Compare Popular Online Trade School Programs

What Does a Trade School Career Entail?

Trade schools, also known as Vocational schools or sometimes technical schools, are reliable vocational education sources that provide an alternative to the traditional community college or university degree programs, and are much more affordable and faster to complete. They won’t open the same opportunities that a bachelor’s degree would, but they will get you career-focused job training and then back out and working in your field.

The average cost of a college bachelor’s degree program is around $90,000, whereas vocational schools or certificate programs offer degrees and job training for roughly $33,000. That’s a whopping $57,000 in savings. However, you should be aware that, though the average is quite high, if you are willing to receive your degree at a local community college you may be able to get a bachelor’s for as little as $40,000 over 4 years. And the vocational school is still saving you money in that scenario.

So, for high school graduates, choosing an online trade school over a college program means you could graduate with as much as 70% less debt over your head than four-year college degree programs. Learning a skilled job is an excellent choice for those who seek a good paying, rewarding career that has been growing in demand in recent years.

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Vocational Trade School & Career Paths

Why Attend a Vocational Trade School?

It doesn’t take much to be successful as a skilled worker. Once you know what you want to be, you find the right vocational school and, after completing the required courses, “Congratulations, you’re a trade worker”.

The main component is loving what you do and getting paid a decent salary for it. Most trade workers work a regular nine to five job, Monday through Friday, with weekends off and some are able to set their own hours, such as some carpenters. Truck drivers pick up a load, then travel to their destination and drop it off, so they can drive whenever they want as long as they get their load there on time. Some vocational schools even offer students access to financial aid.

Typical Trade School Requirements

trade_school_requirementsOne of the good things about online vocational schools is that you don’t have to go through all the hassle of the application process that most colleges require from high school graduates, nor are you always required to take the SAT, ACT, or other. Although, colleges that include vocational training or vocational education programs do require that you have acceptable standardized test scores.

The only requirements that vocational schools usually have, are: you must be at least 16 years old, (however, there are certain programs, that you must be at least 17 to take part in), have a high school diploma/GED, or proof that you completed a reputable home school program, and pass a school entrance test.

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Typical Certifications Needed

There are no certifications needed to attend a vocational school, but you will spend most of your time gaining practical skills through vocational training to pass certain exams to obtain certifications specific to the profession you are training for. These are to verify for the state you work in that you were taught everything you need to know in the content of your vocational program.

The academic standards that are set for degrees and certifications are different for all professions. For example, the standards for a carpenter include knowing how to build and repair things, where a chef’s standards are to know how to create certain dishes and maintain food safety.

Exam and Experience Needed

All professionals must know their craft. Therefore, each will have specific standardized tests that they must pass at the end of their vocational program to graduate and receive certification or licensing. In addition to the completion exams, there are state or provincial licensing requirements and academic standards to meet for most occupations, which you will have to pass in order to become state licensed.

The main focus of a campus or online technical school is to prepare students for the tests and state exams required to become licensed in their field. For some professions, you can’t just learn certain things on paper, therefore, students must commit to hands-on vocational programs that will help prepare them for their future career goals.

Online Degree & Certification Options

Vocational schools typically offer specific vocational training courses that students can complete to earn a diploma or certificate. Although these certificates are not the same as college degrees, such as an Associate’s or Bachelor’s, nor is it considered full licensure, as that can only be offered by the state in most cases, they are recognized and valued by employers, and therefore you will be too.

College Degrees Vs Trade Certificates

Degree Type Length of Program
Associate Degree two years
Bachelor’s Degree 4 years
Master’s Degree five to six years (including Bachelor’s)

Trade School Fields of Study Online


All states require that you obtain a license in cosmetology before practicing. To obtain a license, you must complete a course in cosmetology that will prepare you for the licensing exams. Cosmetology training programs are typically available at beauty schools and community colleges. Once you receive a license, you will have a number of career options, such as hair stylist, aesthetician, manicurist, make-up artist, and more. Programs will include hands-on training opportunities that will also allow you to gain some experience while you learn.

Some of the most common courses in this field are:

  • Make-up Artistry
  • Hair Care
  • Frosting and Highlighting
  • Framing
  • Skin Science
  • Aesthetics and Hair Removal
  • Nail Care
  • Safety and Sanitation
  • Chemical Theory
  • Sales Techniques
  • Wig Care
  • Salon Management

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists must be licensed before practicing. They may also need to complete additional educational requirements that are mandated at state levels.

Some of the requirements include the following:

  • Earn a Diploma from a program that is CODA-accredited
  • Complete a regional or state-level clinical board examination
  • Pass a comprehensive written test provided by the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination

After successfully completing all of the above steps you will be a registered dental hygienist and can add ‘RDH’ to your name.

Some of the most common courses in this field are:

  • Dental Radiography
  • Dental Anatomy
  • Dental Science
  • Prevention of Oral Disease
  • Dental Hygiene Clinical
  • Patient Care
  • Oral Pathology
  • Nutrition and Oral Health


The mechanic field of study is usually based on an automotive technology course where students learn how to diagnose and repair all types of vehicles. Students will also gain experience during this course while taking part in hands-on training where they will learn various mechanical skills as well as the tools needed to get the job done right.

After graduating, certified mechanics can enjoy a variety of careers in the automotive industry such as technical trainer, management, service technician, and more.

To become a mechanic, you will need to have a high school diploma or GED, earn a certificate or associate’s degree by completing a training course, and have at least some hands-on training which most programs provide.

Some of the most common courses in this field are:

  • Hydraulic Systems
  • Heating and Air Conditioning
  • Cooling Systems
  • Cylinder Heads
  • Wheel Alignment
  • MacPherson Struts
  • Valve Trains


Like attorneys, paralegals can choose which type of law they want to specialize in. Paralegals spend their day working in an office environment doing research and administrative duties. They may work for government agencies, private law firms, corporate legal offices, or others.

To become a paralegal, you will need at least an associate’s degree. You may also want to consider getting certified since some employers may require it. CP & CLA certifications are offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants and the credentials are recognized by the American Bar Association as a high-level professional achievement.

Some of the most common courses in this field are:

  • Introduction to Para Legalism
  • The Law
  • Writing Formats and Legal Terminology
  • Legal Research
  • Estate Planning and Probate
  • Family Law


The program to become a paramedic can take one to three years to complete. Paramedics save lives by utilizing advanced medical procedures, therefore, this profession requires extensive training and education. The course focuses on life-saving techniques, tourniquet application, first-response skills, wound treatment, CPR, defibrillator application, and more.

Some of the most common courses in this field are:

  • Administering Medication
  • The Circulatory System
  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Airway Management
  • Pulmonary Diseases
  • Drug Terminology
  • Spinal Injuries


After you graduate high school or get a GED, there are two options to become a plumber. You can either complete a plumbing trade school program or a plumbing apprenticeship. Although it takes approximately two years to complete vocational school training, it can take two to five years for a plumbing apprenticeship.

Some of the most common courses in this field are:

  • Building Trades
  • Systems
  • Treating Municipal Wastewater
  • Procedures
  • Tools and Equipment
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Plumbing Codes
  • Pipefitting
  • Water Heaters

Radiology Technician

A radiology technician uses x-ray equipment, medical imaging tools, and other medical technology to take x-ray images and more.

The most common educational path to become a radiology technician is by earning an associate’s degree. However, there are also other routes you can take such as completing a trade school program to become a certified radiology technician.

Some of the most common courses in this field are:

  • Patient Care and Positioning
  • Physics
  • Radiation Biology
  • X-ray Machine Operation
  • Imaging Analysis

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Associate’s Degree Cost Vs Cost for Certification

Occupation Associate’s Degree Trade Certificate
Cosmetology $36,500 $14,000
Dental Hygienist $44,700 $18,000
Mechanic $35,000 $15,500
Paralegal $42,000 $15,000
Paramedic $62,000 $26,000
Plumber $29,000 $12,000
Radiology Technician $48,000 $17,000

Potential Careers & Salaries for Graduates

In today’s world, there are a lot of opportunities and career choices, but the biggest decision you will ever make in your career comes after high school. Should you go to college for two years to get an associate’s degree? After that, should you continue for another two years and get your bachelor’s degree, then continue to get your master’s? Another option is to attend an online vocational school to earn a certificate in a specific field like cosmetology, auto repair, electrical technician, or other.

Technical trade school programs online can train you for a rewarding career in less than a year, for a fraction of what it costs to get a college degree. However, there is one major difference between college degrees’ and certifications, and that’s your earnings.

With a college degree you will probably earn a bit more than you would with a certificate, but then again, you won’t graduate with nearly as much debt hanging over your head with a certificate. If you take all things into account, you will notice that the pay can be similar. In fact, there are many certified professionals who are earning more than those with college degrees; it really depends on the employer.

