Trade School vs. College: Experience, Cost, & Career Opportunities
WHILE MANY HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES FEEL PRESSURED TO ENTER 4-YEAR COLLEGE, THERE ARE OTHER, MORE PRACTICAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES WHICH CAN PREPARE THEM FOR HIGH-PAYING CAREERS.
September 5, 2020
Most high-paying jobs require some sort of formal training. Many people elect to attend college, and earning a degree is one way to catapult yourself into a rewarding career. But for many, college is more of a chore than a learning opportunity—while there are many benefits to a college education, it is not the path for everyone. And that’s okay, considering there are more learning options available, and well-paying career paths that don’t require college.
One such option is going to a trade school. Trade school is great for those who are not interested in a typical sit-down classroom education, but rather a hands-on learning experience. And beyond that, a trade school education can be completed more quickly than a four-year degree.
Before deciding whether to attend college or go to trade school, it’s important to think about what each education brings in terms of cost, education experience, and the career opportunities that await after graduation.
What is the difference between trade school and college?
Attending trade school or college largely depends on your career choice. For those that are unsure what career they want to pursue, college is a great choice. You’ll gain a breadth of knowledge on a wide range of subjects, while having some time to decide what field of study you want to focus on. For those that do know what they want to do with their career, trade school is the better option. Trade school is specific, so you’ll only learn Is specialized for one career. That will prepare you to enter the workforce with extremely applicable knowledge and skills.
Here are some additional comparisons between college and trade school.
Length: Trade school can be completed in the span of a few months, compared to the four years (or longer) it takes to earn a bachelor's degree. Trade school is also flexible. If you attend on a full-time basis, you can complete the course in just months. But you can elect to go on a part-time basis, or even go with a five-year training program, both of which are great for those who are working while attending classes.
Accreditation: Trade schools bestow certificates, but not bachelors degrees. Certificate holders have completed the applicable course and have a solid basic knowledge of the career they intend to pursue.
Scholarships & Financial Aid: Both trade schools and four-year universities offer scholarships and financial aid. And just like college, former and active military members can use their education benefits to pay for tuition and cover additional costs associated with trade school.
Experience: You might think trade school is an education earned outside the classroom, but that is not the case. While around one third of the education is hands-on training, there is a portion of studying that takes place in the classroom. Classwork makes essential requirements of the job—such as, for electricians, understanding how electricity works and learning the national electric code—more understandable. Trade school mixes hands-on work with classroom and textbook work.
Trade school costs significantly less than a four-year college.
The average total cost to attend a four-year college is more than $100,000. On the other hand, the average total cost to attend a trade school is only $33,000. Keep in mind that you might qualify for financial aid with either education, which could lower the amount you owe in tuition by thousands of dollars. However, if you take out student loans, the length of the loan and total debt you incur will be less at a trade school compared to college.
Degree length is one reason that total tuition at a four-year college is more expensive than trade school. You can earn the education in a much shorter time at a trade school, since you won’t need to rack up so many credits. You’ll also save on textbook cost and won’t have to pay for room and board.
All in all, trade school is a financially smart decision, especially when comparing tuition cost against expected income post-graduation. The employment search site Indeed estimates that journeymen electricians in California earn an average salary of $79,329 per year, meaning the money spent on trade school is quickly recouped. If you’re currently making $15 an hour as a warehouse worker or retailer employee, you’re probably making about $37,000 per year, less than half of what the average journeyman electrician makes.
While you wouldn’t start out as a full-fledged journeyman electrician when first starting your electrical career—or the equivalent position in another career field—it’s easy to see how the increase in pay quickly compensates you for the investment made to attend trade school.
Trade schools narrow your career focus. You will learn the skills required to do one specific job, such as an electrician or mechanic.
Many people at a traditional college don’t know what they want to do. A college education allows them to keep their options open while they pursue their studies.
Trade school is different. You train for one career. And when you graduate from trade school, you immediately enter the field of the profession you studied. You can go to trade school to become an electrician, mechanic, plumber, carpenter, or even a baker.
Another benefit of trade school is that employers won’t have to use resources or spend much time training you. While you’ll always have to learn a lot through practical job experience, a trade school education gives you a great chance to quickly join the workforce and advance in your career, as you’ll know much more than those starting out with little formal education.
A trade school education is different from a typical college education. Attending a trade school will put you on the fast track to a specific career, often costs less than a four-year college, and gives you the opportunity to earn a great salary post-graduation.
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