Exploring Trade School: A Valuable Alternative For Students

exploring trade schools

Introduction to Trade Schools

While it may be a little out of the norm, students across the country are considering trade schools over traditional college. Not everybody wants to or can attend a four-year college or university. Some high school graduates want to seek a practical career after high school. Others don’t have the financial capacity or time for a bachelor’s degree.

Consider attending trade schools if you want to enter skill-based careers. A trade school, also known as a technical/vocational school, offers short, intensive programs. Many of their programs don’t require formal education or a college degree. 

Trade schools strongly emphasize technical and communication abilities. Their programs take less time and cost less money.

Featured Programs

What Do Trade Schools Offer?

What trade schools are there? It’s important to note that different trade schools will offer different programs. Some trade schools offer as many as ten programs, while others focus on a few specialties. 

Trade schools offer diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees in various in-demand fields. Some of the most common include healthcare and information technology. Unlike four-year degrees, trade schools do not focus on general education courses and theoretical learning.

All trade school classes are short, lasting from weeks to two years. It focuses on offering students hands-on learning and specialized expertise. They offer a quick path to several skill-based job markets.

Advantages of Trade Schools

Enrollment in trade schools has significantly increased, mainly because of their advantages. Compared to four-year programs, trade school programs are more accessible to many students. Let’s talk about some of the top benefits of trade schools:  


Trade schools do not have a rigorous enrollment process. In fact, applicants can apply to several trade schools with no high school diploma. Most trade schools will focus more on an applicant’s practical skills and aptitude rather than academic credentials. 

Moreover, trade schools offer more start dates than traditional colleges. They’re not tied to semesters or quarters so you can join right after high school.

Focus on Practical Skills

Vocational programs allow students to focus solely on enhancing their practical skill set. Their approach helps students hit the ground running immediately after graduation. 

Less Financial Burden and Faster ROI

Trade schools offer lower financial burdens than traditional four-year degrees. EDI shows that the average yearly cost of a bachelor’s degree is $36,436. On the other hand, trade schools average only $33,000 for the whole education.

Moreover, they have shorter durations, helping students spend less time in school and quickly enter the workforce. They also offer flexible schedules that help students manage tuition and living expenses.

There are now several online trade colleges that further enhance accessibility and affordability.

Small Classes

Trade schools keep classes small to mimic real work settings. This means more attention from instructors and a supportive group of peers. With fewer students, career services can give personalized coaching. Job placement is a priority, with career coordinators helping students find relevant jobs or internships.

Skill Development

Trade schools are well-positioned to offer updated skills for today’s workforce. These schools are especially important for producing a labor force in healthcare, IT, and manual labor. These markets are at low exposure to automation or offshoring.

Trade schools offer many benefits. Yet, it’s essential to weigh them against potential drawbacks before committing. Some of the things you need to understand are that vocational programs have:

  • Limited academic diversity
  • Career limitations
  • Limited financial aid
  • Limited networking opportunities
  • Societal stigma 
  • Fast-paced environment

Career Paths Through Trade Schools

Trade schools offer several programs leading to career paths. The options are limitless. Whatever skill-based career you envision, there’s likely a program tailored to it. Nevertheless, here are some of the most popular trade school paths:

Computer Information Systems/IT Specialist

These programs study the basics of networking, game design, and cybersecurity. It prepares students for beginner tech roles. 


These programs train students in hairstyling, skincare, and makeup application. Completers will have the skills to work in or manage salons or spas.

Criminal Justice Professional

Programs in criminal justice provide students with an understanding of law enforcement, corrections, and the judicial system. These programs are for those seeking a career in law enforcement agencies or security firms.

Culinary Arts Professionals

Culinary arts programs focus on cooking techniques, food safety, and menu planning. It helps students gain skills for food-related careers.

Dental Assistant

Dental assistant courses cover dental anatomy, radiography, infection control, and chair-side assisting. These programs often incorporate hands-on clinical training for practical experience.


These programs teach students how to install electrical power systems, check circuit breakers, and fix wiring. The top trade schools for electricians refine technical knowledge and skills specific to the industry. 

