Trade School vs College: Which is Better?

Carolina Jacobs

Aug 1, 2022
Trade school vs. College

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As college tuition and unemployment levels climb, many students are questioning the conventional idea of going to college and considering trade schools instead. However, there’s debate over which course is ultimately more profitable. 

Here’s the full scoop on whether trade school or college is a better choice for today’s students:

Trade School Costs

One of the major factors driving students’ decisions is long-term costs. While both trade school and college grads can make an excellent wage, many variables determine how much they can earn. Here’s a quick cost analysis of going to trade school vs. getting a college degree.

Most trade school programs are an investment that takes under two years to complete. On average, they cost students around $33,000 for the complete program. After obtaining certification through their program, students can enter the workforce and start earning immediately. 

While salaries vary by trade, graduates can expect to earn between $35,000 and $70,000 as a starting wage. However, job advancement opportunities are limited in vocational fields, and experience in a trade doesn’t always mean a salary upgrade.

Another factor that affects a trade salary is location. Typically, trade graduates will make more money in highly populated areas with fewer skilled workers in their fields. Conversely, wages could drop if the demand for skilled labor decreases as more workers move to a location.  

College Degree Costs

A college degree typically takes at least four years to complete, although it can take longer depending on the degree field. Students who go back for master’s training will study for a minimum of two more years. 

College degrees are much more expensive than trade school, averaging between $41,352 and $152,740 in total, depending on the location and type of institution. However, initial costs can be deceptive because many students receive scholarships that cover most of their tuition. In addition to tuition, students must pay living costs during college, often including room and board. 

After graduation, college students make an average starting salary of $51,000 a year. However, some college grads make higher initial wages, especially in fields like computer science, engineering, statistics, and health sciences. 

College grads experience higher incomes over the long term than students who go to vocational school. However, college students also enter the job market later in life and often have to pay off debt before they can start to benefit from these higher wages. 

Trade School vs College Courses

The skills taught in college classes are very different from those taught in trade schools. While both types of education are designed to prepare students for future work, the kind of work and the educational approach vary greatly

College courses include many general education and liberal arts classes designed to give students a sense of the history and philosophy surrounding their field. College emphasizes soft skills such as communication and leadership and may not focus on practical skills at all, depending on the degree. 

In contrast, trade school skips general courses and teaches students the hard skills they’ll need to perform a specific job. Examples include how to put together an engine, how to fix a plumbing issue, and how to check a patient’s vitals. Trade schools do have classroom work, but classes exist to tie into practical skills. 

Because of these different educational approaches, students graduate from these various study tracks with vastly different skills sets and levels of readiness for their future careers. Both college and trade school grads can do quite well or struggle depending on how far they’ve thought ahead. 

Readiness for the Job Market

After completing trade school, students are equipped for their chosen career field and can start work right away. Many trade schools work closely with companies to help students find a job quickly.

Jobs that require skilled labor are always in demand, although that varies depending on the type of trade and a workers’ location. Trade jobs can’t be outsourced like digital work, and there are many openings in these industries

By contrast, many college graduates struggle to find work quickly and in their chosen field of study. This is often due to a lack of experience or networking, skills that college grads are encouraged but not required to develop during school. 

However, the flexibility of a college degree is of huge benefit if students need to switch career fields for personal or financial reasons. College grads can use their soft skills to perform well in many different roles, and these roles can build on each other over time. 

Trade School vs College: Which is Better?

Both trade school and college degrees can be best for students, depending on their individual career goals. When looking at types of higher education, the most important things to consider are long-term costs and job satisfaction. 

Education is an investment of time and finances that should establish a students’ career and future financial security. To make this investment well and choose the best option, students need to consider many factors, including debt, their future salary, and the kind of work they want to do. 

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