Find the right Trade School for you
RWM stands for Real Work Matters. If you’re 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.
What are vocational and trade schools?
Trade schools, vocational 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 while you plan your CTE career pathway or vocational training path:
Why choose a vocational program, trade career, or technical school?
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.
What is CTE?
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.
Online vs. campus-based vocational schools
Just like with traditional colleges, vocational schools are increasingly accessible via remote options. Regardless if you are pursuing a technology-based or liberal-arts vocational career, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering online training via an option like career technical training program, versus an on-campus school:
Online vocational schools
Campus-based trade schools
How much does trade school cost?
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.
How to choose the right vocational program
- Find an accredited school or program offering. If you are planning on working while in school or training, consider the length of your program and how it may impact your availability for your current job.
- Be sure to thoroughly research the expected costs for tuition and fees for your vocational program — and find out what you can about costs that might be separate from tuition and fees, such as for equipment, supplies, or exams.
- Explore available financial aid options. Remember that there are often certain requirements to be eligible for grants, scholarships, and other types of financial aid, like work-study programs. You can learn more about how to pay for training/college here.
- Talk to a career guidance counselor or adviser to establish your career-focused or CTE career pathway. Ask about potential career paths related to your hands-on experience, financial goals, or current education. See if you can apply any of your current work experience to required hours for a CTE training program.
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.
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
- Other details about the trade or vocational career itself, including salary and job growth projections
While each trade or vocational career is different, keep these general tips in mind when preparing for an online or on-campus training program, whether it's a CTE program or other:
- It’s helpful but not necessary to have a high school diploma, GED or equivalent educational background.
- Be aware of what education background might be required. You may need to provide old transcripts or take entrance exams.
- Make sure your trade or vocational school is accredited by your state or an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Check their Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs and the Council for Higher Accreditation database.
- Research your potential instructors and faculty to review their qualifications.
- Consider checking out the Federal Trade Commission or Better Business Bureau, or your state’s education office or attorney general, to look for an unusual amount of complaints or cases opened with schools you are considering.
- Learn about career and technical education (CTE) programs, and how their Career Clusters and Pathways work, using the CTE resources noted below.
O*NET Online - Occupational Information Online - O*Net replaces the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT)
Advance CTE: State Leaders Connecting Learning to Work is committed to strengthen the American economy at the high school and collegiate levels by helping drive the advancement of CTE, or career technical educaiton
The Student Guide: Federal Financial Aid Programs - An overview of current federal financial aid programs, FASFA Link
NASFAA - An association of over 3,000 colleges and career schools with an interest in effective administration of student financial aid
Perkins Collaborative Resource Network is a government resource featuring state profiles of CTE programs, data on CTE, pathway definitions and more
U.S. Department of Labor - Employment and Training Administration (ETA) - Links to the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Grants, Conferences and Hot news issues
ACTE, or Association of Career & Technical Education represent and empowers CTE professionals with tools to help make a difference in CTE students' lives
Occupational Outlook Handbook - The premier government publication on career guidance that provides essential information concerning changes in the world of work and the qualifications that will be necessary for tomorrow's workers
NACCAS - National Accrediting Commission for Barbering/Cosmetology/Massage Therapy Vocational Schools
Virtual Diagnostics - Offers career assessments for individuals exploring their career options. All tests are professionally developed by a psychologist and provided to individuals for their self-development.
Find a One-Stop Career Center - The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) is a federally mandated program that is administered by the State. The State has One-Stop Centers to HELP you with Job Search, WIA Eligibility, Vocational Training and many other services. If you are a Dislocated Worker you may receive funding to HELP you get Vocational Training in that new Career.
- Choosing a Vocational School, Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information, accessed September 2018, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0241-choosing-vocational-school
- Vocational Education in the United States, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed September 2018, https://nces.ed.gov/pubs/web/95024-2.asp
- Career and Technical Education in the United States, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/2008035.pdf
- 5 Booming Trade Careers That Don’t Require Student Loans, Glassdoor.com, accessed September 2018, https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/booming-trade-careers/
- 7 Well-Paying Vocational Jobs, Glassdoor, https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/well-paying-vocational-jobs/
- Good Jobs That Pay Without a BA: A State-by-State Analysis, The Good Jobs Project, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, accessed September 2018, https://goodjobsdata.org/wp-content/uploads/Good-Jobs-States.pdf
- Skilled Trade Careers, Monster, accessed September 2018, https://www.monster.com/skilled-trades-careers
- Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment, Employment Projects, Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed September 2018, https://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm