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Education: College vs. Trade Schools

By Edited Oct 13, 2015 1 1

The Right Choice for Your Future

            Only 70 percent of all students in public high schools graduate, and only 32 percent of all students leave high school qualified to attend four-year colleges (Britannica).  Many of these high school graduates also drop out from college.  It is a big decision to go to college, which is why options should be weighed carefully.  Colleges and trade schools offer different ways of learning; a college will teach a broader range of subjects and knowledge to give a more well-rounded education and only some in-field experience, while trade schools offer the one subject or field of your choice and more in-field experience. This contrast in educational styles is offered in Anne Tyler’s “Saint Maybe” novel.

            Educational institutions in the form of a school or academy have existed in many civilizations for a long period of time.  The earliest of the educational institutions started in the 6th or 7th century B.C., but the first college in North America was Harvard College with its first degrees starting around 1642 (Britannica).  Now, many new schools have begun to offer vocational education in the past century.  “Vocational education in schools is a relatively modern development. Until the 19th century, such education, except for the professions, was provided only by apprenticeship.  This situation was partly due to the low social status associated with such instruction as opposed to the classic curriculum, which was considered ‘necessary for gentlemen’ ” (Britannica).

            During the 19th century, many vocational schools began to develop the schools and programs offered.  These programs grew from the revival of learning during the 15th and 16th centuries.  Trade schools, also known as schools of industry or vocational schools, were first developed in Germany and England during the 18th century.  These schools combined classroom studying with industrial wage work (Gale).

            Trade schools had an earlier formal school development because apprenticeship was the only style of education for a long time.  Although there were a limited number of trade schools throughout the country, all of them were based on the old view of apprenticeship.  The first school that offered specific trade training with additional studies that correlated to each trade was the New York Trade School.  Over the course of time, more trade schools began to emerge and give a wider variety to students.  The twentieth century marked changes in vocational education such as, “As the nation entered the twentieth century, support for the use of state and federal funds to establish and operate a system of vocational education began to grow, even though labor and education groups frequently disagreed about what form vocational education should take” (Gale).

            In the novel “Saint Maybe”, written by Anne Taylor, the main character Ian has to experience two different types of education during his life, due to unfortunate circumstances.  Ian first attended a professional college for a small amount of time, but then conditions forced him to come back home and watch his brother’s children.  During this period of time while he was at home, he was just out of high school so he still needed some type of education.  He met a deaf carpenter, Mr. Brant, who taught Ian carpentry.  This education was like the old-fashioned apprenticeship because it was all hands-on work and very little study.  Ian seemed to be one of those people who take very well to this type of schooling.  Between his two types of education, he had a chance to experience both, and an education like a trade school worked out quite well in his case, although it may or may not be the case for others.

A common phrase used is “Education Pays” (Farr).  It is obvious that people with higher levels of education make higher average earnings.  A person with an Associate degree has a median annual earning of approximately $40,000, while a person with a four-year degree has a median annual earning of approximately $50,000.  This makes it very clear that those people with more training and education earn more than those with less education and experience levels that are lower (Farr). Many people can argue that education is the basis of a strong economy, and the certain group of people that take the time and put the money in to earn a higher degree will come out ahead in the long run.

The first step toward a new life after high school is considering all options.  Considering all the options not only includes choices for different colleges, but also choices for whether a college or a trade school is best.  Both types of educational institutions, professional colleges and trade schools, have different pros and cons.

            Professional colleges take time.  Normally, if someone plans to earn a bachelor degree in the traditional four years; then, college requires a certain percentage of a student’s week.  Classes take up valuable time, and teachers give assignments that need to be turned in on a certain date.  In order to get the amount of credits needed to graduate, being able to spend most, if not a lot, of your time at college is essential (Unger).  Trade schools often normally are two to three years depending on the length of the course taken.  Trade schools do not require as much of a commitment to time and a student could more easily hold a job while going to a trade school during the week (Couch).

            The instruction at four-year colleges is typically more intensive than the high school or vocational school level.  Many students feel tremendously stressed when they begin college, and this is what causes 40 percent of students to drop out before the first semester ends. Instead of focusing on one subject like a vocational school does, a wide variety of subjects will be taught to students in order to prepare them to decide what they would like to do for the rest of their life (Unger).  A student can explore many different career options, but still has to take the basic fundamental subjects such as Math, English, and History. In vocational schools, the students only take subjects that relate to the vocation of their choice.  Four-year students usually spend the first two years taking the fundamental courses and the last two years taking certain courses that relate to their major (Couch).   The average person typically changes their career five to seven times, so it is good for a student to have these essential basics, along with a few other electives in different subjects that a student explores (Bates).

