putting you in a significant amount of debt.

They are called vocational schools, but you may also hear them be referred to as trade or technical schools as well. But what exactly are they, what is the difference between the three, and is it the right path for you to take? 

Trade School

Trade school is an educational institution that trains individuals pursuing work in a specific labor field such as plumbing, auto mechanics, and carpentry etc. These jobs require a single or a set of skills that is not traditionally taught in a two or four-year college.

Different programs vary in time length to complete, with some taking a few weeks to earn and others taking up to 1 year to finish. Don’t want to take classes that don’t directly relate to your career path? Hate feeling confined to a classroom desk?

In trade school, the general courses students are required to take when enrolled in a community or university degree program do not exist. Trade school education institutions instead utilize hands-on learning to prepare students for their future job through a combination of shadowing actual workers and participating in apprenticeships.

Students can obtain certifications for their prospective jobs that green light their ability to work in their chosen field. A trade school education is significantly less expensive compared to the cost of earning a bachelor’s degree.

Additionally, it results in reduced study time with many schools offering programs lasting for a few months to one year, which is quite the contrast to the average four years it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Why Trade School Is Better Than A 4 Year Degree

When applying to trade schools, you will need to have graduated from high school or received your General Education Diploma (GED). SAT or ACT scores will not be a requirement for your application into the school. Instead, students may have to take a placement test to evaluate their learning capabilities.

You may have the opportunity to use your SAT or ACT score in place of the placement test if you score within a certain range for some schools. It is is a perfect choice for those trying to save money and seeking a niche field and for those ready to begin working right after secondary school.

Like community college, trade school rarely offers housing to its students. Luckily, attending an accredited school makes you still eligible for federal financial aid, so remember to check your eligibility on the Federal Student Aid website and fill out the FAFSA. It opens every October 1st.

Technical School

Similar to its trade school counterpart, technical school offers a specialized pathway straight out of secondary school. The two share the same requirements and characteristics to enroll in.

Technical schools focus on building skills to less labor-intensive careers like cybersecurity, information technology, and graphic design. Depending on your chosen program, students can take up to one to two years to complete.

If you find yourself interested in pursuing an associate’s degree and eventually a bachelor’s degree, your credits may be able to transfer to your next educational institution.

Vocational School

Vocational school is a general term referring to both trade or technical school. The United States Department of Education provides access to vocational programs to public high school students.

Some high schools also have options to take courses introducing skills taught in trade or technical school such as home economics, workshop classes, and cosmetology classes. Speak with your high school counselor about any available vocational programs to join.

A select number of community colleges also offer a trade school program, so see if there are any in your community that you can apply to after graduating if it is unavailable at your high school.

There is no one right path when it comes to pursuing your career. Whether you master your craft in a vocational school or excel in your academics at university, it matters most that you find a path that you enjoy.

You never know where your goals today can lead you tomorrow. It is never too late to learn something new. So, try to keep an open mind when it comes to exploring educational opportunities. Good luck in whatever you choose!

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Author: Sophia Bangura

Virtual High School '22 read, write, repeat (in that order)!