Following the traditional route of going for a four-year Bachelor’s degree is not the only way to kick start a career anymore. If you are yet to make up your mind on what career path you’re passionate about, it’s okay to stop and consider the options that are available to you.

Both trade schools and community colleges have a variety of programs that provide hands-on experience so you can get a job as soon as possible. However, it is important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of these educational institutions to determine the best option for your learning style.

Trade School

Trade schools are also known as vocational schools or technical schools. They run a program that offers students hands-on experience that relates to a specific career. Examples of the careers that you can learn at a trade school include skilled labor positions like electricians, machinists, mechanics, pharmacy technicians, dental hygienists, and nuclear technicians.

Unlike what is obtainable at a community college where students are compelled to take elective or general education courses, the education that is offered in trade schools tend to be geared towards a specific skill set and knowledge base to ensure success in your chosen career. In addition, it is not uncommon for a trade school to require students to complete some kind of apprenticeship where they work with a professional in their chosen field to learn more about the occupation.

On the average, the starting salary of a trade school graduate is about $35,720.

Community Colleges

The National Center for Education Statistics defines a “community college” as a two-year “educational institution offering programs leading to associate degrees, diplomas, certificates of completion, and/or their equivalents.” In some cases, Private schools have been known to use “junior college” in the school’s official title. Community colleges cooperate with other colleges to transfer credit hours earned at the institution, and many students move into four-year College programs after earning the two-year community college degree.

Vocational programs at community colleges share coursework, such as a basic mathematics classes or required writing courses. These requirements allow the student to complete multiple programs using shared credits. Community colleges also typically require students to take courses unrelated to the technical program, such as physical education and fine arts.

Differences Between Trade Schools And Community Colleges

Even though community colleges and trade schools have their strengths and weakness, the most important thing to keep in mind when making a decision is – what type of environment do you learn best in? To answer this question, you need to know how you learn, what your goals are for the future and what your financial situation is. Here are some of the major differences between a trade school and a community college.

  1. Learning Environment: most trade schools offer their students a practical oriented approach to career specific training. These practical oriented lessons may also be supplemented with some classroom lectures from time to time, however, the majority of the time will be spent doing the things you are learning about.

Community colleges on the hand are more theory focused and they use more lectures to instruct students. The programs and courses offered at community colleges are often linked to the job market in your area to ensure that you are ready for a career. However, both community colleges and trade schools will help you find a job and provide the tools and resources needed to succeed.

2. Focal area: Community colleges tend to take a more general approach to learning by providing students with a rounded education which requires them to take courses that are outside of their career choice. For instance, basic courses such as writing and mathematics will be included in the syllabus, which helps them in many other areas of the business world. In fact, the diplomas, degrees or certificates obtained (or the equivalent) can be used toward a degree at a traditional college or university.

On the other hand, Trade schools tend to go “straight to business” by getting right into the coursework and applications of the particular job. Trade schools do not offer general classes that are not related to the student’s course of study rather they focus on specialization and mastery. While this is a great way to master a skill set and get into the workforce fast, it doesn’t leave any room to change your mind about your career choice or even transfer your education towards another degree in the future.

3. Programs Offered: based on the length and cost of program offered, trade schools and community colleges differ. The length of trade school programs can vary depending on the program, but overall they are shorter than community college programs. In most cases, it will take you about two years to complete a program at a community college. Due to the fact that costs are lower and admission is open at community colleges, many students start their college experience here, before transferring to a traditional four-year school later on. However, if you wish to transfer your credits from a community college later on, you must be sure the credits will transfer toward your degree. In most cases, colleges or universities have a policy that outlines which credits will transfer from which schools.

The programs that are offered in trade schools tend to be more specialized in nature and as such they tend to require more investment. This includes jobs like carpentry to plumbing, vehicle repair to welding, and many more. However, it should be noted that trade schools have many opportunities to receive financial aid from loans to scholarships, and lots more. On the other hand, community colleges are a lot more affordable even though they take longer to complete than trade school programs. In fact, many students are choosing to attend a community college before they go to a university or college to obtain a degree, as it is an easy way to get all the general requirements at a lower cost.

4. Certificates and Diplomas: In most cases, community colleges award associate degrees after students have completed their two-year program. However, some community colleges will grant certificates, diplomas or other equivalent documents to students who have successfully completed all course requirements and are now ready to start practicing in their chosen fields, like nursing. On the other hand, students from a trade school might need to earn a certificate or diploma, take a licensing exam, or even study to work as a journeyman or apprentice in a skilled trade, before entering the workforce.

While some institutions use the term diploma and certificate interchangeably, there are a couple of distinct differences. First, earning a diploma requires taking a program that is usually more comprehensive than a program for a certificate. Second, the amount of time to complete a program for a diploma versus a certificate also varies by educational institution. Finally, how employers view certificates and diplomas differ, as more is learned when you obtain a diploma.

Both community colleges and trade schools offer practical programs and a bunch of hands-on support so that you can earn a diploma or certificate and get into the workforce as soon as possible. However, it is important to take the time to weigh the pros and cons of both types of education, as both can be attractive ways to get a higher education for a reasonable price.

Which Option is Best for You?

Choosing a community college or trade school program is no easy decision because there are so many options to think about and each situation is unique. If you have a general idea of the area you want to focus on for your future career but you don’t have any specifics lined up, then community college degree might provide you with a well-rounded education you need to survey the options and to hone in on your specialty. However, if you already have an idea of the career path you would like to pursue in a skilled profession, then a trade school might be the better option. You will also need to secure an apprenticeship to learn the necessary skills through a hands-on approach.

The education sector in the United States is constantly evolving and as such the school program that is best for a certain career path one year ago might not be the best option the following year. It is advisable that you should focus more on your career goals and then choose your educational path to work toward that goal. In the end, the program you choose will be determined by your career of choice.

The truth still remains that trade school is simply the better option for certain professions while other career options are best served by a community college. You should judiciously carry out research and think of how your future goals align with a trade school or a community college – this will help you to arrive at the best choice.