What are the Highest Paying Trade Jobs?

Annual Salaries by Occupation

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Cosmetologist $20,900 $30,900 $30,500
Dental Hygienist $56,100 $61,300 $63,000
Mechanic $63,000 $80,000 $101,300
Paralegal $39,400 $50,700 $59,100
Paramedic $39,400 $50,700 $59,100
Plumber $54,200 $54,300 $60,500
Radiology $41,800 $50,100 $70,000

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn a Degree or Certification from a Trade School?

Because each occupation must train in specific courses to learn their craft, program times can vary, but trade school programs can take from 6 months to 3 years to complete (most can be completed in around 2 years). One thing to remember about trade schools is that you don’t get a bachelor’s degree upon completing the program. Instead, you will earn a certificate or receive a diploma specific to your occupation once you have successfully completed all courses.

How much does a Trade School Degree cost?

The average cost of obtaining a trade school certification is around $33,000 which is significantly less than attending college for a bachelor’s degree program would cost you.

How many students graduate “on time,” in 12 months or 24 months?

vocational_trade_school_students_graduate_on_timeOne good thing about vocational schools is that they support their students and want them to graduate on time so they can move on to a profitable career. The higher the graduation rate, the better a job the school is doing in making this a reality. Although they don’t have fraternities and wild parties to keep the students entertained, most trade schools build a strong reputation and maintain enrollment levels by offering valuable student experience.

According to the Integrated Post-Secondary Data System (IPEDS), trade and vocational schools have a 20% success rate. 10% of that goes to a two-year completion rate, 5% is awarded for a three-year completion rate, and the last 5% go to the Pell Grant recipients for a three-year completion rate.

What kind of accreditation does the program have?

The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) retains a database of approved vocational programs. Vocational schools may provide training courses that are within their scope of accreditation. State Licensure and accrediting agencies are there to ensure students get a quality education by setting standards that the school has to meet in order to gain their approval. However, schools are accredited by different associations and some are more reputable than others. Therefore, your school's accreditor can affect your education, career, and your salary as, the better the accreditor, the more money you will be offered when looking for a position.

To find out if a schools accrediting agency is nationally recognized, check to see if they are included in the List of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies offered by the U.S. Department of Education.

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Specific Scholarships

Many students jump right into college or vocational school without applying for scholarship funds thinking that you have to have high scores to qualify for these programs. However, that was only true in the past. Now there are numerous funding opportunities available that can help many students to pay for their tuition, books, lodging, and more. The key to getting one of these grants is researching and applying for as many as you qualify for. Taking the time out to search and apply for scholarships available to you, can take a big load off your debt.

The Following are just Some of the Many Available Scholarships Available:

  • Women in Skilled Trades Scholarship
    Amount: Varies
    Deadline: $3,000

    The “Women in Skilled Trades Scholarship” provides awards to female students enrolled at The Refrigeration School. To be considered you must be a female and a U.S. citizen with financial needs.

  • Amity Scholarship
    Amount: Varies
    Deadline: $1,500

    The Amity Native American Award is available to those interested in studying Electro-Mechanical Technologies or aiming to receive an AOS in Mechanical Maintenance Engineering studies. To be considered students must be Native Hawaiian, Alaskan Native, or Native American, currently or previously enrolled at Amity Circle Tree Ranch.

  • Fluidmaster Plumbing Scholarship
    Amount: $3,500
    Deadline: $14,000 (over 4 years)

    Fluidmaster has announced a scholarship for those living in Orange County, Riverside, and San Bernardino areas. The applicant must be planning to go into the plumbing trade and use the funds to pay for their tuition.

  • RSI Tribal Scholarship
    Amount: Varies
    Deadline: $2,000

    The RSI Tribal Scholarship is available to those who wish to study at The Refrigeration School. To be considered students must be Native Hawaiian, Alaskan Native, or Native American.

Professional Related Organizations

  • BPA
  • DECA
  • ER
  • HOSA
  • NFFA
  • NPAS
  • SUSA
  • TSA


Business Professionals of America

This is a historic student organization that contributes to the preparation of a world-class workforce through the advancement of academic and technological skills, citizenship, and leadership for students at both Secondary and Post-Secondary level. Business Professionals of America members compete in demonstrations of their business technology skills, develop their professional and leadership skills, network with one another, and get involved in the betterment of their community through good works projects.



