Trade School vs College – How To Choose

Trade School vs College

High school is often a blur of friends, fun, sports, extracurricular activities and the occasional book thrown in for good measure, but at some point, you have to decide what your next step will be. There’s not much debate over the importance of post-secondary education. Those who continue their education past high school have more employment opportunities and make more money. But which post-secondary option is right for you — a four-year university, community college or technical/trade school?

Maybe you’re lucky enough to know where your interests and talents lie. If so, you’re probably ready to get the training you need and start working as soon as possible. Even if you know a trade such as welding or cosmetology is in your future, you’re still left with a big question: Should you choose trade school or community college?

Benefits of Trade School

Trade school is often a good choice for certain career paths. If you know you want to be a hairdresser, electrician, massage therapist, nurse or chef, attending a trade school can get you there quickly, with no time wasted on general education courses you don’t necessarily need.

A trade school can also be cheaper than a traditional college, especially a four-year university. But remember that trade schools are generally for-profit institutes, while colleges and universities generally are not. The cost savings come from focused classes, a shorter timeframe to complete the program, and living at home versus in a dorm or student apartment.

Another benefit of trade school is that the classes are typically smaller than those at community colleges and universities. This means students get more one-on-one attention and more opportunities for class participation. Trade school courses are also usually much more hands-on, which is very useful for certain professions and learning styles. When you are going to be repairing tiny circuits and wires or flambéing a French dessert, actually performing the work with your own hands becomes very useful. Some things just can’t be learned from books and lectures.

Trade schools often send you out into the community to learn and perform the skills you’re studying, or they allow you to test out your new skills on clients who come to the classroom for reduced-rate services. This results in real-life experience as well as connections and networking opportunities that may lead to a job after graduation or completion of the program. Many trade schools also offer job placement programs that help ensure you can find a job with your newly acquired skills.

Benefits of Community College

While there are definitely benefits to attending a trade school or vocational school, especially for certain professions, community college wins out in many cases. This is certainly true for students who aren’t entirely sure what career path they want to pursue or who want to leave room to advance their careers at a later point.

The main difference between trade school and community college is that community college involves taking basic education courses in mathematics, language arts and other general studies. These courses may seem like a waste of time, but they help create well-rounded individuals who have the organizational and communication skills that so many jobs require. These skills also apply to all aspects of your life — from balancing your checkbook and managing your household to making friends and participating in your community.

Access to these other courses also helps students figure out where their interests and talents lie. Perhaps you have an idea that you’d like a career in the medical field but aren’t sure which just right for you. Taking a variety of courses and exploring the options available might help you decide between general nursing and physical therapy or working with babies vs. working with the elderly. You might even decide you like radiology or other lab work better than more patient-centric work.

Attending community college also leaves plenty of room to advance your career later. You might start as an LPN and then decide that you’d like to become a registered nurse. All the nursing classes you took at a community college easily transfer to a four-year university. You could even discover that nursing isn’t your cup of tea after all. If you have coursework you’ve completed at a community college, even a radical change, of course, won’t leave you starting all over — you’ll already have credits and required course under your belt.

For students who think they want to attend a four-year university but aren’t 100-percent sure, community college offers another benefit — the opportunity to try out college on a smaller scale and at a reduced cost. Community college classes are usually cheaper than tuition at a four-year university, and community colleges are usually located closer to home for students who want to continue living with their parents and take advantage of the related cost saving.


The choice between trade school vs. community college really comes down to your personal preferences, your learning style, your budget and your career goals. But bottom line, if you think there’s any chance you might want to transfer to a four-year college and continue your education at some point, community college is the way to go. If you attend a vo-tech or trade school and later decide to pursue a career that requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you’ll have to start over. Community college is also the best choice for those students who want to explore all the options out there before settling on one specific career path.

There are those students who prefer hands-on learning to book learning and who know they want to pursue a particular trade. For those students, trade school can be the best option. For all others, community college is the option that leaves room for expansion and continued education. The advantages of a well-rounded education can’t be ignored, either.

There are lots of options out there when it comes to post-secondary education. Take your time exploring the possibilities and considering your own unique needs, and you’ll find the path that takes you to a fulfilling career that matches your interests and personality.

Use Our Tool

Still not sure? We’ve created a tool that makes the decision easier.  Check it out here:

Trade School vs College Tool