What Are Vocational Schools?

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:
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 in collaboration with local businesses such as apprenticeship programs, and pre-certification training in compliance with state licensure guidelines.
Combined High School Programs
Some vocational high schools combine career education credits with a high school education for high school juniors and seniors pursuing vocational education. Vocational high 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. Vocational high school academies offer dual credit enrollment and thus are often highly competitive in their admissions criteria. Successful students graduate with both a High School diploma and an Associate’s Degree in a Career field such as Computer Programming, Culinary Arts, Photography, or Fashion Merchandising. All of the earned college credits are stackable and therefore directly transferable to all local and regional public colleges.
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.
Expert Contributor: Christiane Warren Christiane has M.Phil & PhD degrees in American Intellectual History. She’s been an academic/career advisor, assistant dean and higher ed consultant.
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