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What Is Trade School & How Do You Apply To Trade Schools?

Consider a trade school if you want to expand your knowledge and abilities but aren’t sure if a standard four-year college is right for you. A great choice for those who want to swiftly obtain the skills they need to land a solid job is to enroll in a trade school.

In this article, we’ll discuss the positives and potential drawbacks of trade schools. We’ll also go into great detail about the distinctions between four-year colleges, community colleges, and trade schools including admission requirements and examples of trade schools.

What is a Trade School?

A trade school, also known as a technical school, vocational college, or vocational school, is a post-secondary institution created to provide students with the technical skills needed to prepare them for a particular occupation. 

  • Chamberlain University, 
  • American Career College, and 
  • UEI

…are a few examples of trade schools.

Public and private trade schools are also possible, but many of them operate for profit.

Certification in an area like computer technology, nursing and health sciences, automotive technician training, or medical assistance can be obtained in a trade school.

How Long are Trade Schools Programs?

Although program lengths can vary, they commonly fall between eight months and two years.

You do not earn a bachelor’s degree from a trade school, in contrast to a four-year university. You will often be awarded a diploma or trade certificate upon successful completion of the program. An associate degree, which is the diploma you receive from a two-year college, is available for some programs.

Trade School Application Guides

Compared to four-year institutions, the admission procedure for trade schools should be simpler. The prerequisites for trade schools vary by institution and jurisdiction, but they typically follow a similar format.

Admission Requirements for Trade Schools

Trade schools don’t frequently ask students to submit essays, but there are still other requirements. For instance, some trade schools demand a GED or high school graduation. For applicants who have not finished high school, passing a standardized test may be required.

Age Requirements for Trade School

The age criteria for trade school are normally met by those who have completed high school. Applicants must normally be at least 17 years old to apply to trade school, though age restrictions vary by school.

Parents’ permission may be required for students under the age of 17 to enroll in a trade school. Candidates as young as 16 and a half, though, can occasionally apply with a letter of release from their high school. However, candidates must be at least 17 years old to apply for jobs in the cosmetology or dental assisting fields.

Testing Requirements for Trade Schools

Typically, SAT or ACT scores are not required for admission to trade schools. Instead, if they have not finished high school, pupils may need to take placement examinations in order to enroll in trade school. Good ACT or SAT scores, however, might sometimes allow students to get around these placement exam restrictions. Although it may be advantageous, passing these tests is not necessary.

Important Documents

Many vocational schools now accept online applications. Common prerequisites include academic transcripts and a high school diploma or GED. Although SAT/ACT scores and letters of recommendation are not frequently required by trade schools, these extra resources can help applicants stand out.

What You Can Do With a Trade School Degree (certificate)

You can get employment in a field that directly relates to the trade school degree you completed after graduating. For instance, you can work as a dental assistant after completing a program in dental assisting. You can work as a plumber if you successfully complete a plumbing program. The goal of these institutions is to get you ready for a career in a certain area of life.

Example of Trade School Jobs and Salaries

The table below highlights 25 of the highest-paying trade school jobs. You should have a good understanding of the various income potentials of these professions. Keep in mind that your real compensation will depend on a number of variables, including your area, your employer, and your own qualifications.

1Trade Job ExampleMedian Salary
2Elevator Installer and Repairer$88,540
3Radiation Therapist$86,850
4Web Developer$77,200
5Dental Hygienist$77,090
6Diagnostic Medical Sonographer$70,380
7Respiratory Therapist$62,810
10Wind Turbine Technician$56,230
11IT Technician$55,510
13Legal Assistant$52,920
14Geological and Petroleum Technician$50,630
15HVACR Technician$50,590
16Licensed Practical Nurse$48,820
17Marine mechanic$49,079
18Construction manager$97,180
19Massage therapist$47,180
20Graphic Designer$53,380
22Computer technician$38,034
23Aircraft Mechanic$91,579

Trade Schools Vs. Community Colleges Vs. Four-year Colleges

Knowing the key distinctions between four-year universities, community colleges, and trade schools is crucial when choosing your career. Here, I’ll list the key distinctions between each sort of school.

Trade Schools

The shortest programs are those offered by trade schools; they might last anywhere from six months to two years. Many vocational schools are for-profit corporations, in contrast to community colleges and four-year universities. In trade schools, the emphasis is on providing students with practical experience related to a particular job. You can earn a diploma or certificate at the conclusion of a program, study for a licensing exam, or start an apprenticeship or career as a journeyman in a skilled trade. Most admissions are open enrollment.

At trade schools, there is hardly any extracurricular activity. Students must show up to class and complete their required professional development.

Community Colleges

After two years, community institutions grant associate degrees. There are private community colleges, which are typically referred to as junior colleges, albeit the majority are public. Similar to trade schools, some community colleges award diplomas or certificates to students who successfully finish a program to work in a particular industry, such as cosmetology or nursing.

Most students who are 18 years old or older or high school graduates are admitted.

Of all the college alternatives, community colleges are frequently the least expensive. In-district students’ average annual tuition and fees at public two-year colleges in 2021 were $3,800, and in-state students’ average annual tuition and fees at public four-year colleges were $10,740. An associate’s degree from a trade school typically costs $34,740 to complete (1-2 years).

Students who attend community colleges have more social alternatives than those who attend technical schools. Comparatively speaking, four-year college students have fewer possibilities. Although community colleges frequently include organizations, sports teams, and on-campus residents, many of their students commute and just attend their classes.

You can also switch from a two-year community college to a four-year university. Many students begin their academic careers in a community college before transferring to a four-year institution. If you choose this route, make sure your courses are transferrable and that you’re putting in the required effort to qualify for the transfer.

Four-Year Colleges or Universities

Both public and private four-year institutions are non-profit institutions.

You receive a bachelor’s degree after successfully completing a program at a four-year university. Compared to degrees from trade schools and community colleges, this is the most flexible and prestigious degree you can obtain. 

People with bachelor’s degrees typically earn more money than those with associate or trade school degrees. In addition, bachelor’s degrees are necessary for admission to graduate programs or professional institutions like law, medicine, or dentistry.

Although pre-professional majors and programs are offered in four-year universities, the emphasis is more on acquiring academic knowledge.

Four-year institutions give students the most social chances. A higher proportion of students reside on or close to campus, and there are varsity athletics, intramural sports, campus groups, fraternities, sororities, and traditions.

Benefits of Attending a Trade School Over a Four-Year College

There are some benefits to attending a trade school that are indisputable.

The most obvious advantage of attending a trade school is that it takes less time to finish. In fewer than two years, almost all trade school programs can be completed. While a regular four-year college degree typically takes at least four years to complete and many students need an additional fifth or sixth year, obtaining a degree from a community college often takes two years.

With less time spent in education, you can gain more work experience and advance more quickly in your profession. Additionally, if you are not in school, you will not be required to pay for those extra years of college tuition and may have fewer student loan obligations.

A further benefit of trade schools is the practical training you’ll receive for a particular job. Numerous four-year institutions and their programs place a greater emphasis on academic study than on career training. If you majored in philosophy or theatre and then graduate, you could find it challenging to obtain employment in your field. The emphasis at a trade school is on acquiring the skills you’ll need for your profession after you graduate.

Similar to this, it might be simpler to obtain a job at first in a certain field if the aim of a vocational school is to help students develop the abilities necessary for that profession. Additionally, a lot of trade school programs are targeted at industries with a strong need for personnel.

With a trade school degree, you can also find profitable employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in 2020, dental hygienists earned a median salary of $77,090. For students in the class of 2020, the median starting wage after four years of college was $55,260.

Finally, you won’t have to worry about the conventional college application procedure if you attend a trade school. If you elect to attend a trade school, you won’t have to invest the time or money necessary for four-year college applications because the standards are much less stringent there. You won’t be required to take the SAT or ACT. Your grade-related anxiety won’t exist. It won’t be necessary for you to join clubs solely to strengthen your college applications.

Disadvantages of Attending a Trade School

While there are certain advantages to vocational schools, there are also many disadvantages, particularly when compared to conventional 4-year universities.

Even though attending a trade school has financial advantages, college graduates generally earn more than trade school graduates. According to College Scorecard, the salary after attending American Career College in Los Angeles ranges from $16,663 to $43,426 depending on the subject of study. This is the median income for students receiving federal financial aid ten years after graduating. In contrast, UCLA’s compensation increases from $18,498 to $110,878 after graduation. 

The average UCLA graduate will still come out ahead monetarily even after taking into account the additional time spent in school.

Four-year institutions also frequently provide more extensive financial help. The average cost of attending West Coast University in Anaheim, California, after financial help is $39,100. At CSU Long Beach, a campus of California State University, the average cost for an in-state student is $9,622.

Furthermore, you won’t get the usual college experience if you attend a vocational school. There isn’t much social contact and no meaningful campus culture at vocational schools. At a four-year university, you can participate in clubs, go to campus events, watch sports, join Greek life, and live in residence halls among your classmates. Many people credit their time in college with creating priceless memories and fostering lifelong friendships.

At a regular college, you learn a lot of things outside of the classroom. You can go to lectures given by well-known academics and politicians and socialize with other students from around the world while doing so.

