Is Trade School Right for You?
Carpentry tools

What is Trade School?

If you are looking to learn a specific trade or vocation, attending a trade school is worth considering. But what is trade school? Trade schools boast stronger employment prospects and lower tuition fees than most colleges. They also tend to have shorter courses (one to two years depending on the course) in comparison to four year college degrees.

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Trade school courses are designed to prepare you for your chosen field by giving you the necessary skills to be successful. A good trade school will give plenty of hands-on experience related to the specific job you wish to do. At the end of your course you can receive a diploma, certificate or an associate’s college degree.

Trade Options

There are a variety of trades to choose from, from training to be a power utility technician to a landscape gardener. Here are some of the most popular examples of jobs you can train for with strong employment prospects and growth potential:

1. Carpenter

Growth for carpentry jobs are expected to grow by 6% in the next decade, and skilled carpenters can earn $20 an hour on a full time basis, earning more than $40,000 a year.

2. Automotive Technician/Master Mechanic

About 40,000 new jobs are being created in the automotive industry in the next decade. Automotive technicians earn an average of $18 an hour, which is just under $40,000 a year when working full time.

3. Plumber

Plumbers earn an average hourly wage of $26, over $50,000 a year full-time. Job prospects are excellent and 12% growth is expected over the next decade.

4. HVAC Technician

There is a growing need for heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) technicians, and the field is expected to grow by 14% in the next decade with 40,000 new jobs. The average income is just over $21 an hour, or $45,000 annually.

Trade School vs. Traditional College

Now that we have answered "what is trade school?" it is time to see if this education option is right for you. Trade school is not the right fit for everyone, but there are many benefits to trade school that are worth considering.

Shorter Course Duration

Trade school courses can be as short as eight months. This is beneficial if you have personal and financial commitments, are a mature student, or are training again for a specific purpose. A shorter course also means you can start working in your chosen field and gain valuable experience even sooner.

Less Expensive

Statistics vary but a study in 2013 found that the average cost of a trade school qualification is just under $30,000, which is considerably cheaper than a bachelor’s degree ($127,000). Many trade schools will also offer grants and scholarships, and you may be more likely to qualify for federal aid for skills that are in demand.

Employment Prospects

Depending on your chosen area of expertise, you might be able to find a job before you even finish your course. Unemployment rates for college graduates have been on the increase, whereas job prospects for trade school applicants are promising.

According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, there are 5.7 million unfilled jobs across America, and the construction industry will grow by 13% by 2024. It’s also worth considering that many college graduates are employed in jobs unrelated to their field, which is far more unlikely as a trade school graduate.

Trades, such as carpentry, electrical and plumbing are also localized and need a physical presence, meaning they are less likely to be outsourced and will continue to be in demand.

Many skilled trades have a much older working population, and companies will require younger tradespeople to replace them when they retire.


Although there is evidence to suggest there may be a glass ceiling in future years, trade school graduates will start earning an average of $35,000 per year, depending on their field. As courses are generally shorter than college degrees, this means trade school graduates are able to earn more quickly than college graduates.

Lower Acceptance Criteria

Unlike many traditional colleges, applications to trade schools are generally more lenient on your high school grades and have a much higher acceptance rate.

Disadvantages of Trade School

Although there are many positive aspects to attending, it is important to consider potential disadvantages as well.

Lack of a Social Scene

Unlike a traditional college, there will be fewer clubs, societies and extracurricular activities. For many, the social experience and range of activities at college is something they look back fondly on. If this is an important factor for you, then this is worth considering.

That’s not to say that trade school will be an isolating experience. You will in most instances work with other like-minded individuals and be able to network with others in the industry.

Long-Term Salary Growth

The yearly salary difference between college graduates and trade school graduates is estimated at over $11,000. Although in the short-term, trade graduates will find work relatively quickly and be earning sooner than college graduates. In the long-term their earnings will grow more slowly over time.

Long-Term Career Prospects

Although some industries are predicted to grow in demand in the future, it is hard to know for sure. The types of industry in demand today could be in decline or even obsolete in 20 or 30 years. If you are considering trade school, think about whether your skills could be adapted to other industries or if you are prepared to train again in the future.

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