Can’t Afford Trade School? Try These Ways to Pay

Paying for trade school may be less expensive than a four-year college, but it still costs money. Here’s how to pay for it.

The traditional college path, with the student debt that often goes along with it, does not make sense for every high school graduate. If your student is interested in a hands-on career such as plumbing, cosmetology, or auto mechanics, a trade or vocational school may make more sense than a traditional college or university.

While the cost of a technical or trade school is typically less than traditional college, it still costs money. While some may think they can’t afford trade school, there is financial assistance available. How you can pay for trade school differs from other college financial aid in several important ways:

Not all trade schools or technical programs are eligible for federal student aid programs.

Traditional forms of college financial aid such as Pell Grants or federal student loans may not be available for every vocational or trade school out there. Check with the trade school’s financial aid office to see if they are eligible for federal student aid.

If the trade school is eligible for federal student aid, apply for it as you would for a traditional college.

Get started by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The information you provide qualifies your student for need-based funding and determines eligibility for federal grants and loans. And, if the trade school is eligible for federal student aid, you are also eligible to use money from a 529 college savings plan to pay for tuition and fees, books, and other expenses.

Degree? Certificate? Diploma? Does it matter?

When it comes to funding, it might. If the program is shorter than 15 weeks, it’s possible you could be only eligible for the Direct Loan Program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Check with your trade school to determine if this applies.

Accreditation counts.

Most major colleges and universities are accredited but not all vocational programs are. If a trade school is not licensed or accredited (shown to meet specific quality standards), you will not be able to get federal financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education provides an accreditation search page you can use to check a trade school’s status or to find an accredited trade school.

Did You Know?

Not every entity claiming to be an educational institution is legitimate. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of the ‘diploma mill,’ which is a company pretending to be a trade school that issues credentials without requiring you to do any work if you just pay their ‘tuition.’ Potential employers will consider the diploma you receive worthless, which means you will have wasted your money.

You may find funding in unusual places.

There are thousands of scholarships available to students interested in trade school or vocational programs but because trade schools are so specific to the field of study, you’ll need to search for them a little differently.

  • Start with your trade school’s financial aid office; many have their own scholarships, grants, and loans.
  • Industry associations often provide funding support for students wanting to learn their trade. For example, Associated General Contractors offers grants and scholarships to help students seeking careers in the construction industry.
  • Private companies are another source for scholarships. For example, both Walmart and Home Depot have generous programs for students attending vocational or trade schools.
  • Several states, including Alaska, Washington, California, and Arizona, offer grants and scholarships specifically for students pursuing technical training.
  • Sallie Mae, a well-known consumer bank offering private student loans, has something called the Career Training Smart Option Student Loan® for professional training and trade certificate courses (culinary, technical, etc.) at a non-degree-granting school.

Today’s economy has a huge need for skilled trade workers. Plumbers and hairdressers will always be in demand, as will auto mechanics, health care workers, and electricians. Think you can’t afford trade school? Don’t let paying for trade school hold your student back.

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