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Trade schools — also known as vocational, career or technical schools — give students hands-on training in skills needed for a specific field. They’re designed to prepare students for direct entrance into the workforce. Trade schools are common for careers such as welding, culinary arts, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
Before enrolling in a trade school, you should research opportunities to get the same training more affordably. In many cases, you can train for the same career by doing an apprenticeship or a technical program at a community college.
AT A GLANCE
Typical program length: One to two years or less
Credentials offered: Certificate
Pros of trade schools
You can get focused, hands-on training for a specific career. There are less likely to be general education requirements, such as English and math coursework, at a trade school.
The school may help you find a job. However, beware of schools that misrepresent their job placement rates; for-profit colleges owned by Corinthian Colleges were accused of doing so before the company closed and filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
Cons of trade schools
Programs vary in quality and reputability. The Federal Trade Commission recommends evaluating programs based on factors including cost, completion rates and job placement rates.
If the school isn’t properly accredited — not all trade schools are — you won’t be eligible for federal financial aid, which includes the Pell Grant, work-study programs and federal student loans.
How to enroll in a trade school
Apply. Ask about requirements for the program you’re interested in; they vary by program and school.
If you’re not eligible for federal aid, or you need to borrow more than the federal loan limits, you may need to take out private student loans. Private student loans don’t have as many flexible repayment options and other borrower protections as federal loans.