You don't need a college degree to earn $70K your first year

Trade school vs. college: here's what to know

Going to college is something most parents want for their children to gain the education they need to make it in the world. But that's not the only way.

In part because of the overwhelming amounts of student debt associated with attaining a four-year degree, more millennials are considering alternatives, like vocational school, where graduates of some programs can earn a median of $70,000 in their first year on the job.

Such technical or trade schools teach skills specific to jobs like mechanic, electrician, pharmacy technician or dental hygienist.

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"Vocational schools can be a really great career path particularly if you want to be in the 'STEM' discipline," said Lauren Griffin, senior vice president of Adecco Staffing in a January interview. STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.

But whether you are just graduating high school or looking for a new career, there are pros and cons to attending a vocational school. Here are some to consider before signing up for classes:


Length of Schooling:

For starters, getting certified from trade schools takes significantly less time. "Typically, it takes two years," said Griffin, and that means "you enter the workforce sooner and therefore start earning income sooner."

For instance, programs for pharmacy technicians usually include at least 600 hours of instruction over a 15-week period. Cosmetology school typically takes five to six months and a certified automotive mechanic takes eight months to just under two years.

Hands on:

Everyone learns a different way, but some people are more visual learners. In that case, a vocational school might be a great option.

At the New York Automotive & Diesel Institute, an automotive mechanic trade school in Queens, students have classroom sessions but the majority of the instruction takes place in workshops, which helps for a smooth transition to being on the job.

Price of education:

The eight-month program there costs about $16,000, whereas the average cost of tuition and fees at four-year public schools for the 2015-2016 school year was $9,410 a year, according to theCollege Board. That makes a difference when it comes to loans, too. Think "$30,000 on average with college loans, versus the average trade loan of $10,000," Griffin said.

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For some certifications, the return on investment is well worth it. The median first-year earnings of graduates of certain certificate programs, including several in health care, were more than $70,000, according to

And plumbers, for example, earn $50,660 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — not bad for a two-year plumbing certification program that costs about $17,000 at a trade school like HoHoKus School of Trade & Technical Sciences in Paterson, New Jersey.



The automotive and diesel institute's executive director, Patrick Hart, said the stigma of a trade school could hold graduates back in the workforce.

"The biggest con is the prestige level of a trade degree as compared to a four-year degree," he told CNBC in January.

Costs of tools:

Tuition is usually more affordable for vocational schools, but with a lot of the learning being outside of the classroom, there is the extra financial burden of tool kits and supplies.

Limited flexibility:

Only completing a certification program in a specific line of work could cause limited flexibility if that particular sector isn't hiring, becomes obsolete, or if you can no longer perform that skill or don't like the work once you start. This puts more pressure on your career path, Griffin said.

Ask yourself: "Is this something that is going to be somewhat transferable?" Before deciding on a trade school, make sure "it is a career that you understand and you know what you are getting into," she advised.