When Technical College is the Right Choice


After graduating from high school, going to a four-year college seems like an automatic choice for a lot of people. That’s not surprising: According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, higher educational attainment is associated with higher median earnings. From 2000 to 2016, the median earning of young adults with a bachelor’s degree was $50,000, significantly higher than the $31,800 earned by your average young adult high school graduate.

That can add up to a massive difference in earnings throughout a 30-year career in the workforce, but the numbers don’t paint the whole picture– such as factors like the increasingly high cost of attaining a bachelor’s degree. As a result, more people have been considering technical college, or trade school, as an alternative, and it could be the right choice for you too.

You don’t always need a college degree

According to Entrepreneur writer Rose Leadem, 45 percent of college graduates in 2015 were working jobs that didn’t require college degrees. The cost of completing a four-year college degree is much higher than the cost of getting an apprenticeship from a specialized trade school, so if your chosen career path doesn’t require a college degree, the extra investment may not be worth it. “If you can learn all of the skills you need to succeed at community college or trade school, then a traditional bachelor’s degree could be a waste of time and money,” Leadem says.

Higher earning doesn’t always offset debt

Numerous studies show that the young American population is up to its neck in student loan debt. According to the Federal Reserve, there is $1.5 trillion in outstanding student debt as of the first quarter of 2019, and according to the Pew Research Center, four in 10 adults under the age of 30 have student loan debt. More often than not, master’s and doctorate degrees lead to even more debt, and more importantly, the earning potential enjoyed as a result of earning these degrees is not always enough to offset the cost of the loans. “Only two-thirds of those with degrees think that the debt was worth it for the education they received,” Meg St-Esprit writes in a March 2019 article for The Atlantic. “Vocational and technical education tends to cost significantly less than a traditional four-year degree.”

Trade jobs are secure and in demand

One of the oft-cited advantages of four-year degrees is that they make you more desirable in the eyes of employers. However, trade jobs are very difficult to export to other countries, and this can make them much more secure in a country where more and more jobs are being outsourced to places with cheaper labor. “It is much easier to export, say, computer programming work or other information economy work than it is to export carpentry or electrical work, as that requires a physical presence,” Trent Hamm, founder of The Simple Dollar. Hamm also adds that there’s a growing domestic demand for high-precision skills because current skilled trade workers are disproportionately older. Vocational education declined in the 1980s and 90s, creating a shortage of skilled workers and tradespeople that you could fill by going to a technical college.

Gain additional skills for your existing career

Technical college may be the right choice for you even if you have already attended a four-year college and earned your degree. “Many jobs now require specializing training in technology that bachelor’s programs are usually too broad to address, leading to more ‘last mile’-type vocational-education programs after the completion of a degree,” St-Esprit writes. If you are already working in a field you enjoy and simply want to gain additional skills to advance your career, a technical college can help you accomplish this more quickly than a traditional college.

There are many benefits to going to technical college, and every year an increasing number of Americans are taking advantage. If your decision hinges on money, make sure to consult with a professional at your local financial institution to help you decide the best way forward.

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