I sincerely, wholeheartedly believe that every living breathing person deserves access to a quality higher education. I just don’t believe that a quality higher education translates to a college education. Indeed, a college education should be accessible to you if you so choose, but college is not for everyone.
I’ll say it more plainly- not everyone should go to college.
Unfortunately, college alternatives tend to be a mystery. A lot of people are unsure what to do if college is not the right choice. In fact, some students enroll in college because they believe that it is the only viable path to a healthy career.
Fortunately, that is not the case. In addition to college, there are also trade schools and online learning platforms like Udacity, EdX.org, Udemy, LinkedIn, Treehouse, etc. (I’ll do a deep dive into various online learning platforms in a later article, but check out my LinkedIn article for a preview.)
This article will focus heavily on the process of picking the right trade school.
#1 What is a trade school?
Trade schools are also called vocational schools and they focus on a specific skillset. Think of it as a deep dive into a specific career path.
The nice thing about trade school is that they tend to be much shorter in terms of duration. A college degree on average takes 4-6 years whereas a trade school program can take anywhere between 6-24 months depending on the program.
Since they are short and focus on one specific skill, they’re also more affordable than traditional colleges. In addition, students are less likely to feel like they are wasting time or resources because every class and elective has a specific and relevant role to play in your career path.
With that being said, there are a few caveats. For example, you are being prepared for one specific career. You will not gain the skills necessary to leverage your way out of that field in the class. If you go to trade school to be a plumber but decide you want to be a dental hygienist instead, you have to go back to school.
Unless under very specific circumstances which we’ll talk about later, you won’t be able to transfer credits to a traditional college or university. For instance, if you are an electrician and decided upon graduation you want to be an electrical engineer none of your credits will transfer.
Trade school is an excellent option for those who want to bypass college, but be vigilant. Take your time and do research into the legitimacy and accreditation of your prospective trade schools. Unfortunately, some people and businesses like to take advantage of prospective students because trade school is “off the beaten path” for most students.
#2 Start your search with community colleges
Many community colleges are incorporating career specific certifications that give you the experience and preparation you are looking for. Most community colleges offer associates that prepare students for a specific career as well.
Earning an associate’s from a community college is nice because it’s flexible. It takes less time, you get the experience you need for the career you want and if you decided to transfer to a 4-year college, they’re more likely to accept your credits. This makes community colleges a good place to start looking.
#3 Research desired industries
Remember trade schools prepare you for a specific career. If you are unsure what industry you want to pursue, it’s going to make going to trade school difficult. For instance, you don’t need a 4-year degree to be a dental hygienist or mechanic. However, if you have no interest in being in the healthcare industry or the automotive industry that is a moot point.
Some major industries include agriculture, technology, pharmaceutical, energy, hospitality, and much more. A quick Google search can get you started in the right direction.
#4 Research specific professions in those industries that spark your interest
Once you are pretty sure what industry you’d enjoy, look into various professions within the industry and learn more about what they do on a day-to-day basis. Be intentional with how you go about researching these roles. It’s important you can see yourself working those hours and doing that type of work because trade school will prepare you to do exactly that.
Keep in mind that trade school will most likely prepare you to do one specific career. If you have a handful of occupations you’re interested in, trade school will only prepare you for one. If you go to school to be a dental hygienist, you will not gain the skills to be a nutritionist. The courses are not cross-listed that way. That’s why you need to be very sure about what profession you want to go to school for. If you are stuck between a few options, it is in your best interest to put off going to school and doing some more research. The goal is to narrow it down to one profession.
#5 Find programs specific to your career choice
Once you have a career in mind, then look for trade schools that will prepare you for the career you want to pursue. When you start researching various programs, look into community colleges first. It’s an easy place to start and community colleges are more likely to be accredited and respected in the industry.
If community colleges do not pan out, then look for various trade school programs in your area. Check to see if the trade schools you’re researching are accredited. A good accreditation to look out for is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The reason I stress accreditation so much is because they ensure a level a quality and legitimacy that has been recognized and confirmed. In addition. fraudulent programs are less likely to be eligible for accreditations and it’ll help you sort through programs.
When you are researching specific programs, press them heavily on student outcomes. Where do students typically find employment and how long does it take them to get employed? In addition, does the program incorporate career readiness skills like resume writing, interview prep, salary negotiation and so on? On average, how much do students earn when they graduate from the program and what is the average student-debt ratio from the program?
These are a just a sample of questions to ask when you are researching various programs.
College is not for everyone but not going to college should not bar you from accessing a quality higher education. With these tips and tricks, I hope you are able to find the right fit for you that will launch you toward a rewarding career.
Did you go to a trade school? What was your experience? Please share in the comments section below.