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10 Things Parents Should Know About Trade Schools

Going straight into a college or university program out of high school isn't always the best option for students.

As a parent, it can be difficult to see your child show interest in a path other than one that you've taken—or that you planned for them. You've probably spent the past 18 years or so imagining the day your child would go to college. Discovering that maybe your kid isn't ready for school or has aspirations that don't require a bachelor's degree may feel like you've failed your child in some way. But trust us, you haven’t. Your child has plenty of options, including trade or technical education. (Hear us out—you might be surprised by what you learn.)

In the 1970's, the US began to send many manufacturing jobs overseas in favor of supporting and promoting white collar jobs. Since then, many people have looked at vocational education as something for students who couldn’t handle rigorous academics. But that tide is changing.Not only is the job market changing, but as we learned during COVID-19, many people who went to trade schools are among the most "essential" workers. (When you need a plumber or electrician, no substitute will do!)

Trade and technical education can be a fantastic postsecondary experience—with a lot of benefits over college, depending on your child's interests. If your child is leaning toward not going to college at all or thinking about diving into the workplace right away, you should look into what attending a trade school can offer. We've put together 10 of the best reasons you might want to help your child investigate trade and technical education.

1.  Less time

Trade school programs take way less time to complete than baccalaureate programs. It normally takes kids who go to college four to six years (yes, six!) to get their degrees. And they spend a bunch of time in classes that have nothing to do with their major and will have limited practical use once they graduate. Instead of wasting time in classes that aren't helpful, trade school programs can be completed in six months to two years depending on the trade studied and whether they attend full- or part-time. For example, an HVAC technician program can be completed in two years. A student can become an electrician in two to four years including an apprenticeship. Cosmetology school requires between 1,500 and 2,100 hours of training.

2.  Less expensive

The average cost of a trade or technical school is about $33,000 total. Students who complete these programs usually carry about $10,000 worth of debt. Compare that to the average bachelor's degree which can cost between $100,000 to $200,000 and leaves a high percentage of students more than $30,000 in debt.

3.  Smaller class sizes

In a trade school, your kid won't be sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other students. There are usually fewer than 20 students in trade school classes so each person can have a hands-on experience. If your child struggled with academics in high school, a trade or technical education might be a perfect way for them to receive the support they need in the classroom  to be trained  for a fulfilling job.

4.  Rigorous programs

Vocational education isn't necessarily just about learning a specific trade. In the modern era, many vital skills can be learned at a trade and technical college. For example, the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics is in the top 15 of all two-year trade schools. So is the engineering school Island Drafting and Technical Institute in Amityville, New York. The trade and technical colleges of today are no longer skipping out on important classes like high-level math, English for communication, and advanced computer skills. These are practical skills that can be transferred to many fields.

5.  High employment rates

Many trade schools guarantee employment once the student finishes their certificate or degree. And the skills that are learned during their program are ones that are difficult to outsource. For example, jobs like carpentry and electrical work require a physical presence and can't be done remotely in a foreign country where labor is cheaper. That's a level of job security that many college-educated office workers can't count on. 

6.  Competitive salaries

The average salary for a graduate of a trade and technical school program is $35,720. Of course this number depends greatly on the industry and the experience level of the employee. A bachelor degree holder earns approximately $46,900. So while a trade school graduate does make less yearly, there are some other factors to consider. Trade school graduates come out of school faster and therefore save money on both tuition and student debt. In addition, students in trade programs often make money as apprentices in their chosen fields while they're still in school, so their earning years begin sooner.

7.  High-need jobs

Many high needs jobs can be filled by people with a trade and technical education. In fact, nursing is one of the highest need jobs in the country. Students can attend a two-year nursing program and be employed right away. Carpenters, plumbers, and electricians are also in high demand. So are any jobs related to construction. 

8.  Accredited programs to ensure quality

Many trade schools are accredited. This is important to look for when helping your child search for the right school experience. When your child attends an accredited school, it will help them receive financial aid and it ensures the school engages in practices that will make your child more employable in the future.

9.  Students can earn degrees

Trade schools can offer both certificates and diplomas. A certificate isn't equal to a degree but it can help your child get a job in the industry they've studied. For example, the Los Angeles Trade and Technical College offers a welding certificate that prepares students to take the welding exam required of all welders in the city of Los Angeles. Associate's degrees can be completed in two years and can be used to pursue a bachelor's degree later on. Many nursing programs offer a two-year associate of science degree in nursing. Nurses with those degrees can then seek a license to become a registered nurse.

10.  Financial aid is available

Accredited trade school programs are eligible for financial aid. You would apply for scholarships, grants, and loans the same way you would for a traditional four-year college. Many local trade and technical organizations offer specific scholarships and grants to students pursuing careers at career schools. For example if you live in Maine, you can receive $1,000 from the Maine Metal Products Association if you go to trade school for manufacturing or machining.

Maybe your kid isn’t on the postsecondary path you imagined. But with hard work and research they can still follow a path that leads to both professional success and personal fulfillment. 

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