Technical School: Defined, Explained, and Pros and Cons

By Jacqueline DeMarco · October 20, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Technical School: Defined, Explained, and Pros and Cons

Pursuing a four-year degree can lead to a lot of great career opportunities, but there are also many lucrative career opportunities that require a more technical education that a university can’t provide. To pursue certain careers, it may be necessary to attend a technical school.

What are technical schools? In short, technical schools are postsecondary institutions that teach students specialized skills designed to prepare them for a specific profession or trade.

Continue reading for more insight into what technical school is and what the advantages and disadvantages of this education option are.

What Is Technical School?

As briefly mentioned, a technical schools meaning is a school that provides students with education and training in a practical and specialized trade or profession. Technical schools don’t lead to bachelor’s degrees like a university and instead result in earning diplomas or certificates that generally take less than two years to qualify for.

Technical schools are a good fit for students who know what career path they want to pursue, because when a student attends a technical school they choose a specific program designed to prepare them for a certain career. Students who attend technical school don’t take general education classes, which means they are not required to learn more about different disciplines before they choose where to focus their efforts.

Technical school courses include instruction and studying course materials, but also provide hands-on training that helps students build the skills they need to pursue their chosen career. Often, students who attend technical schools are connected to internship opportunities that help them gain real world work experience.

How Is Technical School Different From Trade School?

Trade schools typically focus on more hands-on careers that require having either a certain amount of on-the-job supervised hours in order to pursue a career or a certification of some sort. Trade schools offer hands-on education and prepare students for labor-focused jobs like working as an electrician or carpenter and similar to technical schools, trade school costs are generally less than university degrees.

Technical schools have more classroom lectures and simulated job training and can lead to more creative career paths like floral design, graphic design, and cosmetology, as well as more labor-focused jobs. A recap of the comparison between trade school and technical school is in the below table.

Trade School

Technical School

•   Hands-on education and training

•   Prepares students for labor-focused jobs

•   Helps students achieve certificates or supervised working hours

•   Classroom education and simulated job training

•   Prepares students for labor-focused jobs and creative careers

•   Can earn diplomas and certificates

How Is Technical School Different From Vocational Training?

A vocational school is generally the same thing as a technical school and people often use these names interchangeably. Some four-year universities offer vocational degree programs, such as becoming a paralegal, but some vocational programs like cosmetology can only be found at technical or vocational schools.

How Is Technical School Different From Community College?

Community colleges focus more on general education, but also offer technical training, whereas technical schools don’t teach general education at all.

Community College

Technical School

•   Students can pursue a general education

•   Credits can transfer to four year universities

•   Can prepare students for technical careers or to pursue further academic education

•   Only offers technical coursework

•   Credits don’t transfer to universities

•   Prepares students for technical careers

How Is Technical School Different From University?

Universities and technical schools are very different. They offer different degree programs, costs, time commitments and more. The table below provides an overview on the differences.

University

Technical School

•   Can pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree

•   On-campus dorm

•   Intramural sports

•   Clubs and student activities

•   Four-year degrees

•   Technical focus

•   Less classroom learning

•   Hands-on training

•   Shorter programs

How Does Technical School Work?

The way that technical school works is students choose a specific program to pursue and then complete the required coursework to finish the program or earn a certificate that enables them to work in the career of their choice. Technical school involves hands-on instruction so students can learn valuable technical skills.

Getting Into Technical School

Generally, students need to have a high school diploma, state-issued GED, or to have passed a state-authorized equivalency exam in order to qualify for technical school, but students don’t have to compete for acceptance like they would at a four-year university.

Cost of Technical School

The cost of technical school can vary quite a bit based on factors including the school, its location, the program type and the length of the program.

What Can You Study in Technical School

A few examples of career paths technical school can lead to include:

•  Computer technology

•  Healthcare support

•  HVAC technology

•  Electrical installation and maintenance

•  Welding or plumbing

•  Hospitality/hotel and restaurant management

•  Culinary arts

•  Cosmetology

•  Floral design

•  Auto mechanics

•  Graphic design

•  Visual arts

•  Office administration

•  HVAC technology

•  Carpentry or construction

Pros and Cons of Attending Technical School

Now let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages associated with attending technical schools.

