It may seem like a simple question -- how much does trade school cost? -- but the answer can change from state to state, school to school and even program to program. On this page, we'll break down the cost variables in trade school programs to help you make a good estimate of what you can expect to pay.
Before looking at specific numbers, let's talk about the way that trade and vocational schools bill students for their training. Here's a quick primer on the different types of students and some major cost variables for each of them.
- Pay per term. Most full-time students pay based on the total cost of a single program block. Most programs are organized by semester, although some may collect tuition dues on a quarterly basis and some may bill students for a full year at a time.
- Know your residency status. Tuition and fees are often very different for resident and non-resident students. Some trade schools and community colleges may draw their residency lines at the district level, rather than the state level, which can affect your status.
- Pay per credit hour. Part-time trade school programs are typically billed by the credit hour, rather than per term.
- Graduate or undergraduate? If you're taking an advanced vocational program that leads to a graduate certificate or master's degree, it's likely that your tuition bill will be higher than that of an entry-level student.
- Pay per credit hour, usually. Most online programs charge by the credit hour, whether you're a full-time or part-time student, although some may charge by the quarter or semester.
- Residency rules vary. Some online trade schools can waive residency requirements for out-of-state students, while others keep the same type of residency rules in place as brick-and-mortar institutions.
- Save on books and campus fees. Online students are typically exempt from certain traditional fees, since they're not expected to make use of campus facilities. Online programs may also use virtual textbooks, which are often less expensive than paper books.
Additional costs can also come into play, such as housing, transportation, food and other essentials. Expenses in these areas can vary quite a bit from place to place, but a financial adviser at your chosen school may be able to give you details about your state or region.
Examples of Vocational Program and Trade School Costs
Knowing what actual trade schools are charging for their programs can help you better understand what the cost of trade school might be for you. In this section, we'll take a look at four different models of trade school pricing and provide some examples of each from real 2019-20 academic catalogs.
Cost per credit hour
Charging students per credit hour is by far the most common billing method at community colleges and vocational schools, for part-time campus programs as well as part- and full-time study plans in the virtual classroom. Individual courses typically consist of anywhere from one to five credit hours, with laboratory classes usually taking up four or more.Real-life examples
- The undergraduate business administration program at Manhattan Area Technical College in Kansas charges $125 per credit hour regardless of residency status.
- The online master's degree in finance at Purdue University costs $485 per credit for civilian students, $417.10 per credit for veterans and $320 per credit for active-duty servicemembers.
- The per-credit rates for the technical certificate in electrical construction at Georgia's Savannah Technical College are $89 for in-state students, $178 for non-residents from the U.S. and $356 for international students, not including mandatory fees.
Cost per term
Cost for programs attended on a full-time basis is often calculated for an entire quarter or semester, rather than broken into per-credit units. Term-based program costs allow institutions to account for laboratory time and other cost-altering features in a program and present students with an easy-to-understand single number on their tuition bill.Real-life examples
- The training program in dental hygiene at Vermont Technical College is priced at $8,700 per term for Vermont residents and $13,608 per term for out-of-state students.
- Washington Governors University, an online institution that offers flat-rate tuition, charges $3,225 per term for undergraduates and $3,540 for graduate students in all of its information technology programs.
- In-state students of cosmetology at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina pay $1,106 per term for their programs, not including necessary tools and supplies.
Cost per program
Some trade and vocational schools across the country may choose to bill students for the entire cost of their program. This approach is commonly taken with full-time programs that require 15 or fewer credit hours, for which term-based billing may be less useful. Schools that price by the program may offer payment plans that break the total cost into monthly installments.Real-life examples
- The online training program in plumbing at Penn Foster Career School costs a total of $899 for students who pay monthly by mail, $829 for those who pay monthly via automatic debit and $709 for students who pay the entire cost up front.
- The Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center offers a range of vocational programs for adult learners, including computer programming and automotive collision repair, that each cost roughly $6,940 for tuition and all fees.
- Also at Penn Foster Career School, students in the online associate degree program in accounting paid $1,319 in monthly installments by mail, $1,299 by monthly auto-pay and $999 if they pay in full up front.
Cost per year
Programs that list tuition charges for a full year of study typically provide cost estimates by other measures as well. Yearly figures are often broken down to their per-credit equivalent, to help students better understand how their tuition bill breaks down over the course of their study plan. One reason for this is the tendency of many certificate programs to have times to completion that are shorter than one year, so vocational students may be used to seeing their tuition represented in smaller units.
- Basic tuition charges for the program in paramedicine at Vermont Technical College come out to $21,888 per year for in-state residents and $46,188 for non-resident students.
- The associate degree programs in graphic design, Web design and more at Sessions College for Professional Design in Tempe, Arizona, cost students $13,140 per year for tuition.
- Full-time Kentucky resident students at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College pay $4,128 per year for their training in subjects like culinary arts, criminal justice and nursing, while non-residents from neighboring out-of-state counties are charged $5,064 and all other non-residents pay $7,464.
Any of the above cost models can apply to you, depending on the state where you choose to go to school and the individual college where you enroll. You can explore a list of the top schools for different vocational programs for an idea of more tuition rates and cost figures, as well as program-specific scholarship opportunities. Don't forget to compare costs if you live near more than one option, and remember that several state, national and local programs can provide financial aid for trade school to help you manage the cost of your training. Check in with your school's financial aid office to find out about the aid programs that might be right for you.