Best Trade School Jobs

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Trade schools and vocational school programs

Trade school graduates are in high demand. For the past couple of years, there has been a drastic labor shortage across all skilled trades. For example, over eight million skilled workers were lost from the labor force due to the pandemic. The economy has started to recover. But we still need at least four million skilled laborers to replace the ones that are gone.

The construction industry has been hit exceptionally hard. There is a severe shortage of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, welders, HVAC technicians, and more. Trade schools are crucial right now. They can provide vocational education to bridge the gap.

Skilled workers also have more power now than ever before. There has never been a better employment climate in which to learn a new trade. It’s also the perfect opportunity for those already in these fields to increase their earning potential. Trade school degrees can prepare students to fill the scores of open positions in high-paying trade jobs. It is not always necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree when you can pursue a trade school career instead. This trade school jobs list can help.

vocational jobs

High Paying Jobs From Trade Schools

Currently, there are over a million job openings in the United States.

And some of the largest portions of job openings are for skilled trades. While some trade school careers require an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, others do not. Many people can bypass the two or four-year associate degree or bachelor’s degree for relevant certifications and training.

Some of the highest paying trade jobs are listed below. Students can prepare for many of these trade school careers with on the job training and a certificate or high school diploma.

Some of the best trade school careers include:

  • Trade School Careers in Construction
  • Trade School Careers in Manufacturing
  • Trade School Careers in Welding
  • Trade School Careers in HVAC
  • Trade School Careers in Plumbing
  • Trade School Careers as an Electrician
  • Trade School Careers in Practical Nursing
  • Trade School Careers in Radiation Therapy
  • Trade School Careers in Dental Hygiene
  • Trade School Careers in Web Development

This is only a partial list of the trade school careers available for those with the drive to learn.

The Highest-Paying Trade Jobs

These high paying vocational jobs usually only require you to attend a diploma, certificate, or degree program at a trade, vocational, or associate degree school. Additionally, many of the positions on our list of the best trade school jobs have salaries far above even bachelor’s degree careers.

Students also don’t need to pay the higher fees and tuition of a four-year bachelor’s degree program at a university or college. This makes vocational colleges some of the best “bang for your buck” higher education options.

In this guide, updated for 2023, we’ll take a look at the highest-paying trade jobs and the best vocational and associate degree careers. We’ll also answer some of the most common questions students have about trade schools. Plus, we’ll list and rank some of the best trade and vocational schools in the nation.

Students seeking a vocational education will learn how to evaluate vocational colleges and find one near enough to attend in person if they wish. However, there are also many trade school programs offered online. We will discuss those as well. This trade schools list of careers has something for any student who is ready to pursue a solid and secure position. And these highest paid vocational jobs leave plenty of room to grow as well.

What is a Vocational School?

Vocational schools — also known as trade schools — provide degrees and certifications that help to prepare you for a trade or line of work. Also, these schools usually offer hands-on training. As a result, you don’t always have to go to a four-year college or graduate school to get a great job. While earning a bachelor’s degree can help you in certain careers, you can learn some of the highest-paying trades through technical training alone. And there are plenty of trade school options to choose from.

Many online schools provide trade school degree programs. To gain acceptance, students typically only need a high school diploma.

Many vocational schools are “stand-alone” entities. They don’t offer any “traditional” college degree programs. Other associate degree schools may be part of larger community colleges. Or they may be affiliated with two-year colleges or universities. Additionally, some trade school programs are offered in partnership with high schools. This includes programs that begin after the 12th grade.

In America, trade schools and voke-tech schools are typically government-sponsored schools. They provide transferable credits to two or four-year non-trade-focused programs.

In recent years, many associate degree schools have also expanded their academic Curricula. They may offer courses on critical thinking, mathematics, management, and more. This blurs the line between traditional two-year degrees and vocational degrees to some extent. But most vocational programs focus on teaching a skilled trade.

Is a Vocational School Different Than a Career College?

In America, career colleges and voke-tech schools are pretty different. Career colleges are private, for-profit entities. As a result, they tend to have lower graduation rates and higher student debt. And there are not as many safeguards in place for students. Typically, career colleges offer programs less than two years in length.

Students are sometimes successful with these programs. But there is less oversight over the quality and accreditation of these programs.

Associate degree colleges are almost always state or federally-sponsored institutions. They may also be tied to magnet high schools or community colleges. They can even be their own free-standing entities. Some students receive their high school diploma directly from a vocational school.

You want to be looking for an accredited and nationally recognized vocational or trade school. So be sure to look for accreditation. This can come from the Association of Career and Technical Education and other accrediting bodies.

Additionally, some full-fledged colleges offer trade or vocational diplomas, certificates, or degree programs. Potential students should also check that these colleges and universities are regionally accredited. Regional accreditation is the highest form of accreditation for academic organizations in the US.

The Benefits of Attending a Vocational School

Some of the many benefits of attending vocational school include:

  • Vocational schools are typically more affordable than traditional degrees
  • Vocational schools tend to educate and train students directly for a specific trade career, with little coursework that doesn’t apply to a students chosen career path
  • Vocational schools often have good relations with hiring organizations within their region
  • Vocational school programs can be taken online or in-person depending on the trade
  • Vocational schools are held to a high standard for instruction by the Association of Career and Technical Education
  • Vocational schools often provide transferable credits in the event a student wants to transfer to a two or four year degree
  • Skilled trades offer some of the highest salaries for two year or less educational programs
  • Skilled trades comprise a majority of skilled jobs available today
  • Skilled trades offer you the ability to find employment across the nation or start your own business
  • The average tuition for an entire vocational program is $18,000
  • The average earning potential of a skilled trade graduate are close to $80,000

The 30 Highest-Paying Skilled Trade Careers For 2020


Construction Managers

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Construction managers are responsible for nearly every aspect of a specific building project. They ensure the job is completed on time, to specifications, and on schedule. Most construction managers are independent contractors who seek out their own work. That also means that as construction managers, they can choose which construction projects they want to work on.

