What Trade Schools Offer


Updated February 26, 2024

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After high school, not everyone wants to attend a 4-year university.

As the cost of college degrees continues to rise, many students see the benefits of attending a trade or vocational school, which provide clear pathways to sustainable careers.

Trade schools offer affordable training and education in practical fields, qualifying students for skilled, well-paying careers immediately after graduation. Read on to learn what types of training trade schools offer, the cost of attendance, and potential trade school jobs you could pursue after graduation.

What Is a Trade School?

Trade schools, also called career or vocational schools, offer practical training and education to prepare students for skilled careers, such as carpentry or cosmetology.

Trade schools offer practical training and education to prepare students for specific skilled careers.

Trade school programs usually offer certifications that take two years or less to complete. Trade schools may operate as their own independent institutions or they can be nested within two-year technical schools or community colleges.

Academic credits from an accredited trade school may transfer to a two-year or four-year school. Many trade schools are accredited: The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges provides accreditation to trade, career, and vocational schools. However, credits from non-accredited schools usually don't transfer.

Most trade schools accept all prospective students with either a high school diploma or a GED.

What Can You Learn at a Trade School?

Trade school students can typically choose from several trades that lead to many different careers. Specific trades vary by school, but often include carpentry, masonry, electrical and construction management, and automotive technology. Other common offerings include cosmetology, HVAC, and computer-aided drafting and manufacturing.

Vocational schools may also provide training in niche areas like emergency services, criminal justice, culinary arts, and medical or dental fields.

Featured Online Trade Schools

Trade School Jobs

Elevator Mechanic

Elevator mechanics install and repair elevators and other mechanical lifts and walkways. These professionals work with hydraulics, electrical networks, and computerized systems. They need to know how to read blueprints and work safely with mechanical components. Elevator mechanics typically work with building equipment contractors, though they may also work with independent elevator owners.

An elevator mechanic typically needs a high school diploma or its equivalent and then must complete a trade school apprenticeship and licensure program. These programs usually include four years of trade school job training during which students complete theoretical and on-the-job training. Candidates need mechanical, troubleshooting, and physical skills.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $80,800

Construction Manager

Construction managersoversee construction projects, including managing the budgeting, design, and building processes. They coordinate individual workers and whole departments to ensure cohesion. These managers may also need to work with design and construction teams to make changes and adjustments to projects depending on costs, supplies, and client needs.

Many construction managers have bachelor's degrees and construction experience, but some professionals attend trade schools, take entry level construction jobs, and work up to management positions. The length of training required varies for each job, but many candidates need experience beyond the typical four years of university or trade school. In addition to mechanical, technical, and construction abilities, construction managers may need leadership, business, and decision-making skills.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $76,900

Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapists support patients suffering from cancer and other illnesses by administering radiation treatments. These professionals work with an array of equipment, so they need to understand how to operate and calibrate each device to ensure safety. In addition to working with patients, radiation therapists work alongside other medical professionals, such as oncologists, physicians, and nurses.

These professionals often have an associate degree in radiation therapy, though some employers offer on-the-job training. Some states or employers may require bachelor's degrees, licensure, or certification, such as from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Successful candidates often possess interpersonal and technical skills.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $73,100


Millwrights oversee the installation, dismantling, and repair of machinery on construction sites or in factories. They may also need to take apart large machines for diagnosis, repair, storage, or transportation. This requires in-depth knowledge of the machinery and equipment, along with proficiency with hand and measurement tools.

Most millwrights need to complete a four-year apprenticeship program after completing high school or its equivalent. Some professionals pursue associate degrees in industrial maintenance, along with on-the-job training afterward. In most trade school job programs, a millwright completes over 100 hours of technical instruction and close to 2,000 hours of practical training. Successful candidates usually boast mechanical and troubleshooting skills.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $66,700

Electrical Powerline Technician

Electrical powerline technicians install, repair, and dismantle electrical power systems in buildings, cities, and towns. Technicians must maintain the integrity of large power grids while working quickly and safely. Because these professionals work in dangerous settings, they need extensive knowledge of entire electrical systems and relevant safety protocols.

Electrical powerline technicians need a minimum of a high school diploma or its equivalent, plus significant on-the-job training. Candidates may also pursue a two- to three-year apprenticeship, an associate degree, or a one-year certification with practical training. In addition to trade school job training, candidates can acquire professional certification. Successful technicians typically possess mechanical, technical, and troubleshooting skills.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $65,000

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers write the code for computer programs and applications. They work with developers and engineers to develop, test, and manipulate code to ensure it functions correctly. Programmers may specialize in one programming language or focus on more comprehensive systems.

While most computer programmers have bachelor's degrees in computer science or related fields, some professionals take alternative paths, such as associate degrees, coding bootcamps, or computer programming certificates. After completing a four-year bachelor's degree or two-year trade school job training, a computer programmer often needs to regularly update their skills with continuing education programs. They also need analytical, troubleshooting, and technical skills.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $63,350


Boilermakers oversee the installation and operation of large vessels and containers, such as boilers and vats. This includes the assembly and disassembly, maintenance, repair, and quality assurance of the vessels. These professionals also need to follow safety protocols for different boilers and work environments, ensuring they use the proper heat-resistant and pollution abatement materials when needed.

