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Best Trade and Vocational Schools for 2019-2020

Written By Justin Boyle
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Vocational schools can be a great asset to anyone looking to move up in the world. Whether you want to climb the ranks at your current job or embark on an entirely new career, degree and certificate programs at vocational schools can usually be completed in two years or less. Plus, they can qualify you for some of the fastest-growing careers in the country.

Wondering if vocational school is right for you? Here's a quick checklist of reasons that you might consider a vocational program:

  • You want to focus on subjects that relate directly to your chosen career
  • You enjoy hands-on work and tasks
  • You're interested in taking some, most or all of your courses online
  • You're hoping to enroll where there may be less of an "academic" focus
  • You want to streamline your training process and get to work ASAP

If one or more of these apply to you, then a vocational or technical trade schools might be right up your alley. Don't forget to also explore the vocational careers for an idea of which is right for you.

In order to give you a good idea of what best vocational schools can offer you, we gathered data on campus-based and online trade schools across the country. Then, we analyzed it to see which ones were came out on top. Our rankings address important school traits like program availability, schedule flexibility, career placement numbers, distance education options and more. We only considered the certificate and associate degree offerings at each school -- bachelor's degree plans are better suited to traditional universities -- and we made sure to include the job placement numbers and career longevity of graduates. You can learn more about our methodology below. 

Degree and certificate programs at vocational schools can typically be completed in under two years. Plus, they can qualify you for some of the fastest-growing careers in the country.

How to Choose a Trade School That's Right for You

Finding the right vocational school for you can seem like a daunting task, but the selection process tends to get a little easier if you break it down. Here's a list of questions you can ask yourself to help narrow your choices:

  • Are you planning to keep your job while in school? If you're hoping to work full time while attending classes, you'll probably want to look for accredited online vocational schools that allow you to attend lectures and complete assignments on your own time. The key word to look for is "asynchronous," which means that students don't have to log in at set class times.
  • Is your target school accredited? Vocational schools can be accredited in multiple ways. Certain degree fields have their programs accredited by industry associations, while general education content is typically accredited on the regional or national level. Check the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs if you can't find accreditation info on your school's website.
  • What's your budget? Different vocational schools tend to charge different amounts per credit hour. Gathering info on the tuition rates of several institutions in your area can help you find the most affordable option. Financial aid is a factor here, too -- make sure to apply for any grant or scholarships that you're eligible for. Learn more about financial aid for trade school
  • What's your plan after graduation? If you already know what new career you want to go into, you'll want to talk to advisors at the schools you're considering to see what advantages each one might offer in terms of your specific goals. If you're going back to school to advance your current career, find out if your work experience can be counted toward your course credit.

It's also a good idea to visit the campus of a school you're considering, if you have time to make the trip. For now, though, check out our rankings of the top trade and vocational schools and find out how they can set you up to succeed in an exciting new career.

Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

About Vocational Schools Near You

As you can see above, certain states or metro areas are home to more of our best vocational schools than others. Sometimes the density of top schools is simply a product of population size -- look at all the schools in the areas around Los Angeles and Chicago -- and sometimes it has to do with factors that are a bit less obvious. Keep the following trends in mind if you are researching where to start your vocational training:

  • See how well Georgia scored in our rankings, with three of our top 10 schools within its borders? Note that it achieves its high-ranking status by keeping enrollment costs down and supporting the substantial percentage of its students enrolled in accredited online vocational schools. The Peach State also shows its commitment to its workers via a noteworthy 99 percent job placement and college transfer rate from its vocational and technical schools. This success is likely due in part to initiatives like Georgia Work Ready, which aims to ensure workers in the state have a strong job and training opportunities.
  • Should you be interested in training in California, on the other hand, keep in mind it has the benefit of alignment between its vocational school system with its top statewide industry. Computer and electronics product manufacturing has an annual gross domestic product (GDP) of nearly $75 billion, and many of the essential jobs in the field -- think jobs in computer programming or IT -- are accessible to technicians with a vocational school education.
  • There are also certain regions of the country without many top vocational schools. Many of those areas, including the Great Basin, the Badlands and the Big Bend of West Texas, can be explained by sparse population. However, know that just because a region doesn't have top vocational schools doesn't mean you can't find a good fit for your career path; community colleges and other institutions that didn't make our list may still have the program you are looking for.
  • Keep in mind that other areas in the country may feature a disconnect between their top regional industry and the vocational school system. Wyoming is one such example, where the largest industry -- mining -- doesn't typically require its entry-level workers to have formal education. Still, to improve your job outlook down the line, workers in such areas should keep in mind it could be beneficial to train in related areas where there are vocational programs offered.

Check out schools by state to find more schools near you, and browse our extensive list of programs if you're looking for more options in the field you want to study.

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