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How Long Do Trade Schools Take?

Wondering how long does trade school take? You're in the right spot. Trade schools offer a direct path to skilled jobs in construction, mining, agriculture, and more. Unlike the long haul of a 4-year college, trade school programs are shorter. They get you job-ready fast.

Let's break it down in simple terms, so you'll know exactly what to expect whether you're fresh out of high school or looking to switch gears in your career.

UPDATED AT: May 20, 2024

How long does it really take

Trade schools, also known as vocational schools, typically take anywhere from a few months to two years to complete, depending on the program. That's a fraction of the time compared to a 4-year college degree, meaning you can start earning sooner.

What makes trade schools especially appealing is their high completion rates—usually between 40-50%. This success rate highlights the effectiveness of their focused curriculum and the accessibility of their programs to a wide range of students.

The specific duration of your chosen program will depend on the field of study. Here’s a brief overview of what to expect:

Duration of trade schools chart

What is Trade School?

A trade school is where you learn specific skills for a particular job. From welding to plumbing, HVAC tech to heavy equipment operation, trade schools focus on giving you the hands-on experience needed to jump straight into work.

What Kind of Jobs Can You Get With a Trade School Education?

Trade school education opens the door to various high-demand and essential jobs across different industries. These careers are not just in demand but foundational to our economy and society. They offer stability, good pay, and satisfaction.

For instance, graduates can find themselves in electricians, plumbers, and dental hygienist roles, with average salaries ranging from $42,000 for welders to $76,000 for dental hygienists.

Moreover, trade school grads enjoy high employment rates, with many fields seeing over 90% of graduates finding work within a year of completion, underscoring the effectiveness of trade education in meeting industry needs.

Here’s a closer look at the kinds of jobs you can land after graduating from a trade school:

1. Electricians

These skilled professionals are vital to the construction, maintenance, and repair of electrical systems in homes, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities. With a growing focus on renewable energy and smart technology, electricians are more in demand than ever.

Average Salary per year: $60,040

2. Mechanics

Specializing in automotive, diesel, or even aircraft, mechanics ensure that vehicles and machines run smoothly and efficiently. As technology evolves, mechanics with up-to-date training on the latest advancements are highly sought after.

Average Salary per year: $43,730

3. Dental Hygienists

An integral part of the healthcare system, dental hygienists work alongside dentists to provide oral care, educate patients on proper oral hygiene, and perform preventative dental treatments. This field often offers flexible hours and a comfortable working environment.

Average Salary per year: $99,488

4. Construction Managers

Overseeing projects from start to finish, construction managers ensure that buildings and infrastructure are constructed safely, on time, and within budget. Their role requires a mix of technical knowledge and leadership skills, making the position both challenging and rewarding.

Average Salary per year: $131,000

5. HVAC Technicians

Specialists in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, HVAC technicians install, maintain, and repair systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings. With the push for energy efficiency and sustainable building practices, skilled HVAC technicians are in high demand.

Average Salary per year: $49,000

6. Welders

Welding is a critical skill in manufacturing, construction, and many other industries. Welders join metal parts together using various techniques and equipment. Skilled welders who can work with precision on a variety of projects are always needed.

Average Salary per year: $45,689

Check our post on How to learn how to become a welder.

7. Plumbers

Every building with running water needs plumbing, making plumbers essential to construction and maintenance. Plumbers install and repair pipes and fixtures, ensuring that water and gas systems are safe and functional.

Average Salary per year: $63,215

8. IT Technicians

With the digital transformation of nearly every sector, IT technicians are crucial for setting up, managing, and troubleshooting computer and network systems. Specializations can include cybersecurity, network administration, and software support.

Average Salary per year: $97,430

What Are The Advantages Of Trade School?

Trade schools offer unique benefits, making them an attractive option for many students.

On average, trade school programs cost between $5,000 to $15,000 per year, which results in a lower overall financial burden when combined with the shorter duration of programs.

This affordability, coupled with the hands-on experience and direct path to high-demand careers, makes trade school an attractive option for many students.

Here's why choosing a trade school could be one of the best decisions you make for your future:

1. Focused Curriculum

Trade schools zero in on the skills and knowledge you need for your chosen career. There's no filler or unrelated courses, which means every class is directly relevant to your job goals. This focus makes sure you're well-prepared and knowledgeable in your field.

2. Shorter Duration

One of the most significant advantages is the time factor. Trade school programs can be completed in as little as a few months to two years. This shorter educational path means you can enter the workforce and start earning sooner than if you pursued a four-year degree.

3. Lower Cost

Because trade programs are shorter, they often come with a lower total cost. This means less debt and financial stress for students. Additionally, the earlier entry into the workforce allows for an earlier start on earning an income.

4. Hands-On Experience

Trade schools emphasize practical, hands-on learning over traditional classroom lectures. This approach makes learning more engaging and ensures you have the real-world skills employers are looking for. By the time you graduate, you're not just knowledgeable; you're ready to work.

