According to a Strada survey, since the pandemic, American workers favor shorter skills-training programs and non-degree credentials versus college degrees. Trade schools have always offered speedier pathways and hands-on training for in-demand jobs. Today, trade programs come in many shapes and forms but nearly always cost less than four-year colleges and equip you to start working in a year or less.

"Trade schools" — including career colleges, vocational schools, and certificate-granting programs at community colleges — cost around $33,000 on average. That said, the cost of trade school varies by program. In-district community colleges offer certification programs with tuition as low as $2,500 a year.

Knowing the average cost of trade school and how different programs charge can help you decide on your skills training path.

Cost of Attending a Community College Career Program

Community colleges offer vocational training and education programs to earn a professional certificate in health care, IT, legal, manufacturing, and other fields. A local community college will also discount your tuition as long as you live in its district.

According to CollegeBoard's Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2020, the average cost of annual tuition for in-district students at community colleges was $3,700.

Average Salary After Trade School

After earning a professional certificate and passing any required licensing exams in your state, you can start making money in your trade. Plus, there are many occupations where you can earn higher-than-average pay.

According to 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for occupations requiring a postsecondary non-degree credential is $50,961. Compare that to the median annual wages for all occupations — $41,950.

We've collected top trade school jobs in the table below. You can find more top-paying trades jobs and information about how to break into these fields.

Career Average Salary
Electrician $61,550
Plumber $61,100
Physical therapy assistant $59,440
Chef $58,740
Paralegal $56,610
HVAC technician $53,410
Surgical technologist $51,510

Data sourced from the BLS.

Will My Work Pay For My Trade School?

There are many ways to fund your vocational education. Sometimes your employer will pay or reimburse you for education.

Say you want to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or nursing aide. The federal government reimburses long-term care facilities for the cost of training employees. So as long as you complete a state-approved training program at a nursing home or residential facility, you won't need to pay tuition.

When it comes to becoming a truck driver, you can avoid upfront costs by completing a company driving school. Companies hire graduates from their schools. After you're hired, your company will deduct installments from your paycheck over your first year or two. Frequently, after you've stayed with the company for a couple years, it will reimburse you for a significant portion of your training expenses.

Likewise, major car manufacturers train mechanics to become automotive technicians and gain higher-level certificates or advance their careers.

Finally, jobs in the military offer tuition benefits, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which can help you finance a professional certificate or a degree. Many welders and auto technicians learn their craft in the military then complete their formal certificate, associate, or bachelor's degree with funding from the GI bill.

Getting Financial Help With Trade School

If you are looking for financial help to pursue skills training, start here:

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

If you're applying for any postsecondary education, you can find out if you're eligible for federal student aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Trade associations

Across industries, trade associations advocate for workers in the trades and advance their education and professional development — for example, American Dental Assistants Association. These associations often have foundations that offer scholarships to students who want to pursue professional certification.

Private scholarships

Companies in mechanical, manufacturing, and medical fields sponsor private scholarships. For instance, Johnson & Johnson hosts a database for private nursing scholarships.

Should I Go to Trade School?

Vocational training programs can save you time and money. So this path may be right for you if you need to start work fast and you want to rack up student debt.

Also consider vocational training if you:

Before you commit to a training path, do your research and reflect on what you want in your career. You can find several career aptitude tests online. The Lantern Career Interests Quiz is free, fast, and uses data from more than 200 occupations to match your preferences to career options.

Other Career and Technical Education Options

Apprenticeship

In an apprenticeship, you’ll work under a master in their craft. The classic example of how to earn while you learn, apprenticeships are most common in construction and mechanical trades such as welding, plumbing, electrician work, and auto technology. However, you can find some apprenticeship programs in healthcare and IT, too.

In formal apprenticeship programs, apprentices work during the day and attend evening classes. Typically, their union or employer covers the cost of classroom learning.

You can find out everything you need to know about apprenticeships from our guide. Apply to apprenticeships by searching the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship.gov or contacting your local trade union.

On-the-Job Training
Find state and federally sponsored workforce training programs that allow you to gain skills for employment. Around the country, American Job Centers help connect job seekers to employers to get started in on-the-job training.

Not all of these programs offer a formal certificate like a trade school, but you can earn money while you train, and you don’t need previous experience in that industry.

Associate Degree

Associate degrees take two years to complete — slotting them right between certificates and bachelor’s degrees in time commitment and program cost.

High-paying careers like dental hygienists and respiratory therapists require associate degrees. In other professions, associate degrees can help you earn more money than a certificate program alone. They also position you to earn a bachelor’s degree in less time than just having a certificate alone — if that’s what you want to pursue later in your career.

Depending on your career of choice, associate degrees might be the right option for you. Learn more about high-paying associate degree careers.

Lyss Welding
Lyss Welding
Contributing Writer

Lyss Welding is a staff writer who covers career and education topics for Become with Lantern. Since graduating from the University of Chicago with a bachelor's degree in linguistics, Lyss has worked in 21st century skills programs and for companies writing curriculum and training resources for students and job seekers. Her writing has also appeared on Best Value Schools and Grad School Hub.

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