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Trade School vs. College: Weighing The Costs

Should I go to trade school or college? This was a much more common question 40 to 50 years ago than it had been until recently. With college tuition costs soaring each year and no guarantee of a job after you graduate, the trade school vs. college debate has gained momentum in recent years. When deciding on college or trade school, the answer will be different for everyone. But let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both.

For most people, the cost of school can be the most significant factor in what route to choose. Expectations also play a decisive role in determining what path to take after graduating from high school. But rather than letting expectations determine your future, let’s take a look at the facts.

What Is a Trade School?

Trade schools, also known as vocational schools or technical schools, exist to teach skills related to one particular job. Trade schools reduce your potential job market but greatly enhance your hireability and likelihood of employment after you graduate.

People might expect that the average salary for someone that went to a four-year college would be significantly higher than someone that went to a trade school, but the difference is not as high as you might think.

The National Center for Educational Statistics shows a median salary from a trade school education at $35,720. Compared to the predicted earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree, $46,900, the difference is just $11,180 per year.

It should be noted that the expected salary for someone that attends trade school will be determined significantly by the industry and level of experience.

Modern Job Market

While it used to be a no-brainer that you would try to get good grades in high school to get accepted at a quality four-year college, the changing job landscape has made the decision murkier.

It is much less frequent these days for companies to be hiring people straight out of college without specialized degrees. If you go to a four-year college and receive a general degree, you may find yourself looking at potential graduate schools after your four years are up to further specialize your education.

If graduate school becomes necessary, the cost of your college education increases to a much larger degree.

Cost of Four-Year Colleges

The cost of college varies widely, depending on whether the college is public or private and whether you live in-state or out of state. According to a recent study by ValuePenguin, here are the average costs of going to college for the 2017-2018 school years:

  • Public School In-State: $25,290
  • Public School Out of State: $40,940
  • Private School: $50,900

Public College Costs

Tuition costs account for just under $10,000 worth of the $25,290 average for in-state public schools. For those attending out of state, tuition costs rise to $25,620. Another $10,800 is added on for room and board, while books and other expenses account for the remaining $4,500.

These costs are on an annual basis. When multiplied by four years, the average total cost of an in-state public college is $101,160, and that goes up to $163,760 if you are out of state.

Private College Costs

For private schools, tuition accounts for a more significant percentage of the total costs, averaging $34,740. The price of room and board is slightly higher for private schools at just over $12,000, while other expenses remain similar.

Add it all up, and the total cost of attending four years at a private college comes to $203,600.

Cost of Two-Year Colleges

For a much cheaper option, you can consider a two-year college. Typically these are community colleges, although some community colleges also offer four-year degrees.

The average cost of public community college for people in-state is $4,864, and that number goes up to $8,622 for those living out of state. One of the main cost advantages of community college can be seen if your school is local and you can save money on room and board.

The average cost of a private community college goes up to $15,460 annually.

Drop-Out Rate

One major factor to consider for whoever is paying the bill for your education is the drop-out rate at four-year colleges. According to the Institute of Education Statistics, 40% of students drop out of college without finishing their degrees.

You may believe that a four-year college is right for you and have always planned to attend one. However, many people are not ready for life on their own, where going to class can appear optional and distractions abound.

Further, even if you don’t drop out, 64% of students take longer than four years to graduate. This means additional tuition costs, as well as a later entry into the workforce.

Cost of Trade School

Trade school programs are typically two years in length, which means that you can get into the workforce quicker than the typical college route.

The average total cost of attending trade school is $33,000.

That number is $68,160 less than an in-state four-year college and is $130,760 less than out of state costs.

Advantages of Trade School

We’ve already gone over some advantages of trade school, such as lower cost and quicker entry to the workforce. But the main benefit of getting a degree from a trade school is job security.

With the decline in popularity of trade schools in the past 40 years, the average age of workers in these industries is older than in other sectors. This means that as time goes on, there will be more openings for these jobs.

Trade schools also prepare you for jobs that are harder to outsource overseas. So your job is not in danger of being lost to someone willing to work for cheaper in another country.

The final job security advantage is that you now have a specialized skill. As long as you choose an industry that will always be in demand, you are likely to have less time out of a job and more time as a paid member of the workforce.

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