Trade School vs College: Which Should You Attend?

You stand a huge chance of benefiting from getting further educational experience, whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a working professional seeking a career move.

Both trade school and college are excellent choices, and knowing the differences might help you determine which is best for you. In this post, we compare and contrast college and trade school, as well as their similarities, differences, and advantages.

What Is Trade School?

A trade school, sometimes known as a “vocational school,” offers students a career-focused education in a certain profession.

Hard skills training is available to trade students for professions in health care, manufacturing, technology, construction, and other fields. With a blend of practical and classroom learning, trade schools allow students to gain actual, hands-on experience in their field of study.

Those studying health care often attend class and complete clinical hours in medical settings, whereas students studying construction may begin their apprenticeships while still enrolled in classes.

Because they focus trade schools on providing skills and training for specific occupations, they rarely provide general education or liberal arts subjects.

Trade school students, like college students, may get a diploma or an industry-relevant certificate upon completion of their program.

Many trade students will be ready to work right after graduation, while others will need to enroll in additional training or study for licensing exams.

What Is College?

Students can build soft and hard talents while receiving academic degrees at both colleges and universities. College students select a subject of study, often known as a major or specialization, from a wide range of academic disciplines.

Before gaining specialized classroom time in their major, most college students attend one to two years of general education classes. They practice more abstract skills like problem-solving and analytical thinking while learning industry-specific talents in their field of study.

Students major in subjects such as business, communications, education, liberal arts, natural sciences, and computer sciences and graduate after an average of four years.

During their time in school, they gain diplomas and they frequently offer them internships, fellowships, and jobs. Depending on their field, they may also study for licensing examinations.

Some college graduates choose to continue their education beyond a bachelor’s degree by pursuing advanced degrees.

What Are The Differences Between Trade School And College?

They prepare students for the next step in their careers in both college and trade school but in different ways.

Understanding the distinctions between the two educational experiences can assist you in making the best selection for your future goals, needs, and talents. The following are the key distinctions between trade school and college:

Admissions process

When compared to college applications, the admissions procedure for trade schools is straightforward. Students applying to trade schools do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores, fill out many lengthy applications, get recommendations, or write persuasive college essays.

You can start trade school immediately after graduating from high school because most programs simply require your high school diploma as a prerequisite. This method allows students to think about what they want to study in trade school for a longer time.

College applications are lengthy and require all the above components. In their junior or senior year of high school, they frequently require students to submit college applications, which typically contain test results, transcripts, relevant recommendations, and essays.

Additionally, they sometimes require prospective college students to submit lengthy resumes that document their involvement in extracurricular activities. Including volunteer projects, and after-school employment, so preparation begins as soon as they reach high school.


Students who attend trade schools gain certificates or diplomas that might help them find work in a specific field. Furthermore, various trade schools let students start apprenticeships or take practical courses that can provide on-the-job experience prior to when they even finish their schooling.

Students can gain associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at colleges. Especially those they often require for employment in particular industries positions that are specialized.

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Length of program

In one to two years, you can complete a program at a trade school. Trade schools assist students in entering the profession as soon as they can focus on a career-intensive curriculum.

College students typically earn bachelor’s degrees in four years. While they can speed up their program by enrolling in summer classes, this is not the norm.


In general, trade schools are less expensive than college degree programs. You could pay as little as $5,000 per year depending on the trade school you choose and your field of study.

Public trade schools, such as community colleges, have the lowest tuition costs, whereas for-profit trade schools sometimes demand tuition rates comparable to a four-year college degree.

Many colleges provide scholarships to help cover the price of four-year academic college degrees. Students may pay anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 a year for tuition alone, but they will almost certainly also have to pay for room and board, as well as any books and school supplies they may require.

Course of study

Shorter, job-specific coursework is available in trade schools, preparing students for their chosen fields. While trade schools provide hands-on training, they do not include general education courses that could aid in the development of intangible soft skills. Instead, these programs generate applicants who are ready to begin right away.

