Technical school vs. college

Technical School vs. Career College: Which is Right for You?

After high school, many graduates feel pressured to follow what feels like a traditional path: attend a four-year college, earn a bachelor’s degree, and launch a career. However, a four-year degree is not in the cards for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be. There are great alternatives to the traditional college education, including technical schools and career-focused institutes, as well as incredible job outcomes that can be achieved in just a couple of years or less.

If you have specific professional goals in mind, and your career of choice does not require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, then why not consider a shorter-term postsecondary program? Technical schools, also called vocational schools or trade schools, are a great bridge into entry-level, skilled labor occupations. Career-focused colleges and universities offer comprehensive, convenient programs that can also prepare you with the training needed for a variety of hands-on careers.

What’s the difference between the two types of institutions? How can you ensure you are making the right choice for your future career goals? Let’s unpack the differences between technical schools and career-focused colleges below. We’ll then help you weigh your options and choose the best fitting path.

What is a technical school?

Technical schools are postsecondary institutions that offer practical training in specific trade professions. The main goal of a technical school is to prepare students to enter the workforce through hands-on and skills-based career training.

Technical school is a good option for students who know exactly what they want to do with their careers and need some level of postsecondary training to get there. Students enroll in technical schools with the understanding that their courses will be very specific to their future jobs. Students only take classes that are career-relevant, which enables them to complete their training in just a matter of months.

The programs offered in a technical school are limited, however. Common technical programs include auto mechanics, HVAC training, culinary arts, construction, computer technology, and healthcare. Check out a full list here.

Additionally, technical schools only offer short-term programs, including certificates, diplomas, and (occasionally) associate degrees. As such, some students find technical schools to be limiting in that they do not offer pathways for continued education and growth. Also, the credits earned in technical schools often do not transfer over to other institutions or programs, should future education be needed.

What is a career-focused college or university?

Career-focused colleges and universities are another type of postsecondary school where students gain comprehensive career training and preparation. These schools offer a robust curriculum tailored to each student’s interests and career goals. Career-focused colleges and universities also offer career support services for students, including resume building, interview preparation, networking events, and more.

Like technical schools, career-focused colleges promote hands-on experience and training. Students participate in practical internships, clinical rotations, simulation exercises, and have the opportunity to train on industry-level equipment and machinery. Career-focused college programs can vary, but often include a range of healthcare, business, manufacturing, and technical programs.

While career-focused college programs are (as their name suggests) focused on specific career paths, students also complete higher-level coursework alongside their practical career training. This allows students to develop important soft skills that employers are seeking—such as critical thinking and communication—along with more industry-specific skill sets.

At a career-focused college or university, you can earn a certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or even master’s degree, depending on your major and professional goals. This is a benefit that sets these institutions apart from technical schools. No matter which program or degree you choose, career-focused programs are always meant to be flexible—so that you can continue working while completing your education. For example, at Goodwin University:

  • Many classes can be taken in either on-campus or online formats (or a blend of both!).
  • Students benefit from a full range of evening and weekend course offerings.
  • Goodwin offers three academic sessions each year for faster degree completion. Full-time students have the potential to earn a bachelor’s degree in as few as three years.
  • Programs may be offered in part-time, full-time, or accelerated formats to meet students’ needs.

Career college and technical school benefits

As you can see, both career-focused colleges and technical schools can position students for success in the workforce after graduation. In contrast to a traditional college commitment, these institutions offer:

  • A shorter time commitment to complete higher education. The programs offered in technical schools and career colleges often take between 12 to 24 months to complete. This allows you the benefit of getting into the workforce (and start earning a salary) fast.
  • Lower tuition costs. Because of the shorter time commitment in school, career-focused colleges and technical schools are generally less expensive than the four-year liberal arts college or university. Many schools are transparent about their tuition costs, too, so you can know exactly what to expect – and invest – before starting classes.
  • Specific career training. Both technical and career-focused schools are dedicated to preparing students for the workforce, by teaching them the very skills needed to enter a career of choice. These institutions offer hands-on learning opportunities that enable students to gain experience and launch a job quickly after graduation

Key differences between technical schools and career colleges

  • Areas of study

As you research different technical schools and career colleges, you’ll find that they typically offer different courses of study. Technical schools will usually offer programs in very specific skilled labor professions, like culinary arts, carpentry, plumbing, mechanics, massage therapy, web design, and more. These areas of study are all hands-on professions that can be achieved without a college degree. Career-focused schools, on the other hand, are not limited by award or career type, offering a broader range of programs in various careers and industries. (Check out Goodwin’s list of programs here.)

