What is a trade school?
A trade school is a postsecondary (post high school) educational institution that prepares and trains students for a specific career field. Trade schools offer important hands-on training and real-world experience that prepares students for work in their field of choice. And one major perk - you don’t need to take any courses that aren’t related to your area of study, like you would when studying at a traditional college or university.
Trade schools offer highly focused programs in skilled and mechanical trades, preparing students for jobs in welding, construction, mechanical repair, pipefitting, and so many more. When researching trade schools, make sure to check out their course offerings. It may be more beneficial to attend an automotive trade school to focus on a career in auto mechanics rather than a school that offers many different programs. But, in the end, the choice is up to you!
Many times, students attend a trade school to jumpstart their career and, within months, have the training they need to succeed.
Types of Trade Schools
Not sure where to start? There are so many different types of trade schools, all specializing in various career fields but we’re going to highlight 10 of the most common ones.
Healthcare Trade School
A healthcare trade school focuses on healthcare-related training, such as taking vitals, providing preventative care, and prepping patients for medical procedures and physician visits. At a healthcare trade school, you can explore careers as a radiation therapist, dental hygienist, medical sonographer, occupational therapist assistant, physical therapist assistant, licensed practical nurse, home health aide, and more!
Business Trade School
Business trade schools offer courses and certifications in finance, management and operations, and supply chain management, among others. Earn a certificate in business management to jumpstart your career as a retail store manager or operations supervisor. Or study toward certification in financial education or personal finance. Attending a business trade school will open a lot of doors for future career paths and will also teach you many important life skills!
Automotive Trade School
Automotive trade schools prepare students for careers as mechanics ready to maintain, fix, and troubleshoot any type of vehicle from cars and boats to RVs and motorcycles! Automotive trade schools offer specific training in many fields, such as alternative fuels, collision repair, advanced engine performance, and light-duty/hybrid vehicles.
Culinary Trade Schools
If you’re interested in a career in the culinary arts, there are a plethora of culinary programs and trainings to choose from. A culinary arts trade school or program focuses on food preparation skills, guest satisfaction techniques, and how to manage a restaurant, among other vital skills. There are schools just for cooking or baking if you’re preparing for a career as a chef, baker, food service manager, or head cook. Culinary trade schools will prepare you to work in a variety of settings, from five-star restaurants to cafeterias and every place in between.
Media & Digital Arts Trade School
A media and digital arts trade school focuses on preparing students for creative fields, such as copywriting, graphic design, illustration, and web development. Certifications at a media and digital arts school will prepare students with social media, computer animation, game art and design, and motion graphics skills. Students are able to specialize in their chosen field of study, while also learning a variety of transferable skills. Many creative fields overlap with required skills. For example, a career on social media might also require you to enhance your English writing skills in order to write captions, which can also improve your copywriting skills.
Legal & Criminal Justice Trade School
If you’re interested in a career as a legal assistant or paralegal, or a position within law enforcement, homeland security, cybersecurity, or private investigation, a legal and criminal justice trade school is the way to go! Legal and criminal justice trade schools cultivate skills such as people management, critical thinking, problem-solving, and forensic analysis. Oftentimes, a certificate in criminal justice will help you prepare for applying to the police academy to become a police officer. A legal certification can provide you with necessary skills for your eventual career as a lawyer or judge, but eventually you will need more schooling for those positions!
Plumbing Trade School
A plumbing trade school focuses on training students to become qualified plumbers. These trade schools help you get set up with an apprenticeship to develop and hone necessary skills. Some programs also offer plumber license preparation courses to prepare students for the licensure exam. Throughout a program and apprenticeship, you can expect to have a healthy dose of both classroom instruction on:
- OHSA safety training
- Blueprint reading
- State-related codes
You’ll also receive hands-on training in the following:
- Waste, sewer, and vent system installation
- Repair and troubleshooting
- Natural gas piping
- Installation of residential water and waste systems
Electrical Trade School
Electrical trade school programs are designed to prepare students to service and install residential, commercial, and industrial electrical systems. Specialized programs may include alternative energies, low voltage systems, and both low and high voltage systems. An electrical trade school can also set students up with an apprenticeship mentored by a qualified electrician.
