Trade School vs College: The Big Pros and Cons for Each

Deciding on where you want to go to school can be an overwhelming choice to make. Some might even decide that furthering their education is not the right choice. When you begin to look at what the long-term implications of your choice in this matter will be, then it becomes even more challenging to make. Should you be going to a trade school? Or would attending a four-year traditional college or university be the best option?

You could even opt for an online degree or decide to take a year off, find a job, and then re-evaluate whether or not college is right for you.

The truth here is hard to accept sometimes: every choice is one that offers viable options. If you decide to go to a technical college, then you can receive an advanced education and skill-building opportunities that might get you into a high-paying job faster with less student debt. It might also be a complete waste of your resources.

These are the pros and cons of going to trade school vs college to consider if you are in the middle of this big decision right now.

List of the Pros of Trade School vs College

1. Trade schools are more affordable than college tuition.
Mike Rowe has this to say on the idea of paying for a college education using student loans. “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist. That’s nuts.”

When you go to college, then the average amount of student debt that you’ll carry with a degree can be close to $40,000. Student loans are the second-highest debt category for all Americans, just below mortgages. Since 1980, the cost of going to a college has risen by 260%. If you attend a technical college, then the cost of your entire education is the equivalent of one year at another institution.

2. You can start your career faster with vocational training.
About 60% of students need to be in school for six years to earn their bachelor’s degree in their preferred major. Only 19% of college enrollees can earn their degree in four years or less. When you add in that extra time, then it could be another $70,000 in student debt that you earn while experiencing lost wages as well.

If you attend a technical college, then you will graduate with a degree in two years under most programs. Some certificates only require 12 months of study. Then you can begin your job search without as much student loan debt while qualifying for a larger salary because you have practical skills to use immediately.

3. Trade schools have smaller class sizes.
If you attend a public college or university, then you might find yourself in a class size of over 100. Professors in that situation do not have the time or resources to manage the individual needs of students. That means it is up to you to ensure that your education standards are met. You can fade into the background at a college if you want.

Technical schools take a different approach. Their class sizes are typically much smaller than what you will find at the local college or university, which means there are more opportunities for some 1-on-1 time with your instructors. This benefit means you have more time to perfect your skills, contributing to a deeper knowledge about the career you wish to pursue.

4. There is a higher learning potential with a trade school.
High school students who do not have a college education earn an average of $718 per week. That translates to just under $3,000 per month – and that rate stays with them for the rest of their lives. If you earn a bachelor’s degree, then you can earn an average of $1,189 per week. Graduate degrees boost that figure to $1,451 per week.

The Association for Career and Technical Education found that 43% of young workers with a certificate or license, like the ones you earn from a technical college, allow you to earn more than an associate degree. 27% of students were earning more than those who graduated with a four-year degree. Graduates from an applied science program could out-earn a bachelor’s degree by more than $11,000 per year.

5. Trade schools provide you with more job security.
You can earn a decent living by graduating with a certificate or degree from a technical school. Many students find their jobs faster with this option when compared to graduates with a bachelor’s degree.

Most technical schools offer a robust job placement program that is part of the investment you make into yourself with the tuition costs. They maintain close contacts with industry professionals to ensure that their graduates can get into the jobs they want. There is a skilled-labor shortage in the United States right now, with not enough trained workers to meet the demands of certain industries. You can get there by choosing this option over a college.

6. There are a wide variety of programs from which to choose with a trade school.
You will find that there are several in-demand positions that a technical school can help to prepare you for when you proceed with enrollment. Some of the top programs in this educational sector including financial advisors, construction laborers, medical services managers, personal care aides, and nurse practitioners. You can learn how to be a physical therapist or a truck driver through some of these programs.

You can learn apprenticeship trades through technical schools as well. If you have an interest in welding, plumbing, or becoming an electrician, then there are opportunities to excel here as well.

7. Anyone can benefit from a trade school education.
Going to a college could be a great fit for some people, but it is not for everyone. If you are ready to make a career change, need help with your educational profile to earn a promotion, or just want to try something new, then attending a trade school might be right for you. Exploring the technical options which are available could help you to discover a new career that you may have never thought about in the past.

Enrolling in classes can expose you to new concepts, processes, and best practices that are in your industry right now as well. If you can gain some experience with cutting edge ideas, then that makes you a more valuable asset to your employer.

8. Trade schools are usually right down the street.
Most communities have a trade school of some type that allows you to study for a new career without the need to move away from home. The expenses of room and board are not usually calculated into the tuition costs of colleges or universities, so you could find yourself paying several thousand dollars more for the privilege to earn. Since a trade school could be right down the street, it is possible to pursue your career while still living at home. You and your parents can save on expenses, they can keep you on their healthcare insurance until the age of 26, and you will have a quiet place to study while still taking care of the property.

9. You will have less time to wait to start your first classes.
The traditional college or university operates on a semester-based structure, which means you might need to wait up to six months before you can start your first classes. Some institutions might ask you to wait until the next educational year!

