When Teressa Connell was about to finish high school, she knew she liked two things in particular: styling hair and the idea of entrepreneurship. "I was sure I would pursue one of those fields," she said. "So when I thought about whether to go to cosmetology school and become a stylist or go to college to understand the business world, I figured I'd take the less expensive route first."
She enrolled in a local trade school that offered a cosmetology track and finished it in less than a year. Once she got her license, she was able to start working at a salon and making money. "My goal is to eventually open my own salon," she says. "I am learning a lot about that while working for someone else, but if I need more business training down the road, I can always go back to college for a bachelor's degree. For now, I'm glad I went to cosmetology school so I can be in my career at 20 rather than having to wait and then being stuck with a bunch of debt."
With the cost of college rising and many students unsure about taking on student loans, some high school students are instead considering attending a trade school. These schools are typically less expensive than four-year colleges, they usually offer help with job placement, and their programs take less time to complete than most traditional college degrees.
"The one thing that students should realize about trade schools is that they're extremely versatile," said Doug Crawford, founder of the site Best Trade Schools. "With the ever-changing workforce, many programs offer courses and certifications to reflect this change. Students can get training in more traditional vocational fields like electrical work and welding, but they can also learn about software coding, respiratory therapy and paralegal studies."
The list of possible study tracks is quite long, Crawford says, and you don't need to necessarily differentiate between vocational schools and trade schools. "While the different terms can be a bit confusing, trade school and vocational school actually mean the same thing," he notes. "Students may also see phrases like technical school and career school. Typically, though, these are all used interchangeably."
Before determining whether trade school might be right for you, evaluate the specific program at the school you're considering, and ensure that the curriculum, job prospects, teachers and reviews all line up with your needs. In addition, get firm information about the cost, and find out whether you'll also have to pay for books, licensing needs or other equipment in addition to the tuition.
Ensure that the program is accredited, and if possible, speak to recent grads to get a feel for their experiences at the school. If possible, it's a good idea to sit in on a course to see what type of teaching style is employed at the school. Although trade schools are typically less expensive than four-year colleges, you still want to get a strong value for your investment. You should always be sure that the program is a fit and meets your needs before enrolling.
Some estimates suggest that trade schools have been growing in popularity during recent years, and particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, but Crawford says it's too early to tell if coronavirus has impacted enrollment numbers. However, he says, "the need for a workforce that requires more and more essential workers will likely cause the numbers to continue to rise." In addition, he adds, there could be more jobs waiting for trade school grads.
"Since graduates have the proper training when they're done with school, many can find work shortly after graduation," Crawford notes. "Data tends to change, but with the U.S. Department of Education reporting in 2018 that there will be a 68 percent increase in infrastructure-related jobs in the next five years, the future looks promising."
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