Trade School vs. College – Which is the Better Choice?
When it comes to higher education, modern students have a number of choices in pursing certifications and degrees to help them reach their future career goals. While many students choose to enroll in a traditional brick and mortar college or online college degree program, there is also the option of furthering your education through a trade school.
So how do you know which option is the right choice for you?
While no one can decide for you whether a college or trade school is the best fit for your education, there are several different factors to consider when making your choice.
Below we have put together some general information on colleges and trade schools, as well as common questions that we get from students to help give you a starting point for making this major decision.
Whether you are a student that just graduated high school or an adult that wants to further their higher education, the first option that most people think of to pursue a degree is enrolling in a traditional college or university.
There are several options for traditional college education, including community colleges and public or private universities. Once you have enrolled in college, you will typically spend the first half of your degree program taking general education courses. While the specific classes you take will vary based upon your degree program, they often include the following:
- English Composition and Literature
- General Science
These classes set you up for success within a wide range of majors, and allow students flexibility over the first year or two of their degree program to make a decision in the specific degree they want to pursue.
Typically, it takes anywhere from two to four years to earn an undergraduate degree. After completion of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program, students may choose to enter the workforce or continue their education with graduate degree programs.
So, how do you know if college is the best route to support your future?
It depends on your interests, goals, and objectives for attending college! For example, if you know that you are interested in English and communication, but aren’t sure whether you want to be a journalist, writer, teacher, or work in public relations, then a traditional college education may work well for you. Once you enroll as an English major, you will have the opportunity to take a variety of courses to gain experience and knowledge before making a decision in the specific career path you want to pursue
To help adult students balance the rigors of higher education, many top universities also offer a variety of online degree programs in popular fields of study. Through these programs, students are able to complete their classes on a timeframe that fits into their schedule so they can continue holding down a full-time job or taking care of family obligations.
While most students are familiar with traditional colleges, trade schools can be an excellent option for those who already have a clear idea of the career path they want to pursue.
Trade schools differ from traditional colleges in a number of ways, including:
- Job-specific educational format
- Skill-based learning
- Lower cost of tuition
- Less time to complete the program than traditional degrees
- Specialized career offerings
Once you enroll in a trade school, you will immediately start with classes that are based solely on the training needed to help you succeed in your future career. While traditional colleges begin with one to two years of general education classes, these types of courses are not part of a trade school program.
So, how does this effect your education?
Simply put, without the background in general education classes within a degree program, you will be trained only in the career path you are pursing. While this is excellent news for those who are set on the occupation they want to enter and wish to join the workforce as soon as possible, it leaves little room for changing your trade school specialization or transferring your education into a different program.
If you are interested in a specific career path, there are many different programs available through trade school that can get you started in a well-paying career without a traditional degree. These popular programs include, but are not limited to, cosmetology, electrical technician, plumbing, automobile technician, welding, and carpentry.
A number of trade schools now offer vocational training online to help those who need added flexibility due to work and family responsibilities.
Is a College or Trade School Right for Me?
Now that we have gone over the basics that differentiate colleges and trade schools, you may find that you have more questions than answers – and we’re here to help!
There are many considerations that go into making a choice between a college and trade school, but a good place to start is by taking the time to examine your future goals.
Are you a student with a variety of interests that is unsure of what you want to do after graduating from school? Then looking into a college degree program that gives you the time and opportunity to explore your interests through general education classes may be a good choice for you! On the other hand, if you are a student with a solid plan for where you would like to take your career, and you want to get out into the workforce as soon as possible – a trade school may be your best option to get on the fast-track of earning your certifications!
Below we have answered several questions that are common among students researching their options for higher education.
What happens if I learn a trade and then want to change my career?
This is an important question when considering a trade school due to the nature of their training programs. While colleges offer general education within a broad degree program, trade schools focus specifically on skill-based training to help you succeed once you are on the job.