HVAC Technician

These programs prepare students to work in the heating and cooling sector. This is one of the best programs offered at trade school as it leads to one of the most in-demand careers. 

Massage Therapist

For people who enjoy caring for people, a massage therapy career can be fulfilling. These programs include courses in physiology, anatomy, and disease. They may also include topics on business management and ethics. 

Mechanic/Auto Mechanic

This is ideal for individuals passionate about cars. Trade school mechanics programs teach students about transaxles, manual drivetrains, suspension, and steering systems.

Medical Assistant

This program covers medical terminology, anatomy, patient care procedures, and medical office management. This trains students for clinical and administrative tasks. 


This is one of the most enrolled courses. It prepares students for careers as plumbers or pipefitters. The curriculum typically includes courses in blueprint reading, plumbing codes, and safety practices.


Welding programs provide students with hands-on training in various welding techniques. Students study arc welding, gas welding, and TIG welding. 

Other programs found in trade schools include:

  • Esthetician
  • Graphic Design
  • Construction Management
  • Pharmacy Technicians
  • Commercial Driving
  • Veterinary Assistants
  • Renewable Energy Technicians
  • Phlebotomy Technicians

Tuition-Paying Tips for Trade School Students

The next step is to figure out how to pay for trade school. While you can pay from your own pocket, we suggest exhausting all financial resources first. 

Here is an outline of how to reduce out-of-pocket costs in pursuing trade schools. 

Choose cheap schools.

Of course, to have an affordable learning experience, you need to choose a cheap school. However, always remember to consider school accreditation, curriculum, and overall fit. 

If you have a job that you can’t leave because it’s your only source of income, consider cheap online trade schools.  

Apply for the FAFSA early. 

Federal aid opportunities are very limited for an on-campus and online trade school. If you complete the FAFSA at a later date, the available options will likely be gone. 

Seek Employer Assistance.

If you’re already employed in a specific field, consider pursuing a trade school within the field. Ask your employer for tuition reimbursements or sponsorship programs for skill development. 

Apply for student loans.

This should be the last of your options when pursuing a trade school online. Loans, especially private loans with high interest rates, can strain your future finances. 

Claim tax credits.

Although tax credits won’t help students pay for school directly, they can reimburse them for some of their costs when they file taxes. The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) can lower taxes for qualifying students with educational expenses, potentially resulting in larger tax refunds.

Scholarship Opportunities for Vocational Education

Scholarships aren’t just for undergraduate and graduate programs anymore. Many are available for vocational careers, such as HVAC, mechanics, and medical assistants.  

Locating scholarship opportunities specific to trade students can be tricky. This is especially true since most scholarships are based on qualifications on your FAFSA. We suggest speaking with the school you’re eyeing for any available scholarships. 

Here are a few of the popular scholarship programs trade school students can apply for: 

Pauahi Foundation Public Scholarships

The Pauahi Foundation awards scholarships from private donors. It supports undergraduate, graduate, trade, and vocational courses in various fields, with merit-based awards and financial need restrictions.

Melvin Kruger Endowed Scholarship Program

The National Roofing Foundation has launched a scholarship program for NRCA employees, immediate family members, and contractor members. This program is open for those pursuing post-secondary education in college and vocational programs.

Kids’ Chance of Michigan Scholarship Program

Kids’ Chance of Michigan, a state chapter of Kids’ Chance of America, provides scholarships to Michigan kids whose parents have been killed or injured in work-related accidents.

Financial Aid Options for Trade School Students

There are several forms of financial aid that students should be aware of. It’s important to note that these options are readily accessible to students enrolled in vocational schools, given that the school is accredited and the student has completed the FAFSA.

  • Federal and state grants
  • Federal student loans
  • Private student loans
  • Work-study jobs
  • Scholarships

Conclusion: Is Trade School Right for You?

Trade degree programs have many benefits. They are quick, affordable, and immersive. They give you an easy head start on a career without breaking the bank. They’re also a great way to explore your passions.

However, they are not for everyone. 

Trade schools do not fit students who want a theoretical or research-oriented environment. They are career-focused, which may often limit job opportunities to the course you’ve completed.