Trade School vs College: All You Need to Know!


When choosing your education to enter your field of choice, there is often more than one path you may be able to take. Many people look to consider the pros and cons of trade school vs. college for certain career opportunities. 


To make it easier on you and your decision-making, we’ve compiled all you need to know about college vs trade school. We’ll cover what each one provides, some popular career paths, costs, duration, and more. 



Source: Pexels



What is Trade School?


Trade schools offer specific training for certain careers and jobs. Since they are focused on preparing students to enter trades, they typically don’t require or involve general education or liberal arts classes (like colleges do). 


A trade school is meant to prepare people to enter skilled trades. Technical and career schools (which exist under the broader umbrella term of vocational schools) focus more on marketable skills and practical training. 


When you complete trade school, you leave with a certificate or diploma of completion. Based on the trade you wish to enter, you may be able to apply for a position in the field with just a certificate or diploma from the trade school. However, in some cases, you may also need to pass a licensure exam or work as an apprentice first. 



Most Popular Trade School Subjects


Here’s a look at some of the highest-paying trade school jobs (these positions and expected job growth rates for 2019-2029 have been sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). 


  • Web Developer (growth: 8%)
  • Respiratory Therapist (growth: 19%)
  • Electrician (growth: 8%)
  • Legal Assistant (growth: 10%)
  • HVAC Technician (growth: 4%)
  • Plumber (growth: 4%)
  • Radiation Therapist (growth: 7%)
  • IT Technician (growth: 8%)



What is College?


College is an institution for higher education where students enroll in both general education requirements, as well as courses that are specific for their major (degree). Students typically enroll in college after they finish high school, or earn their GED


In two years, students can earn an associate’s degree and be eligible for entry-level positions. In four years, students can obtain a bachelor’s degree, which grants them higher earning potential, more job opportunity, and positions beyond entry-level. Both of these degrees represent undergraduate options. 



Cost of Trade School vs. College 


While it’s possible to take the average cost of trade schools and colleges respectively and compare them, there are other factors to consider in these equations. 


For starters, it’s useful to also consider that although college is generally more expensive than trade school, you may have the opportunity to receive financial aid that can cover the cost differential. 


Furthermore, it’s valuable to also consider the earning potential for positions that require a bachelor’s degree versus trade school (spoiler alert: it’s almost always going to be higher for those with undergraduate degrees). 


That all being said, the average cost of trade school is $33,000, according to a U.S. News report. According to, the average cost for a student who attends an in-state, public, 4-year university or college can expect to pay $25,615 per year. This amounts to over $103,000 at the end of the four-year degree. 

Keep in mind that these are just average prices; there are more affordable options for university like attending the University of the People, which is entirely online and tuition-free. 



Admissions Process: Trade School vs. College 


To apply to universities and colleges, the application and admissions process will vary based on the institution. However, it can more often than not be expected to involve the submission of:


  • SAT/ACT scores 
  • Letters of recommendation 
  • High school transcripts (including overall GPA)
  • Personal statements 


Colleges will consider the difficulty of your coursework, along with your grades. They’ll look at your overall well-roundedness by reviewing your extracurricular activities. Some schools will have thresholds for what your SAT/ACT score must be above in order to even be considered. In most instances, the admissions process is highly competitive, especially for private institutions. 


On the other hand, trade schools are less competitive and more open to admitting anyone who is interested in honing a skill. You can enroll by signing up and paying any required fees. You may also be asked to send your high school diploma for proof of completion. 


Although the University of the People is an accredited university that provides students with two- or four-year degree programs, our admissions process is more closely comparable to that of trade schools. We simply require that you show proof of high school completion (or produce a GED) and demonstrate English proficiency. 



Length of Time: Trade School vs. College


As we touched on earlier, an associate’s degree will take about two years to complete, whereas a bachelor’s degree will usually require four years of study. 


Trade school is a much shorter duration. Most programs can be completed in just one to two years. Students gain practical and hands-on experience which can provide them with what they need to enter the field upon completion. 



Earning Potential: Trade School vs College 


Trade school is a solid option for those who are sure of their career path and want to work in a highly skilled field that requires trade school. However, when you look at the earning potential of those with a degree versus those without a degree, degree-holders have a higher earning potential. 


The average salary of entry-level positions for college graduates is just north of $51,000. This number is a reflection of salaries upon entering the job market straight out of college. The number grows with experience (and, of course, more education like a graduate degree). For degree-holders who have made it to their mid-career positions, the average salary increases to $63,205. Thus, the earning potential is higher for degree holders than those who have gone to trade school. 


The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average salary of trade school professions to be $55,000 annually. 



Source: Pexels



Is Online an Option for Trade School or College?


Luckily, both trade schools and colleges can be completed online. When it comes to trade school, the online component varies based on the career. This is because trade school often includes hands-on components. 


For this reason, many online trade school options will be designed as hybrid learning,  which means that there is a mixture of both online and in-person learning. 


For example, dental hygienists will need to learn clinical skills in dental offices and labs. On the other hand, paralegals and office managers can obtain their education by attending a fully online trade school. 


Many undergraduate and graduate degrees can be obtained online. Some subjects that bode well for online learning include: Education, Health Science, Computer Science, and Business Administration (all of which can be taken at the University of the People). Online programs offer greater flexibility than their in-person counterparts and tend to be more cost effective. 



The Bottom Line 


The truth of the matter is that trade school and college are both great options. When choosing between trade school vs college, it’s best to take a look at your desired career path and requirements. Some professions require college degrees whereas others will hire trade school graduates. 


While finances, time commitment, and earning potential all play a role in your decision, it’s good to remember that you can obtain a college degree from an online and accredited institution like the University of the People. By doing so, you can set your own schedule, earn a degree with relatively low costs, and maximize your future earning potential while doing so! 



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