Since the economic slowdown began in 2008, vocational education has become extremely trendy across the U.S. with trade schools experiencing an amazing 20% yearly increase in enrollment as a result. Trade schools are clearly an excellent choice for a number of people, but are they right for you? Making this decision requires evaluating the pluses and minuses of using trade school programs as the path to reach your ultimate career goal.

The following guide analyzes the benefits and drawbacks associated with vocational colleges, and discusses if vocational education is the most effective way to enter your desired career.

The Advantages of Trade Schools

In recent years, several notable researchers have examined the relative success enjoyed by vocational school graduates in their jobs versus their industry rivals. Almost without fail, research has established that vocationally trained employees earn more, earlier in their preferred professions than four-year college graduates in the same industry, and match them in earnings and achievement years later. Although these findings do vary somewhat depending on the profession involved, the basic conclusion remains the same - trade school degrees and certifications definitely give those who have them a leg up on the competition.

This section outlines what the author views to be the most-significant advantages that vocational schools hold over conventional universities.

Hands-On Learning vs. Theory

If you are the kind of person who didn't enjoy listening to lectures and memorizing academic material, but excelled at learning ways to "do" things, you're probably a great candidate for vocational education. The standard trade school course teaches students their skills by requiring them to practice the activities that are required in their profession, rather than asking them to read about them in a textbook.

Start Your Career Earlier

While four-year college students are still in classes completing their degrees, two-year vocational school graduates are already fully wrapped up in their careers and taking home a good income.

Help with Finding a Job

Because their main selling point to future students is their career placement rate, most trade schools go to tremendous lengths to ensure that recent graduates find jobs. In a 2006 research project, the U.S. Department of Education determined that vocational schools' statements about their effectiveness at putting graduates in jobs (the majority of vocational colleges state a 90% success rate or better) are not exaggerated.

According to its report, the department found that 97% of trade school students were employed within six months of graduating, and an impressive 80% of them were working in the particular field they had studied. This rate of success was not only a powerful endorsement for vocational training on the whole, but showed that it was more effective at placing graduates in their desired jobs than were four-year colleges.

Lower Academic Entrance Requirements

For those people who sometimes had trouble academically in high school, or who never graduated at all, earning admission to a vocational college is far easier than a conventional university. The majority of fully-licensed and accredited trade schools do have a minimum requirement that applicants have either a high school diploma or some kind of equivalency (e.g. GED), but some programs will accept students by considering things like job experience and manager recommendations as well.

What are the Disadvantages of Vocational School?

Every coin has two sides, and there are disadvantages to pursuing vocational training rather than a standard university degree. The following drawbacks are usually regarded as the most significant.

Expense of Tuition

The better trade schools are "for-profit", and as such place steep price tags on their tuitions. The specific cost, needless to say, will vary depending on the school involved, but schooling for certain professions may cost as much as $40,000 for two years of tuition. The good thing is that there are many financial assistance offered to vocational training students each and every year in the U.S. - so much, truth be told, that portions of it often go unused.

Competition for Jobs

Depending on the amount of jobs offered in your industry, there is a chance that you and your classmates will overflow the local job market and wind up fighting against one another upon graduation. Regardless of whether or not this scenario relates to your field of study, it is something that any prospective trade school pupil should consider before diving into a vocational training program.

Level of Instruction

Even though in reality it is probably an exception and not the rule, some vocational schools have been accused of hiring instructors whose teaching abilities are not up to par. The reason for this belief is that many trade school instructors are chosen for their knowledge and skill in a specific trade - not for their ability to teach. It merits reiterating that this is a generalization that is sometimes made about trade schools, and that fully-accredited colleges are required to only employ those teachers who are capable of meeting their state Department of Education's minimum quality standards.

Narrowly Targeted Training

Whereas some prospective trade school students look at it as an advantage that vocational training concentrates on teaching only those competencies that are related to your future career path, others view it as a drawback. The thinking behind this view is that, in the event you eventually choose to change professions and go into a new industry, your vocational training and education will be so focused upon one area that you might be viewed as unqualified to do something else.

Is Trade School Your Best Choice?

The aforementioned disadvantages and advantages of vocational training are just several of the issues that you should consider prior to enrolling in a trade school. Just as essential is researching your individual career objective, and finding out if earning a trade school degree or certificate is viewed as a practical way of gaining entry. You'll likely find that, though many professional fields favor those with vocational school degrees, others are more welcoming to those who paid their dues working in the industry as an apprentice or earned a traditional four-year degree.

Ultimately, trade schools can certainly prepare you for a rewarding, successful career in a wide variety of fields. That said, deciding if signing up for a vocational program is your best strategy for achieving your goals and objectives demands having a clear view of where you're headed, and what it will take to get there.