Find the Right Trade or Vocational School for You

RWM stands for Real Work Matters. If you are looking for vocational school and interested in CTE (CTE stands for career technical education, sometimes also known as career and technical education) or looking for a nontraditional educational path, our career resources and vocational training and trade school options are designed to help you understand what’s available.

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What Are Vocational and Trade Schools?

Vocational School Definition: "Vocational schools, trade schools, and technical schools are places that can help you train for jobs that require a particular educational experience or where you can learn specific technical skills." Campus-based or online certificate, associate degree or other CTE training programs can usually be completed in a relatively short amount of time — under the four (or more) years it can take for a bachelor’s degree.

Though the terms are often interchangeable, keep these main differences in mind if you want to learn what are trade, technical and vocational schools:

Vocational Schools

  • Students at vocational schools can earn certificates or complete training in under two years
  • Vocational careers tend to be in-demand due to lack of skilled workers and strong career outlook figures
  • Vocational jobs include: Pilot, Paralegal, Medical Assistant, Cosmetologist

Trade Schools

  • Trade School Definition: Trade schools are the places that can help you to get jobs in the skilled trades, typically labor-based and requiring specific training
  • Trade schools often focus on careers that involve physically demanding manual work
  • Example trade careers: Electrician, Carpenter, Tile Setter, Welder

Technical Schools

  • Technical School Definition: Technical schools are where you can go to learn a trade career, or the specific skill needed for one. May involve apprenticeship or other training
  • Study for a technical career typically does not involve liberal arts or non-essential academic requirements
  • Technical schools can be good for: Nursing, Biomedical Equipment Technology, HVAC, Automotive Repair and Plumbing

CTE stands for career technical education, and you might hear about CTE schools, which educate high school and college students for careers expected to be in demand in the coming years. You might also hear of CTE standards, which help shape expectations for programs that fall under each one of CCTC's 16 Career Clusters. CCTC is the Common Career Technical Core, an initiative led by states to develop of a system to monitor what CTE students should know and be able to do after completing their training. You can read about Career Clusters and more about the benefits of career technical education on Advance CTE and other CTE resources listed under "Helpful Links" below. 

Whether fresh out of high school or looking for a career change, trade and technical careers and vocational jobs are sometimes better options than degree programs offered at traditional colleges if:

  • You are interested in a career with less of an academic focus
  • You enjoy hands-on work
  • You want to spend a shorter amount of time in school and save money
  • You prefer to focus on courses directly related to your target occupation
  • Your goal is a more direct entry into the workforce
  • You want both on-campus and online program options
  • You want to start earning an income sooner rather than later
  • You want the increased job opportunities that can come with education beyond a high school diploma

Many jobs in the skilled trades are expected to have strong job growth prospects in the coming years, as baby boomers retire without enough younger people training for and filling these positions. Additionally, Glassdoor.com notes that less than half of all jobs will require a four-year degree or more in the coming years — meaning trade jobs are the majority going forward. The Good Jobs Project reports that good jobs for workers without bachelor’s degrees are more and more concentrated in the skilled trades, rather than in traditional blue-collar industries. Opportunities are plentiful for those with a two-year degree or less.

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer. Location can make a big difference. Average trade school tuition costs vary by state due to several factors, including the state's cost of living, state funding per student, and available public resources. Areas with a higher cost of living or a large urban population tend to have more expensive programs, and private colleges may have higher tuition compared to community colleges. Tuition prices also vary depending on the program, so before doing any financial research it's important to determine what type of a vocational field you wish to pursue. Learn more about the costs of CTE programs in your state with this handy tool from CareerTech.org. 

Online vocational schools
  • Can offer the flexibility many students need — especially those who anticipate working while enrolled
  • Vocational programs with partially or fully online learning options may include fields like computer programming, medical billing and coding, or graphic design
  • Learn more about the benefits of online vocational education for trade careers and technician jobs
Campus-based trade schools
  • Can offer students more of the hands-on training needed for certain vocational jobs
  • Some may find better networking benefits or more elements of a traditional college experience, especially at a CTE school
  • Vocational programs that might benefit from an on-campus experience include automotive trades or electrician or HVAC technician training

Vocational School Programs

Below is a wide-ranging list of trade or vocational degree programs you can enroll in at technical schools, community colleges, or other institutions—private or public, for-profit or nonprofit, campus-based, or online. Learn what to expect, such as: whether the program aims to prepare you for the types of licensure or certification needed for certain careers, if an apprenticeship is required and how long it usually lasts, and other details about the trade or vocational career itself, including salary and job growth projections.

Vocational Schools by State

Find accredited, career-focused trade or vocational schools in each state, plus find more localized options. From non-degree awards to associate degrees and certificates, there’s likely a vocational school offering the technical education you need near you.

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