One of the unique things about construction management is that it encompasses so many different fields. Construction managers may be responsible for:

  • Overseeing the negotiation of a quality contract for a construction project. This is also sometimes called project management.
  • Ensuring they have proper staffing to complete a building project.
  • Making sure the proper materials have been ordered.
  • Ensuring safety concerns are properly addressed.
  • Ensuring the structure gets built correctly and is under budget.

A construction manager even needs to understand the building codes. This way, they understand the regulations in the various cities and towns where they do business. Construction managers have a lot of responsibility. They can also fill many different roles in the construction field. As a result, construction management is one of the best trades to learn if you want to make a great salary.

You might think being a construction manager would require extensive education. But most people who hire construction managers don’t care about education. They care more about results. They want the make sure the job is done right.

Construction managers often learn on the job as they’re working their way up to a managerial position. Many students work in construction technology trades while going to vocational school. This way, they learn how to manage the entirety of a construction project. These future construction managers are uniquely positioned for success.

Construction management is also a common certificate and associate degree program. Most construction managers learn the role at schools offering trade and vocational degrees. And yes, you can even learn construction management online. For those in construction management, the annual salary can exceed $93,000.


Air Traffic Controllers

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Many people are surprised to learn you don’t need a bachelor’s degree to work in air traffic control. Air traffic controllers often only need an associate’s degree or commensurate military experience. In fact, many air traffic controllers get their start in the Armed Forces.

Of course, there are still many hoops to jump through. But most of them can be completed by pursuing a two-year vocational program. Like many other high-paying jobs from vocational colleges, it comes down to the effort you put in.

So what do air traffic controllers do? Air traffic controllers focus on the safety of air operations. They guide air traffic into and out of airports as efficiently as possible.

In emergency situations, air traffic controllers may need to make some tough calls. As a result, they play critical roles in getting planes and passengers back on the ground safely.

As you may expect, there are a range of tests you need to pass to become an air traffic controller—at least for the FAA). These include physical health, mental health, and cognitive functioning tests.


Radiation Therapists

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Radiation therapy is one of the highest-paying trade school jobs on this year’s list. There are expected to be more than 9% more positions opening in the next few years for radiation therapists. These skilled individuals administer radiation-related treatment to people who are sick. Most work in oncology departments. That could include hospitals, cancer centers, and other medical settings.

If you break a bone, you meet with a radiologist. These technicians administer X-rays and other diagnostic tests. But radiology is not the same as radiation therapy.

Instead, radiation therapists operate machines. These machines deliver concentrated radiation therapy to the area of a tumor. Radiation treatment is designed to shrink or remove tumors and cancers.
Radiation therapy is a high-paying technical school job that you might not expect on this list. However, entry into the field can be achieved with only a vocational associate’s degree. Later, you can pursue a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy to learn more.

People who excel in radiation therapy roles tend to be comfortable with technology. But they should also be good with people. They will spend lots of time answering questions and reassuring anxious patients. It is one of the best vocational careers for those with patience and compassion.


Elevator Installers and Repairers

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Have you ever wondered who makes sure that elevators are actually safe? There are many technologies used in large buildings. But elevators seem like some of the most complicated. And it’s important to keep them functioning properly.

We don’t think too much about these human transportation capsules that can rapidly pull riders hundreds (or thousands) of feet in the air. Thankfully, there are specialized roles for keeping these machines running in tip-top shape. Elevator Installers and Repairers install and make sure the elevators we use every day are in good repair.

Regardless of whether they are trade school jobs or not, elevator installation and repair are not easy jobs. These workers are required to be on call 24 hours a day. They have to crawl into cramped spaces and deal with great heights. And this technical school job can even be dangerous. Elevator Installers must also be familiar with all the local building codes. That’s a challenge in itself. On the other hand, elevator work is one of the most lucrative trades you can find.

There are courses and certificate programs through trade and associate degree schools for this career. Many elevator installers and repairers actually learn these programs along with apprenticeships.

If you want to learn elevator mechanics and repair, it helps to know someone in the field. But if you don’t, a local trade school or vocational school may help. First, they will help you select the right prerequisite courses. Then, they may be able to link you up with an elevator installer in your area. If you’re lucky, you can do an apprenticeship. Check with your school’s career services department.


Dental Hygienists

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We’ve all dealt with dental hygienists at least a few times in our life. So you already know the difference between getting your teeth cleaned by a good hygienist as opposed to a bad hygienist. The best hygienists have great bedside manners and compassion when dealing with patients. But they also have the technical skills needed to maneuver cleaning equipment around a patient’s mouth.

The job pays well and allows for weekends off, making it one of the best trade jobs around.

While not a career for everyone, this is one of those trade school jobs with plenty of openings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 19% more vacancies in this field within the next few years. And there are already hundreds of thousands of dental hygiene jobs out there.

You can also break into the field through many two-year programs. This technical training can be found at voke schools and associate degree colleges. And sometimes, you can even join an accelerated program to finish earlier than two years.

The coursework is a blend of basic medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology. Plus, you will have dental-specific courses. The courses will be centered around educating patients, cleaning teeth, and assisting dentists. with other tasks.

For a career with so many upcoming job openings, dental hygiene is one of the highest-paying vocational jobs. There are many educational programs that can prepare you to enter the field. With such strong earnings, we think dental hygiene is a great choice for many students.


Web Developers

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Web developers have some of the highest-paying trade school jobs going. Web development is a unique technical school job where clients don’t care much about your education. They care more about the results you can deliver.

There are a variety of ways to enter into the field of web development, which makes it one of the most flexible trade school careers. These include:

  • Online or in-person certification programs
  • Individual free online courses
  • Individual paid online courses
  • Self-teaching
  • Bootcamps
  • Associate degrees and two-year degrees
  • Four-year bachelor’s degrees

One of the most important steps in preparing to be a web developer is your portfolio. This shows that you’re working on some projects and learning new technologies. So a web developer should get started with some hands-on experience right away.

“Web developer” is most commonly used to describe an individual who is a “front end developer.” These workers are responsible for the visual and interactive parts of a web page. You’ve probably heard of HTML, CSS, Javascript, or PHP. These are the languages that most web developers gain experience in.

