Trade School Costs Need to Knows

By Kayla McCormack · December 05, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Trade School Costs Need to Knows

A trade school, often called a vocational or technical school, provides specific job skills to start a career quickly in a given trade, with the requisite certifications and licenses. That career can range from being an electrician to a physician’s assistant to a cook. As opposed to a four-year college, a trade school education is generally completed in just two years and focuses on getting students hands-on experience and securing the job they want.

Trade school costs can vary anywhere from around $3,000 to $15,000+ per year. While trade school can be significantly less costly, and require less time, than a four year degree — there are still expenses to consider. Continue reading for more information on how expensive trade school is and planning for trade school costs.

What Is Trade School?

College is not for everyone. Trade school can provide a path to a rewarding career, without the time and money required to pursue a four-year degree.

As previously mentioned, trade school is a type of education that provides training in a specific job or skill set to allow students to start a given trade or career with the requisite certifications and appropriate licenses. Also known as vocational or technical schools, trade school can be a stepping stone into a career as a plumber, electrician, plumbing, dental hygienist, pharmacy technician, paralegal, and more.

Trade schools may be private or public institutions. And it can take as little as a few months to two plus years to complete a trade school program. Community colleges may offer vocational programs or more general education classes for students planning to transfer to a four-year institution.

How Much Does Trade School Cost

The cost of trade school can vary widely based on factors including the school, the program you are pursuing, your location. According to, the average cost of annual tuition at a trade school can range from $3,600 to $14,500.


As mentioned, the cost of tuition can range dramatically, averaging anywhere from $3,600 to $14,500 per year. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency List, for the 2020-2021 school year, the average cost of tuition and fees at two year institutions was:

•   2-year, public — $3,863

•   2-year, private not-for-profit — $15,549

•   2-year, private for-profit — $15,033

•   Less than 2-year, public — $8,683

•   Less than 2-year, private not-for-profit — $13,127

•   Less than 2-year, private for-profit — $13,127

Books and Supplies

Again, the cost of books and supplies will vary based on the vocational program or trade school. According to data from The College Board, the average cost of books at a two-year public institution was $1,460 for the 2021-2022 school year.

Living Expenses

Unsurprisingly, the cost of living expenses can also vary quite dramatically from student to student. Some students who are attending trades school may be able to live at home with family members. This could help them reduce costs because they may be able to have little to no rent, and share meals with family members.

Trade school students who are living on their own may need to budget for more expensive living costs.

Paying for Trade School

When it comes to paying for college, or trade school, there are a few options available to students including loans, federal aid, grants, and more.

Trade School Loans

The term “trade school loan” is just a way to refer to a student loan, personal loan, or outside funding measure used to pay one’s way through a training or vocational school.

Many trade and vocational schools may qualify for federal student loans and other forms of federal financial aid. To apply for federal loans, students will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) each year.

There are limits for federal student loans, and some students may consider a private student loan. Private student loans are available from private institutions but they may not offer the same benefits or protections as federal student loans.

After all other funding options have been exhausted, a private student loan could be a tool to help fill in the gaps. SoFi private student loans have zero fees and qualifying borrowers can secure competitive rates. While SoFi’s private student loans’ aren’t available to pay trade school, some graduate certification programs may qualify.

Working Part-Time

Trade schools generally offer flexible programming — for example, night classes — so students may be able to work part-time to fund their education. Students may consider getting a part-time job in the field they are studying, or working at a gig that is willing to accommodate their school schedule so they have enough time to take classes and study.

Financial Aid for Trade School

As already mentioned, trade schools may qualify for federal financial aid — including student loans, grants and scholarships. Federal aid can be used for technical schools and some certificate programs as long as the schools are accredited and eligible for federal funds. You can check the Department of Education’s database of qualifying schools to confirm your chosen trade school program qualifies.

Again, to apply for federal financial aid, students will need to fill out the FAFSA each year.


Students at eligible trade schools may qualify for a Pell Grant. A Pell Grant is a type of federal grant that is awarded to students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.


There may also be scholarships available for trade school students. Certain trade schools may offer scholarships and there are vocational school scholarships available from private organizations too. Check in with your school’s financial aid office for more information or look through an online database or SoFi’s scholarship search tool to peruse scholarships you may be eligible for.

Tips on Selecting a Worthwhile Program

Trade school can make a lot of sense for students who are interested in pursuing a specific vocation and are not interested in attending a more traditional four-year school. To evaluate trade schools, consider the following factors:

•   Program Accreditation. This can give you an idea of a program’s reputation. Accredited schools may qualify for federal financial aid.

•   Time to complete. This can inform the total cost of the program.

•   Opportunities for paid on-the-job training. Some programs may offer a combination of in-classroom learning and paid job training. Gaining this real world experience can be valuable.

•   Employment assistance or support. Some trade schools have close connections with local businesses or industries. Find out if there is a career connections office or any job placement assistance.

Private Student Loans for Trade School

SoFi doesn’t offer student loans for trade school programs, but does offer student loans for eligible graduate certificate programs. If you’re a college student interested in pursuing a certificate program, a SoFi private loan could be a tool to help you finance the program.

SoFi student loans have zero fees and qualifying borrowers can secure competitive interest rates. Find out if you prequalify in just a few minutes.


Are trade schools more affordable than 4-year universities?

Trade schools are generally more affordable than a college or university. In addition to having a more affordable annual tuition, typically trade school programs can be completed in less than four years.

What are the most high-paying trade jobs?

According to Accredited Schools Online, some of the top-paid trades school jobs include construction managers, radiation therapists, and dental hygienists.

How long is trade school?

The length of trade school can vary based on the program. Some trades school programs can be completed in a few months while others may take two years to complete.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender