Investment Glossary – Trade School

Trade schools are institutions established to provide post-high school education that teaches students the skills required to work in a specific occupation. Unlike four-year colleges or community colleges, trade schools are designed with the core idea that you will learn the skills you need to begin a particular career at an entry-level job. Trade schools are also sometimes known as vocational schools, but the two terms are interchangeable and largely refer to the same group of programs. So trade schools are great if you want to prepare for a particular job that does not typically require a college degree.

How long do trade school programs take to complete?

Another benefit of trade schools is the length of program compared to community colleges and four-year colleges. While community colleges typically offer two-year curricula, and four-year colleges offer…well, four-year programs, trade schools offer a number of training options that may be completed in less than two years. The typical length of a trade school education is anywhere from nine months to two years, with most programs taking 12-18 months to complete.

Unlike community colleges and four-year colleges, which may offer residential options for students to live on campus, most trade schools do not offer this as an option and exist largely as commuter schools. This can make them particularly attractive if you find one close to home and mom and dad are comfortable with you living at home while you attend trade school, but it’s something you need to be aware of if you consider going down this road.

Trade schools tend to offer a significant amount of hands-on learning.  Upon the completion of your course of study, you will typically earn a certificate of completion in the field you have chosen. In many states, this certificate likely does not give you the ability or license to operate in that field on your own, but it will prepare you or potentially shorten an apprenticeship in a particular trade. There are a wide variety of trade school programs available including welding, electrical work, plumbing, and a number of other options.

Trade school can be a great choice for someone who knows what they want to do if their desired occupation does not require a college degree. Many of these career paths can lead to potentially lucrative and rewarding careers, but they often require large amounts of physical work as well. Another potentially attractive reason to look at trade school is that while a number of occupations in the United States have seen a significant amount of outsourcing to other countries in recent years, trade work typically has to be done on-site. This can give additional job security in certain situations, but trade work can also be more dependent on the economy in some situations and industries, especially when it comes to construction, which usually declines rapidly during recessions.

Just like college, trade school isn’t for everyone. You have to figure out what you enjoy doing, what you can make money doing, and examine the costs of programs to figure out whether college makes financial sense for you, or if you’re better off looking at other options. The goal when examining any type of higher education, whether it’s trade schools, four-year colleges, or community colleges, is to find the right program for your specific situation and your goals, not simply to do what is easiest or what other people or doing. It’s important to consider trade schools as an alternative to college, especially for people who enjoy physical work and have a clear idea of the job they want to obtain if that job does not require a college degree. For those people, trade school may leave students with less debt and job prospects that more closely match their interest than other post-high school programs.