This is in contrast to “back end” developers who work behind the scenes on various websites. Web developers can continue to gain experience and educate themselves as time goes on. Eventually, they can move into back-end development. Back-end development requires a more advanced skill set. If you’re a web developer who is skilled at front and back-end development, you can often make even more money.

Web developer careers are very lucrative and are similar to trade school careers in web design. You can work for an agency or as a freelancer in web development. And you can enhance your skillset as you go along. That’s why this is one of the best-paying trade-school jobs on this list.


Landscape Architects

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Landscape architects create and maintain attractive and functional outdoor spaces. They may also be called landscape designers or permaculturists. Projects in this role may be as small as the yards of individual homes or as large as college campuses or city parks.

Landscape architects may work for government organizations, businesses, or private architecture firms. They may also freelance and work for themselves.

One of the things many landscape architects enjoy about their work is that they get to work outside much of the time. This can lead to “lulls” in business in some climates. But often, landscape architecture can pay enough in the busy season to support this role year-round.

There aren’t many true prerequisites for joining the field. You can pursue associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s level work in this field. Some of the courses you might take as a student of landscape architecture include:

  • Site Planning and Design
  • Architectural Design and Process
  • Landscape Technologies
  • Computer-Aided Landscape Design
  • Horticulture
  • Project and Site Planning
  • Urban Sustainability
  • Principles of Applied Ecology

Medical Sonographers

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Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technicians are two related trade jobs. Both have to do with providing medical imaging services of internal organs. Typically, individuals with the title medical sonographer will specialize in one area and one type of diagnostic test. They may be called:

  • Breast sonographers
  • Abdominal sonographers
  • Gynecologic sonographers
  • Musculoskeletal sonographers
  • Cardiovascular sonographers.

Regardless of a sonographer’s specialization, most work in large clinics or hospitals and are employed full-time. Typical job duties include:

  • Preparing patients for a diagnostic technique
  • Educating patients about why and how the test will be performed
  • Performing the tests
  • Maintaining the equipment used to complete the tests
  • Providing summaries of imaging results for physicians

Cardiovascular technicians do a distinct type of sonography work that is more involved. In this role, you may perform more invasive imaging techniques. So education for cardiovascular technicians is often slightly more specialized.

Regardless of your specialization, you can start this career with a trade school degree. There are many vocational degrees at the associate’s level in these fields. And the demand for all sonography roles is quite high nationwide.


Pile Driver Operators

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Pile-driver operators perform one very specific role. But those in this trade job may work across a massive range of construction projects. Pile-drive operators drive large machines that drive piles (large pillars) into the earth. These pillars serve as reinforcements. They can be for buildings, bridges, piers, and other types of construction.

Pile drivers operate a single-machine type. But performing the job well is incredibly important. They need to keep workers on the construction project safe. And they must protect the stability of the structure.

Pile-Driver operators have union trade jobs and are typically members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. They often gain skills in the trade through a multi-year apprenticeship. This comes after getting a high school diploma or finishing a GED program.

Many places also require pile-driver operators to take specific coursework in related topics. This coursework can often be found at a local or online trade or vocational school. In some locations, pile-driver operators are also classified as crane operators. This requires additional coursework from local trade, vocational, or community colleges.

One final note about pile-drive operators is that even though there isn’t a high academic barrier to entry, this is quite a specialized role. Even in large states, there aren’t a huge number of pile-driver operators, placing them in great demand. For example, California has just over 500 pile driver operators. This means the top 10% of earners within this role make over $100,000 a year as of the latest surveys. That makes it one of the highest-paid trade jobs in the industry.


Aircraft Mechanics and Technicians

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Another one of the highest-paying trade jobs is in aviation. Aircraft mechanics and technicians are in great demand across the nation. Aviation mechanics and technicians can enter the workforce with associates level vocational degrees. Aircraft mechanics can also earn certificates, depending on what area of the plane they’re working on.

Additionally, many of these high-paying trade jobs offer the chance to break into manufacturing settings. Learning to make airplane parts can provide more room for advancement in a career.

People usually begin work as aircraft mechanics or technicians with hands-on training. Many attend an FAA-approved trade school. These schools give individuals the technical training to test and maintain aircraft-related equipment. Over time, aircraft mechanics will likely specialize in various roles in the field, including:

  • Airframe and powerplant mechanics: Work on many different aircraft parts
  • Avionic technicians: Specialize in the electrical equipment in planes
  • Inspection technicians: Provide the “go-ahead” for a plane to take off

All of these trade school careers start with vocational or technical training.



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Boilermakers are skilled tradespeople who make, install, and maintain commercial boilers. These are not regular household boilers. They are large ones that heat water to generate power. The power is then used to provide heat in a building, ship, or factory.

A boilermaker may also work on closed vats or tanks that hold oil, liquids, or other chemicals.
Becoming a boilermaker usually involves a four-year apprenticeship through an employer or boilermakers union. That’s how you can get on-the-job training and instruction.

Part of the training to be a boilermaker may involve pursuing a program through a trade or vocational school. Usually, you will begin by getting a welding certificate program. You may also take classes in plumbing, electrical work, metalwork, and more.

The work of boilermakers can be physically demanding. It requires strong knowledge of proper construction, installation, and safety techniques. Additionally, boilermakers should know a lot about the gases and liquids in the containers they work on. Other aspects of being a boilermaker include:

  • Learning robotic construction methods
  • Reading blueprints to determine boiler locations
  • Diagnosing issues with boilers and large containers

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

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Another one of the highest-paying trade jobs is in radiology. Radiologic and MRI technologists utilize specific imaging technologies for medical diagnosis. They generally work in clinics or hospital settings. To become a radiologic or MRI technologist, earning an associate’s degree is the first step. However, bachelor’s degree programs are also available.

In this degree program, students learn basic medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology. They also learn how to use imaging technologies with on-the-job training. Typical job responsibilities of radiologic and MRI technologists include:

  • Maintaining imaging technologies
  • Preparing patients for imaging procedures
  • Providing professional bedside manner during procedures
  • Explaining results and the rationale for tests to patients
  • Providing summaries of imaging results to physicians.

There are major perks in pursuing a vocational degree related to radiologic or MRI technology. The first is that they are high-paying trades you can practice nearly anywhere you go. The second is that the role is in great demand. Lastly, the number of job openings in this field is expected to grow by nine percent over the coming years.


Respiratory Therapists

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Another one of the best trade school careers is in respiratory therapy. Respiratory therapists have some of the highest-paying trade jobs for those who want to break into healthcare. help patients who are having trouble with their respiratory systems. Typically, a vocational degree at the associate’s degree level is required to enter the field. Those who earn a respiratory therapy degree are likely to find great demand for their skills. These skilled professionals are needed in any large clinic or hospital setting. And they also work at retirement homes, athletic complexes, and private offices.

Everyone needs to breathe, so this is a demanding position where you could be on call 24/7. This creates the opportunity to work shifts around the clock.

An associate degree in respiratory therapy is the entry point into the field of respiratory therapy. Many choose to continue their education at the bachelor’s level. Degree programs in respiratory therapy provide academic and on-the-job training in:

  • Medical terminology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Patient Education
  • Health Sciences

Respiratory therapists are required to obtain licensure in every state except for Alaska.
There is always nationwide demand for workers in respiratory therapy. And the field is expected to explode by 21 percent in the coming years. It’s one of the hottest and best-paying trade jobs on the market.


Construction and Building Inspectors

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Construction and building inspectors determine whether a new or existing structure meets coding regulations. And they decide if the building is safe for potential occupants. They may work in local or state government. But they also might also be hired to do inspections on behalf of:

  • Banks and mortgage companies
  • Homebuyers
  • Home sellers
  • Real estate agents
  • Insurance companies
  • Lawyers
  • Renters

Most building inspectors learn on the job. Many have held previous trade jobs in some aspect of construction or another skilled trade. But many also attend vocational or associate degree programs to learn some aspects of the job.

Additionally, some states require licensure or certification. These programs are often offered through a trade or vocational school. Construction and building inspectors need to understand all the local building codes, so a sharp memory is crucial for this role. A career in building inspection is one of the top trade school careers for those who enjoy working independently.


Film Editors and Camera Operators

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Film editors and camera operators are two trade school careers you can get with vocational training. There are typically no specific educational requirements for either one of these roles. But production film settings are increasingly high-tech. So coursework related to film production and camera work helps many individuals to get into the field.

Trade school courses in these roles may include:

  • Editing
  • Screenwriting
  • Cinematography
  • Lighting
  • Visual effects
  • Industry practices and regulations

Work conditions for film editors and camera operators vary, as do employment arrangements. Some editors and camera operators work in freelance settings. Others hold down steady employment in the entertainment industry. Most film editors and camera operators work on a project-by-project basis. That even includes those who work on the production of major motion pictures.

Earnings for those who freelance or produce commercial videos can vary quite a lot. The national average for film editors is around $72,000. And camera operators can make between 50,000 to over $125,000 annually. It all depends on the project you are working on.


Electro-Mechanical Technicians

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Electro-mechanical technicians operate, calibrate, and maintain robotic or electromechanical equipment. This fascinating technical school job pays very well. But it only requires an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate to get started. The job duties of an electro-mechanical technician can include:

  • Reading diagrams and blueprints to understand how to assemble equipment
  • Use specific instruments to determine the dimensions
  • Create fittings and fixtures using metalworking machines
  • Calibrate or repair various pieces of equipment
  • Use hand tools and soldering equipment to install different parts

Obviously, electro-mechanical technicians need an understanding of mechanical and electrical systems. And they often work with engineers in these roles. Most specialize in one area of technology to start. So they may go to trade schools for engineering, technology, electrical systems, and more.

Electro-mechanical technicians may work in dozens of different settings. These include manufacturing, aerospace, energy, plastics, and more. Regardless of where they work, they are expected to keep up with the certifications needed for their role. Many of these certifications can be earned at vocational or associate degree programs.

With experience, many electro-mechanical technicians move to more advanced roles in engineering careers.


Morticians, Undertakers, and Funeral Directors

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It’s not everyone’s dream job, but funeral service workers make a pretty good living. This high-paying career only requires an associates-level vocational degree. Usually, the program will be in funeral science or funeral services.

Once students have taken the appropriate coursework, they work with another professional for up to two years. Some states require professional licensure as well.

Typically work conditions for funeral services workers involve non-traditional hours. That’s because services are routinely needed on short notice. This means that funeral workers may be on-call most of the time.

While working in funeral services is certainly not for everyone, there are some benefits. First, the pay is pretty good. Funeral Directors can make up to $75,000 a year. Another perk is job security. At some point, everyone will need your services. Lastly, being in the funeral business is not location-dependent. These professionals are needed in even the smallest towns in the country.


Occupational Therapy Assistant

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Occupational therapy is a set of therapeutic techniques meant to help people get back to normal life after an injury or illness. Those in this field help people with the skills they need in everyday work and life.
Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and backgrounds. They may help people with physical, emotional, or mental limitations. Some specialize in working only with children. or senior citizens. Others work with athletes or military veterans.

Occupational therapists must have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree to practice. But an occupational therapist assistant can get started by earning an associate’s degree. There are many such programs at community colleges, trade schools, and associate degree schools.

Occupational therapy assistants help patients do activities like exercises and stretches. They encourage their patients to do specific activities and tasks to get back to normal. They might drive patients to and from appointments, help them use a cane or walker, and do many other tasks.
Work settings for occupational therapy assistants include:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing Homes
  • Retirement homes
  • Schools
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Clinics

There are currently many opportunities for skilled workers in occupational therapy. And job openings within the field are expected to grow by 31% over the coming few years. This makes occupation therapy assisting one of the highest-paying trade jobs you can get with a trade school education.