Pros

Cons

•   Only requires a one to two year commitment

•   Some programs only last a few weeks

•   Hands-on training for students who have chosen a career path

•   Limited program and course offerings

•   Funnels into specific career paths which could feel limiting

•   Academic credits don’t transfer to four-year universities

Technical High Schools

There are also technical high schools that prepare high school students for technical career paths while providing them with a more traditional high school education at the same time.

Financing Technical School

Students who are having trouble affording the cost of technical school or who want to save some money can pursue these options for helping them finance their education.

FAFSA

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) each year while attending school, will allow technical school students to learn if they qualify for any grants, scholarships, or federal student loans. Check in with the financial aid office at your technical school if you have any questions about whether or not they participate in the federal aid program.

Grants

Grants are a form of financial aid that students don’t have to pay back. Essentially, a grant gives students free money to pay for their school tuition, fees, and supplies.

Scholarships

Scholarships are another form of gift aid that students don’t have to pay back. It can be a good idea to apply for scholarships to help lower the cost of attending vocational school.

Private Student Loans

Students who don’t qualify for enough gift aid or federal student loans to cover the costs of attending vocational school can apply for a private student loan through a private lender such as a credit union, bank, or loan lender. Unlike federal student loans, private lenders will often evaluate an applicant’s credit score and history, among other factors, when making lending decisions.

Recommended: A Guide to Private Student Loans

Usually, private student loans come with higher interest rates and less perks than federal student loans, so they are generally considered an option after federal options and other funding sources have been exhausted.

Employer Sponsorship

If someone’s employer would benefit from the skills they would gain by attending technical school, then their employer may be willing to pay for them to attend technical school by offering tuition reimbursement or some other form of financial aid. It can’t hurt for employed students to see what support programs their employer has in place.

Job Prospects for Technical School Graduates

Because different technical schools focus on different training programs, students need to choose one that has a program that aligns with their goals. For example, students who want to attend technical school may be doing so to pursue a career as an auto mechanic, electrician, hair stylist, or chef.

Is Technical School Right for You?

There’s no one right path to take after high school or when deciding to switch careers, but some may find that attending technical school can help them pursue the career of their choice.
Consider your career goals and the requirements for pursuing that career path. If that career path would benefit or require the training offered by a technical school, then it may benefit the student to explore attending a technical school. In some cases, another education option may help them reach that goal more effectively and efficiently than technical school.

The Takeaway

Attending technical school can be a great option for those who want to pursue a career that requires a specialized skill set, yet which doesn’t require a college degree. Technical school takes less time than pursuing a four-year degree and can lead to many great career opportunities.

Some students may find they can’t afford to pay cash for technical school and need to borrow money in order to finance their education. This is where private student loans could help.

SoFi’s private student loans aren’t available to technical school students, but may be worth considering for students transferring to a university. With SoFi private student loans, it’s easy to apply online and borrowers don’t have to worry about expensive fees. After graduation, they can enjoy a six month grace period to give them time to start their career before having to pay back their student loans.

It takes just a few minutes to find out if you pre-qualify for a no fee SoFi private student loan.

FAQ:

How are technical schools and trade schools different?

What’s a technical school and how does it differ from a trade school? The main difference between trade schools and technical schools, is that technical schools offer more classroom and instructional education, whereas trade schools do more hands-on training (although technical schools offer this type of training as well, just not as much).

How is college different from a technical school?

At a college, it’s possible to pursue a bachelor’s degree, which usually takes four years to complete, whereas technical school helps students work towards certificates that take two years or less to pursue. Students who attend college usually focus on more academic disciplines, whereas technical school teaches specialized skills.

What can you study at a technical school?

It’s possible to study many different subjects at technical schools and the subjects each school teaches can vary. For example, students can enroll in programs focused on computer technology, healthcare support, HVAC technology, electrical installation and maintenance, and plumbing.


Photo credit: iStock/Laurence Dutton

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