Colleges provide students with several opportunities to study skills and gain knowledge outside of their chosen professional routes.

As a college student, you’ll have the chance to take classes in disciplines that aren’t immediately linked to your major, explore options you might not have considered otherwise, and meet people from various walks of life.

These experiences can aid in the development of critical thinking abilities, cultural awareness, and a wide range of information among college students.

Career potential

Many trade school graduates can expect to earn more than the national average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, vocational job routes are in high demand and can equip students to earn high earnings each year (BLS). Salary ranges for vocational and trade sectors can vary based on the professional path you take.

Air traffic controllers, radiation therapists, and dental hygienists, for example, are among the highest-paid jobs for which you can train in trade school.

According to BLS data, persons with four-year degrees earn more on average than those with only a trade school education.

When assessing employment offers, however, there are many other aspects to consider besides compensation, such as benefits, incentives, retirement plans, and company culture.

If Credits In Both Trade School and College Are Transferable…

Most institutions will not enable you to transfer credits from a trade school to a four-year university if you enroll in a trade school and then decide to pursue a four-year degree.

This can make it more difficult to continue your education, so it’s crucial to think about your long-term ambitions while determining which path to take.

College students have several possibilities for continuing their education, even if they drop out before graduation. When you finish at a university or college, you can usually transfer your credits to any other comparable school when you’re ready to start over.

Those who do graduate have the option of pursuing advanced degrees to further their education.

What Are The Similarities Between Trade School And College?

Although trade school and college provide very distinct educational opportunities, there are some parallels between the two. The following are the most significant parallels between trade school and college.

Available financial aid: Students in both settings may be eligible for financial aid to assist them in paying for their education.

Improved employment prospects: Both school courses can assist students in obtaining jobs in their sectors that pay above-average earnings.

Enrollment requirements: To enroll in either a trade school or a college, you normally need a high school diploma.

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What Are The Major Benefits of Attending Trade School?

It’s crucial to examine your personal tastes and needs, as well as the advantages of each option when determining whether to go to a trade school or college. The following are some services provided by trade schools:

A lesser time commitment:

On average, trade school takes less time than four-year universities. This can help you save time by allowing you to enter the workforce as soon as you’re ready, allowing you to earn money sooner.

Lower average costs:

Trade schools, particularly public trade schools, provide a cost-effective choice for students. This implies that, depending on your present financial circumstances, you’ll likely graduate with little to no debt, offering you greater long-term financial flexibility.

A simple admissions procedure:

There is no need for a lengthy, arduous application process for trade school. Rather, you can get into a trade school quickly and with greater confidence.

Training for a specific job:

Trade schools provide career-specific training that can assist graduates in finding jobs faster than they would otherwise. They give students opportunities to build competence in specialized disciplines through observation and practical practice.

What are the primary advantages of going to college?

There are also other advantages of going to college. College degree programs provide the following benefits:

Increased career opportunities:

Some jobs will cause a four-year college diploma. Furthermore, even in professions that do not strictly require a degree, having one may set you apart from other candidates. A college diploma may also assist you in preparing for difficult licensing tests.

Soft-skills development:

Because colleges require students to take general education courses, they assist graduates in developing soft skills such as communication and critical thinking.

Increased educational options:

You are not obligated to focus on a particular occupational preparation program while in college. Most institutions provide a wide range of majors to select from.

Colleges also allow you to study for many majors at the same time and change your path of study if you change your mind.

Educational credits that do not expire:

Once you have earned college credits, they are usually never lost. This means that if you drop out of college before graduating, you can come back and earn your degree later.

It’s usually a good idea to double-check with your college about time constraints for credits earned in particular subjects, such as technology.

Which Is Better Between Trade School vs. College?

It should be clear by now that both trade schools and colleges have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Which option, trade school or college, is best for you?

