FAQ: Technical/Trade Schools

What Are the Benefits of Vocational Training?

Vocational schools are equipped to help workers build their skills, regardless of their current career stage.
If you aren’t sure that a university experience is right for you, consider vocational training. Focused on developing specific skills in career fields like auto repair, cosmetology, welding, medical billing and more, you can earn your degree in two years or less.

There are many advantages of vocational education. Your classes will focus on the knowledge and skills that you need for a particular job, and the time and money that you expend is less than a four-year college program.
One of the benefits of vocational training is that you can jump right into classes that speak to your career passions. Unlike a university degree, you won’t have to take general education classes that are unrelated to your career field. The reduced seat time for most certificates and degrees means that you’ll begin learning new skills right away.

What Are Vocational Schools?

Vocational school is one option for students interested in practical postsecondary education and job training. Vocational schools typically offer relatively short, career-focused programs that quickly prepare graduates for the workforce.
When considering enrollment in postsecondary vocational school, it can be helpful to consider program length, subject offerings and admissions requirements in order to make the best education decision for your career goals.

Overview of Vocational Schools

Vocational schools, sometimes referred to as trade schools or career schools, provide practical training with few unrelated academic course requirements. They are relevant for many kinds of learners, including:

  • Individuals who are planning to enter industry for the first time
  • Adults who are looking to reenter the workforce
  • Professionals who wish to pursue a new career field

The education offered at vocational schools allows adults to focus on the skills to enter a particular industry, with the option of not taking unrelated general education courses required for an associate’s degree at a community college. Vocational schools also provide technology training or retraining for workers in their current occupations.

Program Lengths
Vocational schools can offer programs ranging from short-unit classes of ten weeks or less to long-term programs of up to two years in length. Some states offer public vocational schools and career training programs through community colleges, but the majority of vocational schools are private institutions. Vocational school credits don’t typically transfer to academic undergraduate programs like an Associate of Arts program, but they may award students with a certificate credential.

Common Programs

Vocational schools generally focus on programs in career fields that can be completed in two years or less. Vocational schools focusing on a single field, such as automotive trades or health services, may offer only one training program or give students a choice of several programs in the same industry, such as hair stylist, barber, nail technician or esthetician programs at a cosmetology school.
The following are some common types of vocational school programs:

  • Welding
  • Cosmetology
  • Plumbing
  • Carpentry
  • Locksmithing
  • Electrical installation and maintenance
  • Motorcycle and automotive repair
  • Floral design
  • Medical transcription
  • Hotel and restaurant management

Other vocational schools offer programs in several unrelated fields, like

  • Agriculture
  • Office skills
  • Technical training

Postsecondary Admission Requirements

There are several requirements that prospective students may need to meet in order to be eligible for admission to a vocational school, such as:

  • Meet minimum age requirement of 16 years (17 for some programs)
  • Hold high school diploma or GED, or have completed a recognized home school program

Some community colleges may have vocational training programs also.
For these schools, admissions requirements may be more extensive. Some possible additional requirements include having acceptable SAT, ACT, or other standardized test scores and passing a school entrance exam.

Combined High School Programs

Some vocational schools combine career education credits with a high school education for high school juniors and seniors pursuing vocational education.

Vocational school training can allow aspiring high school graduates to quickly enter the workforce with hands-on training and a career-focused curriculum.

For combined high school programs, admission requirements are typically the same as for postsecondary programs, except that no diploma is necessary, and the minimum age requirement is necessarily lower; students may need to be at least 14.
Individuals who want to take career-focused courses can find educational opportunities through vocational schools in a wide range of fields.

Generally speaking, four year colleges place a lot of importance on your SAT and ACT scores. Your grades and high school classes may have different curriculum and levels of difficulty among schools. Because of this, it’s hard for admissions officers to compare candidates’ academic readiness on high school classes alone.

The SAT and ACT represent an attempt to measure students’ skills, knowledge, and potential on the same playing field. If you’re applying as a strong academic archetype – for example, you have high grades and strong extracurricular involvement – you want your test scores to reinforce your academic achievement.

If this describes you as a student, then your SAT or ACT scores matter a great deal. (Below, we’ll discuss how scores factor into the equation for students applying as athletes or to pursue a special talent, like dancing or the arts.)

Especially selective schools also want to see SAT Subject Tests, as a standard measure of your mastery of a particular subject in school, like biology, math, or Spanish. Click here to see the complete list of SAT Subject Tests and learn about what they cover. When Scores Don’t Matter (or Matter As Much) – Test Optional and Flexible Schools

Recently, more and more schools are de-emphasizing, or even doing away completely, with standardized test scores in their admissions decisions. Some schools have a test optional policy, which suggests that it’s up to you whether your scores reflect your academic ability and you want to send them. Some schools merely suggest you can opt out, while others emphasize that scores truly are optional and will not affect your chances of admission one way or the other.

