The age-old question of whether it is better to learn a trade or go to college has been debated for years. There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument.

This blog post will explore the pros and cons of each option to help you make an informed decision about what is best for you. 

The Pros of Learning a Trade & Going to Trade School

One must consider both pathways’ circumstances and needs when deciding whether to attend college or a trade school. For trade schools, the benefits include:

Get Started in Your Career Quickly

There are many benefits to learning a trade and enrolling in a trade school program. One of the significant benefits is that you can typically get started in your career more quickly than if you go to college.

College can take four or more years to complete, whereas most trades can be learned in two years or less. This means that you can start earning a living sooner rather than later. Community colleges also provide degrees, but it still takes two years to complete.

Related: Transfer College Using ASSIST org | California Transfer Support

Plumber Trade School Profession
Plumber Trade School Profession

Another pro of learning a trade and attending trade school is that you can often get job satisfaction sooner.

Vocational training is an integral part of skilled trades and job placement. When you receive a high-quality education from a trade school, partnerships and networking opportunities come with it.

Trade schools offer programs that prepare students for work placement soon after completing the trade schools’ specific requirements.

Any vocational school is placed on school rankings by the statistics of the college grads (i.e., job security, placement, and earning potential).

This differentiates between trade schools and traditional colleges, where the former actively seek job placement for trade school students.

Avoid Debt by Earning Early

One of the significant pros of learning a trade is that you can often start earning money sooner than if you go to college. College can be an excellent investment but also a significant expense.

College students can be saddled with debt for a degree that does not provide a tangible or needed use in society.

On the other hand, attending and receiving a trade school education reflects a clear-cut path to a specialized industry or trade.

Avoid Student Debt by Attending a Trade School
Avoid Student Debt by Attending a Trade School

Traditional college is becoming increasingly expensive while the value of the four-year degree is dropping. If you cannot get scholarships or financial aid, you may have to take out loans to pay for tuition, room, and board. This can leave you with a lot of debt when you graduate.

Trade Schools are Inexpensive

Trade schools are appealing to students who are looking for a low-cost option for education. Trade schools are typically much less expensive than traditional four-year colleges.

You may be able to get financial aid or even have your employer pay for some or all of your training.

Before you attend a trade school, make sure you check to see if it is a for profit trade schools or technical college. For-profit colleges and technical schools are often more expensive in higher education.

They are also for students who are not as interested in a college degree and are more interested in becoming trade school graduates with little or no student loan debt.

When you attend a trade school, you focus on educational paths that lead to job security and consistent pay.

We have all heard of the horror stories of college graduates still paying off their student loans twenty or thirty years after receiving their college degree.

These stories are commonplace in contemporary society and should be a significant consideration for attending a trade school, especially if one believes they will end up in a similar situation. This is an essential point in the trade school or college debate.

Trade or vocational schools will offer training and programs to get graduates into the job market. On the other hand, college students study information and subjects that may not be as useful in contemporary society, such as liberal arts classes.

Learn While you Earn

Another benefit of learning a trade is that you can often learn while you earn. Many tradespeople can apprentice under more experienced professionals, which means they can learn on the job and get paid simultaneously.

Trade schools offer programs that promote job placement for their students by engaging with career paths early and scheduling on-the-job experience workshops.

This is a great way to learn as it allows you to gain experience and knowledge while earning an income. It is also worth noting that some trade occupations have the potential to make a very good salary. 

Learn while you Earn at Trade School
Learn while you Earn at Trade School

For example, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and ironworkers are all tradespeople who can earn a comfortable living without needing a degree.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for construction managers in 2019 was $95,260 per year.

When you take this median pay and compare it to trade school cost, it is evident that a high school diploma and a trade school certificate can provide earning potential equal to or better than a traditional four-year degree.

Trade School

I have always thought that trade schools are good at allowing students the opportunity to specialize in a specific field or industry. A technical education improves critical thinking skills that can contribute to skilled workers.

When you learn a trade instead of college you are committing yourself to a path of general job satisfaction. Students would learn a trade instead of college if it was not in an industry or job field the student was heavily interested in.

The world is always going to need welders, plumbers, electricians, and other tradespeople, so when looking to learn a trade instead of college, you should feel comfortable in your decision.

Plus, college will always be there, and if the trade you are entering is in a “hot phase” (i.e., jobs are in high demand and paid well), then it would be wise to learn a trade instead of college.

Guaranteed Job Placement

If you want to be a welder, you can enroll at vocational schools and receive an education that prepares students for an occupation in that field.

A vocational degree provides a guaranteed placement in most situations, especially for industries looking for talented workers.

The Pros of Going to College

Explore Your Interests

One of the main benefits of going to college is that it can allow you to explore different areas of interest before committing to a particular field or career path. Traditional college is valuable in developing soft skills amongst students.

When you go to college, you typically do not declare a major until your second or third year. This gives you time to sample various courses and find out what area interests you the most before deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life. 