In the end, it is up to you to decide what you want to do with your career.

If you need job-specific skills, trade school is unquestionably the better option, especially when you consider the expense of your education. If you’re interested in research or learning you might do well in a typical college atmosphere.

What Are The Average Salaries Of Trade School Jobs And College-Based Jobs?

When evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of trade school, the opportunity for higher pay can fall on either side. Some vocational schools lead to lucrative employment, but jobs that need a college diploma pay more. Below, we go over the differences in greater detail.

Average Trade Job Salaries

While average pay for degree-based occupations is higher than those for trade-based careers, some trade school graduates make far more than most people assume.

Tradespeople can boost their salaries with experience after receiving specialized training, especially when working in specialty sectors.

Because of demand, statutory rules, and cost of living, some states and regions pay higher-than-average earnings for trade jobs.

High-density cities pay more than rural areas, but students should still investigate salaries in their local area before enrolling in a trade program and starting a new profession.

Electricians, for example, make more money on the East and West Coasts than they do in the Midwest. Electricians earn an average yearly pay of $60,370, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), although they earn $70,000 in California, $75,000 in Oregon, and $79,000 in New York.

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The data in the realm of dental hygiene is comparable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the West Coast pays significantly more for dental hygienists than the national average of $76,000.

Washington, for example, pays $93,000 per year, California $106,000, and Alaska $115,000 per year.

Salaries For College-Based Jobs

College-based employment pays more than trade school jobs. While both types of employment pay better as you have more experience, the income difference between college-based careers and trades actually widens as professionals progress through their careers.

Management positions, in particular, pay well but frequently cause a four-year degree.

Business students, for example, can make a median annual pay of $80,000 as of business operations specialist, according to BLS employment data.

These individuals, however, can earn approximately $200,000 per year as top executives after accumulating expertise.

What Is Job Security Like Between Trade School And College?

Graduates of trade schools have a lot of career security: Plumbing and house inspection are two professions that often withstand recessions and poor economies. Often, these tradespeople provide critical services that the world requires at all times.

Meanwhile, while college programs may provide degree-seekers with adaptable abilities that may be used in a variety of settings, those positions do not always do well during economic downturns. Experience can help you secure a job on either path.

Is Trade School Considered College?

In terms of post-secondary education, vocational schools differ from four-year colleges in that they focus on giving job-specific training to students who are often bound for one of the skilled trades, rather than intellectual training for those pursuing professional jobs.

Trade School vs. College Pros And Cons

  • College tuition is more expensive than trade school tuition.
  • Vocational training might help you get started in your profession sooner.
  • Class sizes are smaller in trade schools.
  • A trade school offers more opportunities for learning.
  • You will have higher employment stability if you attend a trade school.

Skilled Trades vs College

Taking up trade can provide you with personal fulfillment, a high earning potential, and career security. In general, trade schools are less expensive and take less time than four-year colleges. Trades are in high demand, but to stay competitive, you must continue your education.

FAQs on Trade School vs College

Which is harder, Trade School or College?

It’s difficult and depressing to be in college if you don’t enjoy reading, writing, or speaking in class. If you’re in trade school and can’t find something exciting to do, you’ll be miserable and have a difficult time.

Is it better to go to Trade School or for an apprenticeship?

Trade School uses high-quality tools and processes, which help you develop more specific and current skills than you may learn on the job. Apprenticeships provide skills that are beyond what they can learn in a classroom.

Is trade school more affordable than college?

Yes. They are often more affordable than traditional colleges.

Is it hard to get a job after trade school?

Absolutely. You could have basically taken up part-time work while in trade school. Finding work in a professional field after graduation could take longer.

Is trading a wonderful career?

Yes, especially if you choose to trade as a full-time career job.


It’s worthy of note that when deciding between trade school and college, students ought to evaluate their own strengths, interests, and career goals. When the evaluation process is completed, they become all that is at stake.


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