Finding out where to go after you finish high school or change careers can be challenging. But if you enjoy working with your hands, technical education could be the right place for you.
CTE programs, vocational schools, and trade school programs offer a great value to aspiring technicians who are seeking hands-on experience and wish to jumpstart their career. Before deciding on what program may be right for you, let’s first breakdown what makes trade education standout.
Vocational schools are designed to provide students with skills in high demand jobs, typically through high school courses or post-secondary adult courses. Depending on what profession you end up selecting, you’ll likely find yourself learning hands-on with an instructor’s guidance. Through these career programs, you’ll develop strong technical skills and theoretical understanding of your line of work. Specialized training offers valuable experience at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional schooling. Dual-learning programs let students get ahead by allowing them to apply their instruction in the real world.
But how do you determine what trade education is best for you?
Let’s consider the following factors before making your decision:
1. What are the school’s credentials and ratings?
Understanding how employers view your credentials is an essential step when deciding what program fits your needs. It goes without saying that a college’s recognition plays a role in how valuable your certification will be to employers, so be sure to incorporate the school’s quality into your selection process. We recommend school ranking sites like Niche, which break down education programs based on user review and independent ranking. Taking advantage of these tools will help narrow down the search and make finding your school a breeze.
For trade programs such as HVAC, certifications tend to hold up despite which school you choose. First, you should always find out which HVAC certification(s) you need for your career. Nevertheless, you should still understand the student ratings and recognition of the school, because you’ll likely find the courses and instructors that care the most at schools with the highest recommendations. Reading user reviews will give you a good sense of what former students experienced, and will help you form an educated opinion.
2. What career opportunities are available outside of class?
Equally important as the program’s credentials are the opportunities you’ll have while attending. Many vocational schools require a minimum of two years instruction, meaning that you will spend quite a bit of time on campus. Finding extracurricular resources, clubs, or programs can often be a distinguishing factor when it comes time for employers to review your resume. Oftentimes schools will publish their top performing programs in newsletters or on their website, so be sure to explore the school virtually and in person before making your final decision.
Outside of your certification, many schools offer licensing exams and apprenticeship opportunities for their students. These programs allow you to still graduate on time with more qualifications to add to your resume, showing employers that you went above and beyond what was required of you in your education. Apprenticeship programs also tend to connect you directly with companies hiring in your industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics even says having an apprenticeship increases your likelihood of receiving a job once graduating. All in all, determining which technical education programs have the most diverse career opportunities will guide you in your search.
3. How large are the class sizes?
Class size can often be a determining factor in how personalized your learning can be. While some students thrive on large, competitive classes, other aspiring technicians may seek more personalized help outside of the classroom. For students seeking that one-on-one relationship, it may prove beneficial to search for technical education programs that admit a smaller number of applicants. A reduced class size will often free up more time to ask questions, and allow you to receive clear direction and guidance from your instructor.
4. What’s the cost of attending?
One of the major reasons high school graduates and people changing careers consider a trade program is because of the value you obtain. Four-year universities are on average three times as expensive as trade programs, which can make your decision much easier when deciding on where to get your education. Still, these programs aren’t free, so determining what tuition price matches your desired balance of affordability and value can make all the difference. The price of trade school tuition can range from $3,000 to upwards of $30,000, so be sure to use the previous two sections to see whether you believe your program is worth the cost. We also recommend seeing how far away the program is from your home, that way you can incorporate travel and/or housing costs into your budget.
The Bottom Line
Getting the correct certifications are becoming more important to employers who desire skilled workers that don’t require on the job training. Finding a program that offers a strong balance of opportunity, affordability, and credibility will rocket your career to new heights, and strengthen your fundamental knowledge in the trade you pursue.
Regardless of where you go, dedicating time to explore your school will help you discover new ways to improve and grow for the future.
If you're currently on the hunt for schools near you, check out our list of trade programs in your area.
HVAC students, apply for the Next Generation HVAC Scholarship for a chance to earn $2,500 towards tools, tech, and tuition to gear up for your career.