When you sit down to plan out your career path, you may come to a point when you’re trying to decide between attending college and going to trade school.

While there are many factors to consider, one at the forefront of many people’s minds is cost. College in this day and age is notoriously costly so it’s normal to wonder “is trade school more affordable than college?”

Let’s explore the answer.

Trade School vs. College Statistics

While discussing the financial component of both trade schools and traditional colleges, it’s important to remember that costs will vary depending on many factors including location, program/degree, and whether the institution is public or private. 

With that in mind, the average yearly cost of college undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board was $18,383 at public institutions and a whopping $47,419 at private institutions in 2018, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Compare that to the average total cost of a job preparation or trade school program which is $33,000. That’s less than the cost of a single year of college at some universities. Plus, those numbers add up quickly, especially when you bring in the reality of debt. 

Let’s talk about debt. 

The total amount of student loan debt is currently clocking in at a record $1.7 trillion. In that amount, the average recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree has more than $30,000 in debt and some students hold more than $100,000 in debt. Trade school graduates, on the other hand, hold an average debt of $10,000

So, not only do trade school students pay less and graduate with substantially less debt, but they also have two to three extra years in the workforce compared to college students. That could add up to tens of thousands or even more than 100,000 dollars!

To make a long story short, trade school is much more affordable than college. 

Now, both trade school and college are investments in your future, and specifically, in your future earnings. So you may be thinking that college is so much more expensive because college graduates earn significantly more than people who go to trade schools or vocational programs.

The actual salary figures may surprise you. 

Differences in Earning Potential Between College and Trade School 

As you may expect, college graduates do earn more on average than trade school graduates. However, many trade workers do earn a higher salary than those in careers that require a college degree. 

Electrical power-line installers and repairers, for example, earn a mean annual wage of $74,410, which is higher than the salaries of many college graduate positions. Another high-paying trade job is aircraft mechanics, who earned a median of $66,680 in 2020. 

Trade School vs College Pros and Cons

In summary, here are the pros and cons of trade school and college. 

Trade School Pros:

  • Lower cost, less debt
  • Shorter programs (6 months – 2 years)
  • Enter the workforce sooner
  • Hands-on training

Trade School Cons:

  • Lower earning potential (on average)
  • May entail more physically demanding work

College Pros:

  • College atmosphere/experience
  • Higher earning potential (on average)
  • More career flexibility

College Cons:

  • Higher cost, more debt
  • Longer time commitment

Interested in Trade School? Find a Program Today!

If, like more and more people, you weigh these pros and cons and decide trade school is the right choice for you, congratulations! You’re already on your way to a fulfilling and lucrative career in a trade job. The next step is to find a program that suits your interests and prepares you to enter the workforce. 

The Center for Employment Training offers a variety of job training programs to help you begin a career in the skilled trades. Check out the list of programs to find one that works for you!