A boilermaker typically needs a high school diploma or its equivalent and must complete an apprenticeship or a trade school training program, which can take four years. Some employers or states may require licensure or certification, such as those from the National Center for Construction Education and Research. To succeed in the field, professionals need mechanical and technical skills. They should also be comfortable working at heights and in confined spaces

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $61,670

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Diagnostic medical sonographers operate special imaging equipment to provide physicians and surgeons with in-depth information about patient medical conditions. They use advanced equipment to create images of internal organs, often in specialized areas, such as abdomens, breasts, and the heart. Some professionals specialize in patient types, such as pediatrics or obstetrics.

Sonographers can pursue bachelor's or associate degrees. Most employers prefer candidates with at least one professional certification, though some look for professionals with trade school job training and multiple certifications. Some states may also require licensure. For success, diagnostic medical sonographers need technical and interpersonal skills, good hand-eye coordination, and a detail-oriented mindset.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $60,500

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists provide periodontal therapy for patients, which includes looking for signs of oral disease, providing preventative care, and educating patients on how to maintain their oral health. These professionals use different tools to take oral images, remove plaque, polish teeth, and apply sealants. In some states, dental hygienists may also provide patients with restorative dental services.

A dental hygienist typically needs an associate degree and state licensure. While candidates may pursue bachelor's and master's degrees for teaching or research positions, most enroll in trade school job training that lasts three years and includes theoretical and practical education in a clinical setting. Skills that come in handy include interpersonal, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $59,550

Cardiovascular Technologist

Cardiovascular technologists support physicians in diagnosing and treating heart conditions and diseases by imaging and testing patients' hearts and other chest organs. They use various tools and technologies to monitor patients or prepare them for medical procedures, which requires in-depth anatomy and medical terminology knowledge and a familiarity with different types of medical equipment.

A cardiovascular technologist typically needs to complete an associate degree or a one-year certification program. Some employers look for graduates with bachelor's degrees, but most seek professionals with trade school job training and professional certification. Technologists need interpersonal, technical skills, and good hand-eye coordination.

Median Annual Salary (2020)


Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)


Median Salary: $58,530

Investing in Trade School

Vocational programs provide affordable training and practical skills in a short period of time. Trade school graduates often find career opportunities in their desired fields more quickly than four-year college graduates. Trade school costs also tend to be significantly less than the cost of a traditional college or university program.

To experience these benefits, vocational students need to go into their programs with a career plan and the drive to succeed.

Bachelor's Degrees in Graphic Design

Trade School Cost

Trade school costs vary by program, but they are generally more affordable than a traditional university degree because they offer cheaper tuition and require fewer classes to graduate.

Trade students who can find an apprenticeship can get paid while receiving training. The Simple Dollar reports that the average trade school program costs $33,000, compared to $127,000 for the typical bachelor's degree.

Financial Aid

Many trade schools qualify for federal financial aid programs, allowing learners to receive federal loans and grants. Prospective trade school students should fill out the FAFSA to find out if they qualify. They can also apply for private loans, scholarships, grants, and employer tuition reimbursement programs.

Is Trade School Right For You?

Many different types of people benefit from trade school. Typical students include recent high school graduates, tradespeople seeking formal training to expand their career opportunities, and professionals who want to change careers and pursue a trade.

Students often choose trade school to gain practical skills in a short period of time and for an affordable price. Many learners who choose trade school like working with their hands to create a tangible product or to offer a useful service.

How to Apply to Trade School

Trade schools typically accept applications year-round and offer open enrollment to all students with either a high school diploma or a GED diploma. Open enrollment increases the chance that most students will be accepted. However, some schools limit the number of students who can enroll in high-demand programs.

Admitted students may need to take a skills assessment or placement test. Some programs also require students to pass drug or criminal background tests.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Trade School Better Than College?

The answer to this question depends on each student's career goals, personal interests, and the amount of time and money they can afford to spend on education. For many students, trade school is a better choice than a four-year college degree because it often costs less and can lead to a career sooner.

Do Trade Schools Look at GPA?

No. Trade schools typically do not assess applicants based on their GPAs.

Does FAFSA Cover Trade Schools?

Many trade schools qualify for federal financial aid, so students should make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Are Trade Schools Worth It?

Trade schools are often an affordable way to gain the skills and experience necessary to qualify for specific well-paying careers. If you are interested in one of these careers, a trade school would likely be worth it for you. Note that actual cost varies by institution.

What's the Easiest Trade to Learn?

The easiest trade to learn varies by person. You should consider your individual strengths and personal interests when selecting a trade to pursue.

What Trades Are in High Demand?

High-demand trades include carpentry, masonry, construction management, and HVAC.

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