Students who would prefer to focus on learning a skill and earning a certificate in about 12 to 16 months rather than studying academics for four years should consider attending a trade school. Instead of a degree program that demands completion of a certain number of liberal arts/general education courses, trade or vocational schools offer programs containing classes that are only concerned with that specific trade.
For example, students attending a trade school in order to become professional locksmith would take courses consisting only of information about home and business security, how to use a key cutting device, key coding machines, descriptions of locking mechanisms and even how to operate your own business as an independent locksmith. No psychology, art or sociology courses would be required to receive certification in locksmithing.
Unlike associate’s or bachelor’s programs that would require a certain amount of credits for classes unassociated with your major, trade programs only deal with courses intended to train and prepare the student to be job-ready upon receiving a certificate.
Popular Trades Courses
All of these trades take less than two years to complete and culminate in the student receiving a diploma or certificate:
Small Engine/Automotive Repair–learn how to work on diesel, electrical or gasoline-powered engines by taking courses in four-cycle and two-cycle engines, carburetion, cooling and lubrication systems and principles of engine operation. Brakes, emissions, steering and all other components of engines are covered as well, making the student competent and ready to enter the workforce within 24 months.
Plumbing–trade schools offer programs that teach students the fundamentals of plumbing, pipefitting, repairing residential gas and water systems and installing pipes. Students enrolled in plumbing courses learn about using pipecutters, reading pressure gauges, modifying old pipe systems, understanding blueprints and removing water from flooded basements.
Because the need for plumbers will always exist, the employment outlook for plumbers is projected to remain above average over the next decade (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician–certificate programs offered by trade schools teach students what they need to know to work as HVAC technicians upon graduation. An HVAC diploma can often be earned in less than a year and consists of the following courses:
- Blueprints and specifications
- Electrical wiring fundamentals
- Repairing A/C units and refrigerators
- Diagnostic techniques
- Solving air quality problems
- Installing heating systems
- Working on industrial HVAC equipment
HVAC program graduates may need to obtain a Universal Certification provided by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) before they can work as certified HVAC technicians. Some trade schools may include this certification as part of the curriculum.
Students can earn one, two or all three of the UCs offered by the EPA. These certificates include working with low-pressure refrigerants, repairing small appliances and working with high-pressure refrigerants. In addition, some states require an HVAC graduate pass a state test in order to obtain a license to practice as an HVAC technician in that state.
Travel Agent/Travel Agency Management–travel agents assist people in planning vacations, renting cars, booking hotels, obtaining necessary visas or passports, getting travel insurance and finding deals on vacation packages that save customers money. Certified travel agents can freelance, work for travel agencies or run their own travel business. Some agents specialize in a specific travel field, such as cruises, African safaris or honeymoon packages.
Vocational schools offering courses concerning the travel industry generally include classes about world geography, international and domestic air travel, computer literacy, fundamentals of tours and cruises and effective communication with clients. Although the internet provides numerous websites that allow people to plan vacations online, many people still prefer to go through an experienced travel agent as a way of validating and ensuring their vacation plans are arranged exactly the way they want them to be.
Electrician–studying to be an electrician’s apprentice takes less than one year and is a trade projected to grow nearly 25 percent in the next ten years (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Businesses and homes need five times as much electrical wiring as they did just a little over 20 years ago and electricians will always be in demand to install and repair electrical disruptions.
Students attending trade schools that provide electrical apprentice programs can expect to take courses concerning:
- Commercial electrical installation
- Properties of conductors
- Conduit supports and fittings
- Electric heating and air conditioning
- Industrial motors
- Electrical safety measures
- Fundamentals of electricity
Carpentry–learn about carpentry tools; measuring and constructing foundations, cabinets and frames; installing drywall, doors, floors and trim; and reading architectural blueprints by taking online trade school courses that provide the instruction necessary to immediately start working as an electrician’s apprentice upon graduation. Students enrolled in an electrician’s trade program will take courses concerning all aspects of carpentry such as using power and hand tools, following building plans and codes, building decks and fences and constructing wall paneling. Carpenters may work as independent contractors, as employees of home remodeling companies or with home construction firms. Certified carpenters can also work on government-lead jobs that involve roads, bridges, piers, and other large projects.
Paralegal/Legal Assistant–for people who love working in the legal field but do not have the time or finances to spend six years in law school, enrolling in a paralegal course represents an easier and less expensive way to train for and find law-related employment.
Paralegals work closely with lawyers by assisting them with preparing for trials and hearings, gathering relevant information about specific case laws, drawing up contracts and documents and doing last minute fact-checking for busy attorneys. Once a paralegal certification is earned, students are eligible to obtain a Certified Legal Assistant or Registered Paralegal designation by taking the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam.
Other vocational programs offered by trade schools are:
- Culinary Arts
- Security Officer
- Floral Design
- Events Planner
Enrolling in a Trade School
To enroll in a trade school, students need to possess a high school diploma or GED and provide a photo identification such as a driver’s license or state-issued ID card. Some vocational schools may provide GED classes for those who did not graduate high school in order to prepare them to take the general equivalency exam. A vocational school guidance counselor can help assist you with obtaining a GED in order to attend trade school classes.
Paying for a Trade School Program
Some programs culminating in certifications or diplomas may no be eligible to receive financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education. However, many trade schools offer affordable payment plans that allow students to pay at little as $40 a month, depending on the length and type of program. Generally, earning a trade certification that takes less than 16 months costs between $500 and $1000, much less than what it costs to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Vocational schools that have been accredited and/or recognized by an established accrediting agency or the U.S. Department of Education may be able to provide eligible students with financial help in the form of a Pell Grant.
Accredited Trade Schools
To find trade schools that are accredited, visit the RWM Vocational Schools Database, to access state by state information about accredited vocational schools operating in the U.S. and Canada.
Benefits of Attending a Trade School
Some people like to work with their hands, interact with others and be physically active while others prefer to work along behind a computer or in a research laboratory. If you are one of the latter, then a trade school would suit your personality better than a four-year academic university.
Jobs for which trade schools provide instruction are careers that generally do not experience low rates of employment. Many of them involve services that are always needed regardless of the economy’s situation. People who graduate from a trade school program traditionally have an easier time finding employment within a month or two of leaving the school as opposed to someone graduating with a four-year university degree.
Additionally, after a trade school graduate has worked at a profession for several years, the opportunity to pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree becomes much more accessible both financially and academically.
By already being firmly established in a job that pays well, students with a vocational certificate or diploma can afford to pay for a higher degree and avoid the crushing debt that so many college students face upon graduating from a four-year college.
Moreover, they will have gained valuable experience and insight working at the career for which they trained at a trade school, making the academic aspect of going back to school much less stressful.