College or trade school: Which is better for your future?

By Hayden Bush, OSU Open Campus Education Coordinator

For some people, going to college is a time-honored tradition to attend the same college as parents, grandparents, and the rest of the family. For others, they will be the first generation to go to college. Others will attend trade school to become highly needed welders, machinists, technicians, and medical assistants. What is the right path for you?

There are many things to consider before you make the choice. Colleges and trade schools have some similarities but also some differences. The best place to start is with the end in mind; think about what you want to do before pursuing the next step in your journey.

Traditional colleges allow you to focus your attention on a specific area of study, which is considered your “major”. There are several options for traditional college education, including community colleges and public or private universities. The first part of your degree at a college or university usually focuses on general education classes, such as English/literature, math, science, and history. The idea behind this is to set you up 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. The later part of your studying will be specific to your degree.
Typically, the completion of college degrees take between 2-4 years, depending on the type of degree. Online degree options now offer more flexibility than ever. If you want to work in a specific field of study that requires education, traditional college may be right for you.

What if education isn’t your thing? Consider trade schools, which differ from traditional colleges in many ways. Trade schools provide job-specific, skill based learning. These courses are typically offered at a much lower cost than a degree, take less time to complete, and allow the student to specialize in career offerings. Trade school students jump right in to classes based solely on the training needed to help you succeed in your future career. Most likely, general education courses are not part of trade schools. Lacking a background in general education classes within a degree program, will set you up for only specific career paths, so if you know exactly what you want to do this is a great fit.

Traditionally, money was a deciding factor for these options – how much will it cost and how much can I earn? Although trade school costs less, it limits career choices. Traditional college allows for more of those career choices, it costs around 400% more money to complete. Today, with the shortage of skilled workers, trade workers often make more money than those with college degrees, but may not always have the same benefits.
Money really shouldn’t be the deciding factor for your schooling choices anymore because the earning gap is less existent. Instead, consider your life goals and ambitions. The world desperately needs good workers in the trades but we also need folks managing companies, teaching, and serving in other ways. Remember, start with the end in mind. Think about which career is right for you, rather than the path it may take it get there.

By Extension, Your Connection to the Programs, People, and Publications from OSU Extension Tillamook County
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