12 Smart Reasons To Go to a Trade School (And Not a College)

Unlock lucrative careers without student loans by choosing trade school over college.
Updated Aug. 24, 2023
People in a classroom

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Whether you just finished high school or are considering training for a new career to help you stop living paycheck to paycheck, there are some big choices ahead of you.

Most importantly, you have to decide what type of schooling will get you closest to your dream job. For many Americans, that means choosing between attending a traditional college or a trade school.

While both types of schooling have pros and cons, here are 12 reasons to consider a trade school instead of enrolling in a college.

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Trade schools generally are more affordable than colleges

auremar/Adobe senior professor showing machinery to students

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, the average college student at a four-year public college paid $9,700 in tuition and fees for the 2021 to 2022 school year.

That number jumped to $38,800 for students at private nonprofit colleges.

The tab is likely to be lower for trade school. For example, according to Accredited Schools Online, you might pay as little as $4,000 a year in tuition and fees at a trade school in Washington.

Trade schools don’t require you to take on so much debt

Atelier 211/Adobe young apprentice with professional carpenter

Since the overall cost of attending a trade school is less than attending a university, it’s possible to graduate from a trade school with substantially less debt than the average college graduate.

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average federal student loan debt is $37,338 for each borrower. You might still take on some debt to attend a trade school, but it should be much lower than what you would owe as a college student.

Trade schools have a less complicated application process

Rawpixel.com/Adobe electrical technicians working on computer parts

Applying to attend a university usually requires potential students to submit their ACT or SAT scores, write several personal essays, assemble a portfolio of work, and submit letters of recommendation from teachers and employers.

In contrast, getting into a trade school is likely to be significantly easier. You will need a high school degree or completion of the GED, and you might need to take a standardized exam.

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Trade schools offer immediate hands-on experience

Brastock Images/Adobe male technician explaining machinery to interns

While students at many colleges can expect to receive hands-on experience in their chosen career field eventually, most also spend several semesters working their way through general education courses or major prerequisites.

By contrast, since trade schools focus on getting students into a career as soon as possible, students typically dive into hands-on training and experience quickly,

Trade school programs are shorter

goodluz/Adobe professor teaching marketing strategies to students

Since trade schools don’t emphasize general education like traditional colleges, students spend far less time at a trade school.

Depending on your program and profession, you might spend a few months to two years at a trade school. Your program at a traditional college would likely last no fewer than two years and often takes four or more years.

Trade school graduates typically end up quickly working in their career field

auremar/Aadobe young technician practicing at craft class

Since students enter trade school to study highly specialized trades, it’s a safe bet that most of them move into careers quickly that are at least adjacent to their studies.

In contrast, just 62% of college students studying for a degree or certificate complete their studies within six years, according to National Student Clearinghouse data.

Trade school graduates can pivot immediately into their career

Kyta Willets/Adobe female welder teaching welding to student

Graduating from any type of school — including trade school — doesn't guarantee a job in your field. However, because trade schools prioritize hands-on experience and certification, it’s comparatively straightforward for students to transition immediately from school into a career.

While the same thing can be true of college or university graduates, the demand for skilled, fully trained workers means trade school graduates may have an edge in a competitive market.

Trade schools often offer more one-on-one attention

Kzenon/Adobe trainee showing workpiece to expert technician

Across the country, college classrooms have an average of 14 students to one teacher, according to the most recent numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics.

At many trade schools, one-on-one training with close oversight is crucial to highly skilled job training.

Trade schools can be useful places for networking

Atelier 211/Adobe young apprentice with professional metallurgist

Teachers at trade schools are typically experts in their fields, with years of career experience. As a result, they might belong to trade organizations with connections that can benefit their students.

Plus, since trade schools are usually smaller than universities and colleges, it can be easier for students to network with each other and collaborate on making connections within their communities.

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Trade schools prepare you for stable jobs

Rawpixel.com/Adobe group of technicians working at table

No matter how the economy changes, some jobs are always in demand, including most of the jobs for which trade schools prepare their students.

Regardless of the state of the economy, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC specialists are essential in just about every part of the country. That means trade schools set you up for a stable career that can outlast economic ups and downs.

Trade schools are ideal for tactile learners

Outlier Artifacts/Adobe female electrician repairing electrical connections

Trade schools focus on practical, hands-on skills over theory and general education.

That means trade schools can be ideal for students who haven’t previously connected with less practical, more theoretical teaching methods.

Trade schools can combine learning with direct certification

auremar/Adobe electrical engineer students learning course

Many trade schools build technical certification into their degrees and offer coursework that supports a clear career trajectory.

With some programs, you might need to get certified after graduation. But with others, getting professionally certified is just part of your regular coursework, which can save you time and get you into a career fast so you can boost your bank account quickly.

Bottom line

VadimGuzhva/Adobe Students in class

When deciding between attending a trade school or college, consider your career goals, financial needs, personality traits, learning style, and overall life plans.

There is no true one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to schooling: Instead, carefully consider the pros and cons of college and trade schools so you can make the choice that will help you find fulfillment and get ahead financially.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.