This is frustratingly vague, right? I’d suggest researching the school’s website or calling its admissions office and asking them to clear it up. Unless the school really stresses that scores are truly optional, it’s probably a good idea to still take the test and send them. Considering how competitive admissions are, strong test scores could be one more way to gain an edge and stand out.

Here we’ve compiled the comprehensive list of all the test optional and test flexible schools, along with their specific expectations. Check it out to see if any of your schools of interest don’t require the SAT or ACT for admission.

If you feel you are unable to achieve strong scores and the tests would drag down your application, then it might be a good idea to hold off on sending those in. Again, you should always check with the school to clear up what their stance toward SAT and ACT scores really is. Another approach that schools have adopted is to be test flexible. This means you can send the SAT or ACT, but there are other options as well. Usually these other options are sending three SAT Subject Tests or three AP exams, if you feel they better reflect your work as a student.

NYU, for example, says, “To be eligible for admission, applicants are expected to submit results from one of the following testing options:

The SAT Reasoning Test; or
The ACT with Writing Test; or
Three SAT Subject Test scores; or
Three AP exam scores.”
Applying With a Special Talent

Have you published novels as a teenager? Or won national competitions in spelling or math? Did your 9th grade science experiment help scientists make a breakthrough discovery, or have you played violin in a symphony since the age of 14?

If you’re regarded as one of the top achievers in the country or world in a well-regarded talent, like music, academic competitions, chess, theater, or dance, then your SAT or ACT score might not matter that much. It might be especially inconsequential if it doesn’t align with your strength. For instance, a college might not care how well a published teen author scores in math.

Many of these students receive some media attention for their exceptional talent and will likely be in close contact with colleges to discuss exactly what scores they need for admission. If the college finds you a desirable candidate, then it will probably waive the usual SAT/ACT score expectation and accept you with a lower minimum score.

We’ve looked at the policies of four-year colleges, but what about your unique profile as a candidate? First, what are your SAT or ACT requirements as a recruited athlete?

Many students benefit from a vocational/technical education.

On average, students who enter a vocational or technical field can expect to earn nearly as much money as students with a two-year degree.

There are many vocational/technical schools nationwide where a student can get a certificate.

Also, there are high schools in the United States that allow a student to receive a high school diploma and a vocational or technical certificate at the same time.


Vocational education is defined as training for a specific career or vocation.

Technical education is very closely related to vocational education (according to the Free Dictionary, it’s the academic and vocational preparation of students for jobs usually involving applied science and modern technology).

The state of Washington defines vocational and technical education as “a planned series of learning experiences to prepare individuals for gainful employment in recognized occupations and in new and emerging occupations”.

That doesn’t include programs of which the primary characteristic is repetitive work for the purpose of production.

In other words, a vocational/technical education trains and educates students for a career that needs a specific set of specialized job skills.

Certificate Courses

Typically, students who want a vocational or technical career go to a vocational/technical school.
Many communities, large and small, have vo-tech schools.
Jobs that require a vocational certificate would include:

  • Plumber
  • Cosmetologist
  • Office manager
  • Florist
  • Certified Nursing assistant
  • and Electrician

Students can receive a vocational certificate in a few weeks, a few months or as long as 18 months from enrollment. Technical certificates, depending on the courses, may also take up to 18 months to receive.

Technical education careers include:

  • computer programmer
  • computer-aided design
  • applied manufacturing
  • aviation maintenance

Requirements that prospective students are often required to meet in order to be eligible for admission to a vocational school, such as the following:

Meet minimum age requirement of 16 years (17 for some programs)

Hold high school diploma or GED, or have completed a recognized home school program

If you’ve already been at a community college for two years, you usually do not have to take the SAT or ACT or send your scores in order to transfer. The other type of schools that don’t require SAT/ACT scores are technical and trade schools.

The average trade school degree costs $33,000, which, compared to a $127,000 bachelor’s degree, means a savings of $94,000.

But that’s not all!

Technical schools, also known as trade schools, usually require a high school diploma or GED. However, it is possible to attend these schools without having either. Many schools offer free GED prep and testing to students as part of their educational packages and others will grant admission based on other factors.

1 Elevator Installer/Repairer

  • Elevator Mechanic Career Information
  • Median Annual Salary: $77,806
  • Projected Growth Rate 2016-2026: 12 percent
  • Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship
  • Gender Breakdown: 1 percent Female/99 percent Male

Elevator mechanics, installers, and repairers have a good occupational outlook and high earning potential. The job includes installing, repairing, and maintaining elevators, elevator doors, cables, and control systems, escalators, moving walkways, and lifts. If you’re cool under pressure and good with your hands (and power tools) this might be the perfect career for you. 

2 Radiation Therapist

  • Radiation Therapy Job Description
  • Median Annual Salary: $69,504
  • Projected Growth Rate 2016-2026: 13 percent
  • Typical Education Required: Associate Degree

If you want to help people and earn good money doing it, you can’t do better than a job as a radiation therapist. Working with oncologists in hospital settings, these workers help administer radiation for cancer treatment. Radiation therapists require licensure, in addition to an associate degree.