For example, if you are enrolled in an electrician program at a trade school, you will only be taking classes that pertain to that specific career. If you decide after working in the field that you want to go back to school to become an automotive technician, you will have to start from the beginning of that program.
With that being said, many trades offer a number of opportunities to continue earning advanced certifications that allow you to move up in your industry. If you like the trade that you are in but you want a different job position, this can be a good way to change your career without having to go back to school.
Is a trade school a dead-end?
The simple answer to this question is – no, trade schools are not a dead-end if you are clear about your career goals and understand the educational format of this type of program.
In the past, there may have been some stigma about trade schools not being a viable option to pursue well-paying, long-term careers. However, times have changed! Now more than ever students are looking for alternative education options that allow them to complete school on a faster timeframe with less financial investment.
For students that have a strong desire to learn the ins and outs of a specific trade, this type of schooling can be a great investment in your future.
What about the cost of education?
With the changing economy and rising tuition prices, the cost of higher education is a major concern for students looking to earn a degree through a college or trade school.
Typically, trade schools cost substantially less than traditional colleges, and many students graduate with less debt than those who pursued their education through a college or university. As an example, completing an average bachelor’s degree program costs students $127,000. On the flip side, the average cost for a trade school degree is only $33,000 – a savings of $114,000!
Part of the difference in the cost between the two types of programs is the length of time it takes to complete your education. Most bachelor’s degree programs are completed in four years, while the typical trade school degree gets you out in the workforce in under two years – saving you time, money, and a great deal of student loan debt!
Do I need a degree to make a good living?
In the past, students that wanted to make a good living in their careers were pushed to attend traditional college right out of high school to pursue a degree. In the modern world of education, the path to being successful in your career is not that black and white!
Overall, those with a higher education level do make more in a lifetime that those with just a high school degree. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, those that completed a trade school program earn higher annual salaries than those with a high school diploma, and adults with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $16,900 more per year than people who did not continue on with their education after high school.
While it is obvious that there is greater potential for making a good living after completing a higher education program, there are a number of ways to pursue your educational and career dreams!
What can I expect for the future when working in a trade?
Working in a trade industry has a number of long-term advantages that are unique for trade professionals. With many jobs in our country being outsourced overseas, those who work in a trade often have a greater level of job security than those who graduate from some traditional degree programs. There is a growing domestic demand for trade professionals with high-precision skills, and employers are increasingly putting a greater weight on the real-world skills of job applicants rather than just their educational achievements.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is also a positive job outlook for those interested in going into the skilled trades. For example, employment for electricians is expected to grow 14% between the years 2014 and 2024, while those working as plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters will see a 12% occupational growth – which is faster than the national average across all occupations!
Additionally, most skilled trade careers offer median annual salaries of well above the national average – which is great news for those interested in pursuing their education through a trade school!
What can I expect to earn with a college degree?
There’s no question that earning a college degree increases your annual salary potential, regardless of the field you are interested in pursuing. As previously discussed, those with a bachelor’s degree typically earn nearly $17,000 more per year than those with a high school diploma, and salaries generally increase after earning higher level graduate degrees.
How much you can expect to make after graduating college is dependent on a number of factors, including your location, experience, and most importantly, your specific career path. For example, those who have earned a degree in the healthcare field can expect to earn an average annual salary of around $62,610, according to the BLS. On the other hand, those who graduate with a degree in Social Work typically have an annual median wage of $45,900.
Regardless of the degree you are pursuing, you can increase your earning potential by continuing on with your education or earning valuable experience by working in your industry for a number of years.
Whether you eventually settle on enrolling in college or entering into a trade school program, you are taking the next step in creating a successful, rewarding future. While the prestige of a college degree is necessary for certain occupations, trade schools can help you enter a specialized workforce in a quicker timeframe with less debt. By doing your research and weighing the pros and cons of all of your options, you can feel confident knowing that you are making the right choice for you to move forward into an exciting future!