The average student loan borrower graduates with around $37,000 in debt and a monthly payment of almost $400.
Considering that the average starting salary for a college graduate is around $50,000, that means that many recent grads will have to fork over more than 10% of their paycheck for years to manage their college loans.
That’s quite a burden to be carrying at the start of one’s journey.
It’s no wonder, then, that many young people faced with this prospect are looking for alternate ways to prepare for their future, and one such option is trade school, otherwise known as vocational school, or CTE.
The purpose of these programs is to train you for a very specific career, and they tend to be shorter (and cheaper) than a four-year degree, so you can get into the workforce quickly and start making money.
If trade school is something you’re considering, you might be wondering what kind of training will offer the best bang for your buck.
Of course, salaries can fluctuate based on time, region, and your level of experience, but here’s a rough countdown of ten of the most lucrative trades that you could train for in two years or less: 10.
Heavy Equipment Operator 9.
HVAC Technician 8.
Geological and Petroleum Technician 4.
Dental Hygienist 2.
Elevator Installer/Repairer and 1.
Radiation Therapist Keep in mind, these are median salaries, meaning half the workers in these fields make more, and half make less.
So while you probably won’t make this much right out of trade school, there is potential to earn an even higher salary someday.
Because of health and safety demands, many of these careers require licensure, or apprenticeships, or both.
And while some employers might prefer a bachelor’s degree, all of these fields should be accessible to someone with just a two-year associate's degree.
Salary isn’t the only factor that makes these careers attractive.The “job growth” percentage represents how much employment is expected to increase by 2026--in other words, how much the demand for workers in each field will rise--and you can see that most of them are well above the general employment growth rate of 7%.
This might be because these jobs are more difficult to outsource than, say, computer programming or manufacturing.
Office buildings and homes will always need plumbing and air conditioning, and you can’t send a patient overseas for a sonogram or a teeth cleaning.
This might sound promising, but there are some important caveats.
First of all, many trade schools are for-profit, so they’re incentivized to use aggressive recruiting strategies, including exaggerating their results.
In 2015, one of the largest such companies, Corinthian Colleges, was fined $30 million and forced to close its 28 schools because it was using fraudulent data to promise unrealistic employment prospects to potential students.
And because these schools often target low-income students whose loans are backed by the federal government, there’s no incentive for them to keep tuition low and no consequences for poor results.
This has contributed greatly to the national student debt crisis, with over 40% of for-profit college students eventually defaulting on their loans.
Even if you find a reputable, affordable vocational school, you should be aware of the trade-off.
That training may allow you to make more money right after graduation, but in the long run, a 4-year bachelor’s degree will eventually earn a higher salary.
This is partly because the modern job market tends to reward flexibility.
It’s estimated that the average American changes careers between 3 and 7 times in their lifetime.
Demographic and technological changes can reduce demand for some jobs while increasing others, and someone who’s trained in only one very specialized skill will have more trouble adapting than someone with a more rounded education.
There are other benefits to a 4-year college education that are harder to quantify, like leadership, communication and analytical skills.
If after 20 years of fixing pipes, Pete decides to start his own plumbing business, he’s going to have to contend with economic theory, social demographics, employee management, client relationships, marketing and design… He’ll be trading in his tool belt for a whole new set of skills that a strictly mechanical education might not have prepared him for.
There is a movement to make vocational training more holistic, to include more extensive classes on things like history, social sciences and writing, so vocational students not only prepare for a career, but understand how that career fits into the overall economy, and how it might change in the future.
Unfortunately, many people still see trade school as nothing more than an alternative for people not “smart” enough to attend 4-year college.
Vocational teachers in high schools often complain that their classes are treated as a place to stick “problem students.” In fact, there are many reasons someone might opt for CTE that have nothing to do with academic capabilities.
It might be simply unfeasible to spend 4 years at an expensive university, followed by lengthy internships before one can even start to make an entry-level salary.
And a lot of people who seek vocational training genuinely love their work.
Many of the trades on this list report higher than average job satisfaction ratings.
Like any education, you should research vocational schools before enrolling, and speak directly to graduates about their experience.
And ask yourself honestly whether you’d be happy practicing this one trade for the rest of your life.
If the answer is no, you should think about supplementing your training with more general academics, perhaps at a local community college, so you’ll have the flexibility to shift gears in the future.
And that’s our two cents!