Rotary Drill Operators

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You may have heard that oil fields and drilling operations can provide great salaries for skilled trades. The job of a rotary drill operator does nothing to buck this trend. Rotary drill operators control large drilling rigs that access oil and gas in the Earth.

Responsibilities of this trade job include:

The ability to read and implement plans created by petroleum engineers
Maintaining equipment used for drilling
Implement ad-hoc solutions when drilling circumstances change
Critical thinking and judgment skills are needed in operating large equipment

You may be wondering whether high-paying jobs operating large machinery are going by the wayside. After all, automation is taking control of many industrial-scale resource extraction sites. But jobs for rotary drill operators are only expected to grow. Some job duties can only be accomplished by a human. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, rotary drill operator jobs are expected to increase by 24% in the coming years.

As with many specialized operators of equipment, there aren’t a ton of rotary drill operators. This means that it’s a worker’s market when it comes to gaining employment. Even oil-rich states such as Texas only have a few thousand qualified rotary drill operators. And with the current oil processing boom in the United States, this makes it a great time to jump into the trade.



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Drafting is a skilled vocation you can learn in a two-year program. Drafters get design specifications from architects and engineers. Then, they turn them into technical drawings that can be used by construction teams.

This vocation is perpetually in high demand. Drafters are needed for nearly every construction project, from individual houses to skyscrapers. A career in drafting is also a great way to determine if you want to advance your career as an architect or engineer.

The most common route to becoming a drafter is by attending an associates-level vocational program in drafting. This will provide you with foundational knowledge in architecture, mathematics, CAD, and more. Job duties include:

  • Creating final building plans using computer-assisted design
  • Documenting the building materials and techniques to be used in the project
  • Specifying the dimensions for a project
  • Improving on rough sketches made by engineers or architects


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Electricians have been in demand for close to 100 years, and this job never goes out of fashion. Almost all structures in the country have electrical systems. Sure, we have upgrades to many of the systems and appliances in our homes. But the underlying electrical work in homes and businesses has remained just as crucial.

Electricians also have some of the most robust educational tracks for newcomers looking to get into a high-paying trade. Many states require workers to become licensed to practice electrical systems work. And many states offer both apprenticeship and trade school routes toward sitting for an electrician exam.

There are hundreds of companies where electricians can find employment. But they also work on a per-project basis as freelancers or small business owners. Some electricians are even kept on retainer or in large venues or buildings.

Most electrical work tends to be inside. And work conditions are typically easier than many other forms of construction work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field will gain 10 percent more job openings over the coming years. Relative to all other high-paying trade jobs, electrical work will be in greater demand than average.


Wind Turbine Technicians

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As the potential for a “green new deal” increases, more places are adopting alternative sources of energy on a grand scale. And some of the highest paying trade jobs will be had in this sector. And wind turbine technicians will be increasingly in demand.

There are many more openings for wind turbine technicians than qualified individuals to fill them. As a result, schools are creating associate degree wind turbine programs in droves.

The primary route to becoming a wind turbine technician is to become certified at a trade school. These certification programs can range between six months and one year in length. This means they have some of the fastest and best returns on investment (ROI) of any non-degree job.

Wind turbine technicians specialize in diagnosing, fixing, maintaining, and setting up wind turbines. Most individuals in this role are full-time employees who work typical eight-hour workdays. Occasionally, emergency situations may call for extended hours. This can include night or weekend repair work.



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Plumbers have one of the highest-paying careers you can get with a trade-school education. And they aren’t going anywhere soon. Plumbers are needed for practically every construction project in the nation. And they are one of the most commonly requested tradespeople for residential settings.

Historically, most plumbers learned the trade through apprenticeships. But today, many also attend a trade school to start their careers. Licensure is required for plumbers in many states.
Plumbers often work odd hours making emergency house calls. So often, they need to work nights and weekends too. However, these visits are often billed out at a premium rate. So they present an opportunity for plumbers to make even more money.

Typical courses in a vocational or trade school plumbing program may include:

  • Pipe system design
  • Blueprint reading
  • Gas piping systems
  • Drainage systems
  • Water supply systems
  • Brazing and soldering techniques
  • Drainage systems
  • Installing and repairing pipes, fittings, and valves
  • Safety protocols
  • Plumbing codes

Geological and Petroleum Technicians

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Geological and petroleum technicians have some of the highest-paying trade jobs in the nation. They work primarily in natural resource extraction related to earth minerals and gases. Additionally, they may help in scientific endeavors involving geological study.

The primary education needed for this work is an associate’s degree. And there are many related programs available at vocational and associate degree schools. Students in these programs will learn about the natural sciences and petroleum-related industries. They will also learn about the special equipment used to look for natural resources and perform geological research. Most individuals will have some on-the-job training.

Work conditions vary for geological and petroleum technicians. Some workers may spend periods of time in the field. This may include time on ships, in remote locations, or on oil platforms. Geological and petroleum engineers may also spend time in a lab helping to perform and measure the results of experiments.

There’s no shortage of geological and petroleum technician jobs in America. And there are scores of online bachelor’s degree programs in geotechnical engineering, petroleum engineering, and more. While a bachelor’s degree can increase your earnings in this field, it is not necessary to get started.


Civil Engineering Technicians

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Civil engineering is one of the highest-paying trade jobs you can have without an advanced college degree. Civil engineering technicians perform supporting roles to civil engineers. They help engineers to oversee the building of bridges, roads, tunnels, and other infrastructure.

Basically, you will find civil engineers on most large public infrastructure construction projects. Civil engineering technicians perform some of the same tasks as drafters, such as preparing computer-assisted design (CAD) drawings.

Civil engineering technicians may act as liaisons between civil engineers and construction crews. They can evaluate conditions in the field where construction projects are being completed. And they may monitor the progress of construction.

Work conditions for civil engineering technicians vary. Part of the time is usually spent in the office of civil engineering teams. The rest of the time, they will be at current or future construction sites. Typically, civil engineering technicians have regular business hours, with nights and weekends off.
Civil engineering technicians may pursue several vocational degrees, including:

  • Drafting
  • Engineering support
  • Civil engineering
  • Construction technology
  • Applied science

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the future job outlook for civil engineering technicians is good. Jobs in this field are expected to increase by 5% over the next few years. Additionally, there is plenty of growth in this field. You can pursue a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in civil engineering and increase your earning power even more.


Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) Mechanics

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Have you ever stopped to consider just how much work goes into assembling those huge grocery store coolers? How about the ones in the warehouses that store your food before it’s shipped? How do workers in manufacturing plants stay cool in stifling conditions? And of course, every home built today has a brand new heating and air conditioning unit.

These are all projects for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics. They are also known as HVAC or HVACR mechanics. And they have some of the highest-paying jobs in the nation. Plus, they are in perpetual need everywhere.

Anyone who wants to become an HVAC mechanic can pursue training at an associate degree college or trade school. Additional education is sometimes required. Often, students can gain it through an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.

It’s not always a requirement to have a certificate before you can work on HVAC systems. But it is highly recommended since some states do have specific rules around this trade. The good news is you can pursue certification at a community college or vocational school in less than a year.
In HVAC trade school programs, you will learn:

  • Introduction to HVAC
  • Electrical Safety
  • Construction Safety
  • Piping fundamentals
  • Air-conditioning and heat pump systems
  • Ductwork
  • Ventilation
  • Refrigeration

Although it’s one of the best trade jobs, work conditions can sometimes be uncomfortable. HVAC mechanics may need to fit into tight spaces or work in extreme temperatures. Emergency calls are normal. But unscheduled night and weekend work often pays a premium.

Job openings in HVAC are expected to increase as much as 13% in the coming years.


Construction Equipment Operator

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In many of America’s cities, cranes have dotted the skyline for close to a decade. Long gone are the last days of the 2000s when construction nearly ground to a standstill. In the decade that followed, construction has made many changes.

One of those changes is the range of technological enhancements that have entered the construction field. Many of these technical enhancements involve new construction equipment. And that requires construction managers and well-trained operators of this equipment.

Depending on the construction equipment you operate, you may need a special license. In fact, you may have several licenses if you are skilled with more than one piece of equipment. Learning to operate even more equipment can also boost your earnings further. And that can move you to some of the highest-paid trade jobs further up on our list.

People who get into construction equipment operations can do so in a few ways. One is by working their way into the role on a job site. Another is through taking courses at a local trade school. Finally, some students pursue a construction technology degree.

All three routes are viable. The main trade-off is that it often takes longer to work your way into a job than if you go directly to a school to learn the skills. Either way, employment prospects are looking good for construction equipment operators. BLS reports this field is expected to gain 10% more jobs in the next few years.


Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

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Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses are some of the highest paying trade school jobs on our list. Practicing in one of these two roles is also the quickest entry point into a nursing career. Nurses are in high demand at every level of training. A licensed practical nurse or LVN is no exception.

Both of these roles are essentially the same. Except that California and Texas use the term licensed vocational nurse instead of licensed practical nurse. Both require some work in a vocational or trade school, but you do not need to complete an associate’s degree. This makes these nursing roles some of the lowest barrier-to-entry health care jobs out there.

So what does a licensed practical nurse (or LVN) do? The job duties include:

  • Understand medical terminology
  • Monitoring patient vitals
  • Dispensing medicine
  • Communicating with patients and their families
  • Keeping records of patients’ health
  • Notifying senior nurses or doctors if there are status changes with a patient.

Some states are trying to move the entry-level of nursing careers to registered nurse status. But for now, LPN jobs are still a fantastic way to get into a nursing career. And once you’ve taken the coursework to become an LPN, you can build on your career further. There are many programs online and in-person where you can upgrade your level of academic experience while holding down a career. For example, there are many bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs in nursing offered entirely online. This allows LPN’s to continue learning new skills and increasing their earning power.



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Welders are commonly lumped in with cutters, solderers, and brazers. All are skilled trades that deal with the cutting, joining, molding, and repairing of metal products. These workers do a lot of different things. They may help with building cars, creating skyscrapers, or building ships. Welding and related tasks are in-demand in a huge number of sectors. These may include aerospace, construction, manufacturing, scientific endeavors, and other areas.

Welding is a high-paying role with great job security. And courses in welding are some of the most commonly offered. Welders may learn on the job of course. But they can also gain skills from programs at trade or associate degree schools. Many even come from trade-related high school diploma programs.

There’s no degree requirement to become a welder. And one can become a welder just from their own experience. For many, however, access to the tools, on-the-job training, and instruction is a good idea to get into the field.

Work conditions for welders can take place in indoor and outdoor settings. Sometimes, work occurs in confined spaces. Other times, welders may work outside in bad weather. Welding can be physically intensive, and overtime may be required in many work settings. However, it helps that welding is one of the highest-paid trade jobs you can get.


Automotive Technicians and Mechanics

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Almost everyone who drives has a favorite auto technician or mechanic. And if not, you can find one in any corner of America. Mechanics are the quintessential tradespeople that keep our nation on the road and our cars in good shape.

There is no real barrier to entry in this vocation. Anyone can start a car repair business. However, there can be a huge difference in outcomes based on the skills of the individual doing the job. That why attending a trade school program for auto mechanics can be to your advantage. If you become really good, you will never be short of work.

So what do automotive mechanics do? They diagnose issues and perform routine maintenance on automotive vehicles. Work settings for automotive mechanics can range from sole proprietorships to large corporations.

The quickest way to gain experience in automotive mechanic work is to start working for another mechanic. This way, you can form a sort of apprenticeship. Additionally, many individuals learn the basics of the trade via on-the-job training and a trade school setting. Even before getting a high school diploma, some mechanics get their start in a “shop” program.

Regardless of how you get into the mechanic trade, earnings are strong. And since nearly all of us need a car that runs properly, positions in this field will be perpetually available.

The 10 Most Affordable Online Trade and Associate Degree Schools

There are many vocational schools, associate degree schools, and community colleges in all 50 states of America. Depending on where you live, many school districts offer free tuition for residents pursuing an associate degree. And several states now have free community college for all in-state students. Of course, not all community colleges offer trade certificates or vocational degrees, and that’s where we come in.

