The Other Option: Vocational School

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By Sarah Blais – Jan. 12, 2015: 

College isn’t meant for everyone. If you’re not feeling fulfilled by an academic subject, a trade is another option many overlook.

There are so many different ways to learn a trade, sometimes right in your own home. Trades are more focused than a typical college degree and give a better opportunity to hit the ground running at graduation. Plus, since they’re usually so specialized, there’s the potential to make a lot of money.

It’s a great alternative to college, and here’s why:

Hands-on learning

Does the thought of sitting in a classroom for hours and writing pointless papers sound dismal? You can’t completely escape the classroom setting, as there’s still a certain amount of time that needs to be devoted to training and doing homework. However, unlike college, you must complete an apprenticeship in order to get your degree. You’ll be ready to start working as soon as you complete your program since you have relevant work experience on your resume (or just work for the company who took you on as an apprentice).

Colleges have access to internships, but there’s no guarantee that any paid positions will be available. Many colleges don’t even require an internship to graduate; unless you do a lot of outside research or heavily involve yourself in extracurriculars related to your degree, it’ll be tough to find someone who will hire you with no experience.

Industry-focused lessons

If you don’t want to pile on a bunch of required humanities classes to earn a BS, you can call BS and take your endeavors to vocational school, where all the classes are tailored to your particular trade.

Trade school has an advantage against college because you don’t have to take general studies courses to get your degree. College degrees are more rounded, while trade schools focus on teaching one subject well to churn out field experts upon graduation.

Shorter completion times

It takes four years at minimum to get a Bachelor’s degree, sometimes longer even if you’re going full time. The average trade school program takes three years or less to complete.

The way they’re able to do this is by sticking to a strict class and apprenticeship schedule. If you work full time or have other time-crunching obligations, you may have to plan your vocation training carefully. It’s easier if you’re learning how to become a barber or earning your trucker’s license, where night classes are available.

The job prospects are great

Trades are slowly gaining in popularity. In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggested that 45 percent of all job openings will be skill-based in a year’s time. In fact, there’s a big demand for them right now as the 2011 Skills Gap Report says that 69 percent of companies have a moderate or severe shortage of qualified workers. When you compare that to how four-year college graduates are faring (3), that’s great news for trade school.

The stigma surrounding trade school is perplexing; it’s a great way to learn a practical skill that too many people shrug off. When looking for the next (or first) step in your career, honing in on a skill trade is a great place to start.


Sarah Blais is an education writer based in New York City. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Mass Communication in from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State.

Photo credit 1, Photo credit 2

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