What is Trade School? Pros and Cons Guide 2024

What is Trade School? Pros and Cons Guide 2024

What is Trade School

The demand for skilled workers is at an all-time high. From plumbers to electricians to healthcare workers, skilled trades are often a necessary feature of the functionality of modern society. As a result, a number of these professions are “recession-proof,” and can provide a steady income for workers, even in a difficult economy. But how exactly do potential workers find their way into working in the trades?

There are a few ways to break into the trades. One of the most popular is enrolling in a program at a trade school. And, once you’re established in the trades, don’t forget to learn more about how home service business software can help you reach your goals.

What is a Trade School?

A trade school is a popular form of secondary education that allows students to specialize in a skilled trade. These institutions are often called vocational schools. They offer focused job training without the high costs and dorm lifestyle of 4-year colleges. Trade schools are ideal for someone looking for formal education that will grant them a faster path into the workforce. 

How is a Trade School Different From College?

Traditional 4-year colleges provide students with a well-rounded, general education along with their chosen field of study. Classes such as fine arts, history, and other cultural studies are often required. Traditional colleges also offer students an on-site, dorm-style of living while they complete their studies.

Trade schools do not require any such general education. Trade schools teach students how to do a specific job of their choosing. As a result, trade schools take less time to complete and are less costly for students, enabling them to enter the workforce faster and with less debt than students pursuing 4-year degrees. 

Are There Different Types of Trade Schools?

Yes! A trade school is simply an educational institution that provides formal training for a skilled job. Trade schools are as numerous as the skills they teach. Some trade schools teach one specific skill while others offer programs and degrees similar to a 4-year college. 

If you are interested in a specific industry, you can find trade schools for everything from cosmetology to carpentry. 

What Majors Can You Study at Trade School?

Below are just some examples of trade industries that benefit from or require formal education.

  • Carpenters construct and repair building framework with wood products.
  • HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) technicians service furnaces, air conditioners, boilers, water heaters and building ventilation in homes and commercial spaces. 
  • Marine Repair Technicians service, repair and rebuild marine engines and power systems.
  • Electricians service and install electrical power, wiring, and lighting.
  • Diesel Engine Technicians repair and maintain agricultural, industrial equipment and over-the-road trucks
  • Accounting is often a two-year associate degree that teaches students all aspects of financial reporting for businesses.
  • Early Childhood Carers specialize in childhood development.
  • Elder Carers often need a focused education to learn techniques to care for those in both physical and cognitive decline. 
  • Funeral service jobs like morticians and funeral directors often require specialized training.
  • Plumbers repair and maintain water and sewage systems in homes and commercial spaces.
  • Tax Preparers often complete a certification before they begin to help businesses and individuals with their tax information. 
  • CDL (Commercial Drivers License) holders need to take a specialized training course and exam before they can work as an over-the-road truck driver.
  • Auto Mechanics service, repair and rebuild automotive engines.
  • Construction professionals work on all aspects of new homes and buildings. 
  • IT (Information Technology) specialists install, repair and maintain various computer systems, both for individuals and businesses. 
  • Nursing Assistants must complete a two-year degree before entering the medical field. 
  • Pharmacists handle and distribute medication to individuals. 
  • Phlebotomists collect, handle and transport blood within hospitals. 
  • Veterinary Technicians care for large and small animals in a medical environment.
  • Machine Tool Operators work in various manufacturing positions. 
  • Welders fabricate metal to create various products and repair damage
  • Dental Assistants work alongside dentists to clean patient teeth and assist in dental procedures. 
  • EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) are first responders tasked with life-saving medical duties
  • Cosmetologists offer professional beauty and styling services. 

Are Trade Jobs in High Demand?

Skilled-trade jobs are almost always in demand. Many of these industries are essential for the functionality of our society. 

If your car breaks down or your furnace fails on a cold winter night, you have to get it fixed, whether you want to spend the money or not. These are the types of jobs that survive even the toughest economies. 

Pro tip: If you’re looking for a job that is “recession proof,” look for the things that people need. Services relating to automotive, HVAC, plumbing, transportation/shipping and health care are all considered necessities. 

How Long is a Typical Trade Program?

Most trade programs require two years of full-time study to complete. However, there may be certain certifications that take less time. 

Keep in mind that it may take longer to complete the program if you are working and only taking part-time credits. Many students opt to work while they are in school to pay for the courses. This is a great option to keep student loans from piling up but it may take longer to finish the program.

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How Much Does Trade School Cost?

The cost of trade school can range anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000, depending on the program you choose and your location. 

Public trade schools and community colleges are typically less expensive than private trade schools. 

How Can I Pay For Trade School?

While trade school is less costly than a 4-year college, the tuition rates can still be daunting; especially if you’re new to the workforce. Luckily, there are some options for new and returning students. 

