Trade school may not cost as much as a four-year university degree, but it can still be a challenge to pay for your education. Fortunately, a wide range of financial aid options are available to help reduce costs for vocational and technical school students who qualify.
The amount of aid available can be pretty substantial, too -- a 2019 Department of Education report shows that no less than $5 million in vocational school assistance is allocated to each state under the career and technical education act known as Perkins V. Here's a sample of data points from that report, showing the amounts allocated to a few states:
This page is your one-stop shop for general info on trade and vocational school grants, scholarships, loans and more. We'll give you some details on the different types of financial aid, provide a list of resources for aid-seeking students and cover how to apply for FAFSA grants and other programs.
Some study plans are more likely to accept federal or state support than others. Students seeking skills certificates, which can require as few as one or two courses, are often ineligible for aid. Associate degree plans are typically eligible, even if they're delivered partially or fully online.
Of course, each individual trade school has its own policies and procedures when it comes to student aid. Make sure that you reach out to the financial aid department at your school for all the final details about program eligibility and the application process.
The percentage of students receiving financial aid at public two-year colleges has risen nearly 20 percent since the 2000-01 academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, as amended by the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), provides over $1 billion in Department of Education grants to state and local agencies for career and technical education.
Dozens of private companies offer trade school grants and scholarships. The Walmart Foundation makes scholarship amounts of between $500 and $1,500 available for its employees and their dependents.
Types of Financial Aid for Vocational Students
Even though financial aid exists for vocational students, it's important to review all your options and choose an affordable school. Some types of financial aid don't require that you repay them, you'll still likely be responsible for some portion of the total cost of your education.
Here's a quick breakdown of the types of financial aid available at vocational and technical schools:
- May be offered at the federal, state, regional or institutional level
- Do not require repayment in most cases
- Often focus on specific professions or population groups
- Usually come with academic qualifications
- Can be funded by public agencies (federal, state, etc.) or private entities
- Typically do not require repayment
- May require commitment to working for a certain company or industry after graduation
- Might factor in “merit”, but generally tend to weigh “need” more heavily
- May be offered by the federal government or by private lenders
- Must be repaid in most cases
- Federal loans tend to come with lower interest rates than private loans
- Private loans are often easier to obtain but may have tougher repayment terms
How to Apply for Student Loans and Other Aid for Trade Schools
If you're not sure how to apply for student loans for trade and technical schools, never fear. The process is generally painless and centers on one five-letter acronym that you'll likely be getting to know pretty well during your time in school.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the cornerstone of the financial aid application process. Not only do most federal programs look to the FAFSA as their primary eligibility document, but numerous aid packages offered at the state, regional or institutional levels also pull a lot of their information from your completed FAFSA.
Here's a quick list of steps you can follow in the application process:
- Register for a Federal Student Aid ID
- Begin your FAFSA, either online or on paper at your school's financial aid office
- If this is your first time filing a FAFSA, you'll need to enter personal and demographic information. If you're re-filing your FAFSA, double-check the information that appears and change anything that no longer applies
- List the school or schools to which you want your FAFSA information sent. If you've already been accepted to a school, feel free to list it by itself
- Answer a series of specific questions on the FAFSA that help determine whether you're a dependent student or not. You'll need to provide financial information about your parents if you are a dependent student
- Supply your own financial information
- Sign and submit your FAFSA and wait a few days for your aid report
You can also check out this online FAFSA guide for more details about the process. Deadlines may shift by a few days each year, but online submissions usually close at the end of June.
What to Know About Vocational School Scholarships
Scholarships for vocational and technical schools can be overlooked as a source of education funding, and they can go a long way toward helping divert some of the cost of school. Eligibility for scholarship money can vary quite a bit from one program to the next, so pay close attention to the guidelines before you apply.
The vast majority of scholarships are offered at the state, institutional, or private level, although some national and international scholarships do exist.
The vast majority of scholarships are offered at the state, institutional, or private level, although some national and international scholarships do exist. State and institutional scholarships can take the form of fee waivers, tuition discounts or cash awards -- the SEARK College Trustee Scholarship at Southeast Arkansas College and North Dakota's Academic or Career and Technical Education Scholarship are two examples. Private scholarships like those offered by the Walmart Foundation usually consist of cash awards.
Here are some steps you can follow when applying for scholarships for technical schools:
If you've still got questions about scholarships or the application process, check out this scholarship database and the ultimate guide to scholarships on our partner sites. When using the database, don't forget to use the filtering tools along the right side of the page to refine your search.
Also, don't forget to check the financial aid office at your school for institutional scholarships and visit your state's Department of Education (DOE) website to see if a state-specific scholarship search might be available.
What to Know About Vocational School Grants
Vocational and trade school grants are similar to scholarships in several ways. You typically don't have to pay them back, for one, and they can be sought out through national, state, regional, institutional or private sources.
Unlike scholarships, however, trade school grants are usually awarded based on financial need. The FAFSA can be a very helpful document when applying for grants, since it already contains much of the personal financial information that grant applications are likely to be looking for.
You typically don't have to pay vocational grants back, and they can be sought out through national, state, regional, institutional or private sources.
National, state and private grants -- like the Colorado Student Grant worth approximately $1,500 and the General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant that awards between $500 and $4,000 to eligible Air Force dependents -- can be fairly substantial. Institutional grants often take the form of fee waivers or tuition discounts, like the program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) that offers a 10 percent break on program tuition to eligible students.