            A big factor that plays into most people’s choice of college is cost.  “The College Board reports that the average cost of one year of in-state tuition and fees at a public four-year school is $7,020” (Couch). An extra $8,193 can be added on for room and board costs and then that adds up to a total $15,213 annually. In private schools, the average student pays $35,636 annually.  Four-year college students are forced to pay more to start, but they'll bring in higher salaries in the aftermath of college (Couch).  The cost of a trade school varies greatly.  Depending on the length and number of courses taken, the tuition could vary from $1,000 to $10,000. Yet, this is still much more inexpensive than going to a professional college (Couch).

            Trade schools are also more entertaining during classes than the standard four-year colleges.  Instead of writing papers and going to lengthy classes for lectures, most of the time a student is at a trade school is spent working and gaining experience in the field (Britannica).  Colleges also offer experience in the field, but it is typically significantly less than the amount in trade schools.  Even though trade schools are more entertaining during the actual classes, colleges have a different atmosphere to them, and can be argued to be more entertaining overall.  The difference in a college is that there is a much broader range of subjects, so that if one course starts to get tedious or dull, there is always another to replace it.  Colleges present students with many choices in fields and types of learning to choose from (Bates).  Also, there are many different activities to get involved in or do with friends while students are at college that are not offered at trade schools.

            Depending on whether a student attends a college or a trade school, he or she will have a different choice of degrees.  At a trade school, students will typically earn academic credits for graduation to transfer to a four-year college or will receive their Associate degree in a particular field (Britannica).  In a professional college, many more options for degrees are given.  Higher education is available depending on what the student wants.  Types of degrees that are offered are an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a doctoral degree (Encyclopedia of Careers).

            An associate degree is considered a two-year degree, which means that it in general will take two years of full-time enrollment to complete.  An associate degree can be earned at a trade school, where they are most common or sometimes at a professional college in two years.  The degree is typically focused on specialized knowledge needed for occupational qualification.  Certain occupations that a person with an associate degree can enter into are nurses, medical and legal secretaries, mechanical engineering, and dental hygienists (Encyclopedia of Careers).

            The “norm” for a student in college is a bachelor degree.  A bachelor degree is a four-year degree and often called an undergraduate degree.  It is usually designated as either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science, depending upon the academic field of study.  Some of the most popular occupations for adults holding a bachelor degree are software engineers, physician assistants, computer programmers and analysts, and computer network administrators (Encyclopedia of Careers).

            Professional degrees such as a Master’s or doctoral degree are awarded as graduate degrees.  Typically, a professional degree requires two to six years of study after the undergraduate degree has been completed (Encyclopedia of Careers).  Normally, a professional degree includes a large thesis paper and accreditation by the professional associations’ accrediting bodies (Bates).  A Master’s degree can usually be completed in two years.  Between 36 and 64 more credit hours are needed to complete a Master’s degree.  A Master’s degree will give that person a higher beginning pay, more options for careers, and a better competitive edge over others trying for the same job (Encyclopedia of Careers).

            With the increased economic problems during the present day, jobs are harder to come by.  Every competitive advantage is needed in order to get a job.  College and special skills are important to have.  Jobs that require education and training beyond high school are projected to grow significantly faster than jobs that do not.  The U.S. Department of Labor states that, “people with higher levels of education and training are less likely to be unemployed, and when they are they remain unemployed for only short periods of time” (Farr).

            School and work once were separate activities, and after beginning work, most people did not return to school.  Now, technology changes rapidly and people have to learn all throughout their lives.  Upgrading technology and computer skills will give you another advantage over people competing for the same types of jobs (Farr).

            Preparing one’s self for the real world, which is full of jobs and opportunities, but also many hardships, is a challenge.  Yet, it is helpful to have extra knowledge from college or other educational institutions.  College isn’t for everyone, and neither are trade schools.  Depending on a person’s situation or likes and dislikes, a choice between colleges and trade schools may have to be made because each one offers different ways of learning with colleges being more book study and trade schools being more hands-on study.  The pros and cons of each path should be taken into careful consideration before choosing what type of education a student wants.  Deciding whether or not to go to a college or trade school is not a small decision and should be taken exceptionally serious.


Bates, Gail Andrews. The Next Step College. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa, 1994. Print.

Couch, Christina. “Two-year vs. four-year colleges.” College View. Web. 18 Mar. 2010. <http://www.collegeview.com/articles/CV/application/two-vs-four-years.html>

Farr, Michael. Top 100 Careers Without a Four-Year Degree.  Indianapolis, IN: JIST Publishing, 2007. Print

“Junior College.” Britannica Online Encyclopedia.  Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009. Web. 15 Jan. 2010.

“Two and Four Year Degrees.” Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance. Ed. Ferguson. Thirteenth Edition. New York: Ferguson, 2005. 24-28. Print.

Unger, Harlow. But What If I Don’t Want to Go to College? New York: Checkmark Books, 2006. Print.

“Vocational Education, Industrial Education, and Trade Schools.” Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. Online Ed. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Jan. 2010.




Aug 28, 2013 7:30am
Good information!
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