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Trade School vs. College: Which is Right for You?

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What’s Covered:

 

For some, college is the best path. But that’s not true of everyone.

 

Trade school, also known as vocational school, is sometimes overlooked as an alternative that prepares students for a career in fields like technology, manufacturing, health care, and more. While colleges offer a holistic, liberal arts education, equipping students with soft skills in addition to hard skills, trade school focuses exclusively on helping people develop those technical skills needed to succeed in their chosen field. 

 

Differences Between Trade School and College

 

Cost

 

An average four-year college program costs $127,000, while the average trade-school program costs $33,000. In both cases, you can win scholarships and grants, as well as take out loans (loans must be paid back). 

 

Admissions Process

 

As anyone who has applied to college knows, the admissions process is very involved. There are essays to write, tests to take, recommendations to solicit, activities to catalog, and much more. That’s not the case for trade school. All you need to do, for the most part, is prove that you earned your high school diploma — it’s far less involved.

 

Time

 

The time commitment for a liberal arts college or university is four years. While some students finish their degrees early, there is typically a minimum time commitment. Trade schools vary in length, but it’s rare to find a program that takes longer than a year or so. Community college programs, meanwhile, typically take two years to complete.

 

Acceptance Rate

 

Colleges and universities vary in terms of acceptance rates — some are highly selective, while others accept anyone who meets the minimum standards. Trade schools, meanwhile, generally accept anyone who meets the basic requirements, usually a high school diploma (sometimes, you may need to meet additional requirements).

 

Coursework

 

At trade school, you will learn about topics that specifically pertain to the career you’re pursuing. That means you’ll be gaining hands-on skills that directly prepare you for your job after the program. Meanwhile, in a college program, you’ll focus on a specific major, all while exploring a number of other subjects and disciplines. Some colleges have core requirements, requiring you to take specific courses. 

 

Credentials

 

Through college, you’ll earn a degree. A two-year program typically means an associate’s degree, while a four-year, undergraduate program results in a bachelor’s degree. This is a minimum requirement for some jobs, although the particular field often doesn’t matter.

 

Trade school culminates in a certificate, credential, or diploma in a particular area of expertise.

 

Reasons to Choose Trade School

 

1. You want to hone a particular skill

 

If there is a specific technical or hard skill you want to gain, then trade school could very well be the right path for you. There are plenty of programs available, and you just have to find the right one for you.

 

2. You have limited time and resources

 

Trade school is cheaper and far less time-consuming than college. Plus, you’ll be ready to enter your field of choice immediately upon your completion of the program.

 

3. You want to be prepared to enter the job market immediately

 

Although valuable in many cases, bachelor’s degrees aren’t guarantees that you’ll find a job immediately upon completion of your program. When you finish trade school, however, you’ll be prepared to start working immediately. It’s still not a guarantee, but it does offer more assurance that you’ll be equipped with the skills to do the job.

 

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Reasons to Choose College

 

1. You’re not sure exactly what you want to do yet

 

College is about more than job preparation. For many, it’s a vehicle for exploring your options and growing in multiple areas — not just your professional life. If you’re not entirely sure what the future looks like for you, then this is a great way to explore different ideas.

 

2. You’d like to gain soft skills and study areas outside of your major

 

As we’ve discussed, during college, you’ll take courses and gain skills that aren’t directly related to your major. If you’re looking for a liberal arts approach to your education, then college, not trade school, is where you’ll find it.

 

3. You want to keep your options open when it comes to your future career

 

Perhaps you have an idea of what you want to study and the career you want to pursue, but you also want to keep your options open. For the most part, degrees are applicable to a range of fields, so your major won’t necessarily dictate a firm career path. (Of course, in some cases, you will need to take certain courses and meet specific requirements, such as if you want to go onto medical school).

 

What Are Your Chances of Getting Into College?

 

Curious about your chances of admission to four-year colleges and universities? Using CollegeVine’s free chancing engine, you can find out your unique odds of getting into schools across the country.

 

Remember that trade school has far fewer requirements than many college programs. If you’re interested in pursuing this path instead, your chances of admission are higher — 100% in many cases, provided you have a high school diploma.


Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.