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.

Benefits of Vocational Training

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.

Certificates vs. Technical Diplomas

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
Top Technical Jobs

Top Technical-Paying Jobs
Here are 10 high-paying tech degrees that you can earn online and the average salary for each based on information from Glassdoor.

Web Development

In this program, you will learn how to develop websites and website applications using a variety of programming languages and web technologies. You will establish skills in managing site functionality, implement application features and integrate security measures. These skills are essential since most businesses have some sort of online presence.

Average Salary: $75,487

Web Design

Different than a developer, this program is more focused on the look, layout and features of a website rather than the programming. The courses involve both the technical side of websites as well as graphic design and creative processing.

Average Salary: $53,877

Computer Networking Technology           

Computer networking specialists install, inspect, secure and troubleshoot networked computers within an organization. With a degree in computer networking technology, you will provide advice on security measures and monitor for internal and external threats. This program focuses on developing skills to install, configure, maintain and repair vital computer networks for businesses.

Average Salary: $82,050

Software Development

The software development program concentrates on courses involved in designing, developing and testing software and applications for computers. The main duties and responsibilities of software engineers include directing and participating in programming activities, monitoring and evaluating system performance and designing and implementing new programs and features. This program provides training in areas like programming languages, operating systems, security and online software development programs can help you get the skills to help build full programs.

Average Salary: $80,018


With the many data breaches over the past few years, companies are in critical need of systems to protect their secure information and data. This program trains you on how to identify potential security risks and defend the systems against malicious attacks by securing digital files and information systems. Some tasks you may do as a cybersecurity employee would be providing technical support, monitoring security access and implementing anti-malware software.

Average Salary: $93,638

Database Management

Every business is collecting data in someway now, which is why skilled professionals who can design, implement, and optimize the systems are in high demand. This degree helps teach you technical management skills and has courses on upgrading hardware and software and securing databases by developing policies and procedures.

Average Salary: $80,683

Game Designer        

This degree may sound like a dream to a lot of people, but it is the real deal. The global market for video games is expected to be worth more than $90 billion by 2020.3 so it is a great field to dive into. Coursework includes game conceptualization, play mechanics, storyboarding, scripting, modeling, animation, programming, and prototyping. Game designers have duties like designing characters, levels, puzzles, art and animation. Courses may also include coding as some gamers use computer programming languages to design their games.

Average Salary: $73,182

Information Systems           

To become an IT manager, you need a degree in information systems. In this program, you will work on the technical side of all things computer programs and likely manage a team. They are responsible for the operation of all computer systems, applications, software and programs for companies. Courses include system analysis and design, electronic commerce and database concepts and support.

Average Salary: $75,469

IT Infrastructure       

For a career with this degree, get used to saying "Did you try turning it off and turning it back on again?"  IT infrastructure engineers build and maintain the hardware and software components of their employer's IT network.  These engineers work on the routers, servers, computer hardware, and systems that need to be fixed when there is a bug.

Average Salary: $106,408

Systems Architecture         

Just like a building architect, this degree is the ground floor of the whole computer operating system. Many of the course concentrations focus on designs and diagrams. System architects are responsible for designing and implementing short and long-term strategic goals for managing and maintaining systems and software and use their assist in IT projects.

Average Salary: $105,161

Top Vocational Jobs

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.

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