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

July 08, 2019 · 5 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

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 $40,000 and $60,000 a year , all without the large price tag of a regular four-year university. (That additional training might include securing licenses and certifications.)

According to a Washington State Auditor report, many careers that align with secondary career and technical education (CTE) courses that many trade schools offer pay an annual average salary of more than $54,000 .

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

A trade school can be a solid option for those who know what career they want. There’s unlikely to be a mandatory biology class when you’re going into the fashion field. Classes are catered to all aspects of your chosen field, and in some cases you may receive hands-on training before you enter the workforce.

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.

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 .

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 tauts smaller class sizes, “which allows instructors to invest more time in students.”

Cons of a Trade School

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.

Another disadvantage of a trade school might be limitation in career choices. Let’s say you opt for a degree in culinary arts. If job shortages arise, like it did from 2007 to 2009 recession when unemployment peaked at 10% , it may be difficult to find positions as a chef or restauranteur. A broader degree in hospitality could open doors into hotel and restaurant management with more variety of positions available.

Finally, there’s the simple lack of awareness factor. In a Washington State Auditor report , high school students and parents were unaware of opportunities for career and technical education (CTE) courses.

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, $3,468 in tuition per year .

That translates to roughly less than $8,000 for a degree that could place you in career in agriculture, business, health sciences, construction, and more. A two-year private for-profit school has a national average of $14,517 in tuition per year . Though keep in mind that there could be additional costs, such as licensing outside of school to get started on your career.

Let’s compare those costs to what you’d get at a traditional school. Undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board at an in-state, public four-year university for the 2018-19 school year was more than $10,000 per year .

Don’t forget to tack on your extracurricular activities, like student athletic tickets, club and organization fees, and fees for joining the student recreation center. Tuition is even higher at a private four-year college with CollegeBoard reporting an estimate of $37,430 in tuition, fees, room and board per year.

Trade school can be an affordable option, and many schools offer financial aid and scholarships further lowering the overall 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.

A great way to see if your trade school of choice is eligible is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and to look up the federal code . You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA in order to be considered for federal financial aid.

Need Help with Student Loans?

Are you interested in continuing your education after getting a four-year degree by attending a trade school or certificate program, but your initial student loan debt is holding you back?

If you had to take out student loans to fund your four-year degree at a college or university and you are interested in possibly lowering the monthly payment—or changing your loan term—of your existing student loans, you might consider student loan refinancing.

(As of this writing, SoFi only offers student loan refinancing for those who have graduated from qualifying Title IV accredited university or graduate programs.)

Refinancing with SoFi pays off your old student loans and combines your payment into one new, private loan. There are flexible repayment options and absolutely no fees. SoFi helps students and parents make smart financial decisions through transparency, tons of resources and support, and modern customer-first solutions.

See if refinancing with SoFi can help you pay down your existing student debt at a lower rate!


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.
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