In the past, the decision to go to a four-year college right out of high school was the standard. These days? Not so much. With rising education costs, an uncertain job market and changing attitudes in work culture, more people are reconsidering the best path to success in the workforce. Many people who don’t feel that a traditional college is right for them choose to attend a trade school instead. Trade schools (also known as technical schools) are programs that offer a streamlined education for a specific trade or career without prerequisites and general education courses along the way. You won’t finish school with a bachelor’s degree, but you’ll have a diploma or certificate in your field and may even finish with an associate degree. 

What programs are offered in trade school?

Offerings are different at each school, and some trade schools might specialize in just one or two areas. But most trade schools have a diverse number of classes and career paths for you to choose from. These include some of the trades you’d expect to see, and some that might surprise you. Common fields you can enter into with a trade school degree include: 


  • Medical/Dental Assistance
  • Graphic Design
  • Construction
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical Work
  • Cosmetology
  • Real Estate
  • Commercial Driving
  • Commercial Baking/Cooking
  • HVAC Repair
  • Welding
  • Computer Programming
  • Auto Repair
  • Aviation Maintenance
  • Massage Therapist


And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! There are plenty more career paths you can take with a trade school degree. Check out the offerings at Utah trade schools for more details. 

Benefits of trade school

Less expensive

Trade schools tend to be a lot less expensive than four-year colleges. Consider the pricing breakdown for tuition at a four-year college (not including room and board) during the 2021-22 academic year in the U.S.: 


  • Public College (In-State): $10,740
  • Public College (Out-of-State): $27,560
  • Private College: $38,070


And how much does trade school cost? The cost for finishing an entire trade school program usually averages around $33,000. 

You may even be able to find a program that’s even less expensive than that. At certain public trade schools and community colleges, students pay $4,000 per year or less in tuition fees. Depending on your living situation, you may also save money by living at home or with friends. The only drawback is that it can be harder for trade school students to find financial aid, so you may be paying out of pocket or through a personal loan.

Learn and earn faster

Want to start earning money in the workforce right away? Trade school will get you there faster. Most trade school programs are only two-year programs, and some are even quicker. Trade school programs also typically have multiple start dates, so you won’t be missing out on valuable learning time while you wait for the next semester to start. With trade school you can start learning and earning sooner. 

Easier admission

Trade schools tend to have fewer academic requirements for applicants to meet. That means that no matter what your grades were like in high school, there’s a good shot you’ll be accepted. In fact, some trade schools might not even require a high school diploma. So even if you weren’t the first one to raise your hand in class, you’ll still be in line for a well-paying career. 

Real world experience

The goal of a trade school is to teach you how to do the best job possible in your chosen career. To that end, you’ll spend the majority of your time in class learning the specific skills you’ll need on the job. This might include live demonstrations or even on-the-job training. Without general education courses, you’re free to focus only on what you need to know, and when you walk into your first day of work, you’ll know (more or less) what to expect. 

Reliable careers

By their nature, trade school career paths are among the most reliable around. Whether the economy is booming or busting, people will always need plumbers, electricians and (hopefully) barbers. While not all careers are a sure thing, the skills you take away from trade school will be more impervious to economic swings than some you might learn at a 4-year college. 

Career counseling is more involved

Since the whole goal of trade school is to train you for a career, the school wants to help you start that career as soon as you graduate. While most four-year colleges also have Career Services departments, they don’t tend to be as involved as the ones at trade schools. Career Services may even be a part of your journey from the very beginning, checking in to help with resumes, applications, interview skills and more along the way. And since trade schools often offer on-the-job training, they’ll usually have connections with local employers in your field. You may have already worked with your future employer by the time you graduate!

Drawbacks to trade school

Courses are accelerated

Just because trade schools can be finished in two years, it doesn’t mean they’re easier. Often, the coursework in trade school programs is accelerated to get you on your career path as soon as possible. That’s a lot to learn in a shorter time, and it means you might have to work a bit harder than you would if you were part of a four-year program. 

If you’re thinking about trade school, consider how you operate with deadlines and in stressful situations. If you’re the type who loves to put their head down and work, or if you think you can handle a heavier workload when it means earning money sooner, then you’re probably ready to start classes. But if you have an especially difficult time with deadlines and heavier coursework, you might have to think more about your decision. 

Limited career growth 

Although career paths from trade schools are generally more reliable, they don’t offer as much in the way of growth and advancement. You might start earning earlier than your friends at four-year colleges, and might even earn more right out of the gate, but jobs that require degrees usually have more opportunities for promotions. However, you can always go back to school and learn the skills you need for higher paying business or managerial positions in your trade. And since you’ll have a jump start on your earnings, you can make a plan to save up while you work and gain experience in the field. You can also take online or night classes in addition to your daily work. There are lots of ways to advance down the road, but just know that taking the next step in your trade might involve continued education.

Classes aren’t diverse

Sure, four-year colleges carry a larger price tag than trade schools and some of their general education classes might not interest you. But at trade school, you might find that you miss having a diverse course load. Sure, you don’t need to know about German cinema to work on an HVAC system, but fun and unique classes are a great way to break up your schedule and add some excitement to a school day. More than just for enjoyment, though, a diverse course load also helps you discover what you’re interested in. How many people have gone to college as a Business Major only to discover that all the money in the world can’t get them to care about the stock market? At a four-year college you have more time to learn about multiple topics and decide what field of study is right for you. At a trade school, you’ll be locked in on a career path right away, with classes that usually won’t transfer to another discipline.

I want to apply to trade school: What’s next?

If you think trade school is right for you, the next step is to do your research to determine what the best schools and programs in your area are. Sit down and take a look at your finances to see what you can afford. 


Perhaps most importantly, you should research the trade or field you’ll be studying and make sure it’s the right one for you. After all, it’ll be the main focus of not only the next one or two years, but your whole career. And since trade school degrees are so specialized, you might have to go back to school or start from the bottom if you want to switch careers. Find as much information as possible online about job satisfaction in that line of work, consider your strengths and weaknesses and try to talk to someone who works in the field. 


If you’ve done all of that and still feel that trade school is the right decision for you, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work! Look around at the best trade schools in Utah (there’s a lot to choose from) and decide which one meets your desired price range and field of study. Trade school is an exciting and rewarding experience, and it leads to all kinds of interesting, hands-on careers (in half the time of a four-year college, too). To see what jobs await you when you graduate, check out KSL Jobs and easily filter by education levels. Until then, good luck with your journey!