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When you think about learning a trade, your mind might go straight to shop class. But, while many jobs in trades require in-person training at a vocational center or in a paid apprenticeship, you can find online trade schools, too.
Trade education, also called career and technical education, is increasingly digital. The trades are incorporating online learning and even virtual reality. (Read more about VR as one of the trends changing the skilled trades.)
Benefits of Online Vocational Schools
Distance learning makes working regular hours while earning a trade certificate possible.
If you're looking for a specialty program, you might not be able to find one in your area. Enrolling in an online program can help you complete your certificate without having to uproot your whole life.
Many online trade schools require you to complete an internship or other fieldwork with a local employer.
The price of an online degree varies depending on the school and program. Sometimes, online programs charge a lower rate per credit hour. Plus, you'll save money by not paying for transportation and room and board.
4 Best Online Trade Schools
To create our list of best online vocational schools, we used data from the National Center for Education Statistics. These trade and technical schools are accredited and cover a variety of career paths.
How We Choose the Best Schools
We chose the following online trade schools because they all:
- Cost under $20,000 to attend
- Are institutionally accredited
- Have a graduation rate of over 50%
Advantage Career Institute
Career focus: Dental and medical assisting and office administration
Tuition & fees: $9,403, plus almost $600 for books and supplies
Admission requirements: High school diploma or GED and $275 application fee
Accreditation: The Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools
This Eatontown, New Jersey-based private, for-profit institute has offered all its programs online since the pandemic. Advantage Career Institute (ACI) has a student body of less than 100, features professional staff from dental and medical fields, and boasts a 93% graduation rate and 89% credentialed rate. Its Career Assistance Program includes weekly workshops that help prepare students for work through resume writing, interviewing skills, and more.
You have a couple of options for planning your studies at ACI. You can attend class twice a week for 29 weeks then complete 100 hours of an internship. Or, fast track your education by going to class four times a week. You'll spend 14 weeks in class and 180 hours in an internship.
Career focus: Several fields, including health care, medical administration, security, business, IT, and digital technology
Tuition & fees: $4,500
Admission requirements: Complete an admissions interview and provide a high school transcript
Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education
Located in West Virginia, Martinsburg College offers all its programs entirely online. It's the largest school on our list, with almost 1,700 students. It also offers a larger range of programs, including six-to-eight-month certificates and two-year associate degrees in health and technology.
This private, for-profit school partners with the College Central Network to provide recent graduates and alumni with job search resources like career-focused podcasts, videos, and portfolio-building advice.
Career focus: Medical assisting, medical office administration, and computer specialization for medical offices
Tuition & fees: $17,249
Admission requirements: High school diploma, GED, or another entry exam; pay a $25 application fee
Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education
All instructional classes of this Washington, D.C.-based private, for-profit college are available online. Prospect College's certificate programs last about eight months and offer flexible class schedules to over 200 students.
In addition to passing required coursework, students have the opportunity to participate in a 170-hour externship to kickstart their careers. Career services include one-on-one coaching, job placement, and funding for business apparel.
Sessions College for Professional Design
Career focus: Design -- graphic design, illustration, digital media, advertising, web design, and more.
Tuition & fees: An average of around $10,000 a year, but tuition varies widely based on program.
Admission requirements: Professional certificate programs are open admission and require a $75 application fee; degree programs require a high school diploma, GED, and video-conference interview.
Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education
Sessions College is the only school on our list that offers studies in design, the arts, and communications. Through Sessions' fully-online platform, almost 200 students and professionals are getting their bachelor's or associate degree or earning a professional, undergraduate, or advanced certificate.
Each type of credential Sessions offers takes a different amount of time to complete and comes with a different price tag. For example, in web design, the self-paced vocational certificate lasts nine months and costs $2,500. The instructor-guided, one-year undergraduate certificate costs $12,240.
How to Choose the Right Online Trade Schools
Research online vocational schools before committing to one — after all, you can't exactly visit the campus. Here's your checklist for finding a solid school:
Many community colleges and in-person vocational schools team up with local business chambers to formulate their curriculum. Online programs should connect to business as well. If you’re not sure about the information you’re getting from a school, talk to a trade association. Trade associations like the American Association of Medical Assistants focus on standardizing educational requirements for their trade.
