Is Trade School Worth It?: The Value of High School Vo-Tech Education

Is trade school worth it?

Key Takeaways:

  • Vocational education now prepares students for both skilled trades and traditional college, addressing modern workforce needs.
  • High school vo-tech programs increasingly aim to blend practical skills with academic foundations suitable for future college endeavors.
  • Post-secondary vocational programs often offer transferable credits and associate degrees, making them a cost-effective alternative to four-year colleges.

Students preparing for high school may wonder if a trade school that offers vocational education is right for them. One prevalent concern is bound to be, “Will a vo-tech school provide me with vocational training as well as provide them with a solid foundation for traditional college?” You may find that a vo-tech education prepares you even better than a traditional track for what lies ahead for you in the world of work.

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The Changing Face of Vo-Tech

Vo-tech education has changed dramatically since its inception in the early 1900s. Vocational curriculums were originally created to train students with little aptitude for higher education to perform a skilled trade. However, these trade school programs garnered a stigma over the years. The students placed into these programs were often viewed as “less than” students in a traditional college prep program. But times are changing!

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According to the Washington Post, now more than ever before, vocational programs are expected to train students in a skilled trade AND to prepare them for traditional college. Today’s workforce is much different than it was in the early 20th century, when vocational programs were originally conceived. Gone are the days of training students to perform a single job for one company throughout their working tenure. An individual will generally work in several roles and may even have several careers throughout his lifetime.

Trade School and Vocational High School Programs

Vocational and trade school programs at the high school level are varied, but most are trending toward preparing students for both their selected applied trades and for traditional college programs they may pursue in the future. The key is to find out as much as you can about the vocational programs offered in your area. Research the extent to which the local secondary vo-tech programs will prepare you to eventually pursue a four-year degree at an accredited college or university. You may need to travel outside your immediate area to find a vocational program that will provide you with both academic and applied training.


Post-Secondary Vo-Tech Programs

Vocational education at the post-secondary level enables the trade school student to earn a living wage in a relatively short period of time. However, the student may eventually choose to continue his education at another institution of higher learning. This is why there is inherent pressure on today’s vo-tech programs offer transferable credits along with applied skills credits. Additionally, many post-secondary vocational tech programs provide an actual transferable Associate degree, and not just a certificate of completion of the program. Should the student decide to pursue a four-year degree at a later date, he would enter the four-year program as a third-year junior.

Related: Important Considerations for Trade School Graduates

One of the most outspoken proponents for vocational training is CNN’s Mike Rowe, host of the “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” and “Dirty Jobs” TV shows. Rowe is a vocal advocate for vo-tech and trade schools as he points out that a college degree does not make an employee more qualified for certain entry level jobs such as a medical assistant or dental hygienist, for example, particularly if the employee has no prior experience in the field. Rowe favors trade schools, apprenticeships, community college, and on-the-job training over traditional college degrees because of the technical skills they teach. He should know because he has done it all, including attaining a four-year degree from Towson University.

Related: Top 25 Trade School Careers

Generally, parents are become much more discerning about making sure the return on investment for a bachelor’s degree will actually pay off.  A traditional college path may or may not provide the student with necessary skills to survive in the workforce. And it often results in burdensome student loans. You may find that a vocational education provides you with more of the skills you need for today’s work environment than heading right to college, and at a more affordable cost.