Making the decision to pursue a higher education can be stressful for some. Especially when you are faced with so many options like where to attend; what area should you specialize in; what is the employment outlook; and most importantly, how much will it cost?

When considering these questions, and many others, it is important to look at all secondary education options when comparing traditional colleges versus technical schools. 

It is important to note that the terms technical school, vocational school, career college and trade school mean the same thing and are therefore used interchangeably.

For someone interested in going straight into the workforce attending a vocational school to learn a trade may make more sense. 

But for someone who needs more in-depth specialized knowledge, like a physician for instance, then a traditional college education would benefit them.

What’s the difference?

Content - a four-year bachelor’s degree program includes 60 hours of general education classes that are generally not related to your chosen field.

Technical schools typically cut out the general education classes that are not relevant to your program which results in you completing the program in half the time.

Outcome - technical schools mostly offer certificate, diploma and associate degree programs that take anywhere from a few months to two years to complete. Some may offer a limited number of bachelor degree programs.

Traditional colleges and universities focus on offering bachelor’s, masters and graduate degrees that start with a minimum of four years to complete.

Hands-on - the primary point of a technical school is to receive hands-on training using equipment similar to that available in the workforce. Some technical schools may even have a shop or lab that is open to the public where you would be working with actual customers or clients such as hairdressers, dental assistants, automotive and building trades.

Traditional colleges may offer some hands-on training in a few select programs but the primary goal of traditional colleges is focused on academics.

Which one is right for me?

Deciding which educational path you take boils down to your chosen career, finances and your learning style. Some careers require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, possibly even a doctorate and those can only be achieved by attending a traditional college.

Other things to consider when deciding which educational path you choose are:

How long have you been out of school? If you have been out of high school for any length of time the thought of attending a traditional college for four years may seem exhausting. If you are wanting to receive the hands-on training and get back into the workforce quicker than four years, then a technical school may be for you.

Are you making a midlife career change? Just like the previous point, if you are not interested in spending the next four years attending school but you need to change career paths, technical school may be your best option. Technical schools can have you trained and in a new job in as little as four months for some programs.

Do you have a family to raise or need to continue working while you attend school? While traditional college offers more scheduled classes each semester if you are unable to attend a few due to work or family responsibilities, you may be forced to repeat a class. Technical schools have the ability to offer flexible scheduling such as evening, night and weekend classes to help work around your life.

What kind of career can a technical school prepare you for?

Most technical schools offer a variety of programs that will prepare you for entering straight into the workforce immediately after you graduate. 

Some of the fastest-growing jobs in the country are achieved through a technical school education. Careers in technology, skilled trades and healthcare are expected to increase by thirty percent in 2026.

That’s all great information but, how much will it cost me?

Undoubtedly, the longer you attend school the more expensive it will be. In a recent College Data report, the average tuition for an in-state public traditional college for the 2017-2018 academic year was $25,290. 

The cost was nearly doubled to $50,900 for private institutions. These figures do not include additional fees, books and supplies, meals and housing plans or transportation expenses that are often necessary and sometimes required.

The average tuition cost to complete a technical school degree is approximately $33,000.

Furthermore, the majority of students who attend college and technical schools do not completely self-pay for their education. Many of them rack up student loans and seek out other financing options to pay the bill.

When making the decision about where to complete your higher education you can see that vocational training options are not as limited as they were in the past. Schedules are often more flexible and the tuition costs more affordable. Either path you choose, a promising career awaits you. You just need to choose the path and take a step toward success.