Here's a list of steps for grant seekers at trade, technical and vocational schools:
- Search for grants that are appropriate to your situation. Most (but not all) grants require that you have a demonstrated financial need, and many are restricted to people in a certain job field or demographic group
- Ensure that all information on your grant application is correct and complete
- Submit your grant application and await your decision
Our partner site also features the ultimate guide to grants, complete with state-specific grant information, for anyone who's looking for more detailed information on grant aid. If you have any unanswered questions, you might find the answers there.
You can also turn the scholarship search mentioned earlier into a grant database by adjusting the filters in the right-hand panel -- under "Award Type," just uncheck everything but the box next to "Grant." Also check the DOE website in your state to find out about state-specific grant opportunities.
How to Apply for Student Loans as a Vocational Student
Different types of aid are appropriate for different types of students. Loans can be just right if you're confident that you'll find employment shortly after graduation.
Just about everyone with decent credit is eligible for student loans, which makes them one of the more accessible types of financial aid on the market. Here's some basic info on how student loans for trade schools typically work:
- Once your loan is approved, you sign a document called a promissory note that serves as a sort of repayment contract
- The loan money will either be applied directly to your tuition bill or delivered to you via check or electronic funds transfer (EFT)
- Most loans don't expect you to start paying back the money you borrowed until after you graduate. Many also don't earn interest until a set period of time after you leave school
- Once repayment starts, you'll need to make regular payments to keep your interest down and stay out of default
There are two main types of student loans, and it's pretty important to understand the difference between them. Here's a quick primer.
Government loans, or federal loans, are the type of program that most people think of when they think of student loans. The money you receive from these loans comes from the U.S. Department of Education and is limited based on a student's school year. First-year students have an annual federal loan cap of $5,500; second-year students have a cap of $6,500; third-year students have a $7,500 cap; and so on.
There are three main types of federal student loans:
- Subsidized loans are based on financial need and do not accrue interest while you're in school
- Unsubsidized loans are not based on financial need, but interest begins accumulating as soon as the money is borrowed
- Direct PLUS loans are based on financial need and awarded either to graduate and professional students or the parents of undergraduates with dependent status
A fourth type of government loan, the Perkins loan, ceased being awarded in 2017.
Private loans typically have fewer restrictions on the types of programs they're good for, but it's important to use caution when seeking these loans out. The interest rates on private loans are often higher than the rates charged to federal borrowers, and their repayment terms may be more rigid.
Private loans typically have fewer restrictions on the types of programs they're good for, but it's important to use caution when seeking these loans out.
Keep the following in mind when seeking private loans:
- Shop around to find private loans that apply to your choice of program and have affordable repayment terms
- Read over the application to find out what materials may be necessary to include. Grant applications don't always require much beyond what's on your FAFSA, but you won't want to leave anything out for the few that do
- Determine whether you'll need a co-signer on your loan application. Co-signers can help your creditworthiness and assist you in qualifying for the amount you need
- Compare the loan amount to the average expected wages of the job you're hoping to get after graduation. Since interest rates can often be higher on private loans, it's important to be sure that you'll be able to comfortably afford to repay them once you're done with school and on the job
For more detail on how to apply for student loans and how they work, check out the ultimate guide to loans on our partner site. If you're considering private loans, it can be helpful to sit down with a financial aid advisor and sort out whether or not the loan programs you're looking into might cause you undue hardship after graduation.
Financial Aid by Type of Vocational Student
In addition to the above, some students may have access to financial aid based on demographic or career-based factors. Here's a partial list of the types of students that may be able to find student aid programs targeted directly to them:
The American Association of University Women(AAUW) can be a great resource for women looking to enroll in vocational school. AAUW programs include $2,000-$12,000 Career Development Grants for bachelor's degree holders, among others. Women looking to join national security or criminal justice professions can pursue the Women in Defense HORIZONS Scholarship.
College aid for veterans is a tried-and-true tradition, with established programs like the Montgomery G.I. Bill, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the dependent G.I. Bill. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) provides a range of financial aid options for veterans, including interest-free loans of up to $7,000 each year and the $5,000 American Patriot Scholarship for children of servicemembers who died in active duty.
Additional financial aid may also be available for students from African-American, Asian-American, Native American and Hispanic backgrounds, among others. Fastweb allows you to search for institution-level financial aid programs targeted to your demographic, including the $2,500 Costco Wholesale Nursing Scholarship for Hispanic students and the Community Service Club African-American Scholarship at Tacoma Community College in Washington.
Other groups may also have access to additional aid options. Single parents, first-time college students, high-achieving high school graduates, LGBTQ students, rural students and adult learners returning to school all may have specially targeted financial aid available.
Additional Resources for Vocational Students Seeking Financial Aid
- Advance CTE: State Leaders Connecting Learning to Work is a national nonprofit that represents state leaders in the career and technical education (CTE) field. It features explanations of state and federal CTE policy, information about vocational career clusters and an extensive resource center.non
- The Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) works to help educators deliver high-quality CTE programs that position students for success. ACTE engages in advocacy in policy matters and conducts a range of professional development events and programs.
- The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is a piece of legislation designed to strengthen the U.S. workforce by helping career-focused learners get the skills and training they need.
- The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics contains data on hundreds of U.S. careers. If you need some salary and job outlook numbers to help you determine the affordability of your loans, the OOH can be a big help.