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Is Trade School For You?

(Maybe, Maybe Not)

While it’s obvious that having education beyond high school is beneficial, it’s equally clear that the traditional college experience doesn’t work for everyone. Not only does paying for school often require taking on huge student loan debt, but many people desire an education that the typical liberal arts university can’t provide. Why spend thousands of dollars a year to study topics that won’t be relevant to your daily career?

Trade schools offer a less expensive alternative, often with the added advantage of apprenticeships and job placement programs, but not all trade schools are the same. To get the most value for your investment, it’s important to think long term. Many trade and vocational programs can get you a job now, but technology is changing rapidly and that means some training you get today could be quickly out of date.


Every industry will evolve, so you’ll want to evolve with it by continuing your training, keeping up with certifications and watching innovations in your field. It won’t do much good to be an expert in old technology. You will want to know where the industry is going in order to stay relevant.

The other approach is to choose a career specifically because of its future outlook. If you’re the type of person who prefers to work for the highest financial security and you don’t really care what the industry is, then match your skills and interests with the fastest-growing and highest-salary occupations predicted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Technical and vocational schools may cost less than traditional college, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheap.

Compare schools in the same way you look for the best deal on your internet service or cable. Look for the highest value for your money, which usually means the best service for the lowest cost.

  • What’s the school’s graduation rate? How many people who start the program actually graduate in a reasonable time frame?
  • What’s the jobs outlook? How many graduates of the program get jobs after completing it? Are job placement or career counseling services offered?
  • Look for reviews and complaints. How satisfied have other people been with this program?


It’s best not to go off of internet estimates alone. Research job boards to find out how much people in this field earn in your area. Would you be qualified for these jobs after this program? If possible, ask alumni or school administrators to provide local salary data.

What are the costs of this job?

  • What equipment will you have to buy and maintain?
  • Will there be union dues or other association fees?
  • Do people in this field have to pay their own taxes?
  • Do people in this field usually get full benefits (insurance, retirement plans, etc.)?

Taking out $50,000 in student loans for a cosmetology degree where you have to rent a chair at a salon, pay your own taxes and buy your own health insurance won’t make financial sense unless you are guaranteed to have a steady, high-paying clientele once you start your career. If the math doesn’t add up, keep looking.

If traditional college isn’t a good fit for you, trade schools can be a great way to build a career. Just do your homework and calculate your costs before taking the leap.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]