When we talk about “worth,” we are assigning value to something. We are trying to understand what value it will bring to us, and whether it will prove useful or meaningful in our life. If you are asking, “Is trade school worth it?”, you are likely wondering whether an investment in your education will pay-off in your future — and, more specifically, if trade school is the right educational path to meet your goals.
Trade schools, also referred to as technical or vocational schools, are designed to prepare students for very specific careers involving manual, mechanical, or technical skills. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, trade schools help to meet the demand for “middle skills” – skills that require postsecondary training and education, but not as much as a four-year bachelor’s degree. These skilled trades might be welding, machining, automotive mechanics, dental hygiene or even medical assisting, but will vary depending on the school.
For those who do not wish to commit the time and cost to a four-year degree, and who desire a career-focused education, a trade school can be a great option. Trade schools enable students to focus entirely on their chosen field, and develop the skillsets and knowledge needed to launch a career. Too often, Americans push the narrative that everyone needs to pursue a bachelor’s degree (or more) to be successful. The reality is, a bachelor’s degree is not right or worth it for everyone. So, how do you know which pathway is right for you? You can weigh the pros and cons, as well as your individual needs as an aspiring college student.
The Pros of Trade School
The top benefit of trade schools is that they offer highly-relevant, career-focused training to help you meet your goals. You do not need to spend added time in general education and elective liberal arts classes. Rather, you can choose courses that specifically support your career aspirations. If you are training to become a dental hygienist, for example, you will take classes that teach you the technical skills you need to provide preventive dental care.
Trade schools offer a shorter educational pathway than a traditional college education. You can earn a postsecondary certificate or diploma in a matter of months. Some trade schools will offer the option to pursue a two-year, associate degree in a certain area of study. No matter which path you choose, trade schools are designed to help get you prepared and into the workforce as fast as possible. They help train students for in-demand trade jobs (and, in turn, help to mitigate the skilled labor shortage in America) by offering fast-paced, skills-based programs.
Due to the shorter time commitment needed in trade school, you can also expect less of a financial investment. On average, trade schools cost around $33,000 for tuition, which may exclude outside materials needed for the program. This is a fraction of the traditional, four-year college tuition.
Reliable Job Prospects:
When choosing to attend trade school, you are choosing to set your sights on a specific career path. Trade school is designed to help prepare you for that chosen career, and to help you fulfill the specific requirements that are needed to land a job in that field of work. With this level of training, you will be a valuable candidate when applying for roles.
You can also expect numerous job prospects upon graduation. Whether you are pursuing mechanics, manufacturing, or medical assisting, trade jobs are in high demand. And the demand for skilled trade workers does not waver. There will always be a need for mechanics as long as we have cars, or dental hygienists as long as we have teeth to clean. There will always be a need for machinists to produce the goods we use every day, or electricians as long as we continue to power the world. All this to say, trade jobs are not going away. Even in the most challenging times, trade workers remain a necessary and desirable asset to the economy.
The Cons of Trade School
Limited Program Options:
Trade schools, as noted above, provide training for very specific careers—particularly in fields that require manual, technical, and/or mechanical skillsets. Therefore, it is possible that a trade school will not offer a program that supports your dream career path. Common trade school programs include Mechanics, Masonry, Culinary Arts, Construction, HVAC, Welding, CNC Machining, Web Design, Criminal Justice, Medical Assisting, Medical Billing and Coding, as some examples. Be sure to do your research and ensure that a trade school program can and will align with your career goals.
If you are unsure which career you ultimately want to pursue, or desire an education where you can explore multiple career and program options, a trade school may not be the best fit for you.
Rigorous Class Schedules:
The fast-paced nature of trade schools, combined with the intensive skills training, allows for very limited flexibility in the schedule. You may find yourself with little free time outside of school, and will likely be required to attend classes on-campus while you complete the program. If you have a full-time or part-time job, or even family obligations at home, the rigorous schedule is something you will need to consider carefully. You will be expected to complete your training at certain times of day, in a specific place, in a trade school program.
Limited Financial Aid:
While trade school is more affordable than the traditional liberal arts college, there is some trade-off. Trade schools typically do not offer financial aid for students. Traditional colleges and universities offer a
range of scholarships, grants, loans, and other financial assistance. Trade school students may apply for federal financial aid opportunities like everyone else, but likely will find fewer financing options overall.
Less Advancement Opportunities:
Job prospects are not a problem for trade school graduates, with demand for skilled labor workers increasing in recent years. However, once in a steady job, trade school graduates may find less upward mobility and room for growth. Managerial positions, for example, often require a college degree at the bachelor’s or master’s level.
Limited Skills Development:
Trade schools are beneficial for those who know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. They become master’s in their field, experts in their trade, through their training program. Trade schools take a practical, hands-on approach to education, which is extremely advantageous for manual and technical jobs. However, trade schools do not offer broader, general education courses—they stay relevant to the given career field. While this can be seen as a perk to some, it also brings its own set of disadvantages.
Colleges and universities require general education courses for a reason. A broader education in topics like mathematics, science, English, and communication can help students become more well-rounded, valuable job candidates. They will have versatile skills that can transfer to a range of different job opportunities after graduation. Even if you chose to major in medical assisting at a career-focused university, for example, you can still expect to gain skills in communication, psychology, biology, and computer applications. These courses can qualify you for other careers beyond a medical assistant, and even be applied as transferable credits if you decide to pursue a different degree later on. The point is, you will be armed with a wide range of skills upon graduation – and hold value beyond your chosen career path – when you choose the more traditional college route.
Again, if you are set on one specific career path, a trade school is a great fit. However, if you are hoping to explore more generalized interests and fields while in school, trade school may not be right for you.
You Have Options
Many students feel they need to decide between a trade school and a bachelor’s degree, as though those are the only two options for postsecondary education. The truth is, there are alternatives and in-betweens. For example, have you considered a career-focused college or university?
Career-focused schools are similar to trade schools in that they put a great focus on your career training. They equip you with the skills needed to pursue your career aspirations and land a great job. However, career-focused schools are more extensive in their program options. For example, at Goodwin University, we offer a range of career-focused majors at different educational levels, including Certificate, Associate, Bachelor’s, and even Master’s degree programs. You may pursue a career in Nursing, Health Science, Manufacturing, Criminal Justice, Respiratory Care, Dental Hygiene, Business Administration, Human Services, and more.
Career-focused colleges and universities also encourage a broader range of topics and exploration in the curriculum. While majors are largely career-focused, with practical and hands-on training opportunities always integrated, there is also room to explore other areas of interest. You are not limited in your
curriculum, and can design a program that will best support you towards your career goals. In the process, you may also find more flexibility than your typical trade school. At Goodwin, for example, many degree programs and courses are offered online and part-time, allowing you to continue working while going to school. Our goal is to help support you in your career and your success, from day one.
So, is trade school worth it for you? Or, after weighing the pros and cons, do you wish to explore other alternatives? This is a deeply personal decision that only you can make. You know what you can handle in terms of time commitment, financial investment, and curriculum. You know where you want to take your life and your career, and therefore only you will know the right path to getting there.
If you’d like to learn more about Goodwin’s career-focused training and degree programs, please do not hesitate to reach out. Call us at 800-889-3282 or visit us online to request more information.