The Distributive Education Clubs of America

The Distributive Education Clubs of America is a national association of marketing education students, provides teachers and members with educational and leadership development activities to merge with the education classroom instructional program.



Educators Rising

Educators Rising is a national career and technical student organization dedicated to cultivating highly skilled educators by guiding young people on a path to becoming accomplished teachers.



Family, Career and Community Leaders of America

Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), is a dynamic and effective national student organization that helps young men and women become leaders and address important personal, family, work, and societal issues through family and consumer sciences education. FCCLA has more than 164,000 members and more than 5,300 chapters from 49 state associations, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Involvement in FCCLA offers members the opportunity to expand their leadership potential and develop skills for life planning, goal setting, problem-solving, decision making, and interpersonal communication necessary in the home and workplace.



Health Occupations Students of America

HOSA is a national vocational student organization endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Health Occupations Education Division of the American Vocational Association. HOSA's two-fold mission is to promote career opportunities in the healthcare industry and to enhance the delivery of quality healthcare to all people. HOSA's goal is to encourage all health occupations instructors and students to join and be actively involved in the HOE-HOSA Partnership.



National FFA

The FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.



National Postsecondary Agricultural Student Organization

The PAS is an organization associated with agriculture/ agribusiness and natural resources offerings in approved postsecondary institutions offering associate degrees or vocational diplomas and/or certificates.



National Young Farmer Educational Association

The NYFEA is the official adult student organization for agricultural education as recognized by the United States Department of Education. With the goal of being America's association for educating agricultural leaders, the association features leadership training, agricultural career education, and community service opportunities.




SkillsUSA is a national organization serving high school students, college students, and professional members who are enrolled in technical, skilled and service occupations, including health occupations.



Technology Student Association

The TSA is the only student organization devoted exclusively to the needs of technology education students who are presently enrolled in, or have completed, technology education courses.

Choosing an Accredited Vocational School

In order to provide instructional programs, most state laws require that trade schools and colleges are certified or licensed. Schools have to go through a process to become certified or licensed; therefore, this shows they meet standards and are of high quality. Still, there are some schools that operate without a license or certification.

To ensure that the school you are attending is accredited or licensed, ask for the names of their accrediting organization and take the time out to verify this information is accurate. Regional agencies handle school licensing and private technical schools are licensed by the Department of Education. However, certain schools are licensed by other organizations such as truck driving schools, which are licensed by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid if Available

Campus-based learning typically takes place on the main campus or via satellite. It is basically the same as undergraduate experience. There are professional and social bonding opportunities, as well as shared activities and events that help build professional connections with other students.

Online or distance-learning programs offer all students the same quality learning of a traditional campus program with flexibility and convenience, but without face to face contact or interacting with your peers.

What you’ll likely see in a trade school, rather than a 100% online program, is a hybrid program. Trade courses are often very hands-on with their learning, so you may be able to take the more academic courses online, such as learning about codes and compliance in building, but you’ll need to show up to the school for more interactive courses. Even if you’re enrolled in an online program you will still need to meet the same number of required field hours as the students on campus if that is included in your schools’ requirements. Most students will need to work out their specific hybrid program with the schools of their choice, as there is no requirement for them to supply them to you at all.

Does the Vocational School Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Assistance?

Students who are interested in learning a trade, but don’t want to spend four years in college to earn a bachelor’s degree might want to consider going to technical /trade/vocational school where you will get the training you need to begin your career in around two years.

One thing that students want to look for in a trade school is the job placement program they offer and their success and graduation rates. Experts say you should ask about the types of employment students receive upon completing the program, as this will reveal the ability of a program to earn you employment in your chosen field. You will also have access to this information due to the DOE’s gainful employment rule. Under this rule, for-profit vocational programs and community colleges with non-degree-seeking programs must disclose information about things like job placement rates, graduation rates, program-level default rates, student’s average income, average debt level, and more. This can give you the insight you need to decide if a school is right for you.

How Does the Colleges Rankings Effect Your Salary?

It pays to attend a college that has a big name when it comes to earnings. Students who graduate from well-known private schools earn the most money. Those who graduate from public schools made only 80% of what those who graduate from private schools earned. While this may not directly translate to technical degrees, you may still find that, if you attend a well-known or respected school in your region, you will be able to expect a higher salary than those who attend programs no one has ever heard of.

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