The decision to go to college is, for many, an obvious one: It’s just a thing you do after high school if you have any ambition to make a decent life for yourself. At least, that’s what your parents, teachers, counselors and the colleges themselves would have you believe — the alternative, they say, is a life of flipping burgers (which they also conveniently distort as the absolute worst possible outcome for how to spend a human life). But of course, they’re… let’s say misinformed. There are plenty of fruitful alternatives to attending a four-year college that don’t leave you thousands of dollars in debt. Foremost among said alternatives is trade school.
Trade school? Is that like… wait, what is that like?
First, it’s important to note that trade school has got a few different names. “A trade school, sometimes referred to as a vocational school, technical school or vocational college, is a post-secondary institution that’s designed to give students the technical skills to prepare them for a specific occupation,” reports Prep Scholar. Some examples include UEI, American Career College and Chamberlain University, and though some are public, most trade schools are for-profit businesses.
What sort of sweet technical skills are we talking about?
Per the same report in Prep Scholar, you can get a degree in fields like information technology, nursing and health sciences, automotive technician training and medical assisting. “Program lengths vary, but typically, they can range from anywhere from eight months to two years,” reports Prep Scholar. In other words, less than half the time it takes to graduate from a four-year university.
But what can I do with those degrees?
You mean compared to that Eng Lit degree? A lot of things! But some of the most lucrative jobs include elevator installer/repairer, web developer, dental hygienist and plumber. In fact, according to TheBalanceCareers.com, the median salary for an elevator installer/repairer is $77,806. “If you’re cool under pressure and good with your hands (and power tools) this might be the perfect career for you,” per their report.
To that end, the average dental hygienist salary in the U.S. as of last month is $74,229, “but the range typically falls between $63,707 and $84,490,” according to Salary.com.
Noted! What’s the average cost of technical versus a four-year college?
Per Trade-Schools.net, the average cost of a four-year college ranges from $8,000 to $27,000 per year. “That means a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college could cost as much as $108,000 in tuition and fees alone,” reports Trade-Schools.net. “By comparison, the average cost of tuition and fees at a two-year-or-less college ranges from about $4,000 to $15,000 per year (after accounting for scholarships and grants). That suggests that an average vocational school degree costs anywhere from $4,000 to $30,000.”
Basically, going to trade school could cost you nearly $80,000 less than a four-year university, not to mention the thousands of dollars in interest you’re likely to accumulate from student loan debt. Additionally, those amounts don’t factor in living expenses, which tend to be less for vocational school students, according to Trade-Schools.net.
Another thing that should be noted is that, per personal finance blog Vittana.org, “about 60 percent of students need to be in school for six years to earn their bachelor’s degree in their preferred major. When you add in that extra time, it could be another $70,000 in student debt that you earn while experiencing lost wages as well.”
My job prospects are definitely better if I go to a four-year university though, right?
Not exactly. It really depends on what degree you pursue at the four-year college — if you’re planning on going to liberal arts college to get a liberal arts education, for example, you really may want to consider all that debt. “In 2014, the average mechanic’s wage was a little over $37,000 a year, which beats out most liberal arts degrees,” reports USA Today. “As of 2013, the average salary for a registered nurse was nearly $69,000 a year, which far surpasses a lot of traditional degree fields.”
Not to mention that if you go to trade school, you’re going to be able to get started on your career much more quickly. “If you attend a technical college, then you will graduate with a degree in two years under most programs,” reports Vittana.org. “Some certificates only require 12 months of study. Then you can begin your job search without as much student loan debt while qualifying for a larger salary because you have practical skills to use immediately.”
This all sounds like a no-brainer — why don’t more people choose trade school over college?
Mainly because people assume that your only path to financial success goes through a four-year university. According to an article on trade schools in The Atlantic, negative attitudes and misconceptions pervert the “positive statistical outlook for the job market for these middle-skill careers.” “‘It is considered a second choice, second-class. We really need to change how people see vocational and technical education,’” Patricia Hsieh, the president of a community college in the San Diego area, said in a speech at the 2017 conference for the American Association of Community Colleges,” reports The Atlantic.
So are there any benefits at all of going to a four-year college instead of a technical school?
Of course. Foremost among said benefits is that some jobs require a bachelor’s degree — in other words, if you want to be a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor or a marketing manager, you’ll need to go to college.
The other main benefit is that your prospective salary with a college degree is higher than your prospective salary with a vocational certificate. According to Entrepreneur, after 10 years in the workforce, the median salary of a worker with a college degree was $1,347 higher than a person with a one-year vocational certificate. But when you consider the fact that the college graduate is likely in roughly $70,000 worth of debt as a result of attending a four-year college, a measly $1,347 isn’t enough to warrant the old college try — especially if your main reason for going to college is to “find yourself.”