When you attend a trade school, then the time you wait for classes to begin is minimal. There are almost always multiple start dates available for all of the programs found at the school. If you miss an application deadline, then you can get into the next series of classes when they start. Depending on the career option you prefer, that means a maximum wait of 10 weeks or less is usually possible.

10. Trade schools help you to work on other areas of the application process.
You will learn practical skills at a trade school that can help you get into a new job while learning how to manage your career interactions simultaneously. From your first day with this option, you will find that the staff is ready to help you with networking skills, resume composition, interviewing, and similar techniques that can prepare you for what it takes to begin your career. If you graduate from a four-year institution, then trying to find a job can be challenging because you might never know where to begin.

The placement rate for trade schools is usually much higher than what colleges and universities can provide. It is not unusual to for a school to have an 80% or higher success rate, which is 10-20 points higher than the average traditional institution.

11. You might have the option to study online.
There are several trade schools operating in the United States right now which offer vocational training opportunities online. This structure gives students with family or career responsibilities an opportunity to pursue the additional skills they need without the time commitment required to travel back-and-forth from classes. Some online certificates are even cheaper too, which means you can receive the advanced training you need while saving even more.

List of the Cons of Trade School vs College

1. Tuition fees vary widely when you start looking at trade schools.
Although trade schools tend to be cheaper than colleges, that is not always the case for some institutions. If you were to attend Ohio Technical College, then you would pay over $20,000 per year for that privilege. Attending your in-state public college might be 50% of that cost. For the 2019-2020 educational year, the estimated tuition and fees at the University of Washington-Seattle Campus is $11,445 if you are a resident.

Even the Graduate School tuition and fees at UW, which are $16,590 per year, are cheaper than what it would cost at Ohio Technical College. That is why you need to review the full cost structure of your preferred institution before enrolling.

2. You will face a rigorous schedule when attending a trade school.
There are no breaks in your schedule when you enroll in a trade school in your community. These programs provide the advantage of getting you into the labor force as quickly as possible. That means you won’t get a summer vacation or a lengthy break around the holidays to recharge your batteries. The curriculum is non-stop, rigorous, and demanding. That is why you can finish quickly. If you are not ready to put in the work to get there, then you might consider a part-time enrollment instead until you can get used to the demanding schedule.

3. There might not be any financial aid available to you.
Students who decide to attend a trade school may not have access to any financial aid. You might discover that the amount for which qualify is significantly less than what you would receive as a traditional university student. This disadvantage can even out over the course of a degree or certification program since you’re spending less on your education, but you might be stuck paying $2,500 or more annually.

If you cannot afford the tuition expenses which a trade school quotes to you, then you can apply for federal aid with your FAFSA as everyone else. Then you will need to wait to see if any funding options come through to support your learning efforts.

4. Trade schools can cause you to become less adaptable.
Trade schools do an excellent job of preparing you for entry into the workforce. There are excellent employment opportunities available after graduation. What you might also find is that the learning processes you experienced in the classroom make you less adaptable to the changes that industries face over the years. When you are less flexible with your approach, then that makes you less employable to some firms. You might even find yourself on the outside looking in if your industry changes without you.

By the time that workers are in their late 40s, those who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a college or university had higher rates of employment compared to those who went through a general education program at their trade school.

5. There is no job guarantee with a trade school.
Although you can learn practical skills during your time with a trade school, all of the technical work you will do does not guarantee that you can find a job. Even with the best placement practice programs in the world supporting you, students are going to be on their own when they start applying for positions. Having a certificate or a degree does not result in an automatic paycheck.

Your success is dependent upon what you decide to do with your certificate or degree. It helps to have your career path plotted to ensure that you can stay on track with your goals. Never assume that someone from the trade school will help you find the perfect job because that is a ticket to disappointment.

6. You may not receive exposure to the generalized education classes that you might need.
When you go to college, there are reading, literature, mathematics, and history classes that you might be asked to take as part of your overall schedule. These requirements are part of the general-ed criteria which is necessary for you to graduate with a specific major. Although they can be difficult to navigate and expensive to take, the information they provide can help you to have more wisdom about the career you wish to pursue.

When you decide to attend a trade school, then you will receive specialized learning that works toward the career you prefer only. If English composition doesn’t matter, then you won’t be taking that class. It is a skill-based learning opportunity that works with specialized career offerings instead of allowing you to explore generalized interests.

Conclusion of the Trade School vs College Pros and Cons

If you like the idea of starting your career right away instead of putting it off for 4-6 years, then a trade school is a viable choice to make. The classes come from a technical standpoint to ensure that you can achieve vocational success. You’ll be spending more time in the classroom learning practical skills instead of book knowledge, but it can also help you to find a job with a competitive salary very quickly.

There is less adaptability present in the classes you can find at a trade school. That can make you less flexible as a future worker, which could make you less employable to some in your preferred industry.

The pros and cons of a trade school vs college are all about the choices you need to make. There are definite advantages to consider, but this choice is not the right for each career. Talk to local schools, evaluate their programs, and speak with graduates and students to see what it is like to attend. Then you will have a better idea about knowing whether or not this option is right for you.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.