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A Complete Guide to Vocational Schools

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

While many high school graduates attend college, working toward a Bachelor’s degree may not be the right path for everyone. A career in a trade can be just as satisfying, not to mention good-paying.

Suppose you’re interested in pursuing a trade as an Electrician, HVAC Technician, Business Office Administration, Computerized Accounting, Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Alcohol and Drug Counselor, or any of many hands-on type careers. In that case, you might want to explore vocational schools and Certificate Programs rather than a university degree.

What are vocational schools, what types are out there, and how can they prepare you for a successful career?

This trade career guide explains it all.

Vocational Schools Explained

First, it’s a good idea to explain what vocational schools are and what they do. Vocational schools are also called trade schools or technical colleges. These schools are designed to provide practical, hands-on training in a specific industry or “trade.” 

Some schools and/or programs have academic requirements, too, but basically, you’re often learning by “doing” rather than only reading textbooks. You are generally not required to take unrelated courses, which you may need to earn an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. 

Time and Cost of Vocational Training

Two other significant factors that make vocational schools the right choice for many are time and money.

A trade school program can be completed in much less time. Whereas earning a Bachelor’s degree takes four (or more) years, vocational programs can typically be as short as 40 weeks, with the most extended certificate taking nearly one year to complete. 

Then there is tuition.

Attending a vocational school can cost about $33,000. Shorter programs can be significantly less.  While these figures might seem high, compare that to college tuition. Private university tuition can sometimes be as much as $37,640 for just one year. In-state public school tuition can be over $10,000 a year.

So, in the end, a vocational school can be a good option for people who want to learn a skill for less and start making a living faster.

Choosing a Vocational School

The next thing you need to consider is which trade to pursue. It’s a good idea to identify “in-demand” trades that need qualified people. This could translate to a promising paying career.

Examples of Vocations

You’ll want to narrow down your choices to pick a school. There are a lot of options that can make your task more difficult.


In California, Electrician training schools must be approved by the State Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) for students to sit for the journeyman examination after completion of the approved school.  Since the state must approve the programs, only attend approved programs that will allow you to work in the field. California-approved schools will provide students with the “Electrical Trainee Card” upon graduation, which allows graduates to work under the license of a state-approved electrician.   

HVAC Technician

Learn to apply your technical knowledge and skills to repair, install, service, and maintain the operating conditions of the heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems.  The program usually includes troubleshooting related to heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems.

Business Office Administration

Offices need employees and assistants to ensure that the business runs smoothly, that employees get paid, and that bills and invoices get paid. A business office administration program like the one at InterCoast will qualify for entry-level work in business administration after graduating. InterCoast’s program is available as a certificate program that can be completed in 40 weeks, or students can choose the Associate’s degree in Business Administration instead. These options should give you a big head start in deciding the career path you want to pursue.

Medical Assistant 

Doctors and medical facilities need qualified medical assistants to help with various operations of a medical office such as billing and coding, appointment scheduling, verifying insurance, assisting the doctor with minor medical procedures, and preparing the patient for examination.  

Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy Technicians assist the Pharmacist during patient consultation, counter-dispensing operations, and prescription preparation. Pharmacy Technicians keep patient and related health record information and perform a wide range of related duties. 

Education Required for Entry

If you’re wondering how to go to vocational school, there are some minimum requirements to apply.

First, you’ll need at least a high school diploma or a GED (General Educational Development test). If you didn’t graduate from high school and don’t yet have a GED, some schools offer programs that will help you prepare for the test or partner with accredited high schools to help you obtain your high school diploma while attending college.  You should find out which programs you can attend without a high school diploma or GED.  

Next, you’ll need to find a trade school with the program you want. You can find in-person and online programs and schools that offer hybrid programs where you get the best of both worlds.

Find Your Vocation. Find Your Future.

Vocational schools offer a way to learn a trade and prepare for a successful career faster. There are many paths to choose from, but this guide will help you navigate the process. 

If you would like information on our Degree Programs, Certificate Programs, or Online Courses, contact us today. We’re here to help you reach your educational goals.

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