There are a lot of paths to great jobs in the Trades and Careers.

But how do you get the best return on your education investment? And what is the best kind of school to help you meet your goals?

Read on to get all of the answers to your questions – we’ve demystified the many educational options you will encounter as you plan your training.

To learn more about the field, read through our Trades & Careers homepage, and to start looking at schools, take a look at our ranking of the Top Online Community Colleges.

High School or Equivalency Exam

Most entry-level jobs in the Trades and Careers will require at least a high school diploma or equivalent, like the GED or HiSET exams.

You might be able to get a head start on your career by taking vocational courses, or even enrolling in a vocational high school. To build a strong foundation for most jobs in the Trades and Careers, you can also focus on courses in math, science, and information technology.

Career Schools

Career schools train students for work in a specific career, like cosmetology, culinary arts, or medical imaging. They don’t grant degrees, but rather offer certificates and diplomas.

The term “career school” is mostly used to refer to private, for-profit institutions. They are usually not regulated by the government, and don’t hold accreditation from organizations recognized by the Department of Education. That means that you won’t have the same opportunities for financial aid as you would at other schools, and your credits may not transfer if you choose to continue your education.

The best career colleges work with employers to ensure that their students have good job placement opportunities. You will spend almost all of your time studying and practicing the skills you need to master in your profession. And most career college programs take much less time to finish than a traditional degree program.

Community or Junior Colleges

“Community college” and “junior college” can be used pretty much interchangeably, although most institutions today prefer the term community college. Compared to career schools and technical schools, community colleges offer a broader range of subjects.

That’s because in addition to offering education in Trades and Careers, community colleges have a second focus: preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions.

The most important benefit for most students is the lower cost of tuition compared to other institutions. You might choose to enroll in community college to complete general education requirements before transferring into a bachelor’s degree program. Many community colleges have reciprocal arrangements with other colleges and universities, making it easy to transfer your credits.

Vocational or Technical Schools

“Vocational” and “technical” schools are really the same thing. Most educators prefer the terms technical school or technical college, though – vocational school is perceived as a more old-fashioned term with some negative connotations.

What these schools have in common is a focus on training students for specific careers. Many technical schools grant bachelor’s degrees as well as associate degrees and certificate programs, and a strong hands-on training component is the hallmark of these schools.

Technical schools can be accredited by the same organizations that accredit prestigious liberal arts colleges and universities – but you should always check your school’s accreditation status before you enroll, especially if you want to continue your education in the future.

Traditional Colleges and Universities

These institutions of higher education focus on students who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees or graduate study. Some offer programs in the Trades and Careers, particularly in fields like information technology or engineering.

You don’t need a four-year degree from a traditional college to get a great job in the Trades and Careers. But if you reach a point where you want to move up into management or even teach your trade, a college or university might be the best place to further your education.

Degree Finder

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