HVAC Trade School
HVAC is short for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and HVAC technicians work on all the major systems, whether it’s for a family’s home or a company’s warehouse. HVAC trade schools set students up for successful HVAC careers by teaching skills such as creating HVAC duct systems, proper installation, ductwork sizing, changing refrigerant, and maneuvering electrical components. There are reputable HVAC trade schools in every state providing a combination of classroom lectures and hands-on training. Their goal is to graduate well-rounded individuals ready to take on their community as entry-level installers and maintenance or service technicians.
Technology Trade School
Technology trade schools focus on technical skills:
- Identifying and fixing problems with computers
- Configuring network systems
- Installing programs
- Providing technical support to individuals
- Assembling computers
Career paths after graduating from a technology trade school include careers like audiovisual technician, computer support specialist, IT technician, website coder, or many others! If you’re interested in coding, you can always try out a free course via CodeAcademy or visit your local library before you enroll in a technology trade school certificate. Technology is always evolving and changing, so you will have a great chance of finding a job after you’re done with school!
What Jobs Can You Get From a Trade school?
Trade schools provide excellent training for hundreds of future-ready careers! From truck drivers, first responders, and medical assistants to paralegals, cosmetologists, and electricians, you’ll surely find a career path that interests you. The world will always need skilled tradespeople to keep our homes, businesses, and live up and running. And this has proven to be even more important now as our country is currently experiencing a shortage of skilled trade workers. This has been causing salaries to jump as the demand for skilled trades increases but the supply remains short.
Here are five great jobs you can get from a trade school:
Career #1: Plumber
Ever had a leak in your bathroom or needed to install the farmhouse sink of your dreams in your kitchen? Plumbers are responsible for much more than merely fixing leaky pipes in kitchens and bathrooms. While they do install, maintain, and replace everything from gas and water lines to kitchen and bathroom fixtures, plumbers are also skilled at working with other contractors, assessing problems to come up with solutions, and reading blueprints. The job may require unpredictable hours during nights and weekends, but it also comes with a lot of independence, income stability, and work flexibility.
- Degree Required: Apprenticeship
- Average Length for Degree Completion: Roughly 4 years
- Average Salary (according to BLS): $59,880 per year or $28.79 per hour
- Expected Job Growth: 5% increase
- Perks: Many plumbers join a union, which provides them with benefits such as health and life insurance and access to a 401K.
Career #2: Veterinary Technician
Do you have a love for animals? If so, then a career as a veterinary technician may be a great path for you! Veterinary technicians, or “vet techs”, are usually the first line of care for all types of animals recovering from illnesses and surgeries, providing care so animals can stay healthy and happy!
Day to day, a vet tech may perform animal assessments, assist with surgeries, operate x-ray and ultrasound machines, administer medication, take vitals, and prepare animals and equipment for surgery. You can expect to work a typical 8 or 9 hour day, although employers may require later hours for emergency and last-minute procedures.
- Degree Required: Veterinary Technician Certificate
- Average Length for Degree Completion: Typically 12 to 18 months, depending upon the program
- Average Salary: $36,850 per year or $17.72 per hour
- Expected Job Growth: 15%
Career #3: Wind Turbine Technician
Looking to take your career to new heights? A wind turbine technician, or “windtech”, installs, maintains, and troubleshoots wind turbines and their many components. They also climb wind turbines to inspect the interior and exterior of the towers.
Green energy, specifically wind energy, is a fast-growing field, with job opportunities currently in most US states. You may even have the opportunity to travel for work as a wind turbine technician! Most wind techs work full-time, with flexibility for on-call emergencies during nights and weekends.
- Degree Required: Certification
- Average Length for Degree Completion: 6 to 12 months, depending upon program
- Average Salary: $56,260 per year or $27.05 per hour
- Expected Job Growth: 68% increase
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wind turbine technician career path is one of the fastest-growing fields currently.