  • Award offerings

As suggested above, technical schools typically offer diplomas and certificates. Some technical schools will reach as high as associate degree offerings, but this depends on the school. Meanwhile, career-focused colleges and universities offer certificates and diplomas as well as degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree level. Even if you are only seeking a short-term program right now, a career-focused college can position you for longer-term growth with advanced options available.

  • Credits that transfer

This brings us to another difference between technical schools and career colleges. Because of the limited programs and awards, the credits earned at a technical school do not transfer to colleges or universities. This means if you ever want to pursue higher education down the road, your previously earned credits from a technical school could not be applied. Meanwhile, starting your education at a career college offers more flexibility, with transferrable credits that can be applied to future coursework.

  • Flexibility

This quality will vary by school, but most career colleges offer a range of flexible and convenient program formats that are not always available at technical institutions. Technical school offers a lot of hands-on components of their curriculum, which requires in-classroom learning. Additionally, because technical school programs are so short, they can be more intensive with less room for part-time scheduling. Meanwhile, career-focused colleges try to offer class schedules that work with students’ current obligations, meaning some online, accelerated, evening, weekend, and part-time formats might be available. You can learn about Goodwin’s flexible career-focused degree and certificate programs here.

  • Skills development

In technical schools, students develop incredible skill sets that make them ready for their career directly upon graduation. They gain experience with machinery and equipment used in their industries. They learn specific techniques and precautions that are important for the workforce. They do not take general education courses – such as those in general sciences, math, communication, ethics, etc. – but rather focus on the more technical elements of their jobs. This diverges from the career college curriculum. Career colleges do offer hands-on training and experience with industry-adopted technologies. Students also gain the skills needed for the workforce. However, in addition to this, students have the opportunity to take broader coursework in areas like science, English, math, and more – courses that can be applied to their specific career path, or a variety of other careers after graduation. The skills gained in career college, thus, are more versatile than those earned in a technical school.

  • Student services

Because of the resources available at career-focused colleges and universities, more services are typically available to their students (vs. those in technical schools). Career colleges like Goodwin University help students launch careers successfully through services such as networking workshops, career fairs, resume and cover letting building, job search assistance, and more.


Still unsure? Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of technical school here!


Choosing between a technical school vs. career-focused college

Now that you understand the benefits of technical schools and career colleges, as well as their differences, you can make a more informed decision regarding your education. Is a technical school or a career-focused college right for you? To find the answer, ask yourself the following questions:

What kind of career or technical training do you want to pursue?

First and foremost, your career goals should dictate what path you choose following high school graduation. If you haven’t already, try to think carefully about what you want to do with your life. What are your natural skills and talents? What are your hobbies and interests? What job field most interests you? What type of work environment do you see yourself in? Before you fully commit to your career choice, you will want to make sure it is one-hundred percent right for you. Research all aspects of the industry and the position you desire to best guide your choice.

What programs does the school offer that align with your desired career path?

After making your career choice, your next step will be to research various schools that offer your desired program. If you desire a career in medical assisting, for example, find a reputable school that offers medical assistant certification and training. If you wish to become a nurse, find a school that not only offers an associate degree in Nursing, but also a flexible RN-to-BSN program that will allow you to advance your education down the road.

If you have a certain career or technical college in mind at this time, contact the school to inquire more about their training and program offerings. You will want to ensure that the school can fully prepare you for the particular job you’re seeking. Job requirements vary depending on the field. Some jobs require a license or certificate. Other entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree. Find out what you will need to score your dream job by asking about your field’s educational requirements.

Is financial assistance or student aid available to you?

Before choosing a technical school or career-focused college, ask about the total price of tuition. How much will your desired training cost? Will it vary depending on the type of certification, degree, or diploma you earn? Are there any items that are excluded from that given price, such as books, equipment, or other related materials?

Once you have a good idea of expenses, ask about the student aid available to you. Any college you are considering should aim to keep you on a path towards success, no matter the cost. A good career-focused college will not only lend you funds, but also help you understand your given financial package.

There are many types of financial assistance or student aid you can receive from a career-focused college. For example, Goodwin University offers scholarships, grants, federal loans, work study jobs, and veteran’s educational benefits. In the Fall of 2023, 98 percent of Goodwin students received financial aid in the form of grants or scholarships.

While these three questions all play a significant role in choosing the right career-focused school, there are many other questions you should ask before taking your next step. Before choosing a school, for example, you should also ensure that it is an accredited, licensed institution with programs that align with your career aspirations, are flexible and adaptable to your wants and needs, and that will support you from start to finish. Ask your prospective college about the various internships, in-field experiences, and job placement assistance available to you.

Launch your career with Goodwin

At Goodwin University, we design our career-focused programs to help students meet all of their goals at a pace that works best for them. We take pride in the strong employment outcomes of our graduates, and look forward to helping you score your dream job as well.

To learn more about Goodwin’s various program offerings, learn more online today!