What is a Trade School? Everything You Need to Know
Last updated May 1, 2023
If you enjoy hands-on, experiential learning where you can see the results of your hard work, enrolling in a trade program after high school may be for you! Trades are highly skilled jobs that require focused, specialized training. Some common trades are in industries like construction, manufacturing, and carpentry, but the definition of “trades” is rapidly expanding to include careers in information technology, cosmetology, culinary arts, web development, healthcare, and more. Trade programs are often quite affordable and prepare you to enter in-demand careers and industries! Here’s what you need to know about trade schools: how they work, what you need to apply, and more.
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How do trade schools work? What makes them different from 4-year colleges?
Trades are taught through trade schools, technical and vocational schools, and at participating community (2-year) colleges. The types of trades taught through each kind of school or program may vary.
Some key differences between trade schools and traditional 4-year colleges include:
- Education. Students in trade programs focus solely on the specialized trade they’re learning; students in 4-year colleges typically have to take 2 years of elective classes before they begin taking classes dedicated to their major.
- Time spent in school. Trade programs are typically much shorter than programs at a 4-year university, lasting anywhere from a few months to 2 years.
- Degrees/certificates. Students completing a trade program do not receive a degree, but rather, a certificate of completion which are often industry-recognized. Students attending 4-year colleges typically graduate with their Bachelor’s degree.
What do I need to enroll in a trade school?
Typically, the only thing students need to enroll in trade school is their high school diploma, GED, or equivalent.
What should I keep in mind when researching trade schools and programs?
There’s a few things to keep in mind as you begin researching:
- Job availability and salary potential. As you think about what you want to study, knowing the job market in your area is important. For example, if you live in an area where there are lots of tech jobs or construction is booming, those are great industries to think about getting into. It is also important to think about what kind of pay you might expect. To get started you can visit our career exploration library, ask a counselor, or talk to someone at the program you’re considering about these prospects!
- Accredited trade schools. Before enrolling in any school or program, check to make sure that it’s accredited. We recommend using this database to find legit, accredited trade schools in your area!
- Transferable credits. If you’re considering transferring once you complete your trade program, keep in mind that some/all of your credits may not be transferable. When researching trade schools and programs, check in about how their credits work and what the likelihood is of your credits transferring in the future.
What are the benefits of attending a trade school?
There are many benefits to attending a trade school! Here’s a few:
- Class sizes. Classes at trade schools are typically small, meaning you'll have consistent, hands-on access to your professors and TAs if you have questions or need support.
- Strong job prospects. Trade jobs are consistently in-demand, pay well, lead to stable increases in salary over the years, and often offer union protections and benefits. Trade programs are often built on what kinds of industries are in-demand where you live. For example, there is a need for maritime workers in the Pacific Northwest, energy jobs in Texas, and off-shore wind farms in the Northeast!
- Earn and learn. Many trade programs have employer partners who offer internships, pre-apprenticeships, or apprenticeships to participants. This is a great opportunity to learn a skill, get on-the-job experience, and get paid to go to school!
Are trade programs affordable?
Generally, trade programs are much more affordable than tuition at a 4-year college; however, the cost can still be high for some students. Luckily, there are financial aid options available to trade school students! The FAFSA can be used to receive federal financial aid from trade schools, as long as they are accredited. Additionally, many scholarships are not only available to students at 4-year colleges, but to trade school students as well! When you’re ready to apply to trade school, be sure to check out our hand-picked scholarship lists, as well as our list of trusted scholarship websites and databases.
Have any questions about trade schools? Text us! Send #Hello to 33-55-77.