Federal loans are a form of student aid that can be applied to most public trade schools. These are the same type of loans that students in 4-year colleges use. Most federal student loans look at your eligibility and will pay a portion of your tuition, allowing you to repay the loan upon graduation of the program.

Grants, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back. If you are in school, it’s a good idea to look into your eligibility for a Federal Pell Grant. Pell Grants are typically given to those who are in difficult financial situations and will help to lower the cost of your tuition if awarded. The goal of a Pell Grant is to make education more accessible to those who may struggle to afford it. 

Scholarships may be available for students going into specific trades. These scholarships vary by trade and by program, which is why it’s so important to do your research before committing to one school over another. Like grants, scholarships do not need to be paid back.

Private loans are an option if you do not meet the requirements for federal aid. These loans are given out by banks and credit unions. Your interest and repayment options are dependent on the terms of your individual loan.

If you don’t want to take out student loans, you can always work through school to pay your tuition. This comes with its own difficulties and can mean it takes longer for you to complete your program but is still a valid option for students. 

College vs. Trade School

Choosing a path for secondary education can be intimidating. Many students go to a 4-year college without knowing exactly what they want to do. While this can work out for students pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree, it doesn’t work too well in trade school. Trade schools focus on the specifics of one particular job, so you have to know where you’re headed when you start a program.  

Pros of Trade School

Shorter programs. Unlike traditional 4-year colleges, most trade school programs are completed in two years, allowing students a shorter path into the workforce.

Affordable tuition. Trade schools can cost less than half of the tuition required for a 4-year degree in many cases.

Hands on learning. For those who like “hands on” learning over classrooms and lecture halls, trade schools offer more opportunities for education.

Job demand. There is often high demand for graduates of trade schools upon graduation. Most students are able to find a job in their industry rather quickly. 

Cons of Trade School

Fewer options for financial aid. Eligibility for financial aid through federal programs may be more limited in trade schools as opposed to 4-year colleges. Public trade schools often have better financial aid options for students that meet the requirements. 

Limited career options. Trade schools train for a specific skill. If you choose another path somewhere down the line, you may be more limited in your career options than if you chose a more general area of study. 

Difficulty choosing a program. For students who are not yet sure of what they want to specialize in, trade schools may seem daunting. With 4-year colleges, students can enroll without locking down a major right away. 

How Much Can I Earn After Trade School?

Earning potential after trade school depends on your chosen trade and location. The average salary of workers in the trades between $40,000 and $60,000 per year. 

Some skilled tradesmen and women work for established companies while others branch out and work for themselves. Earning potential often increases when you start your own business, which is a goal for many workers in the trades.

Should I Attend Trade School?

Trade school is ideal for potential students that know what career they want to specialize in. Trade schools are popular for people who like to work outdoors, work with their hands and be up on their feet during the workday. 

Most public trade schools allow potential students to visit campus and learn about their program options. From there, you can do your own research on any specific programs you are interested in and find out how long the program takes, the average employment rate for that skill in your area and the average salary for a new graduate. 

Trade schools and community colleges can be a great alternative to a traditional 4-year degree if you have a career plan in mind.

Trade School Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Definition of Trade School?

A trade school (also called a vocational school or community college) is a form of secondary education that specializes in teaching skilled trades.

Is Trade School Better Than College?

This depends entirely on what career you choose. If your chosen career requires a Bachelor’s Degree, you will need to get it from a 4-year college. If you are looking to be an HVAC technician or a plumber, you are far better off in trade school. 

Will I Get a Diploma When I Finish Trade School?

Yes, you will often receive a degree when you complete trade school. Again, it depends on what trade you pursue but you will receive a certificate when you graduate. Many trade schools offer Associate Degrees, which typically take two years to complete. 

You cannot get a Bachelor’s Degree in trade school. But if you choose to pursue a skilled trade, you likely will not need a 4-year degree for your career goals.

What Are The Benefits of Trade School?

Trade school allows students to receive a thorough education in a single, specialized skill. The biggest draw of trade school is the potential for high earning jobs without the need to spend a lot of money on a 4-year degree.

Trade school offers new graduates:

  • Lower tuition costs
  • Shorter schooling programs
  • Job security after graduation


One final benefit of learning a trade is the potential to work for yourself in the future. Many trades workers choose to start their own business or work as independent contractors. This allows for greater personal freedom at work and higher earning capabilities. 

Which Trade Earns The Most Money?

According to sofi.com, the top 5 high-earning trades jobs are:

  1. Transportation, Storage and Distribution Managers
  2. Nuclear Power Reactor Operator 
  3. Elevator Mechanic
  4. Radiation Therapist
  5. Subway Operator


If you choose the right trade, you don’t need a 4-year degree to make a lot of money. Trade schools are a great resource to set students up for success with job training, hands-on learning and certification for their chosen field.

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