Trade schools also are known as technical schools, vocational schools, vo-tech schools and career schools. Many of these institutions use the term "college" rather than "school." All these generic titles tend to be used interchangeably. A vocational school provides students with marketable skills necessary to acquire and perform a specific job.


A vocational school involves education beyond high school--or sometimes in conjunction with high school--focusing on specific work skills. Trade schools are considered practical rather than academic, and most award certification or associate degrees. A wide variety of careers require trade school education. These include aircraft mechanics, automobile mechanics, dental hygienists, electricians, hairdressers, surgical technicians, veterinary technicians, welders and many others.


Technical colleges have several advantages over university educations. They are less expensive than colleges, and many of the programs require only 2 years to complete. Class sizes are small right from the start, and students begin learning their chosen field during the first semester. Trade schools typically have very high placement rates--over 90 percent within 6 months in many cases.


Some programs require apprenticeships, which can last up to 5 years, depending on the job. Apprenticeship programs combine classroom work with job training supervised by a professional at the journey level. A journeyman is the level between apprentice and master. Apprenticeships are typical for industrial electricians, millwrights, plumbers, sheet metal technicians and many other technical careers. Other programs require internships or externships, usually lasting a semester or two. A few of these careers include criminal justice workers, electronics technicians, printing and pre-press operators, and veterinary technicians.


Important considerations are tuition and fees, opportunities for financial assistance, quality of the facilities, extra services, graduation rate and the placement rate of graduates.


Many lucrative careers with great job outlooks can be acquired with a trade school education. Just a few with average salaries around $40,000 and excellent prospects include court reporter, electronics technician, heating/ventilation/air conditioning technician, machinist, paralegal and ultrasound technician. Several careers have even higher average salaries--a boiler operator (power engineer), for example, has an average salary approaching $50,000, and information technology graduates from a trade school can see average salaries of nearly $60,000. Some programs are so much in demand they often have 100 percent placement rates. Some examples of these include automotive collision repair technicians, machine tool technologists, paramedics, printing press operators and programmers.

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