Should I Go to College or Vocational School?

They say that real life starts after you graduate high school; well, at least that’s when professional life starts, anyway. However, many people who graduated high school a long time ago are looking to change the course of their professional lives. Of course, that means setting yourself up for a career.

It goes without saying that you want to work in an industry and a position that you truly enjoy, but you also want to make sure that you choose a field that actually pays well so you can make a decent living, and you also want to make certain that you’ll actually be able to land a job. With all of that said, it’s often assumed that earning a college degree is the right way to achieve those adult life goals; however, while that may have been true at one time, and it may still be true for some industries, that isn’t always the case for everyone. For many, trade school is a much better choice than a college degree. 

While college allows you to explore a variety of career options, and it also affords opportunities to partake in extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs, trade schools provide the opportunity to attain a skills-based education that can be used to land a super-solid career (not to mention the fact that trade school costs markedly less than college). Though the goal of both types of educational opportunities is to receive a quality education, hands-on experience, and to set you up for a career, you may be scratching your head trying to decide which option is the best one for you: college or trade school. 

So, which route should you go? Here’s a look at some key factors to consider to help you make the right decision. 

What is College? 

According to, college is defined as an “institution of higher education; part of a university a school or an institution providing specialized courses or teaching a college of music the building or buildings in which a college is housed the staff and students of a college. 

There are several types of college degrees that you can attain: an associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree. There’s also an assortment of fields that you can achieve a degree in, such as liberal arts, academics, business, law; and that is just a small selection of the different fields. You can either attend collect as an on-campus student, meaning that you reside on the campus where you attend school, or you can be attend off-campus, meaning that you’ll reside somewhere other than on the campus where you will attend class.

In addition to taking classes that focus on your field of study, at college, you will also take courses that focus on general education; mathematics, history, science, etc. If your goal is to become a doctor, a teacher, a chemist, a business administrator, or other similar careers, then you will need to have a college degree.   

What is Trade School? 

Typically, general education and liberal arts classes are not taught at trade schools; rather, these institutions provide students with dedicated training in a particular vocation (hence why they’re also referred to as “vocational schools”.) Typically, trade school educations lead to skilled trade careers, such as a plumber, a carpenter, a welder, or an electrician. 

At the completion of a trade school program, you will receive a certificate or a diploma. Depending on the specific trade you will receive training in, after you graduate, you might be able to seek a job in your field straight away, or you may need to receive a license, or you might have to become an apprentice. Generally, the majority of trade school programs are shorter than those that are offered at colleges, which means that you will be able to begin your career faster. 

Completion Time

When you’re trying to decide whether college or a trade school is the right choice for you, in addition to the difference of career fields, you’ll likely also notice that there is a marked difference in the completion times. It usually takes four years to complete a traditional college and achieve a bachelor’s degree, while trade school programs are often completed in two years or less. 

There are several benefits of completing a program of study in a shorter period of time. Most notably, you’ll be able to enter into the job market a lot faster, and that means that you can start to put money in the bank, and build for your future sooner. By enrolling in a shorter program, you won’t have to commit as much time, which is another big plus. Another advantage is that you won’t have to pay as much for your tuition, and as such, you’ll have lower education-related costs to contend with when you complete the program. 

While there are definitely benefits associated with attending college, it isn’t unusual for students to find that it’s an overwhelming experience, largely due to the time commitment. As a result, about 40 percent of undergraduates end up dropping out of school, while 30 percent un-enroll before they even reach their second year. By attending a shorter program, you may be able to avoid the stress and burn-out that’s associated with a longer program of study, which means that you can increase your chances of completing the course of study. 


When trying to decide between trade school and college, earnings potential is a major factor that you’re going to want to take into consideration. Some careers that can be obtained by completing a trade school program can pay lucrative salaries; however, typically, college degrees pay higher salaries. 

Though the average salary for careers that require a college education usually exceed the salaries of trade careers, some trade school jobs can pay exceptionally well. Once you’ve completed the training, you can increase your earnings potential with experience; particularly if you are working in specialized industries. The location where you work can also impact the salaries that trade school careers can pay, as some areas offer higher wages than others; however, you will need to consider the cost of living in those areas where salaries are higher. For example, as an electrician who lives and works in New York or California, you will earn more than you would if you were to live and work in Ohio or Oklahoma. The annual mean salary of an electrician is just above $60,000 per year, but in California, the average salary is $70,000, and in New York, it’s $79,000, as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, keep in mind that the higher salary may be offset by the higher cost of living in these locations. There is also the opportunity to go into management which will offer a greater salary as well.

Cost of Education 

Another crucial factor that you’re going to want to take into consideration when you’re trying to decide if trade school or college is the right choice for you is the cost of the education. Typically, trade school programs cost less than college degree programs; however, students should do their research to gain a clearer picture. When comparing the cost of education, more than just tuition needs to be taken into consideration. You should also consider if scholarships and your ability to qualify for you, as well as your earning potential, will impact the final financial outcome of which type of program you complete. 

The cost of trade school varies widely and depends on several factors, such as the school, the program of study, and where the school is located. With that said, however, on average, trade school costs about $33,000 for the entire program. Some programs are significantly lower than that, however; for example, an esthetician program may cost about $4,000, while an aviation maintenance program may run you $30,000. 

The cost of college depends on so many different variables, which can make it difficult to break down the cost of a college education. The college, the course or study, the location, and other elements, such as room and board, and materials will all impact the cost of college. On average, in-state public school students can expect to pay an average of about $10,000 per year, or $40,000 for their entire program; however, if you are going to be staying on campus, room and board needs to be factored into the cost, which can bring it up to nearly $22,000 per year. For out-of-state students, tuition can increase significantly, to nearly $27,000 per year; tack room and board onto that, and you could be looking at nearly $39,000 per year. 

If you want to attend a private school, you can expect to pay even more. The average cost of tuition at private schools in the United States is close to $37,000 per year, and that’s just for tuition; add room and board to that and you’re looking at about $50,000 per year. It’s important to note, however, that the financial aid packages that private schools offer do tend to be more generous; however, keep in mind that you will have to repay money that is awarded from such a package. 

Career Outlook and Stability 

The likelihood that you will be able to obtain and keep a job once you complete your program of study is another very important factor to consider; after all, the entire reason why you’re going to school is to prepare for a career. 

Job security is usually pretty good for trade school graduates. That’s because careers like electricians, plumbers, and home inspectors, are always needed, as these professionals provide essential services, and hence they tend to be able to withstand economic ebbs and flows. Conversely, while a college education may grant you a degree, and the skills and knowledge that are acquired may be flexible and can be applied to other industries and fields, often, the jobs that one would be qualified for with a college degree are may not be in-demand, are hard to find, and do not perform well in times when the economy is struggling. As such, it may be harder to attain and hold onto a job with a college degree.


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