Why Trade Schools?

Trade school (or associate degree) programs can be finished quickly with two years or less of coursework. Some trade school and voke programs are even available for entrance through magnet or charter high schools. Additionally, most of the highest paying trade jobs boast well salaries that are well above average.

Trade schools and associate degree colleges have affordable college costs. Those seeking to learn a skilled trade through a trade school or vocational school can get the best ROI at these institutions.

How We Ranked Trade Schools and Vocational Schools

At OnlineCollegePlan, we have years of experience researching what truly makes college affordable. Trade and associate degree schools are no different. To construct this ranking we aggregated a large list. It included all colleges, universities, and trade schools offering voke-tech programs. We then narrowed down our selections by pulling data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

We looked at the average cost of attendance after financial aid for every school. We also looked at the percentage of students who received financial aid, and the average earnings of graduates pursuing popular trade schools careers. Schools that excelled in all three of these metrics were included in this year’s ranking.


Albany Technical College

Average Cost After Aid:


Albany Technical College comes in first in our ranking. It has one of the lowest average costs fin the country for a trade school. Albany Technical College graduates end up paying an average cost of around $1,033 a year for their educations.

This number factors in financial aid and the total costs for books, cost of living, and other expenses for in-state students.

Are you wondering what trade and vocational subjects you can study at Albany Technical College? A selection of their online trade and vocational degrees includes:

  • Multiple fire officer certificates
  • An associate of applied science degree in Fire Science
  • A fire science technology diploma
  • Hospitality and tourism management degrees and certificates
  • And many more

Albany Technical College also provides support for adult students who want to return to school. At ATC, students can also finish their GED and then enter into a technical or trade school program. For applicable local students, this set of services extends to a truly cost-free education!


Eastern Gateway Community College

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It’s not hard to find an associate degree college offering trade and vocational programs online. But not all of them are as cheap as EGCC, the second most affordable trade school on our list.

According to the DOE College Scorecard data, the average cost per year for students at Eastern Gateway is just $2,758. This is after all eligible aid and grants are factored in. Keep in mind this number is for in-state students, and some online students in other states may pay more. This metric is a good measure, however, of the overall affordability of this associate degree college.

So what online trade and voke can you pursue at Eastern Gateway?

  • Courses are available in manufacturing applications
  • Courses are available in manufacturing fundamentals
  • Courses are available in catering and hospitality
  • Certificates are available in medical coding and scribing
  • A certificate is available in machining
  • A certificate is available for police work
  • An associates degree is available in fire science
  • A certificate and associate is available in welding

Note that individual courses are offered through Ed2Go for the university. They are exceedingly affordable compared to typical higher education tuition. Many of these standalone courses cost just $95. For certificate and associate programs, more typical (albeit low) costs apply. 


Florence-Darlington Technical College

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Florence-Darlington Technical College is next on our list of affordable online trade schools. This college offers trade and vocational programs and is the first predominantly black college in this year’s ranking.

After financial aid and grants, the average cost per year for an in-state student comes to $3,185. Trade and voke programs often require two years or less of study. Yet they provide higher than average paying jobs. This makes Florence-Darlington Technical College a great “bang for your buck” school.

Wondering what trade and voke-tech programs you can take online at Florence-Darlington Technical College?

  • A certificate program for future robotics assembly technicians
  • An associates degree in robotics production
  • A range of other associates degrees in applied disciplines

These unique offerings are particularly valuable within today’s technologically-enhanced manufacturing settings as well as within construction and CNC shops. To attend the school, you’ll need to first have your high-school diploma.


Roanoke-Chowan Community College

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Roanoke-Chowan Community College lands at the fourth most affordable college in our ranking. And it’s one of the best colleges offering trade and vocational courses online. This ranking is based on the DOE College Scorecard data. That shows an average per year cost of schooling at Roanoke-Chowan to be $4,304. This price is after applicable aid and scholarships are offered to in-state students.

This small associate degree college is home to slightly over 400 students. The school offers certificates, individual courses, and associate degree programs. You can study traditional arts and sciences, applied disciplines, and trade disciplines. 

Let’s take a look at what trade and coke-tech can be pursued at R-CCC:

  • Individual courses in medical transcription
  • Individual courses in administrative medical assisting
  • Individual courses in starting your own business
  • Individual courses in popular software suites

Note that individual courses are offered through Ed2Go for the university. These courses are very affordable compared to typical higher education tuition. Many of these standalone courses cost below $200. For certificates and associate degrees, some additional costs may apply. 

More offerings at this school include learning tracks tailored to the needs of local businesses and industries. To attend the school, you’ll need to first have your high-school diploma.


Western Texas College

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Western Texas College is the fifth most affordable college on our list. The school offers trade and vocational courses, certificates, diplomas, and degrees. The average cost for in-state students per year is around $4,408 once aid and scholarships have been factored in. And this number includes the cost of living, tuition, books, and fees.

Many trade and vocational programs require two or fewer years of study. This means that you could become educated in a skilled trade for less than $9,000 in total education costs at this school. When compared to the average earnings for many skilled trades, this is a great tradeoff. 

Also of note, this is the first designated Hispanic-serving college in this year’s ranking.
So what trade and voc-tech can you pursue online at Western Texas College?

  • An electrical lineman program is available
  • A petroleum technology program is available
  • A turfgrass and landscape management program is available
  • A welding program is available

These programs typically provide the option to take individual courses or an entire track. They are designed for students to gain more advanced knowledge through a few courses. Some trade courses are only available on campus. Though many related courses and certificates are available online. To attend the school, you’ll need to first have your high-school diploma.


Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas

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Phillips Community College is affiliated with the University of Arkansas. This trade school is one of the most affordable ways to gain an online degree or certificate. The programs are coupled with unique offerings through a partnership with the University of Arkansas. They include a wide range of online courses offered throughout the University of Arkansas system.