Career #4: Medical Sonographer
If you’ve ever had an ultrasound, you’ve interacted with a medical sonographer. Also called “ultrasound technicians”, these employees perform readings of sound waves and then produce a sonogram, a picture of the sound waves bouncing off internal parts of the body. Sonograms are used to detect the health of the fetus, investigate causes of illness or injury, and provide additional insight into patients’ health to aid in diagnosing and treatment from physicians. Typically, medical sonographers work in women’s health clinics, pediatric offices, hospitals, and imaging centers.
- Degree Required: Sonography Certificate
- Average Length for Degree Completion: 2 to 4 years, depending upon the program you choose
- Average Salary: $75,380 per year or $36.24 per hour
- Expected Job Growth: 14% increase
- According to U.S. News and Money, the sonography profession was rated as the #1 Best Health Support Jobs.
Career #5: HVAC Technician
If you’ve ever had to call a furnace repair company in the middle of the night during the coldest night of the year, thank an HVAC technician. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. HVAC technicians work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, indoor stadiums, factories, homes, schools, and offices.
- Degree Required: Certification or Apprenticeship
- Average Length for Degree Completion: 6 months to 2 years, depending upon program
- Average Salary: $48,630 or $23.38 per hour
- Expected Job Growth: 5% increase
Trade School vs. Vocational School
Trade and vocational schools are similar, yet different. It’s important to know the key differences to help you decide which education path is right for you!
A trade school focuses on hands-on skills more so than classroom lectures and simulated job training in many vocational schools. Trade schools offer more labor-focused career paths: auto mechanics, HVAC technicians, and carpenters. Certain programs such as paralegal studies, healthcare, or cosmetology are only found in a vocational school setting.
Deciding on a future career path is often stress-inducing and time-consuming, but enrolling in a trade or vocational school program provides practical hands-on training and experience (to see if you really like the field you’ve chosen!) and allows you to get into the workforce quicker. No matter what your desired field of study, trade and vocational schools can be a fantastic next step!
How long does it take to get a trade school degree?
The completion time for a trade school degree depends on the program you’re interested in enrolling. Most trade school degrees, programs, and certifications can be finished in under two years- some in just a few short weeks or months!
For example, an HVAC technician program may take 6 months to 2 years, while a program to become a nursing assistant, CDL truck driver, and medical assistant may be completed in as few as 3 weeks to 3 months. Electricians can become certified in as little as 4 months. Flight attendant training can be completed in just 3 weeks!
There are 3 and 6 month certificate programs in the skilled trades, medical, dental, and criminal justice fields too. Whatever your timeline, you’ll be certain to find a program that fits your needs and is completed in a shorter time than a traditional college education!
How much does a trade school cost?
While attending a trade school is typically less expensive than a two or four year college, you will still have costs associated with your education! Typically, the most expensive part is the training, which is paid per credit hour. Cost per credit hour is dependent upon your program and ranges from $120 to $860. Books, tools, and materials will also be an additional charge. You should expect to spend anywhere from under $35 to more than $650.
Here are a few popular trade or vocational school programs and the average credit hours needed for completion:
- HVAC Technician: 27+ credit hours, plus many hours of hands-on training
- IT Support Technician: 18+ credit hours
- Cosmetologist: 30-62 credit hours, plus hundreds of hours of hands-on training
- Massage Therapist: 29+ credit hours, plus hundreds of hours of hands-on training
- Medical Assistant: 38+ credit hours
What is the best thing to go to a trade school for?
- While there is no one “best” career at a trade school, some of the more popular programs include radiation therapy, electrician, HVAC, MRI technician, and construction manager programs.
Which trade makes the most money?
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the trade that makes the most money is an electric lineman, making $74,530 per year. However, a lot of other trades have the potential to make comparable salaries, including plumbers and construction managers as you promote up the ranks or work more overtime. Additionally, if you have a trade skill and combine that with business skills by starting your own business, you can make significantly more money.
How much does it cost to go to a trade school?
- Many times, if you are accepted into an apprenticeship program, your cost is negligible. During your apprenticeship, you may only be required to cover the cost of books, tools, and materials. Depending upon the program you enroll in, the cost may be under $500! Typically apprentices are paid during on-the-job training as well.