Can You Get Financial Aid for Trade Schools?

Katie Taylor Updated on April 1, 2020

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 earning 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.

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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 two years or less, meaning the participants can get jobs more quickly than if they enrolled at four-year universities. 

How much do trade schools cost?

Trade school prices can 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 shorter than two years averaged around $8,000 for the 2017-2018 academic year, whereas the cost for private programs was almost double that, according to research from the National Center for Education Statistics. 

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. Find out their job placement statistics and the average salaries for graduates of the program.

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 attending participates in federal student aid programs, you'll need to contact your 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 may still 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. 

See also: A Step-by-Step Guide to Completing the 2020-2021 FAFSA Questions

Can you get private loans for trade school?

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.

Here's to your future!

Published in: Financial Aid

About the Author
Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor is a content writer and editor with expertise in law and policy, finance, and entrepreneurship. She writes for startups and small businesses about everything from bookkeeping to telecom. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and SheKnows.com. She is continuing to pay off law school loans and lives in Richmond, Vermont with her wife, son, and an unruly dog. Read more by Katie Taylor

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