Going to college isn’t the only way to get ready for the real world…
Trade School Can Be An Alternative to College
Not every student is interested in a traditional four-year undergrad education. Vocational colleges, technical schools, and trade schools are potentially a perfect solution vs. going to college. The philosophy of these schools differs from four-year colleges in that their focus is to prepare their students for immediate entrance into the workforce in specific positions in a variety of trades, crafts, vocations, and skilled professions. And for many, they do it in two years or less.
Vocational, technical, and trade schools may all have an overarching similar philosophy, but with so many focusing on such a wide range of specialties, it’s realistic to assume that there are many differences within that group of schools as well.
The list of specific skills they concentrate on is varied: HVAC, automotive, plumbing, electrician, aviation, healthcare, medical billing and coding, radiography, management, accounting, office administration, the culinary arts and professions, interior design, photography, music production, web design, graphic design, vet tech, cosmetology, legal assistant, and more.
Each specialty has its own salary range and there are high and low grades within each specialty.
What Are The Benefits Of A Trade School Education vs. College?
For some, the pros of attending a trade school vs. college can significantly outweigh the cons.
Students are able to quickly transition into the workforce because the training they receive is hands-on and specific to the industry, minimizing the lag time between graduation and employment. Job placement rates for technical colleges far outpace those of traditional four-year colleges.
If you’d like to learn more about the opportunities in these types of schools, a good place to start is the Council on Occupational Education, which came into existence initially in 1971 as the Commission on Occupational Education Institutions (COEI) of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
This is a regional accrediting association that serves institutions in an 11-state region, and although it is based in a specific geographic area, the initiative serves as a model for what students should be looking for when thinking about obtaining occupational-based certification as an entry to job and career opportunities.
The COE states that “A certificate, diploma or degree in technical education offers a number of benefits for parents and students alike because the path to it is usually faster and more affordable. Parents appreciate the reduced tuition costs and high job placement rates of accredited institutions. In 2016, the average 4-year college graduate held $37,172 of student debt. In contrast, graduates of technical colleges held about $10,000 of debt.
What’s It Like Attending a Trade School?
Louise Chiffonade Brescia is someone whose career journey has taken her through two types of vocational training at different points in her life. Here are some details about her personal experience with vocational training and some of the pros and cons.
Born in Brooklyn to blue-collar parents, Louise relates the story of why she chose this path. “To be honest, I’m not a ‘college person.’ I can’t take a bunch of unnecessary courses to get to the information I actually need. Society needs to quit stigmatizing those who work with their hands. Having said that, make sure your school is reputable. Attend a school that will educate you further in something you already love to do; something for which you have an aptitude.”
With all these programs available, the quality of education provided can vary immensely. Louise offers a comparison of the two programs she attended…
“I attended two vocational schools, but only I felt only one, Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (which is now called the Institute of Culinary Education), was worth it. I went to Everest for Medical Assistant training and the parent company, Corinthian Colleges, went bankrupt because they over promised and under delivered. In the process, they created millions of dollars of student debt that will likely never be repaid and will drag the students’ credit into the ground. Before you take the plunge, look at reviews and request permission to speak to past students. Put out a social media call to your friends asking if anyone has attended the school you are considering and listen to their feedback. Be sure that guaranteed career placement is part of the deal or you will be out in the cold on your own with no job and a bunch of debt.”
As with any educational program, it’s up to potential students to do the legwork to assure that the program they choose will meet their needs.
A recent article in Vice’s “Power and Privilege” issue offers much food for thought on who some of the people are that are now specifically considering the idea of trade, vocational, and technical schools vs. traditional four-year colleges, and what job opportunities existed for them. As it reports, “that the pressure to attend a four-year college remained so strong in American society that many high-paying jobs in the trades were currently sitting empty.”
We asked Louise if she were to make the decision again today about whether she would attend a traditional university or a trade/vocational school, what would she choose?
“I would ABSOLUTELY go to ICE and go the whole route for career placement, etc. I actually attended as a non-vocational student but I did the entire Techniques of Fine Cooking Curriculum (8 modules). Hindsight being 20/20 I would definitely have NOT attended Everest. They tended to ‘teach to the test’ which may have delighted some of the students, but I felt that cheated us out of actually learning. All we did was memorize the study guides. I was a 4.0 student and a Student Ambassador. Now I’m still paying for an education I cannot use because nobody will honor my certificate from this defunct, crooked school.”
Is Trade School Worth It?
We asked Louise if her experience at the schools she attended matched her expectations when she signed up for the programs, and she summed it up as follows: “Cooking School yes – Medical Assistant School, no. I learned a great deal in the culinary program – knowledge I still use today. I felt that the medical assistant instructionI received fell quite short. As a matter of fact, when I was looking for a place to do my externship, people seemed put off by the name of the school. Bad handwriting on the wall for sure.”
Louise only briefly used her credentials as a Medical Assistant yet has continued to use the skills and knowledge gained at the Institute of Culinary Education in different ways over the years: she’s owned and operated her own restaurant, is a chef-caterer and contributes recipes to food publications.
In today’s world, it’s definitely worth looking at a vocational, technical or trade school rather than the traditional four-year undergrad degree or ending a student’s education after high school. Take a look, and let us know what you think!
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Karen Resta is a NYC-based writer, foodie,