Learning a trade

Not sure if college is for you? Vocational schools, also called trade schools or career colleges, train students for specific jobs that often don’t require a four-year degree. For example, you can learn the skills to become a hair stylist, auto mechanic, chef, paralegal, medical assistant, and more. Sound good? Read on to find out how to find the right vocational school for you.

First things first: Schedule a tour

Would you buy a car without taking it for a test drive? Probably not—unless you’re willing to risk buying a clunky hunk of metal that doesn’t move. That’s why touring a school before you apply is important. You can ask questions, check out the facilities, and meet current students. Here are some important questions to ask when checking out a vocational school:

1. Are they licensed and/or accredited (i.e., is it legit)?

Many vocational schools are accredited, meaning they’ve gone through a process to prove they are providing a quality education in accordance with industry standards. Licensing is usually handled by the state that the school is in. If you’re not sure whether the school or program is accredited or licensed, Google it. You can also ask your parent, high school teachers, guidance counselor, or employer to help you figure it out.

2. How much does it cost?

Cost is an important factor when choosing any school or program. Take extra fees into consideration when calculating the total cost—those additional expenses can add up. Find out:

  • Will you pay by semester, year, or program?
  • What happens if you drop a class? Do you still have to pay for it?
  • Do you have to pay for books or uniforms? Are there other fees?
  • Do you pay for the tools/equipment you use in class?
  • Does the school offer scholarships or financial aid to students in need?

3. What is the program’s success rate?

How successful are graduates of the program? Ask the program staff:

  • How many students graduate?
  • What is the job placement rate after graduation?
  • How much debt do students have when they finish?
  • Does the school have resources to help students find jobs?

Other questions to ask during your visit:

  • What equipment do they have in the school? Is it the same equipment used in the industry?
  • Are there many complaints filed against the school? If so, look elsewhere.
  • Who are the teachers? Are they experienced in the industry?
  • What are the admissions requirements?
  • Will your credits transfer if you move or switch schools?

+ Learn more about vocational schools from The College Board.

+ This database from the U.S. Department of Education can help you find accredited programs.

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Brandy Reeves is a health educator at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami University, a master of public health from Ohio State University, and a master of higher education from the University of Kentucky.