Trade School vs Apprenticeship

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: January 3, 2022  •  8 min read  •  Trade
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Going to a trade school and an apprenticeship offer great ways to get into specific types of careers. So whether you are looking for an alternative to college or want to enter a career that doesn’t require college, these are two viable options.

Trade school offers a college-like experience but with more hands-on training. An apprenticeship, on the other hand, offers on-the-job training, along with classroom work. Before you make the right decision for yourself, it’s important to consider both options.

Trade School vs. Apprenticeship – The Basics

Before you look at how trade schools are different from apprenticeships, it’s important to understand the basics about both.

Trade School

With a trade school, you will be well-prepared for a career. It’s a much faster option compared to a traditional college. In addition, you won’t have to spend time learning subjects that don’t fit with your specific career goals.

Trade schools are available for careers from construction to culinary, cosmetology, and plumbing. Most trade schools are accredited and offer certification and licensing programs.

Before entering a trade school, you must complete high school or get your GED. It’s also necessary to take a placement exam. You may also need to be a state resident where you are applying.

Apprenticeship

With an apprenticeship, you will learn transferable skills to prepare you for a career. There are more than 22,000 apprenticeships registered in the United States. While this might seem like a high number, getting accepted into an apprenticeship isn’t always easy. You may have to wait to be accepted.

It’s not uncommon for apprenticeship programs to work with community colleges, too. This allows you to build your college credits while learning a trade. You may also end up dropping out of an apprenticeship before completing it. About 32% will complete an apprenticeship after entering it.

Before entering an apprenticeship, you must complete high school or have a GED. You will also need to apply through a local contractor or union. It may also be required to register as an apprentice with your state.

The Biggest Differences Between Trade Schools and Apprenticeships

While both trade schools and apprenticeships offer alternatives to traditional college, they are quite different. Let’s look at some of the biggest differences between the two.

There are many differences between trade schools and apprenticeships. Often, the one that fits best for you is the one that will help you get into the career you want sooner.

The Cost of a Trade School vs. Apprenticeship

Of course, it’s important to consider the cost of each before making your decision. For example, a trade school will offer financial aid, but you may have to take on student loan debt. On the other hand, you will earn money with an apprenticeship while you’re learning a new career.

It’s common for students in trade schools to take out loans up to $10,000. You might even need a higher amount, depending on the length of the program.

You will likely start with a low pay per hour with an apprenticeship, but your wage will increase with experience. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average apprentice will earn about $15 per hour.

Amount of Time to Complete

Another factor to consider when comparing a trade school to an apprenticeship is the amount of time it will take you to complete each.

Trade school typically takes about two years to complete. However, most programs will run from 16 to 24 months, depending on the trade you enter into.

An apprenticeship can take anywhere from three to five years. However, the training isn’t nearly as bad since you’re getting paid throughout. You will likely need to sign a contract to become an apprentice, as well.

Choosing Between a Trade School or an Apprenticeship

There are many factors to consider when choosing a path to a career. If trade school or an apprenticeship are options for you, it might not be easy to choose. Of course, there are cases where only one option is available to you.

When both options are possible, you want to consider them carefully. Make sure an apprenticeship isn’t required first. If it’s required for your new career, it’s likely a trade school will not be a good path. When an apprenticeship is required, you will still need to go through it, even if you go to trade school.

If you can choose one or the other, it’s a different decision. First, consider how you prefer to learn. For example, trade school might be a better option if you learn best in the classroom. However, if you learn best with hands-on tasks, an apprenticeship is likely the better decision.

Maybe you cannot take out student loans or pay for trade school. If this is the case, an apprenticeship is likely a better option. Not only will you not have to pay for an education, but you will also get paid to work during your apprenticeship.

Whether you choose between a trade school and an apprenticeship, it’s an important decision. Take your time to consider it carefully.

Frequently Asked Questions About Trade School

Trade schools offer which types of careers?

There are several great options for your career through trade schools. Some will be similar to what’s offered through an apprenticeship. However, some career options will not offer the apprenticeship option.

Common career training found from trade schools includes:

These and many other career options offered training through trade schools.

What is the cost of trade school?

According to Indeed.com, attending a trade school will range from $7,700 to $16,000. This includes the tuition and fees for up to two years in a trade school.

If you attend a public trade school, it will cost less than a private option.

If you attend a trade school and stay on campus, the cost can go up significantly. For example, you might spend as much as $30,000 for an on-campus trade school.

How can I pay for trade school?

If you choose the trade school route, you can use financial aid and grants to help you pay for your schooling. Most trade schools will offer financial aid through government-backed student loans and private student loans. You may also qualify for a federal Pell Grant, which you won’t have to pay back.

It’s also possible to apply for and receive scholarships. Some are merit-based, while others are need-based.

Frequently Asked Questions About Apprenticeships

Which careers commonly offer apprenticeships?

It’s common to find an apprenticeship in just about any skilled trade career. Some of the most common occupations requiring an apprenticeship include:

Many other careers offer apprenticeships but may not require them.

How much can I make as an apprentice?

While working as an apprentice, you will likely make a starting average wage of about $15 per hour. You can earn raises throughout your program, however. As you gain specific skills, you will likely earn more money. Plus, once you finish your training, you can earn quite a bit more.

Do I get any employee benefits as an apprentice?

Yes, you will likely gain access to several benefits. Some of the most common benefits include health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, 401(k) matching, and paid time off. You may also get an employee discount, paid housing, and even sabbatical benefits.


If you want to enter into a trade as a career, choosing between a trade school and an apprenticeship is likely a decision you will need to make. Both offer viable options to enter certain careers. However, make sure you consider what you prefer before making your final decision.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!