When it comes to higher education, modern students have a number of choices in pursing certifications and degrees to help them reach their future career goals. While many students choose to enroll in a traditional brick and mortar college or online college degree program, there is also the option of furthering your education through a community college or trade school.
So how do you know which option is the right choice for you?
While no one can decide for you whether a college, community college or trade school is the best fit for your education, there are several different factors to consider when making your choice.
Below are some general information on colleges, community colleges and trade schools, as well as common questions that we get from students to help give you a starting point for making this major decision.
Whether you are a student that just graduated high school or an adult that wants to further their higher education, the first option that most people think of to pursue a degree is enrolling in a traditional college or university.
There are several options for traditional college education, including public or private universities. Once you have enrolled in college, you will typically spend the first half of your degree program taking general education courses. While the specific classes you take will vary based upon your degree program, they often include the following:
- English Composition and Literature
- General Science
These classes set you up for success within a wide range of majors, and allow students flexibility over the first year or two of their degree program to make a decision in the specific degree they want to pursue.
Typically, it takes anywhere from two to four years to earn an undergraduate degree. After completion of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program, students may choose to enter the workforce or continue their education with graduate degree programs.
So, how do you know if college is the best route to support your future?
It depends on your interests, goals, and objectives for attending college! For example, if you know that you are interested in English and communication, but aren’t sure whether you want to be a journalist, writer, teacher, or work in public relations, then a traditional college education may work well for you. Once you enroll as an English major, you will have the opportunity to take a variety of courses to gain experience and knowledge before making a decision in the specific career path you want to pursue
To help adult students balance the rigors of higher education, many top universities also offer a variety of online degree programs in popular fields of study. Through these programs, students are able to complete their classes on a timeframe that fits into their schedule so they can continue holding down a full-time job or taking care of family obligations.
When it comes to academics, community colleges typically offer a wide variety of programs in many different fields of study. Most of these programs are associate’s degree programs that take around two years to complete. However, the majority of these schools also offer certificate (and sometimes diploma) programs that can usually be completed in a year or less. Recently, a small number of community colleges have begun to offer 4-year bachelor’s degree programs as well.
Associate’s (and bachelor’s) degree programs at community colleges tend to include a rigorous group of classes in several general education subjects, such as English, mathematics and science. These programs arm you with a wide variety of skills that may help you land a career in a field that interests you (probably the field you earn your degree in, but not necessarily). On the other hand, certificate and diploma programs are commonly meant to prepare you for a specific job and, therefore, include a smaller group of classes that are more career focused. However, depending on the school and field of study, some of these programs may also require a couple of core classes (math, English, etc.).
While most students are familiar with traditional colleges and community colleges, trade schools can be an excellent option for those who already have a clear idea of the career path they want to pursue.
Trade schools differ from traditional colleges in a number of ways, including:
- Job-specific educational format
- Skill-based learning
- Lower cost of tuition
- Less time to complete the program than traditional degrees
- Specialized career offerings
Once you enroll in a trade school, you will immediately start with classes that are based solely on the training needed to help you succeed in your future career. While traditional colleges begin with one to two years of general education classes, these types of courses are not part of a trade school program.
So, how does this effect your education?
Simply put, without the background in general education classes within a degree program, you will be trained only in the career path you are pursing. While this is excellent news for those who are set on the occupation they want to enter and wish to join the workforce as soon as possible, it leaves little room for changing your trade school specialization or transferring your education into a different program.
If you are interested in a specific career path, there are many different programs available through trade school that can get you started in a well-paying career without a traditional degree. These popular programs include, but are not limited to, cosmetology, electrical technician, plumbing, automobile technician, welding, and carpentry.
A number of trade schools now offer vocational training online to help those who need added flexibility due to work and family responsibilities.
Is a College or Trade School Right for Me?
There are many considerations that go into making a choice between a college and trade school, but a good place to start is by taking the time to examine your future goals.
Are you a student with a variety of interests that is unsure of what you want to do after graduating from school? Then looking into a college degree program that gives you the time and opportunity to explore your interests through general education classes may be a good choice for you! On the other hand, if you are a student with a solid plan for where you would like to take your career, and you want to get out into the workforce as soon as possible – a trade school may be your best option to get on the fast-track of earning your certifications!
How to Know When a College is “Right”
In the end, of course, an ideal college is not just a bunch of factors. Many students say that the moment they realize a college is a great fit, it’s as if they have discovered a new home. Such a college should:
- Give you an academic program that serves your goals
- Provide instruction that works with how you like to learn
- Offer a level of rigor appropriate for your preparation and aptitude
- Offer you a community in which you can thrive
- Value you for what you have to offer
When all the pieces come together, it’s just as much a heartfelt insight as it is a logical decision.
What Results Might You Get?
Some colleges will be more able than others to help you get the results you want, from keeping college debt manageable to launching your career.
- Affordable cost. Colleges vary in their “financial friendliness.” Friendlier colleges offer more grants and scholarships, meet more financial need, and keep the average debt of graduates low.
- Retention rates. The number of students who return from year to year can indicate how happy students are with the campus. Four-year graduation rates signal how easy it is for students to get into the classes they need—and avoid the expense of extra years to graduate.
- Career assistance. Most colleges provide statistics showing how many graduates go on to graduate school or a job in their chosen field. Other signs to look for include programs that support internships, service learning, and co-op assignments.