Just because you'll complete most of your courses online doesn't mean that's the end of your training for a trade. Seek programs with internships and externships or opportunities to job shadow.
Does the school have career placement services? Or a dedicated career success advisor? Before enrolling, ask about these types of resources for students.
Accreditation acts as a seal of approval. In many fields, you can only get your license to work if you've attended an accredited program. There are many different accrediting bodies. Make sure your school is accredited and has the right accreditation for your state and program.
Find information about the instructors before you join. They should have real experience to draw from and the credentials that you are seeking.
Requirements to Attend Online Trade Schools
- Complete an online application. This usually comes with a fee, anywhere from $25 to $225. Some colleges will include personal short essay questions on the application. They may even request a video-conference interview.
- Earn a high school diploma, GED, or another credential. Most schools require this — but not all. Some colleges may allow you to take a different entrance exam.
- Be able to complete coursework in English. If you primarily speak a different language, you may need to pass an English proficiency test before enrolling.
- Have compatible technology. Before applying to an online vocational program, find out what type of internet connection you'll need and if there are any apps, software, or hardware you need to install or purchase.
Other Ways to Work in the Skilled Trades
Some tradespeople, including electricians, plumbers, and welders, begin their careers in an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships include in-classroom learning and real working experience. As an apprentice, you earn while learning — getting paid for the work you complete under supervision. You can find apprenticeships on Apprenticeship.gov and through local union chapters.
Community colleges usually offer many degree and non-degree programs — from two-year associate degrees to diploma and certificate programs that take a few weeks to a year.
Community colleges offer discounted tuition rates for in-district students, making them more affordable than many private, for-profit schools. Plus, you might just find that your local community college also offers flexible schedules, such as night classes and hybrid learning. So definitely check this out as an option.
In-Person Vocational Schools
Vocational schools are another hub for career and technical training. They're recognized and funded by the government and provide training programs ending in non-degree credentials such as degrees and certificates.
Associate, Bachelor's, and Advanced Degrees
There are also plenty of degree pathways in the trades. For example, if you begin with a certificate in dental assisting, you can return to school to complete an associate degree that allows you to work as a dental hygienist — and earn more money doing it. From there, you can even complete four years of dental school to become a dentist.
In many mechanical trades, you can complete more formal education to earn an associate degree. You could also pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in engineering to design structures, computers, and other machines.
If you're not sure where to begin, consider the pros and cons of trade school versus college.
How to Pay for Online Trade School
Many students attending the schools on our list receive financial support from the Federal Pell Grant.
- Who qualifies: Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to see if you qualify.
- Amount: In the 2021-2022 school year, the maximum amount in the 2021-2022 school year was $6,495
- Deadline: June 30
In addition, we've compiled a list of scholarships for vocational students along with steps for applying to scholarships.
Online vocational schools may offer students aid or flexibility in paying or other discounts on tuition or supplies. Ask prospective schools if they offer the following:
- Military and veteran benefits
- Need- or academic-based scholarships
- Flexible payment plans
FAQs on Online Trade School Programs
What do you learn in online trade schools?
Trade, vocational, and technical schools offer a career-focused education. You may have a few more general courses, such as communication or applied math. Still, you will mostly learn specialized skills for your desired career. In online trade schools, you will also learn the knowledge you'll be tested on in licensing exams.
How long is online trade school?
The length of time it takes to complete an online trade program varies. It depends on the program's focus, how frequently you attend class (full-time or part-time), and if you need to complete a practicum. Most programs range from about four months to one year.
How much does online trade school cost?
In general, trade schools cost about $5,000 to $15,000 in tuition per year. The online trade schools on our list average $10,412 in annual tuition.
Are online trade schools worth it?
Some online vocational schools may cost more than a local community college. However, some factors make online trade schools worth it. For example:
- If your local community college does not offer training in the job you want.
- If you need a more flexible schedule to complete classes -- and you have the time management skills to stick with it.
- If the online program boasts high student success rates, measured by graduation, job placement, and licensure.
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