Trade Schools vs. Colleges

The financial toll of higher education is an increasingly daunting thing to consider, but investing in education is a smart decision that can lead to a more fulfilling life, career and earnings. Getting an education after high school doesn’t just have to mean attending a four-year college. Attending a trade school is also a worthwhile choice to consider in that you can learn useful, practical skills; apply those skills toward a high-paying career; and graduate with just a fraction of the debt you’d take on at a university.

Trade Schools

Trade, technical or vocational schools deliver programs intended to suit a specific career. For example, trade school programs can train you the skills necessary to earn a job as a machinist, dental hygienist, electrician, medical assistant, massage therapist, pharmacy technician or mechanic. Because the curriculum at a trade school focuses on fulfilling the necessary requirements of specific jobs, you can expect to graduate in around two years’ time. Less time spent in school means less money spent and a quicker turnaround time for joining the workforce.

What’s more, Mel Bondar writes for U.S. News & World Report that trade schools don’t cost nearly as much as a four-year university. According to Bondar, the comprehensive cost of attending a vocational school averages out to around $33,000, which is roughly equivalent to the cost of a single year of college. Because of the specific career aim and trajectory, job-placement opportunities for vocational school graduates also tend to be higher.

Although trade schools will have you securing a paycheck quicker and for less tuition than a traditional college, they might not be setting you up for long-term career success. “General Education, Vocational Education, and Labor-Market Outcomes over the Lifecycle,” a study conducted by Eric A. Hanushek, Guido Schwerdt, Ludger Woessmann and Lei Zhang, finds that skills taught by vocational schools age and become obsolete much more quickly than those skills taught at a traditional university.


A typical college education typically takes a minimum of four years to complete, which means that it is a significant — though often fruitful — time investment. Instead of preparing you for a specific job as trade schools do, a college education exposes you to a wide range of subjects. Whether you are sure of your major the moment you step foot on campus or are unsure of what you’d like to pursue, a college education delivers a wealth of knowledge, choices and avenues to find your calling.

Because a college degree typically requires twice the time than a trade school, you’ll be investing more time, energy and money into your educational pursuits. Even with scholarships and financial aid, most students will have to take out loans to cover the cost of tuition. A bright student’s options can be limited by the amount of financial aid that they would receive against a more prestigious university’s higher tuition costs, whereas there isn’t often so much variance in tuition between vocational schools focusing on the same fields.

Even though the time spent is greater and the financial cost is higher, a college degree can translate into higher earnings later in your career. The experience of going to college and living on campus is also often an essential part of the growth process, teaching young adults the necessary social skills that will become necessary in their professional lives.

Whether you choose to attend a trade school or college, your pursuit of learning should never end. If you want to go back to school for personal advancement or to pursue a new professional avenue, know that there are no age limits holding you back.

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