College or Trade School?


Are you about to graduate from high school? Congratulations! So… what’s next? 

The good news is, you have options for your future.

Unfortunately, most high schoolers think there is only one viable way to start a career: college. In fact, about 68 percent of high school graduates opt for college. There is, however, a promising alternative: trade school. You’ll learn relevant skills. There are no classes unrelated to your program. And your training aligns with a clear career path.

So if you’re in the process of deciding what to do after high school, consider all of your options! Check out our comparison of college and trade school and decide for yourself

“High schools have eliminated shop classes and students don’t have the opportunity to be introduced to the skilled trades industry.  Guidance Counselors often brush skilled trades options aside and instead almost always promote 4-year colleges.” -Rob Fetz


Higher starting salary.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, college graduates in 2014 had an average starting salary of $45,478.

Of course, that’s just an estimate. And salary depends on your major and how relevant your skills are. Engineering students had a starting salary of about $65,000. While graduates with liberal arts majors? An average of $36,000. If you choose the right career path based on the opportunity that’s out there, taking on a college education might make sense! You could be entering the field making more money than you would if you went to trade school. Of course, this doesn’t take into account the extra time spent earning your degree (which I’ll talk about later).  

More career opportunities.

It comes as no news that some jobs require a college education. These include most management and executive positions as well as professions and educational careers. Check out Big Future’s college board for information on which types of degrees are required for which careers. If you haven’t got your career figured out yet, no worries! There are numerous tests to help you match your interests, strengths, and weaknesses with a career path:

The internet is awash with quizzes like these that help you understand your abilities and which career they match. Take a deep dive and come up with a list of 15 potential job paths. Look into the education requirements. You may be surprised to find that a college diploma isn’t necessary!

On the other hand, you may find that you dream job requires a college education. In which case, the traditional 4-year degree is for you.

The “college experience”.

For many high schoolers, going to college is a rite of passage. They want to experience dorms, Greek life, living away from home, and everything else that comes with being in college. If the experience is important to you, college might be the right path. I don’t really advocate for this being the primary reason for racking up that debt but to each their own!

On the other hand, if you hate the classroom environment, college isn’t for you. 

“…some people simply aren’t prepared for the rigors of a four year college. The Institute of Education Statistics estimates that 40% of attendees at a four year college drop out before completing their degree.”-Trent Hamm


Start working sooner (and make more money).

Most trade school training only takes about one or two years to complete. Once finished, you can find an entry level job or a paid apprenticeship program. And with a trades profession, you’ll earn competitive wages.

“…a leading trade school can put you on track to earn more money than if you were to attend a traditional college.”-North American Trade Schools

Those extra two years spent in the working world?  Two extra years making money while your fellow college friends are earning their degrees. You’re  bringing in the big bucks while your friends are writing term papers. THAT’s the stuff.

Save money on training.

A college degree costs about $127,000. A trade school degree, in comparison, costs about $33,000. That’s a $94,000 difference.

That’s… a lot of money.

If you need to take out student loans either way, consider the difference that $94,000 makes. Ask yourself… what does $94,000 mean to you? Trade school is a whole lot cheaper, and can actually be completed with no debt if you get creative enough.

Case in point. It’s very possible that a trades career will give a larger net worth in the long run.

The jobs exist.

One of the great things about trade school is that it prepares you for jobs that are actually out there. What’s more, your skills are in high demand. Need proof? Just read up a little on the skilled labor shortage our country is facing. With a trades education, you’re entering a field filled with opportunity.

The same can’t always be said about a 4-year college education. And, in fact, the opposite is sometimes true, depending on the major. The unemployment and underemployment rates for recent college graduates has more than doubled since 2007. Even if you invest in the skills through a college degree, a well-paying job isn’t promised.

So before you commit to college spend the time exploring all your options. Trade school may offer you a path to a rewarding and enjoyable career, with less time spent in the classroom and more money in your pocket. Pretty sweet, huh?

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