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College or Trade School: Which is Right For You?

Jul 5, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

A trade school, sometimes referred to as a vocational school, is a school that’s focused on training students in a specific trade. This makes it different from a traditional college, which typically focuses on intellectual exploration within a certain field. The education you’ll get at a trade school is likely to be practical instead of academic, and focused on job-specific skills rather than intellectual inquiry.

Trade schools are an alternative to traditional colleges. And while it’s been common for educators to stress a college education as desirable for everyone, trade schools can be a good option for students who have specific goals and needs. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before deciding whether a trade school is right for you. 

What are your goals?

When choosing between a traditional and a trade school, it’s important to take the time to think about what you really want in life. What is your ideal
job or career? What kind of degree or training do you need to make that happen?

Trade School

Not all careers require a four-year degree. Vocational and traditional schools prepare you for very different types of careers—so knowing what you want is the key first step.

How do you learn best?

Traditional education isn’t for everyone. If you never excelled at writing papers and taking tests, it could be that your preferred learning style is a little more hands-on. Students who struggle with traditional school—and who can’t see themselves spending four more years at it once they graduate high school—could excel in a vocational program.

What are your limits and challenges?

Some indiviudals are wary of the amount of student debt they’d incur at a traditional school. Others have kids of their own and full-time jobs—and need an accelerated program that will get them into the job market as quickly as possible. When considering what type of school to go to, take into account how the program will fit into your life and whether you’ll realistically be able to complete it.

What does your industry expect?

Think about the types of entry-level jobs that will be available in your field when you graduate. Do those jobs look for a traditional Bachelor’s degree? Or do they need someone with more practical training? It’s absolutely crucial to think about what your employers will expect before choosing a school. If you’re not sure, ask people who work in the field. Ask people who are hiring now as well as those who are relatively new to the market—keep in mind that many employers are looking for four-year degrees now for positions that wouldn’t have required them a few decades ago.

How good is the program?

When choosing any trade school program, it’s important to gauge how well that program prepares you for a career. Talk to students and alumni about the quality of the education and program before you enroll. Check to see if the school is accredited by a respected agency in your field. Bear in mind that many trade schools have national instead of regional accreditation, and research college accreditation to learn which accrediting agencies typically endorse programs in your field. 

What can you afford?

Trade schools can sometimes be cheaper than traditional college. For-profit trade schools are often comparable to a four-year college in price, however—so be realistic about your job prospects and the type of wage you’re likely to find when you graduate. In a tough economy, it can be better to choose a school that won’t weigh you down with loans than one with a prestigious name.

Choosing a school is rarely easy. Trade schools give students another option for entry into the job market—and for some careers, a trade school is better than a traditional college. Be sure to do your research when choosing a school, however. Talk to recent graduates and current students to gauge the quality of the program, the perception of employers, and the challenges and successes of the job market after earning this qualification. With some research into available schools—and some thought about your goals—you should be able to choose the right school for you.

Trading College for Trade School -



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