The emphasis at a trade school is on the on-the-job training you receive in the classroom; this is essentially the entirety of your education.

Traditional institutions also provide a more comprehensive, well-rounded education. Once more, the education you receive at a trade school is nearly entirely geared toward getting you ready for a certain job.

Traditional universities take pleasure in teaching you critical thinking skills and forming you into an informed citizen who will be able to have a beneficial impact on the society outside of your career in addition to educating you for a certain job.

Finally, a typical college degree offers more work freedom. Regardless of your major, you can get a wide variety of occupations with a bachelor’s degree, while trade schools only educate you for highly specific jobs.

You can only become a medical assistant after completing a medical assisting program at a trade school. Your diploma from a vocational school won’t mean much if you ultimately decide that you want to pursue something different or if you have trouble finding employment as a medical assistant.

On the other side, you have a lot more work options if you have a degree from a four-year university. Four-year college graduates from a range of degrees can find employment in sales, education, and consulting. With a four-year college degree, you can also pursue graduate school and professional schools like law school and medical school. You’ll often earn more money and have greater job stability if you have advanced degrees and more education.

Should You Go to a Trade School or a Four-Year College?

There are a few things to think about while choosing between a four-year college and a vocational school. In general, I advise all capable students to enroll in a four-year university.

You’ll give yourself the most options if you graduate from a four-year institution, and you’ll probably have a more enjoyable, rewarding experience there. You’ll also have more career freedom and earning potential if you attend a four-year university.

If you don’t have the time to complete a four-year degree program or you know for sure that you want to work in a field that you can learn about at a trade school, that is a fantastic alternative. Sometimes, students choose to enroll in a much shorter program at a trade school because their family or financial circumstances make it too difficult for them to spend four years in school.

Some students simply dislike traditional education. Because they hate reading and writing papers, they have a hard time doing well in school. They would rather engage in greater physical activity than spend at least four years in college doing a desk job.

If you are certain that you want to work as an automotive technician, finishing a trade school program rather than enrolling in a four-year university may be more advantageous. You’ll gain practical experience and be ready to launch your career quickly.

Remember that you have options besides attending a trade school if you don’t have the grades or exam results to enroll in a four-year institution. Check out the institutions with the greatest acceptance rates if you want to attend a four-year college but are concerned that you don’t meet the admissions requirements. 

Even with poor grades and exam results, you might be admitted.

Additionally, you can enroll at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution. You don’t have to worry about being admitted because open enrollment is the norm at community institutions.

What to Look Out for When Choosing the Right Trade School

Choosing the right trade school for yourself is the next step after opting to attend one. To do this, consider these:

1. Program Offered

This is your first step since if the school doesn’t offer the program you choose, nothing else counts. Make sure the school offers the specific program(s) or certificate you’re interested in so there are no surprises once you graduate. You can also inquire with the school’s admissions staff about the types of employment your degree will qualify you for.

2. Good Reputation

It’s critical that the school you attend has a solid reputation so that anyone hiring you will have faith in the certificate you earned. You should check your school’s accreditation, read online reviews, talk to current and former students to find out if they would suggest the school and program, and your school may have specific accreditation that you should look into. Regrettably, a lot of trade schools operate primarily as credential mills and will take a lot of your money without providing you with a quality education. By conducting your study in advance, you can prevent this.

3. Costs and Schedule

Last but not least, you must ensure that you can pay for tuition (or qualify for the appropriate financial help) and that the times the course sessions are offered, work with your schedule. The school should be able to estimate the number of hours per week that you should devote to the program, and it is up to you to decide whether you can handle that workload or if the part-time study is a better option for you. The Pureland Supply Vocational and Skilled Trade Scholarship is one resource. Each year, it gives at least one student enrolled in a trade or vocational school a $500 scholarship. Early May is usually when the deadline falls. 

How to Apply to a Trade School

The majority of vocational schools have rather straightforward application procedures. The majority of institutions offer a straightforward online application on their websites, or you can inquire about admissions directly with the school. 

There are typically no application deadlines as well. Although you can apply at any time, you might need to wait until the start of your desired program before enrolling.

You might need to interview or communicate with an admissions representative after submitting your application. These discussions are intended to inform you and direct you to the program that would be most suitable for you.

Trade schools are generally open enrollment and are not regarded as selective. You don’t need to write an essay or take the SAT/ACT for the majority of colleges and programs. Additionally, trade schools won’t ask for recommendations or take into account your extracurricular activities when deciding whether to admit you.

Oladoyin Falana

Oladoyin Falana, a graduate of OAU, is an SEO Specialist, and IT business developer. He is the owner and content editor of, a platform that focuses on providing information on career, recruitment updates, exams, and admission updates, including general (How-to) information.
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