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What’s a technical college and is it right for you?

Published May 14, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    If you’re interested in furthering your education, you may be exploring the types of schools and degrees available. Beyond the traditional four-year college, there are several alternative education paths, one of which is attending a technical college, also sometimes called a trade school or a vocational school.

    If technical schools are on your radar, you’re not alone. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, technical schools have grown in enrollment numbers in recent years.

    But what exactly is a technical college, and what careers can you work in after attending one? In this article we’ll break down the basics when it comes to technical schools and discuss the potential pros and cons to consider.

    Technical schools 101: Here’s what you need to know

    Technical schools train you on how to excel daily in specific careers. They may be less competitive than traditional four-year colleges and universities to gain admission to and may cost less to attend. They’re also often shorter in duration.

    One thing to consider carefully if you’re considering attending a technical school is that they often require having a clear picture of what career you’d like to embark on after the degree because they center on preparing students for specific careers. For some students, this may be a pro, and for others it may be a challenge.

    What’s the difference between technical, trade, and vocational schools?

    Technical, vocational, and trade schools are interchangeable terms. They are all schools that provide hands-on training and instruction to prepare students for entry into a specific field that requires a particular skill set.

    What are the types of technical schools?

    There’s no shortage of technical schools you can look into during your college research. Here’s a sampling of technical schools you may consider.

    Healthcare-focused technical schools

    These schools or programs provide training for careers such as nursing, dental hygiene, medical coding, and laboratory technology.

    Automotive schools

    These schools train students in car maintenance, repair, and specialized areas of mechanics.

    Information technology-focused schools

    These schools or programs offer courses in computer science, network administration, cybersecurity, and software development.

    Culinary schools

    Students contemplating a career in the culinary world may benefit from attending a culinary school. In these types of technical schools, students learn everything from knife skills to developing recipes.

    Aviation schools

    While you may think that aviation schools prepare you to become a pilot, and that’s true, there are many other careers you can embark on after attending one. From becoming an air traffic controller to an airport manager, skills learned in aviation school can translate to many career paths.

    Veterinary schools

    Students can use degrees from these programs to become a veterinarian technician or someone who works in support of a veterinarian. In these roles, you may perform medical tests on animals, such as blood and urine collection, prepare equipment for surgery, nurse patients, and perform other tasks.

    Construction and general trade schools

    In these programs, you’ll often focus on skills like carpentry, electrician work, plumbing, welding, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning).

    Beauty schools

    If you want to pursue a career in the beauty world (like becoming a hair stylist), beauty school may be on your radar. You can specialize in cosmetology, hair styling, makeup, and aesthetics in these schools.

    Graphic design and media arts

    Another type of technical school you may consider is a graphic design or a media arts technical school. These schools prepare you for careers ranging from graphic design arts and web design to animation and film production.

    What specialties can you pursue in technical schools?

    Technical schools often require you to focus on a career path or skill set. These may include the following specialties:

    • Dental hygiene
    • Medical assistance
    • Pharmacy technician
    • Nursing aid
    • Computer technology
    • Graphic design
    • Paralegal
    • Car mechanic
    • Welding
    • Plumbing
    • Culinary arts
    • Hairstylist
    • Cosmetology
    • Hotel management
    • Electrician

    Four reasons a technical school may be right for you

    If you’re eyeing technical schools, here are several reasons why they may be a good fit for you.

    1. You may pay less for the degree

    In some cases, you can expect to pay less for a technical college degree than a four-year one.

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education, the average cost of tuition and fees for a public two-year institution was roughly $4,000 for one year for the 2021-22 academic year, while the average price for tuition at public four-year institution was $9,700.

    Note that these numbers are for tuition and associated costs only and don’t factor in other expenses, such as housing or transportation costs. It’s also important to note that costs vary considerably between colleges and programs. The length of a program is another variable to consider when weighing costs. Lastly, the sticker tuition price at colleges isn’t necessarily what students will end up paying out-of-pocket if they receive financial aid.

    2. It may be a more straightforward process to gain admission

    While traditional four-year colleges may require standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT and lengthy applications to decide whether to admit an applicant, technical schools sometimes only require a high school diploma or a GED. The application process can sometimes be as simple as providing proof of your high school graduation status or an equivalent and a short interview with an admissions representative.

    As each school’s requirements may differ, you may consider contacting admissions representatives at the technical schools you have in mind to learn about their admissions process.

    3. You’ll take courses relevant to your desired career

    While many four-year colleges require you to complete general education classes outside of your chosen major, at technical colleges, your classes will typically be highly relevant to your desired career path as the coursework is geared toward helping you build skills to work in a particular trade.

    4. You may be able to enter the workforce faster

    A technical college degree may be able to be completed in less time than a bachelor’s degree (which, on average, takes four years to complete). Because of that, you’ll likely enter the workforce faster pursuing a technical college degree. A technical college may be advantageous if your goal is to start earning an income sooner rather than later.

    Four reasons a technical school may not be right for you

    While there are many pros when it comes to attending technical schools, there are also disadvantages to consider.

    1. They tend to have limited academic scope

    Technical schools focus primarily on practical skills and specific trades, which might not suit students interested in a broader academic education. Those looking for a well-rounded curriculum that includes liberal arts and sciences might find the specialized nature of technical schools too restrictive.

    2. They may not provide for career flexibility

    Graduates from technical schools often have skills targeted to specific industries, which can limit their ability to switch careers later. Students who desire greater career flexibility or are uncertain about their long-term professional interests might benefit more from a traditional college education that offers a variety of majors and the opportunity to pivot more easily.

    3. The transferability of credits may be challenging

    Credits earned at technical schools may not always transfer to traditional colleges or universities. This may be a drawback for students who may decide to pursue further education or a different field that requires specific academic qualifications later on.

    4. May have more limited campus offerings

    Technical schools typically have smaller campuses and fewer student activities than four-year colleges. This may mean fewer extracurricular and networking opportunities, and potentially other drawbacks.

    Final thoughts

    Technical and trade schools may be a great alternative route for students who know exactly what career they want to pursue after receiving a degree. However, not all students do, and in those instances, a two-year or four-year degree may be a better route.