5. High Demand For Skills

Trade school graduates enter fields with high demand for skilled professionals. Sectors like healthcare, technology, construction, and skilled trades constantly seek qualified workers, making job security and growth potential strong for trade school graduates.

6. Career Services & Support

Many trade schools offer robust career services to help students transition into the workforce. This can include job placement assistance, resume and interview preparation, and networking opportunities with potential employers.

7. Flexibility

Trade schools often offer flexible scheduling options, including evening and weekend classes, allowing students to work or fulfill other commitments while studying. Online and hybrid programs further increase accessibility for those who need it.

8. Certification & Licensure Preparation

For careers requiring certification or licensure, trade schools typically design their curriculum to prepare students for these exams. This streamlined approach means you can achieve the necessary credentials more quickly and efficiently.

What are the Disadvantages of Trade School?

Before we jump into the downsides of trade school, let's clarify: picking a trade school is about getting you ready for the job mark quickly and efficiently. But it's not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Knowing what might not work for you is as important as seeing all the benefits. This way, you can make a smart choice that really fits what you want out of your career and life. Let's break down some specific drawbacks you might face with trade school so that you can weigh the pros and cons for yourself.

1. Limited Study Scope

Trade schools specialize in providing the specific skills and knowledge needed for particular careers. This focus means students receive less exposure to a broad range of academic subjects compared to those attending traditional four-year colleges. While this is efficient, it can limit a student's understanding of wider cultural, historical, and scientific contexts.

2. Career Advancement Limitations

For certain professions, the initial training received at a trade school might only qualify you for entry-level positions. Advancing to higher levels within your field could require additional education or certifications not covered by your trade school program.

This means that while you can start your career sooner, you might hit a ceiling in terms of advancement without further study.

3. Less Flexibility For Career Changes

The specialized nature of trade school training makes it ideal for entering a specific career quickly. However, this specificity can be a double-edged sword if you decide to change careers later. Transitioning to a different field may require going back to school or undergoing significant retraining.

4. Perception Issues

Despite the high demand for skilled tradespeople and the crucial roles they play in society, there can be societal or professional biases that favor a traditional four-year college degree. This perception might influence hiring practices in some industries or affect professional networking opportunities.

5. Limited Networking Opportunities

Trade schools focus on preparing students for the workforce rather than the broader educational experience that includes clubs, organizations, and a wide range of extracurricular activities found at traditional colleges. This can mean fewer opportunities for networking with peers across various fields, which can be a valuable resource throughout one's career.

6. Financial Aid and Scholarship Opportunities

While trade school programs are generally less expensive than four-year degrees, there may be fewer scholarships and financial aid opportunities available to trade school students. This can affect the affordability of these programs for some students.

What Are The Trade School Requirements?

These requirements can vary from one program to another, but there are the most common criteria that many trade schools share.

High School Diploma Or GED

The most fundamental requirement for most trade school programs is a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. This ensures that students have a basic educational foundation upon which to build their specialized skills.

Placement Tests

Some trade schools require applicants to take placement tests. These assessments evaluate your proficiency in key areas like math, reading, and writing, helping to ensure that you're prepared for the level of study the program demands.

The results can also help the school place you in the appropriate level courses, especially for programs that require a strong understanding of mathematics or science.


Depending on the program, you might be asked to participate in an interview process. This allows the admissions team to get to know you better, understand your motivations for joining the program, and assess whether you're a good fit for the trade you're interested in pursuing.

Physical Requirements

There may be physical requirements or fitness tests for certain trades, particularly those that are physically demanding. Trades such as construction, welding, or HVAC maintenance can require good physical health and the ability to perform tasks that involve lifting, climbing, or extended periods of standing.

Technical Skills Assessment

For programs that build on existing skills, such as advanced technology or engineering trades, you may need to demonstrate a certain level of technical skill or prior knowledge in the field. This could involve presenting certifications, a portfolio of work, or passing a skills assessment test.

Legal Requirements

Some trades, especially those involving healthcare, education, or public service, may require a background check or clearance. This is to ensure the safety and well-being of future clients and colleagues.

Application Process

Besides these specific requirements, the application process itself typically involves filling out forms, providing transcripts or records of your previous education, and sometimes, submitting letters of recommendation or personal essays.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Do I Apply To Trade School?

Start by researching schools that offer your desired program. Then, prepare your application, which may include transcripts, test scores, and a personal statement. Deadlines vary, so keep track of them.

2. How To Pick A Trade School

Look for accredited schools with strong job placement rates. Consider the location, cost, and whether the school offers support in job searching.

3. How Much Is Trade School?

Trade school prices vary widely by program and location, but they're generally less expensive than a four-year college. Programs might range from $5,000 to $20,000. Remember, investing in your education is investing in your future.


When considering trade school, remember this key point: choosing a trade school means investing in a focused and practical education that leads directly to job opportunities.

This path is especially valuable for those eager to start their careers without the time and financial commitment required by a traditional 4-year college. With the right program, you can quickly gain the skills needed for a fulfilling and in-demand career, making trade school a smart choice for many.