What Are Vocational Schools?

Vocational school is one option for students interested in practical postsecondary education and job training. Vocational schools typically offer relatively short, career-focused programs that quickly prepare graduates for the workforce.

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When considering enrollment in postsecondary vocational school, it can be helpful to consider program length, subject offerings and admissions requirements in order to make the best education decision for your career goals.

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Overview of Vocational Schools

Vocational schools, sometimes referred to as trade schools or career schools, provide practical training with few unrelated academic course requirements. They are relevant for many kinds of learners, including:

  • Individuals who are planning to enter industry for the first time
  • Adults who are looking to reenter the workforce
  • Professionals who wish to pursue a new career field

The education offered at vocational schools allows adults to focus on the skills to enter a particular industry, with the option of not taking unrelated general education courses required for an associate's degree at a community college. Vocational schools also provide technology training or retraining for workers in their current occupations.

Program Lengths

Vocational schools can offer programs ranging from short-unit classes of ten weeks or less to long-term programs of up to two years in length. Some states offer public vocational schools and career training programs through community colleges, but the majority of vocational schools are private institutions. Vocational school credits don't typically transfer to academic undergraduate programs like an Associate of Arts program, but they may award students with a certificate credential.

Common Programs

Vocational schools generally focus on programs in career fields that can be completed in two years or less. Vocational schools focusing on a single field, such as automotive trades or health services, may offer only one training program or give students a choice of several programs in the same industry, such as hair stylist, barber, nail technician or esthetician programs at a cosmetology school. Other vocational schools offer programs in several unrelated fields, like agriculture, office skills and technical training. The following are some common types of vocational school programs:

  • Welding
  • Cosmetology
  • Plumbing
  • Carpentry
  • Locksmithing
  • Electrical installation and maintenance
  • Motorcycle and automotive repair
  • Floral design
  • Medical transcription
  • Hotel and restaurant management

Postsecondary Admission Requirements

There are several requirements that prospective students are often required to meet in order to be eligible for admission to a vocational school, such as the following:

  • Meet minimum age requirement of 16 years (17 for some programs)
  • Hold high school diploma or GED, or have completed a recognized home school program

There are also some community colleges that have vocational training programs. For these schools, admissions requirements may be more extensive. Some possible additional requirements include having acceptable SAT, ACT, or other standardized test scores and passing a school entrance exam.

Combined High School Programs

Some vocational schools combine career education credits with a high school education for high school juniors and seniors pursuing vocational education. Vocational school training can allow aspiring high school graduates to quickly enter the workforce with hands-on training and a career-focused curriculum. For combined high school programs, admission requirements are typically the same as for postsecondary programs, except that no diploma is necessary, and the minimum age requirement is necessarily lower; students may need to be at least 14.

Individuals who want to take career-focused courses can find educational opportunities through vocational schools in a wide range of fields. Vocational schools are equipped to help workers build their skills, regardless of their current career stage.

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