Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of Trade School vs. 4-Year College

A group of business people sit in a row in a training class.  They look at an unseen speaker as they concentrate on his lecture.

If you are considering pursuing more education after high school, you are likely starting to think about the differences between trade school vs. 4-year college. While both are good options for individuals that want to continue or go back to school, it is worth considering the pros and cons of each before you commit one way or the other.

Understanding the Differences: Trade School vs. 4-Year College

Before you start thinking about the pros and cons of trade school vs. 4-year college, you should know about the differences between the two.

What is A Trade School?

A trade school is a specialized institution that focuses on a single skill-based vocation. Students attending a trade school usually already know what career path they are interested in taking. Therefore, these schools focus on preparing students to enter that specific workforce. 

While people usually think of mechanical jobs as trades, personal service, transportation, entertainment, culinary arts, broadcasting, and healthcare careers go through trade schools.

What is a 4-Year College?

A 4-year college, also referred to as an undergraduate college, offers bachelor’s degree programs. There are two main types of colleges: public colleges, which have been funded by the government and are usually larger and have lower tuitions, and private colleges, which are generally smaller in size.

Under that umbrella are several different types of colleges, including universities, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, vocational colleges, and more. Depending on the type of 4-year college, there are different costs, programs, career options, and more. 

Trade School vs. 4-year College: The Pros and Cons

What are the pros and cons of trade school vs. 4-year college? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for in your education.

Job Specific Skills 

Regarding the trade show vs. 4-year college debate, job-specific skills are a huge pro for trade schools. Typically, you’ll enter a trade school with the plant to get one skill for an in-demand job, such as:

  • Truck Driving
  • Welding
  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • HVAC technician
  • Carpenter
  • Auto mechanic
  • Landscape designer
  • Cosmetologist
  • And more!

These jobs are in-demand, and you go into a trade school specifically to learn about that job. Meanwhile, a 4-year college will have a broader application of knowledge. While there are exceptions, many trade school options are not career paths that can be found in a 4-year college as they require specific certifications found only in trade schools.

General Knowledge

There are a few college majors that lead to specific jobs, such as nursing or teaching. 

However, while you go to a college to pursue a degree, there are often general education requirements to graduate. This means even if you’re studying for a science degree, you will likely still have to take at least one English class.

 If you’re interested in learning many things or aren’t 100% sure about what job you want, college is meant to give you many options. 

Financial Aid / Cost

When looking at trade school vs. 4-year college costs, the numbers can not lie. Those attending trade school have around 70% less debt than those following a 4-year college.

While there are usually more scholarship opportunities for colleges, some options are also available for trade schools. 

For example, many truck driving schools can cost around $8,000. However, the Truck Driving Institute offers a variety of financial aid opportunities, including tuition reimbursement, grants, scholarships, and more. This means starting at TDI can be as low as $225 for the entire program.

Admission Requirements

While both types of schools require you to apply for admission, the standards are quite different.

Most 4-year colleges will require Suite of Assessment (SAT) or American College Testing (ACT) scores, which can cost extra for those no longer in high school. Many colleges also ask for recommendations from past teachers or persuasive essays as part of their admissions. Colleges are also often looking for individuals that have taken on extracurricular activities, volunteer projects, and more.

Comparatively, a trade school usually requires only submitting your high school diploma as a prerequisite.

However, trade schools and 4-year colleges have staff trained to help with the application process. If you need to know more about a specific school or trade, you can always reach out to learn more about their unique admission requirements.

Graduation Timeline

When weighing the differences between a trade school vs. a 4-year college, time is an enormous factor. Many 4-year colleges require you to take all four years to complete the program. However, the trade school programs are often less than two months, with many individuals securing jobs. 


On average, those attending a 4-year college usually earn more than those attending trade school. However, this is difficult to measure due to the dramatic differences between the many jobs and trades available and the wide variety of salaries between the many positions. This also does not consider additional factors such as bonuses, retirement plans, when an individual starts earning, and more.

Overall, trades are in high demand and can offer a chance for a steady long-term income. For example, a truck driver in the United States had an average base salary of over $80,000 a year as of April 2023. 

Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of Trade School vs. 4-Year College with TDI

There are pros and cons of a trade school vs. a 4-year college, but it all comes down to what career an individual is looking for. At TDI, we are here to help you start a new career in less than two months. You can go from no experience to a full-time job with the help of our faculty and staff. If you want to learn more about this exciting, in-demand trade, contact us today!

Get Started

Get your Class A CDL in our friendly, supportive CDL training program. TRAIN with experienced instructors – multiple good-paying, secure job choices with benefits available for eligible graduates. EARN $700 – $1000+ / week to start as a truck driver. Get started today by filling out the form below. We look forward to hearing from you!