Personal Growth

In addition to the intellectual benefits of attending college, there are many opportunities for personal growth. When you live away from home and are responsible for taking care of yourself, it can be an excellent opportunity to develop independence and life skills that will benefit you later.

College Teaches Budgeting

One of the most important things you will learn is how to budget your time and manage your finances. You are responsible for feeding yourself, paying school fees, and ensuring you have enough money and sustenance to get you through the month.

With such an enormous responsibility comes an innate desire to budget your finances, limit your expenses, and recognize your limits of what you can and cannot do.

Read Here: Transfer Using ASSIST

Opportunities (Study Abroad + Friends)

University students are exposed to opportunities that are once in a lifetime. College is also valuable in granting students the chance to explore new interests and make lifelong friends. And if you choose to study abroad, you will gain an even broader perspective on the world.

For example, most universities have a study abroad program where you will gain an even broader perspective on the world. It is a time for you to essentially travel the world, make new friends, and finish your degree.

Girl studying abroad and checking map for location.
College provides opportunities like Study Abroad Programs.

So while a college education is certainly valuable in terms of getting a good job, it is also an invaluable experience in terms of personal growth.

Receiving a College Degree

A significant advantage of college is achieving a degree. Traditional degree programs can be in various fields or industries you are specifically interested in.

A four-year degree program (Bachelor’s Degree) is typically completed at a university, but it is not always necessary for a bachelor’s degree. There are many college degrees an individual can work towards, including an associate degree program.

Associate Degree

An Associate Degree is typically awarded at the community college level and lasts two years. If you complete the requirements for an associate degree, you are still eligible to receive a bachelor’s degree, but that would require you to transfer your credit to a four-year school.

Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree is becoming increasingly necessary to succeed in the modern workforce. College degrees of all types, including associate degrees, are benchmarks for entry-level positions, but bachelor’s degrees are inundating the job market at astounding rates. A bachelor’s degree typically leads to higher earnings and more job security.

College could be a Worthwhile Investment.

While there are several ways to gain the skills and knowledge needed for a successful career, attending college is still the best option for many people.

College allows students to explore their interests, learn from experienced professors, and develop critical professional networks.

Lifetime Earnings by Degree Type (Source: Brookings Institute & The Hamilton Project)
Lifetime Earnings by Degree Type (Source: Brookings Institute & The Hamilton Project)

For all these reasons, going to college is a wise investment that can pay off handsomely in the long run.

Read Here: When Do UC Decisions Come Out?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Trade School vs. College

What’s Better Trade School or College?

If this article has said anything, it has remained consistent in its approach to this question. For those wondering what’s better trade school or college, it depends entirely on your personal situation.

If you are living at home and do not have any expenditures like rent, insurance, etc, then there is no reason not to pursue a college education.

Trade schools are an excellent option for adults who have already been in the workforce and were not able to receive their college education.

Hence, they entered a trade and are looking for professional certification in the hopes it will increase pay and opportunities.

College is the overall better investment over the long term, but more and more people are weighing the options and choosing to learn a trade instead of college.

Why College is Better than Trade School

College is typically better than trade school because it offers more job security and long-term opportunities. Students with a college degree in one field are not limited in the types of job opportunities they can pursue.

For example, someone majoring in political science can enter a number of different work fields, including government, private sector consulting, nonprofits, etc.

Moreover, college is better than trade school because lifetime earnings indicate that those with bachelor’s degrees or a minimal college degree (i.e., associate degree) are destined to make more money than trade school graduates.

Whether we like it or not, finishing a college degree program says a lot to employers who are comparing two job prospects. One of them did not go to college and only finished high school, while the other attended and finished a bachelor’s degree program.

The employer is more willing to choose the latter job prospect because they have shown that they can be punctual (they had to attend class on time) and they can finish projects and activities.

They are willing to challenge themselves to improve their knowledge capacity.

So in answering the question, “Why College is Better Than Trade School?” One only needs to point to the improved job security, salary expectations, and opportunities a college degree affords.

Why Learn a Trade Instead of College?

There are several reasons one might want to learn a trade instead of college, but I want to focus on the primary one: the enormous cost of college.

College is expensive, and many cannot really justify spending thousands of dollars on a bachelor’s degree, which does not guarantee a return on the initial investment.

We have heard countless stories of students who graduate with a degree but cannot find a job in the field they wanted, so they had to result to other jobs outside their expertise and subsequent pay grade.

Nonetheless, a degree is worth the investment only if the job market that the degree holder enters is receptive to them. In other words, it is precarious when students graduate with a degree during a stressful financial period in the United States.

Employers are less willing to hire, and when they are new graduates are quickly ruled out for more qualified and experienced applicants.


So, which is better? Learning a trade or going to college? There is no easy answer because it depends on each individual’s unique situation and needs. However, we hope this blog post has given you some food for thought and helped you form your own opinion on the matter.

We’d love to discuss your options, whether you’re interested in a vocational school or college.

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