What Is a Trade School and Is It Right for You?

August 27, 2021 · 6 minute read

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What Is a Trade School and Is It Right for You?

High-paying, high-demand occupations don’t always require a degree from a traditional four-year college. What if you could dramatically increase your income with a certificate or two-year degree from a trade school?

If you’re considering trade school vs. a four-year college, here’s a factor to consider: with the training and education offered by a trade school, you could further your employment opportunities in an array of career paths while still potentially earning in the range of $50,000 to $90,000 a year (though this can vary greatly based on the type of trade school), all without the large price tag of a regular four-year university.

Here are a few thoughts to consider when determining whether or not a trade school is right for you.

Is College Necessary for Your Career?

It seems like there’s more and more emphasis on attending a traditional four-year college or university right after high school, but is it absolutely necessary for your career?

Depending on the type of career you plan to pursue, the answer might not be so clear. While traditional four-year schools offer a breadth of studies to dabble in, a trade school provides vocation-specific courses. Remember, selecting the right school is a big decision, so taking time to explore and research the best college fit for you might be a good use of time.

Understanding What a Trade School Is

A trade school, or vocational school, focuses its curriculum on specific skill-based vocations. But don’t let the name “trade school” fool you into thinking these schools are just for mechanics or electricians.

There are a wide variety of trade school programs specializing in careers in web design, entrepreneurship, culinary arts, film production, nursing, paralegal studies, and many other areas of study.

Pros of a Trade School

Trade schools can have plenty of advantages. Here are a few to consider.

Specific Course of Study

A trade school can be a solid option for those who know what career they want. Trade schools often have a more focused curriculum. Students generally won’t have to spend time filling general education requirements. Classes are curated to the student’s chosen field and some programs offer hands-on training.

It’s a refreshing take on classroom instruction. You won’t have to worry so much about choosing the right major. Trade schools cover specific areas of study, which can help you zero in on your career choice.

Less Time to Complete Than a Four Year Degree

Another pro of a trade school is it typically takes less time to complete your degree. Some programs take less than four years to finish, although they may require additional training or apprenticeship for certification or licensing depending on the chosen career field. For example, you could get a degree in media design technology from Southeast Technical Institute in just four semesters .

Recommended: What Are Apprenticeships?

Faculty Attention

Attending a trade school can also mean more one-on-one attention from faculty. Generally, trade schools boast smaller class sizes than four year universities. This could mean more individualized attention from faculty.

If you study better with less distraction (and fewer people), a trade school offers a conducive learning environment. The Universal Technical Institute touts smaller class sizes, “which allows instructors to invest more time in students.”

Cons of a Trade School

While trades schools have many advantages, they’re not for everyone. Here are some cons to consider.

Extremely Focused Curriculum

For students who know what they want out of a career, the focused course of study is a pro. But for students who aren’t sure what they want to study, the narrow focus may be limiting.

Non-Traditional College Atmosphere

Things are done a little bit differently at a trade school versus college. If you end up attending a trade school, you might not have that traditional university feel of game day Saturdays, Greek life, or pulling an all-nighter at the library.

You most likely won’t be living on campus in a dormitory setting, either. This could be seen as a disadvantage if you’re craving a more traditional college atmosphere where students wear school gear daily.

Narrow Focus May Limit Career Options in the Long-Term

With a trade school degree, students specialize in a specific area. This can be great for job placement after graduation, especially as there is currently a skilled-labor shortage. However, over time, trade schools may not prepare students for changes in their chosen industry. A broader degree may lead to more flexibility and versatility in the workforce.

How Much Trade School Costs

So, how much does trade school cost? It depends on what program you apply for and how long the program takes to complete.

A two-year public school will run, on average, $3,760 in tuition per year . That translates to roughly less than $8,000 for a degree that could place you in a career in agriculture, business, health sciences, construction, and more. A two-year private not-for-profit school has a national average of $15,195 in tuition per year .

Keep in mind that there could be additional costs, such as licensing outside of school to get started on a career path.

At a traditional four-year program, Undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board at an in-state, public four-year university for the 2020-2021 school year was $10,560 per year .

Factor in extracurricular fees for any student athletic tickets, club and organization fees, and fees for joining the student recreation center. Tuition is even higher at a private nonprofit four-year college with CollegeBoard reporting an estimate of $37,650 in tuition, fees, room and board per year.

Trade school can be a more affordable option, and many schools offer financial aid and scholarships that could help further lower the overall cost.

Recommended: How Much Does Culinary School Cost?

Can You Take out Loans for a Trade School?

There are plenty of student loan options for traditional colleges and universities, but what about taking out loans for a trade school? Some private lenders may provide private student loans for trade schools or non-degree programs, but some, including SoFi, do not. Additionally, the lenders that do offer these types of loans will review your credit history and other factors before determining the type of financing you’ll qualify for.

Federal aid is also available for some trade schools, though you must meet certain requirements. For instance, you must be enrolled at least half-time in a program that leads to a degree or certificate.

One way to see if your trade school is eligible for federal aid is to check the College Navigator , which is run by the National Center for Education Statistics. Another option is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and to look up the federal code for the school. The FAFSA is required for students interested in applying for federal financial aid.

The Takeaway

Trade school can be a smart choice for students who have a specific career path in mind. Generally, trade school is more affordable than a four-year college degree, and can take a shorter time to complete. Some schools may be eligible for federal financial aid.

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. While private student loans can help students pay for educational expenses, they lack borrower protections like deferment and income-driven repayment plans that federal student loans are afforded. For this reason, they’re generally considered after all other forms of aid have been exhausted.

With a SoFi private student loan, there are no fees and potential borrowers can find out if they pre-qualify in a few minutes online.

Learn more about private student loans from SoFi.

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