• Trade schools (also known as vocational schools) instruct students on skills that are job-specific and are based on an apprenticeship model of learning. Trade schools generally take a shorter time to complete than a regular college program because the education is confined to the student's job of choice, as opposed to a typical college education, which includes liberal arts instruction.

    Important Distinctions

    Colleges can refer to independent institutions offering four-year bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees, or they can also be a part of a larger university offering these degrees. Vocational instruction can be offered in community colleges, independent institutions and even online.

    Geographical Considerations

    It is important to note that not all countries have the same distinctions between trade schools and colleges as the United States. In Canada, for instance, trade schools are called colleges.

    Types of Jobs

    According to the U.S. Department of Education, "Education beyond high school at a career or technical school can lead to a degree, diploma or certificate in a variety of programs like computer programming, automotive technology, business administration and management, cosmetology and interior design."

    Entering the Workforce

    According to the Association for Career and Technical Education, "Career and technical education plays a vital role in helping American business (build) a competitive workforce for the 21st century." This need for workers with a vocational education indicates that job placement is promising and salaries will be competitive for trade school graduates.


    Colleges offer four-year bachelor's degrees and beyond. The certification for trade schools varies, but most offer associates degrees, or some form of diploma or certificate. It is important to research each institution to see what type of certification they offer.


    U.S. Department of Education: Prepare for My Future

    Association for Career and Technical Education: Fact Sheet

    More Information:

    U.S. Department of Education

    Trade Schools, Colleges, and Universities

    College Board

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