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Why It May Make Sense To Skip College And Get A Trade Instead

High school will soon be drawing to a close, and suddenly you realize it’s decision-making time:  Should you apply to a four-year college, or go for a trade school instead? Either option has the potential to impact your employment path, your future earnings, and how you make your way in the world once you leave the comfy confines of your parent’s home, and the fun-filled daze of high school days, behind.

Here are some things to consider when deciding which type of post-high school education could best suit your goals and aspirations.

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What Exactly Is A Trade School Anyhow?

Trade schools, also known as technical schools, vocational schools, and career schools,  offer postsecondary education in specific skilled trades. The course of study usually consists of two years or less of classroom and hands-on instruction. Some trade schools are connected to community colleges, while others are independent educational institutions.

Trade school areas of study can include, but are not limited to, the following:

Cosmetologists | Mechanics | Electricians | Welders | Masons | Nurses | Physical Therapist Aides | Heating/Air Conditioning Technicians | Construction Workers | Carpenters

Trade schools and colleges can differ significantly in which offerings they make available to students, as well as in eligibility requirements, cost, educational requirements, and career path options.

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Eligibility Requirements & Differences In Costs 

On average, trade schools have less strict entrance requirements than do traditional colleges:  In most cases, you’ll only need a high school diploma or equivalent to be accepted to a trade school.

For example, the University of Central Florida, the largest four-year college in the United States, requires that, on average, students have a grade point average (GPA) in the vicinity of 4.0 or higher. In contrast, some trade schools only look at GPA numbers to determine a student’s eligibility to receive a scholarship. Trade schools may require a 2.0 GPA for admission or they may opt to administer a test that assesses basic reading, writing, and math aptitude.

When it comes to differences in educational costs, trade schools are clearly the most cost-effective choice. In 2019-2020, tuition at a four-year college averaged $9,349 per year at public institutions and $32,769 at private colleges. After a mere four years of study, students could be looking at a total cost of $37,396 and $131,076, respectively.

The cost of a trade school education averages about $33,000 annually. 

Trade school students have the option to apply for financial aid, including federal grants and loans; the Free Application for Federal Student Aid enables you to check your eligibility. You can also check out Fastweb and to find out more about trade school scholarships. Note that because trade schools can be listed under several different categories, your search should include technical, vocational, and career school scholarships.

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Educational Requirements & Career Path Options

Research conducted by the National Center of Education Statistics reveals that students generally dedicate 4.3 years to earning a bachelor’s degree, whereas a trade school education typically can be completed in about 24 months. Trade schools, unlike most colleges and universities, focus primarily on job-specific coursework, which accelerates the timeline for completing the learning process.

Studying at a trade school can save you time – and money – because you’ll be studying and completing only the coursework that’s most relevant to you, but if you train to become a carpenter and later find that this type of work isn’t to your liking, your employment options could be limited. On the other hand, a general business degree can lead to both business and non-business employment options. How so? Many jobs require a four-year degree but don’t specify a major, which means that if you find your original career path choice isn’t what you had hoped it would be, you’ll have other options to fall back on.

If you don’t have an interest in working in a specific trade, a traditional college education may be your best option. If, however, you’re a hands-on type of person whose drawn to a certain trade, it’s worth noting that the demand for skilled tradespeople is surging. The 2021 Skilled Trades Report revealed that 68% of companies experienced difficulty when it came to finding skilled workers and that 33% failed to fill existing positions.

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Potential Earnings

A 2014 study revealed that, over 20 years, individuals who held bachelor’s degrees earned $267,863 more than those with vocational degrees (adjusted to 2014 dollars). Some recent statistics also bear out the difference in earnings potential between workers with bachelor’s degrees and those who are employed in a trade. A 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that electricians earn an average of $60,040 annually, whereas bachelor’s degree holders earn a median of $69,368. It should be noted, however, that electricians can potentially enter the workforce up to three years faster, giving them an advantage when it comes to lifetime earnings.