3 Geological and Petroleum Technician

  • Geological and Petroleum Technician Job Description
  • Median Annual Salary: $61,370
  • Projected Annual Growth Rate 2016-2026: 16 percent
  • Typical Education Required: Associate Degree
  • Gender Breakdown: 46 percent Female/54 percent Male

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and aren’t afraid of math, this job could be a good fit for you. You’ll be installing and maintaining equipment, collecting and testing samples, recording data, and compiling reports.
While some employers do prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree, you can often get started in this field with a two-year degree.

4 Web Developer

  • Web Developer Job Description
  • Median Annual Salary: $58,448
  • Projected Annual Growth Rate 2016-2026: 15 percent
  • Typical Education Required: Associate Degree
  • Gender Breakdown: 20 percent Female/80 percent Male

If you want to build a career as a web developer, you’ll probably have to go for a bachelor’s degree eventually. But some employers will accept years of work experience and an associate degree instead. If you love writing, testing, and debugging software, you’ll love this job.

5 Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

  • Ultrasound Technician Job Description | Ultrasound Technician Skills
  • Median Annual Salary: $55,106
  • Projected Growth Rate 2016-2026: 17 percent
  • Typical Education Required: Associate Degree
  • Gender Breakdown: 92 percent Female/8 percent Male

Sonographers administer ultrasounds, as well as preparing patients for procedures, and reviewing and processing images for interpretation by a physician. Job responsibilities also include preparing, maintaining, and operating imaging equipment. They often report high levels of job satisfaction.

6 Dental Hygienist

  • Dental Hygienist Career Information | Dental Assistant Skills
  • Median Annual Salary: $54,989
  • Projected Growth Rate 2016-2026: 20 percent
  • Typical Education Required: Associate Degree
  • Gender Breakdown: 97 percent Female/3 percent Male

The job includes cleaning teeth, removing plaque, taking x-rays, checking for oral disease, and educating patients on oral hygiene. Dental hygienists routinely rank among the most satisfied workers. A passion for oral hygiene, as well as a drive to educate patients, will go a long way in this career.

7 Electrician

  • Electrician Career Information
  • Median Annual Salary: $52,527
  • Projected Growth Rate 2016-2026: 9 percent
  • Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship
  • Gender Breakdown: 1 percent Female/99 percent Male

Electricians have fairly long apprenticeships – up to four years! – and require licensure to do their jobs. However, that training comes with a paycheck, however small, making it a better financial option for many than the equivalent amount of time in a degree program.
In this job, you’ll be reading blueprints, installing, maintaining and repairing wiring, controls and electrical components, and using testing devices to local electrical problems.

8 Respiratory Therapist

  • Respiratory Therapist Career Information
  • Median Annual Salary: $52,042
  • Projected Annual Growth Rate 2016-2026: 23 percent
  • Typical Education Required: Associate Degree
  • Gender Breakdown: 63 percent Female/37 percent Male 

Many respiratory therapists have bachelor’s degrees, but an associate degree can provide entry to the field. People with this job work with children and adults with respiratory issues performing diagnostic tests, consulting with medical staff, and performing treatments.

9  Plumber

  • Plumber Career Information | Plumber Skills List
  • Median Annual Salary: $50,349
  • Projected Growth Rate 2016-2026: 16 percent
  • Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship
  • Gender Breakdown: 1 percent Female/99 percent Male

If you want to work as a plumber, you’ll need both attention to detail and a certain amount of physical strength — as anyone who’s ever wrestled with a plumbing project as an amateur can attest. Plumbing licensing requirements vary from state to state, but you can expect to need some sort of licensure, as well as apprenticeship experience. 

10 HVAC Technician

  • HVAC Technician Career Information
  • Median Annual Salary: $44,604
  • Projected Growth Rate 2016-2026: 15 percent
  • Typical Education Required: Postsecondary Non-degree Award
  • Gender Breakdown: 1 percent Female/99 percent Male

HVAC (Heating, Venting, and Air Conditioning) technicians work on heating, cooling, and ventilation units, installing and maintaining equipment. This job typically requires two years of education past high school, often including on-the-job training in the form of an apprenticeship.

If you’re being recruited as an athlete, you are most likely going through NCAA Clearinghouse. You will still have to take the SAT or ACT, if your college requires it, but your scores don’t have to be as high as non-recruited students.

Your SAT and ACT scores are compared on a sliding scale with your grade point average (GPA). So if your GPA is on the higher side, you can get by with lower test scores. If it’s low, then you have to score higher on the SAT or ACT to make up for it.

Click here to read about all the NCAA requirements, what SAT scores you need, and how to achieve them. This article is for you if you’re a student athlete planning on taking the ACT.

Your score requirements may also be less stringent if you’re applying with a special talent.

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