Instead of spending four years in college and accumulating a large student debt, individuals desiring a quick entrance into the work force can choose to enroll in a trade or vocational school. Programs at these schools are usually six months to 18 months in length and do not require that students enroll in general education courses necessary for associate or bachelor degrees. Vocational schools or Trade schools, also called “technical colleges”, offer students the ability to learn enough about a certain vocation that allows them to transition directly into that job following issuance of the certificate. Examples of trade programs found at many vocational schools include:
- Medical assisting
- Dental assisting/hygienist
- Small engine repair
- Early childhood education
- Medical billing and coding
- Pharmacy technician
- Court reporter
- Culinary arts
- Veterinary assisting
Career diplomas are entirely different from diplomas earned at a four-year college due to the intense focus of the curriculum on the student’s selected field of study. Many vocational schools combine coursework with hands-on training and require students participate in a specific number of hours in an internship to receive a certification. Additionally, some vocational programs incorporate credits that can be transferred to a community college or university in the event that the student wants to pursue a higher degree.
Benefits of Earning a Vocational School Diploma or Certificate
- Students studying a trade program develop a keen competency in a position requiring specialized knowledge
- The program is short, intense and much more affordable than four year degrees
- Subjects learned while enrolled in a vocational school are usually in-demand jobs that rarely experience lay-offs or slowdowns
- For those who are currently working in a career field they dislike, earning a vocational diploma facilitates a rapid transition into another field more preferable and/or lucrative
- People who have already earned a bachelor’s degree due to a slow market can learn a trade and work in that field until the market for which they were originally trained experiences a demand for workers
- Online vocational schools offer popular, convenient and affordable programs for students searching for rapid employment or a career change that does not take four or five years to implement. Students who are at least 18 years old and interested in taking online vocational classes need a high school diploma or GED before applying to the school. In addition, accredited online trade schools accept federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, which may be enough to pay entirely for a trade course if the student is eligible for such aid.
Cost of an Online Vocational or Trade School Program
Depending on the length of the program, tuition costs covering a vocational program is usually less than $1000, with many of them around $600, including textbooks and other supplies. Some programs require more expensive supplies, such as computer design or art, which may increase the price of tuition. Students have the choice of paying for the program upfront, making monthly payments or using Pell Grants and/or scholarships to pay for the course.
Example of a Medical Assistance Curriculum
Training to be a medical assistant is one of the most popular online vocational programs available, with employment opportunities expected to increase over the next decade for those with a medical assisting certification. Students enrolled in an M.A. program can expect to take classes for nine to 12 months that consist of medical terminology, medical billing, medical administrative procedures, maintenance of health records and medical software frequently used in an office or clinic setting. Unlike associate and bachelor degrees, students do not need to take a certain amount of “general education” classes to qualify for a diploma. Instead, the entire curriculum focuses on what entails the job of medical assisting so that students are adequately prepared to step into the role upon graduation.
Another trade course favored by students wishing to quickly obtain employment is paralegal studies. This certification program can take from just three months to two years, depending the school’s curriculum and state requirements. Paralegal courses involve subjects like how to perform legal research, fundamentals of the law, working with attorneys and preparation of court documents. As a paralegal professional you will assist in the research for court cases and work directly with lawyers in preparing for presentations to the judge or mediator. This role is vital to the success of attorneys and can provide great experience in the legal field.
As one of the more difficult certification programs offered by online vocational schools, the job of pharmacy technicians requires students receive instruction in human physiology, pharmaceutical terminology and calculations, chemistry and various administrative tasks used in the operation of a pharmacy. Because learning to be a pharmacy technician entails more instruction than most trade programs, students may need at least 18 to 24 months of course work to earn a pharmacy technician certificate. With the growing population of elderly and the high demand for pharmaceutical based care to improve health and extend life, the pharmacist trade will remain in high demand for many years.
A court reporter (also called a “court stenographer) is capable of transcribing all spoken words during a court event such as a criminal or civil case. Court reporters use a machine to input shorthand symbols of words which he or she later interprets and prints out for perusal by lawyers, judges and other court officials. A typical court reporting program will involve courses concerning computerized machine Shorthand Theory, fundamentals of law, medical and legal terminology, grammar and vocabulary and a certain amount of hours performing court reporting practicum.
Certification/Diploma vs. a Degree
Earning a trade school certification indicates that a person is qualified (in the U.S.) to perform specific tasks relevant to specific position. Employers will readily hire someone who already knows how to do a job rather than hire and then need to train someone. Additionally, employers also perceive individuals who have completed a certification program to be conscientious and hard-working.
Job Outlook for Trade Positions
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that certain vocational programs offered by online trade schools currently provide certification for jobs that are expected to provide increasing opportunities in the next few years. These vocations include medical assisting, dental hygienist, electrician apprentice, pharmacy technician, network systems analyst, court reporter and HVAC technician. Students earning certifications in any of these positions can expect to make more than $30,000 initially, with increases in wage correlating with experience gained while on the job.