If you're considering trade school instead of a four-year college, you're in good company. The growth in students seeking certificates and associate's degrees in the U.S. is outpacing the growth in those going for bachelor's degrees. As the cost of college tuition increases and graduates battle massive student debt loads, trade schools are drawing more interest.
So can you get financial aid if you decide to go to a trade school? Often, yes, if you're attending an accredited trade school. However, you might have to do a little digging to find out which trade schools participate in federal education assistance programs.
Before we jump into your financial options for paying for trade school, let's get clear on what exactly a trade school is.
What are trade schools?
Trade schools are educational programs, generally for students who have completed high school, that provide specialized training in a specific career or job. Completing a program at a trade school—sometimes called a vocational or technical school—results in a certificate, apprenticeship, or entrance into a licensing process.
Trade schools can be run by both public and private organizations and can focus on a variety of fields. Cosmetology, coding, plumbing, and dental hygiene are just a few of the programs offered by trade schools. The programs usually last up to two years, meaning students can get jobs more quickly than if they enrolled at four-year universities.
How much do trade schools cost?
Trade school prices vary widely depending on the type and length of the program. As you might expect, private trade schools carry a higher price tag than public trade schools, which are often part of community colleges. Tuition and fees for public programs that are shorter than two years averaged around $9,200 in 2019 (the latest year for which stats are available). The cost for private programs was just under $20,000.
Because not all trade schools receive accreditation from a regulatory entity, we recommend that you do some research before paying for a trade school to make sure you'll get a return on your investment. Definitely find out their job placement statistics and the average salaries for graduates of the program, and research the program to see what previous graduates say about their experiences.
Can you use FAFSA for trade school?
Unfortunately, the answer is not a straightforward yes or no.
To confirm whether the trade school you are considering participates in federal student aid programs, you'll need to contact the school. However, there are a couple pieces of information that can help you determine whether the schools you're considering would be eligible for financial aid.
Is the trade school accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)? Accredited trade schools are more likely to participate in federal student aid programs.
Does the trade school program last longer than 15 weeks? Accredited programs that last longer than 15 weeks are generally eligible for the full array of federal student aid, including grants and student loans.
Does the trade school program last less than 15 weeks? Accredited programs that last less than 15 weeks might be eligible for federal student aid but only for student loans through the Direct Loan program.
If the trade school you're attending participates in federal student loans, then you must fill out the FAFSA to be eligible to receive federal loans or grants.
For students who are not able to get federal financial aid for a trade school program, private student loans may be a possibility. Many private lenders offer student loans for accredited trade programs and career schools.
For instance, Sallie Mae offers Career Training Smart Option Loans for students attending trade schools. These loans can cover the full cost of the program as well as housing, food, and supplies.
Can you get scholarships for trade school?
Some states, businesses, and charitable organizations provide scholarships for students attending trade school. Your school's financial aid office may have a database of available scholarships. If they don't, you can reach out to professional associations, like the American Culinary Federation or the American Welding Society, in your career field to see if they provide scholarships.
You can also check out our Nitro scholarship database. Remember, scholarships don't need to be paid back, so it's worth your time to investigate your options.
Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky