How Much Does Trade School Cost?

Last Updated on January 11, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Are you debating between going to trade school or college? Trade schools offer fast, affordable career training, usually taking 1-2 years to complete. But is trade school ultimately cheaper than a 4-year college degree?

In this post, we’ll break down the costs of trade school programs vs traditional colleges. You’ll learn how factors like financial aid, tuition, career outlook, and more impact the total value of trade school.

How Much Does Trade School Cost?

On average, total trade school costs range from $10,000 to $15,000 to attend trade school for a 1-year certificate program. A 2-year associate degree runs $20,000 to $30,000. These costs include:

  • Tuition: $10,000 per year on average
  • Tools & supplies: Up to $2,500 per year
  • Room & board: $9,000+ per year if living on campus

So for a shorter 1-year program, expect to pay $15,000 or less in total. A longer 2-year program will cost $25,000+ when also accounting for basic living expenses.

  •  School location: Regional factors impact tuition rates
  • Program length: More advanced degrees cost more
  • Field of study: Technical fields like healthcare tend to cost more

SoFi mentions that the average cost of annual tuition at a trade school can range from $3,600 to $14,500. The cost of trade school programs can vary anywhere from around $3,000 to $15,000+ per year, depending on the program and location.

Edvisors provides specific costs for trade school programs in different fields. For example, the average cost of an electrician trade school is around $13,000, while the average cost to earn a diploma in automotive technology is between $5,000 and $12,000. The cost of trade school programs can also vary based on the specific field and the program duration.

LearnHowToBecome mentions that trade schools in California can cost as much as $30,000 or more for the entire program. The cost of trade school programs in California is contrasted with the cost of four-year colleges, which can cost $100,000 or more before earning a bachelor’s degree.

Accredited Schools Online highlights that vocational and trade schools in California often charge lower tuition rates than four-year colleges. For example, California public universities cost around $8,000 per year in tuition and fees, while private universities cost over $33,000 per year. In contrast, community colleges cost around $1,200 per year for California residents.

Scholarships and financial aid can reduce out-of-pocket trade school costs. We’ll explain these career path options next.

What is Trade School?

Trade schools, also called vocational schools, provide career-focused training and certification for skilled trades like:

  • Construction: Electrician, plumber, welder
  • Mechanics: Auto technician, diesel mechanic
  • Healthcare: Nursing assistant, dental hygienist
  • Technology: Computer repair, cybersecurity

Instead of general education classes, trade school courses teach practical job skills specific to an occupation. Programs typically last 1-2 years and result in a certificate or associate degree. Many trade schools also help students connect with local employers.

The hands-on training and career development focus is what sets vocational schools apart from traditional 2 and 4-year colleges. Now let’s look at the costs.

Does Financial Aid Apply to Trade Schools?

Yes! Many financial aid options like grants, student loans, and scholarships are available at trade schools and technical colleges. These help offset the tuition and fees.

Federal Pell Grants provide up to $6,695 per year that doesn’t need to be repaid. Federal Direct Loans range from $5,500 to $12,500 annually for trade school students.

Many trade schools also offer their own scholarships and institutional aid programs. These are awarded based on need, academics, or other criteria.

Some employers or industry organizations additionally sponsor grants and scholarships for students entering specific trades like healthcare, automotive technology, plumbing, electrical work, and more.

You might also like our articles about the cost of HVAC School, Dental Assistant School, or Massage Therapy School.

So while not all funding sources apply, trade school students have many financial aid opportunities to help decrease costs.

Trade School vs College Tuition and Costs

Let’s compare the typical costs of trade school to college:

Trade school

  • Tuition: $10,000 per year
  • Total cost: $15,000 for a 1-year program or $25,000 for a 2-year associate degree
  • Time to complete: 1-2 years

College education

  • Tuition: $10,000 per year for in-state public college
  • Total cost: $26,820 per year including housing, books and supplies, fees
  • Time to complete: 4+ years for a bachelor’s degree

Key differences:

  • Trade school programs are shorter and therefore cost less overall
  • But average annual tuition rates are similar for trade vs. public college
  • Aid like grants and scholarships help lower costs for both options
  • Living expenses make up a large portion of total college costs

While trade school is cheaper overall, don’t rule out college entirely. Some high schoolers combine the options by earning an associate degree at trade school then transferring to a bachelor’s program later.

What is the Cost of Popular Trade School Programs?

Trade School and ApprenticeshipTuition costs for some top trade careers include:

  • Electrician: $7,500 per year
  • Welder: $5,500 per year
  • Plumber: $8,000 per year
  • Auto mechanic: $5,000 per year
  • Healthcare technician: $13,000 per year
  • HVAC technician: $10,000 per year
  • Cosmetology: $10,000 per year

So for most trades, expect $5,000 to $10,000 in annual tuition and fees. Auto and welding tend to fall on the lower end, while healthcare careers like nursing cost more.

Hands-on equipment and tools may cost another $1,000+ per year depending on the trade school program.

Does Trade School or College Lead to Higher Salaries?

Average salaries for trade school vs college show an interesting comparison:

  • Electrician: $40,000 per year
  • Plumber: $45,000 per year
  • Welder: $40,000 per year
  • Auto mechanic: $35,000 per year
  • Bachelor’s degree: $55,000 per year
  • Master’s degree: $70,000 per year

So while some trades earn just under the average bachelor’s salary, they only require 1-2 years of trade school. College graduates incur more total costs due to the longer 4+ years.

Ultimately, salaries vary based on local job markets, experience level, and employer. Both college and vocational careers offer strong income potential long-term.

Is Trade School Worth the Money and Time?

For many students, trade school is an excellent alternative to the traditional 4-year college plan. The reasons why include:

  • Lower total costs: Trade school takes just 1-2 years to complete, while cutting tuition and living costs.
  • Hands-on training: Classes teach practical job skills through labs, workshops, and on-site learning.
  • Quick employment: Many trades offer job placement with starting wages of $35,000 or higher.
  • Flexibility: Can complement college if you later pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Of course, the value depends on your career goals. College remains ideal for fields like engineering, business, computer science, healthcare, and law. But for construction, automotive, tech, cosmetology, or manufacturing careers, vocational trade schools provide targeted, affordable training options.

Key Takeaways on Trade School vs. College Costs

  • Trade school tuition often costs $10,000-$15,000 per year for certificate and 2-year associate’s programs.
  • Shorter program lengths keep total trade school costs in the $15,000-$30,000 range, less than the 4+ years of college.
  • Grants, loans, scholarships, and employer programs provide financial aid to help students pay.
  • Salaries for trades like electrician and plumber reach up to $45,000 after just 1-2 years of schooling.
  • Trade school offers a faster, cheaper path to high-paying skilled jobs compared to college degrees.

For affordable career training tailored to in-demand fields, trade and vocational schools are a smart choice. They help graduates enter the workforce with practical skills sooner, for less than traditional colleges.

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