If you’re like many Americans, you’ve thought about getting further education to gain better job prospects and learn about a specific area of interest in sharp detail. While this general idea can be a great starting point, you need to decide where you see yourself. More specifically, you need to figure out if trade school or a traditional four-year college will be the best option for you. There are benefits and drawbacks to both options, but each path can lead to different kinds of opportunities, so you should have a general idea of what you would like to get out of your education before you make the commitment to either path. While there isn’t a correct or incorrect choice, below are some factors that you should consider before you decide on either one.

Traditional College

Regardless of your age, traditional college can be a great path for many people who want to pursue a wide variety of career paths. In the first few semesters, you’ll take many general courses, such as composition and literature, math, natural science, a foreign language, and maybe a social science course. Through these courses, you’ll get to explore a wide range of types of thinking, and you’ll get to prove your merit in many different disciplines.

Also, you don’t necessarily need to know what your major is going to be although there are some people who know going in as a freshman. You can choose anything from nursing to English to music. One thing that you should know is that there are some degrees that will funnel you into a career path, and other majors leave your options open when you graduate. For instance, if you’re a nursing or teaching major, you’ll need to choose which type of nursing or teaching you would like to do, but you’ll likely have a solid idea of what you would like by the time that you’re finishing your degree. On the other hand, if you major in English, your options are very broad and diverse. You could choose to go on to get your master’s degree or even a Ph.D. so that you can teach. You could also choose to go into marketing or another area of business because many positions require writing skills. If you choose to go to a traditional college, you’ll need to research the job prospects of whichever major that you’re thinking about choosing.

Most colleges and universities have a minimum credit requirement that takes most people at least four years to complete although there are some people who are able to finish in three years by being very smart about how they plan their classes and by taking courses over the summer.

If you’re thinking about attending a traditional four-year college or university, you might wonder if it’s the right path for you. When you’re considering it, you’ll first need to think about whether or not you have the stamina and desire to finish a four-year degree. It’s a good portion of your life, so you want to be ready for the challenges, and if you have other commitments, such as a family, you need to know whether or not they’re ready to support you.

Trade Schools

Some people see traditional schooling to be more prestigious, but you shouldn’t discount a trade school degree. Through this format, you’ll be able to complete most programs in two years or less, and some of them might even take under a year, depending on the exact program that you’re interested in. Another benefit to trade schools is that you get to take classes mostly in your area of interest, which significantly cuts down on the number of classes that you need to take and the length of time that it takes to finish your program. Trade schools and technical colleges also tend to charge less money per credit or semester, so you might even leave with less debt than you would have had you gone to a traditional college.

This path is good for a variety of people, but it might not be everyone’s choice because there are disadvantages, too. While one of the major advantages to a trade school degree is that you get to delve into a very specific field of study, that specificity can also be a drawback. You don’t have very much room to switch gears unless you’re willing to go back to school again.

How to Choose Which One is Right for You?

There is such a wide range of offerings in both types of environments that it’s nearly impossible to decide how to tell which one is better. You can, however, ask yourself a few questions before you make a final decision. Some of these questions include:

  • How long do I want to go to school?
  • Which type of school do I need to go attend to pursue my passion?
  • For what I want to do, are the multiple educational paths?
  • How much money do I want to make, and will the path that I’ve chosen help me reach my financial goals?
  • What other commitments do I have that might influence my ability to complete my program?
  • Do I learn better in the classroom environment that a four-year college requires or a hands-on environment that a trade school provides?

You should also look into whether or not going to a two-year technical school or community college to do your general courses will save you money if you want to go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. Many schools allow you to transfer credits, which can save you thousands of dollars early on in your career as a student. There are also some types of degrees that you can get through a two-year program that will let you start your career directly after completing the two-year program, but you can then earn a bachelor’s degree to earn more money and have more options. Nursing is one of these career paths. There are nursing degrees at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctoral levels, and each level can prepare you for the next one.

You also need to consider your overall interest in your career path because the degree to which you excel will also determine how much money you make. Low performers typically have more difficulties finding jobs, and they usually make less money. Consequently, it doesn’t make sense to only consider average total income for the industry and job title.

What You Can Do If You Want to Switch Industries?

Since trade programs only train you with a narrow focus, if you decide that you would rather do something else, you have to start all over again with your training. For instance, pretend that you received a degree as an automotive technician, but then you decided that you would prefer to learn how to run machines for work as a skilled laborer in a paper mill. If you did this, you would need to start a new course of study.

What Prospects Are Available With a Trade School Degree?

There are actually many high-paying jobs on the market that you can enter just by completing a two-year degree in the trade. For instance, the need for trained welders has been increasing over the past several years, so this type of job actually starts out at around $50,000 per year, depending on where you live.

How Much Does It Cost?

Higher education can be expensive, especially through a four-year institution. There are, however, ways that you can save on your tuition if you qualify. For instance, there are many grants and scholarships that you can apply for whether you want to attend a four-year institution or a two-year school. How much your degree costs will also depend on which institution that you end up attending. It can vary, but in general, state schools tend to be less expensive if you’re from the state, and private universities often tend to be more expensive although you can receive financial aid to cover the costs.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Trade?

There are many benefits of having a trade, such as increased job security. For instance, there will always be a need for plumbers in the area, and more employers want the people that they hire to have concrete skills. There’s also an expected need for more skilled tradespeople in many industries, and many people with trades make above the median salary for their region.

What Are the Benefits of Having a College Diploma?

People with a diploma from a four-year college or university typically make more than those with only a high school diploma. In fact, it’s estimated that someone with a college diploma will earn about $830,000 more over the course of their lifetime than their peer who only earned a high school degree. But you should also know that the career path that you choose will determine how much more you can earn. The amount that you can make is also dependent on your level of experience and the area in which you live.

Whether you choose to go to a trade school or a four-year college, you’re greatly increasing your odds of landing in a career path that will increase your income over those who only hold a high school diploma. In general, the biggest benefits of going to a trade school are shorter programs, less debt, and a very specialized skill. With a four-year degree, however, you have the option of going on to even higher levels of education, which can translate to jobs that pay even more, and you might have more flexibility in your career, depending on which path you take.