They also have transfer agreements. These work great for students who wish to continue their studies at a four-year institution upon completing a two-year degree. The average cost per year of attendance for in-state students is under $5,000. The price is after taking into account the average aid and scholarships received by students.  

So what online trade and voke programs are available through PCCUA?

  • An associate’s in construction technology
  • An associate’s in office technology
  • An associate’s in medical laboratory technology
  • An associate’s in behavioral health technology
  • Certificates in cosmetology
  • Certificates in phlebotomy
  • Certificates in welding technology
  • Certificates in medical coding
  • Certificates in CDL/truck driving
  • Certificates in agricultural mechanics
  • Certificates in manufacturing

We should note that not all courses for all of the above are offered online. Though through its partnership with the University of Arkansas system, the school provides a wide range of general education courses online. Because of the hands-on nature of some trade and voke programs, some work will likely need to be completed on campus. To attend the school, you’ll need to first have your high-school diploma.


Trident Technical College

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Trade Schools

Trident Technical College is a mid-sized community college. The main campus is located in Charleston, South Carolina. The school has an average in-state cost per year of less than $5,000. Several vocational degree programs are offered 100% online at Trident. And this school can be a great route to entering an in-demand field with minimal time and debt.
Trident’s degrees mainly center around more traditional arts, sciences, and applied degree types. But there are vocational degrees as well as a wide range of individual courses in trades and vocations available online.
So what are some of the subjects related to trades and vocations you can study at Trident Technical?

  • An associate of arts in business technology
  • An associate of arts in hospitality and tourism management
  • Courses in construction technology
  • Courses in medical coding
  • Courses in policing
  • Courses in hospitality

The school has a wide range of courses and three different degree types that are fully online. Trident Technical College is a school most students can afford. This makes it a great option for pursuing a trade school job or vocation of your choice from wherever you are! To attend the school, you’ll need to first have your high-school diploma.


Central Texas College

Average Cost After Aid:


Central Texas College is the seventh most affordable online trade certificate and degree college on our list. And it has one of the widest range of offerings in trade and vocational fields. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Central Texas College costs an average of $5,032 per calendar year. This price is after aid and scholarships are factored in. And it applies to in-state students.

Central Texas College alums earn a great deal more than average when compared to other associate degree colleges. In some cases, they even earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. The average graduate annual salary ranges between $37,800 and $60,800.
As we mentioned, Central Texas College has a massive range of online trade and vocational programs. And these programs can lead to some great paying trade school jobs. Some of the programs include:

  • Certificates in medical technology
  • Certificates in office technology
  • A certificate in administrative activities
  • A degree in medical coding and billing
  • A degree in office technology
  • A degree in medical office technology
  • A paralegal degree program
  • Among many others

Students should note that CTC also provides evening and weekend courses. And they have unique support programs for those returning to school as adult learners. To attend the school, you’ll need to first have your high-school diploma.


Columbus State Community College

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Columbus State Community College

CSCC is one of the larger community colleges on our list with over 20,000 students. It’s also one of the most affordable colleges in the nation. and they offer trade or vocational courses, certificates, diplomas, and degrees online. DOE, Columbus State costs an average of $5,384 per year for in-state students after aid is applied. Because of the wide range of resources and affordability, it’s a great choice for many students.

Columbus State primarily focuses on more traditional arts, sciences, and applied degrees. There are a range of trade and vocation-centered academic programs offered online. These online trade and vocation-centered programs include:

  • A certificate in 3D visualization for architecture
  • A certificate in entrepreneurship
  • A certificate in real estate management
  • A bookkeeping certificate
  • An office specialist certificate
  • A computer literacy certificate
  • Certificates in common software suites
  • A certificate in sustainable construction
  • A medical coding certificate
  • A casino management certificate
  • And a supply chain management certificate

Besides these certificate programs, the school offers over a dozen fully online degrees. Of course, they also have in-person night and weekend courses for those who live in the area. To attend the school, you’ll need to first have your high-school diploma.


San Juan College

Average Cost After Aid:


San Juan College is the final school on this list and is the 10th most affordable trade school we are ranking. The school offers online trade and vocational degree and certificate programs. With an average cost of $5,450 a year for in-state students after aid, San Juan can lead to an in-demand and lucrative trade school career.

San Juan College is also the first college in this year’s ranking to be designated a Native American Non-Tribal Institution. Part of the college’s mission is to serve this minority population in higher education. 

So what are some of the trade and vocational options available at San Juan College online?

  • An associate of applied science degree in occupational safety
  • An associate of applied science in health information technology
  • An associate of applied science in physical therapy assistant studies
  • An associate of applied science in veterinary technology
  • A certificate in medical coding and billing
  • A certificate in surgical first assistant studies

The school offers plenty of unique vocational offerings available entirely online. So San Juan College can be a great way to jump directly into the workforce in two years or less from wherever you live. To attend the school, you’ll need to first have your high-school diploma.

Highest Paying Trade School Careers – Conclusion

Trade schools offer vocational education and professional development. With the establishment of online schools, the benefits for students have become tremendous. Distance learning with a vocational school can provide valuable career training. And that training is for a wide range of high-paying trade jobs. We hope this ranking of vocational and trade schools helps you with your school search.
You may also want to check out our career profiles, which may also help in your school search for career training programs.

Trade School FAQs

What Kind of Trade Schools Are There?

There are as many different trade schools are there are skilled trades. These schools may offer on-the-job programs for associate degree and trade school careers like:

  • Construction manager
  • Equipment operator
  • HVAC technician
  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • Carpenter
  • Mechanic
  • Truck driver
  • Legal assistant

This is only a partial list, of course. There are countless other programs available through hundreds of trade schools across the country.

How Much Does Trade School Cost?

The cost of trade school can vary greatly depending on the skilled trade you are learning and the institution. However, trade school tuition is generally less expensive than a traditional college. Plus, vocational school programs can be completed in a fraction of the time of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

What Are the Differences Between Trade Schools and Colleges?

A trade school program focuses on learning the technical skills required for a specific type of job. But a traditional college usually provides a much broader education.