Trades Vs. College: Which Is Right for You?

One can undertake many careers to create a successful and comfortable life for themselves. However, not all of them require a degree from a university. Contrary to public opinion, it is entirely possible to enter a trade and find just as much success as those who go to university.

The route you choose to take can easily be decided by weighing the pros and cons of each branch of education. For example, vocational schools offer a hands-on and technical approach, giving those in trades highly specialized skill sets. In contrast, college gives students much broader knowledge in various areas, allowing for further opportunities. This is only one example of a vast array of differences. Here’s a detailed list that accurately weighs the pros and cons of going into a trade versus a university.

Vocational Education


Time – The average time to complete a vocational program is only 1-2 years (certain trades will have furthering education classes) compared to the average four years spent in college. This allows those in trades to start work sooner and pay off their education faster.

Cost –  As mentioned above, trade school is half the length of a university curriculum. However, it is also cheaper on a yearly basis. The average cost per year for college and university is just over $35,000 a year (, whereas vocational school, on average, is $33,000 in total while still qualifying for aid (

Job Outlook – Trade jobs have been in exceedingly high demand since 2020, finding double-digit growth in some trades ( Finding a career after completing a vocational program is much more relaxed as there is an influx in demand for skilled labor.


Specialized Knowledge – Trade schools train you for a specific career, and as such, it is extremely difficult to switch from that career without completing another vocational program, thus making a vertical shift in your employment the only way to get a new role. For example, those who go to a vocational program for HVAC will not find much luck applying to be a welder.

Physical Labor – Every day, you will be using your body to lift, bend, and stretch. Over time this can cause injury if the proper precautions are not taken. In a survey by OSHA, 1 in 10 construction workers is reported to suffer an injury every year.

College Education


Broad knowledge – Colleges prepare students with a broad knowledge of different fields. Allowing students to have more freedom after graduating and apply for multiple careers that may fall under their field of study.

Networking – Being in an institution of higher learning allows one to connect with a plethora of scholars and educational professionals from all different subjects and backgrounds. This allows for invaluable relationships and mentors to be made and assist with one’s goals further down the line.

Prestige – Only about 42% of people 25 and over have a degree ( This distinction separates oneself from more than half of the population and makes it much easier to break into a professional career in the major the student selected to study.


Student Loans – Due to the average high cost per year of college, many students will be required to pull out a student loan in order to pay for their degree. The average student loan debt is just over $37,500 ( This debt, plus the fees it incurs over time, can take up to 20 years to pay off.

No Guarantee for Employment – It takes the average college student 3-6 months to find employment in their field of study. More than half work a job unrelated to their major until then or are unemployed ( Many jobs require years of experience to qualify as a candidate for their listed positions. However, many college graduates may not have professional experience after completing their studies.

Regardless of what path in life you decide to take, it is more than possible to find a comfortable living through either of these options. It is possible to make six-figure incomes with a pipe wrench and with a degree. It all depends on how hard one pushes oneself to excel in their field and climb the ladder. While both options offer vastly different lifestyles and experiences, both can be extremely rewarding and lucrative.


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