What Is a Trade School?

What Is a Trade School?

A trade school, sometimes referred to as a vocational school, is an educational institution students attended in order to learn hands-on skills in a specific field or job.

If your child wants to be an electrician or a plumber, trade school is the place to go in order to learn these skills. Attending trade school means focusing exclusively on what’s needed to be hired in a specific field of study. 

The misconception that only students who do not do well in high school attend trade schools is just that…a misconception.

Students of all academic levels and abilities can find trade school to be a rewarding and quite satisfying option to a four-year university program.


What Do You Learn at a Trade School?

Any education path your child takes at a trade school will be based on hands-on experiences. In order to prepare themselves for jobs such as a boilermaker or aircraft mechanic, students need to learn particular skills that may not be applicable elsewhere.

Over the course of between eight months and two years, trade school prepares its students for immediate employment in jobs that are high in demand and often involve physical labor.. 

Some of the top trade schools include Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, North Central Kansas Technical College, and State Technical College of Missouri. Trade schools can be either private or public and some are for-profit.

Students will not earn a bachelor’s degree at a trade school, but instead graduate with a certificate or an associate degree verifying they’ve successfully completed the programs and are ready for employment. 


What Is the Difference Between a Trade School and College?

Length of Trade School vs. College

Although both types of institutions provide students with the education necessary to join the workforce, the similarities between a trade school and a typical four-year university end there.

You might be wondering, how long is trade school?  A trade school program takes a quarter to half the time students typically spend studying at a university, allowing trade school students to start working full time much sooner than their college counterparts.

This head start is an advantage for trade school students. It allows them to gain two or more additional years of work experience and income while other students are still enrolled in four-year colleges.

Pay After Trade School vs. College

On the subject of income, data collected from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks the highest paying jobs on average from both university and trade school graduates.

The results of the research show that, on average, a student graduating from college will earn more, while jobs available to students graduating from trade school pay less.

Additionally, the differences in lifetime earnings increase over time as careers progress.

While the top jobs for college graduates may have higher salaries, the top jobs available for trade school graduates pay considerably more than some jobs graduates get out of college.

Occupations such as social worker pay less, on average, than all of the top jobs trade schools train their students to perform.

Although some jobs requiring a four-year degree might pay higher salaries, there are other reasons to consider attending a trade school over college.

Cost of Trade School vs. College

All of the extra income might seem great, however, about 70 percent of students graduate college with some form of debt. This is in part due to the increasing cost of attending four-year colleges over the past few decades.

According to College Board, which oversees the SAT and Advanced Placement tests,  the average tuition per year of a private college is $32,410.

Multiply that over four years and it’s no wonder students are worried about paying for college, especially when the cost of a trade school education on average is $33,000 in total


What Trade School Jobs Pay the Most?

A common question regarding attending trade school is which jobs pay the most.

Based on the research performed by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest paying jobs requiring either a trade school certificate or associate degree are as follows:

  • Air Traffic Controllers

Median salary: $124,000

  • Radiation Therapists

Median salary: $80,570

  • Nuclear Technicians

Median salary: $80,370

  • Electrician

Median salary: $78,410

  • Ship Engineers

Median salary: $73,110

  • Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Median salary: $75,660

  • Captains and Pilots of Water Vessels

Median salary: $70,920

  • Dental Hygienist

Median salary: $74,070

  • Insurance Appraiser

Median salary: $62,100

  • Aircraft Mechanic

Median salary: $61,020


Is Trade School a Good Idea?

Many students have been encouraged by their parents, teachers, and peers to attend a four-year college. They may not have even heard of a trade school.

So how can you decide if a trade school is right for your child?

There are a few key things to keep in mind when deciding if trade school is worth it.

Getting accepted into a trade school may be easier than most four-year universities, but there are some requirements for admission.

For example, most technical or vocational schools usually require a high school diploma, GED, or state approved home schooling.

Specific programs, like that for a medical assistant, may have additional prerequisites, and some will expect a student to take an Accuplacer exam that assesses readiness for college.

The shorter time period required to complete trade school also means that the curriculum is only based on classes related to a specific field of study.

Bypassing extraneous material and elective classes would be a plus for those who are job-focused.

If your child isn’t interested in the general education requirements of a four-year college or wants to do more hands-on learning in a smaller environment with more direct access to teachers, trade school might be for them.






Matthew Schwartz

Matthew is a senior at The Haverford School, in Haverford, PA. He is the editor-in-chief of his school newspaper, The Index. He enjoys writing, photography, and film making.