Vocational Trade Schools in California

California has one of the biggest economies in the world. Depending on your skills and interests, trade school could be the best path in California.

May 26, 2022 • 6 Min Read

Find a program that’s right for you.

Why Choose Trade School?

Trade schools prepare graduates for careers in healthcare, technology, legal services, and professional trades like plumbing and welding. Many of these careers offer strong salaries and growth potential, making trade school a good investment for many students.

During a vocational program, students take courses in their field while also completing practical training through internships or fieldwork. For example, dental hygienists build their skills through clinical hours, while veterinary technicians take labs and intern at animal hospitals.

Trade school appeals to students seeking a focused workforce training program. Completing a one-year certificate or a two-year associate degree at a vocational school in California prepares graduates for the workforce. Professionals with an occupational credential benefit from a higher employment rate than those with an academic credential, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Many trade and technical schools in California charge lower tuition rates and offer self-paced or accelerated options. Students seeking greater flexibility can also research online vocational schools.

This page introduces trade schools in California and lists top-ranked programs to help prospective students learn more about vocational programs. It also provides information on popular vocational programs, earning potential for trade school graduates, and scholarship opportunities for trade school students.

AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Top Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Questions About Trade Schools

What is trade school?

Trade school provides job training for careers in healthcare, the legal field, the tech sector, and other in-demand areas. Trade programs typically last 1-2 years.

Can I get financial aid for trade school?

Yes. Students attending accredited vocational schools in California qualify for federal financial aid and other forms of financial aid like scholarships.

Can trade school credits transfer?

Yes. Many trade schools accept transfer credits from other schools. In general, credits earned from a regionally accredited school are more likely to transfer.

Accreditation and Licensing for Trade Schools

Prospective trade school students should always check a school's accreditation status before applying. Accreditation benefits students in several ways. Credits earned at an accredited school are more likely to transfer, and an accredited degree meets more professional licensure and certification requirements. Students enrolled in accredited schools also qualify for federal financial aid.

Accredited schools meet high standards for granting certificates and degrees. To earn accreditation, schools voluntarily submit to a rigorous review from an independent accrediting agency. This review evaluates the school's student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and academic mission. Accredited institutions repeat the process on a regular basis to maintain their status.

California trade schools, colleges, and universities may hold regional or national accreditation. Community colleges and research universities typically pursue regional accreditation, which remains the highest standard in postsecondary education. In California, the WASC Senior College and University Commission grants accreditation to four-year institutions, while the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges grants accreditation to two-year colleges.

Vocational and trade schools often pursue national accreditation from an organization like the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Other specialized accreditation agencies include the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, which grants accreditation to online schools, including online vocational schools in California.

In addition to accreditation, private trade schools should also hold licensure from the state. In California, the Bureau for Private and Postsecondary Education regulates private vocational and trade schools.

Learn more about the accreditation process.

Vocational Trade Schools in California

Trade schools in Southern California, the Bay Area, and other parts of the state train students for in-demand careers. By choosing a top-ranked program, graduates can advance their career and increase their earning potential. Our list ranks the best vocational and trade schools in California to help prospective students find the right fit for their interests and goals.

  1. Cerritos College

    Norwalk, CA

    Founded in 1955, Cerritos College enrolls around 22,000 students each year. One of the top trade schools in California, the school offers 87 degree and certificate programs in more than 180 areas of study.

    First-generation college students make up 55% of the enrollment at Cerritos College. The school's honors program boasts a 92% admission rate to the University of California, Los Angeles. Tuition starts at $46 per credit, offering an affordable education for students. The school's online portal, Cerritos Cares provides access to student services, including academic and personal counseling, emergency financial aid, and career services.

    Cerritos College offers associate and certificate programs in areas such as medical assisting, architectural technology, general automotive collision repair, and plastics manufacturing. Cerritos College also offers an apprenticeship program in the construction trades.

    Cerritos College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  2. Southwestern College

    Chula Vista , CA

    Founded in 1961, Southwestern College serves around 19,000 students each year. SWC offers more than 300 programs in 11 fields of study, including business; education; and arts, media, and design.

    SWC administers several federal financial assistance programs, like the California Dream Act and the Federal Emergency Relief Grant. Students can also access support services such as employment and internship opportunities, tutoring, career counseling, and disability assistance. SWC holds transfer fairs and workshops throughout the school year to assist students who plan to continue to four-year programs after completing their associate degree.

    The college participates in the Southwest Regional Apprentice Program. Apprentices are hired for a variety of civil positions related to the maintenance and repair of U.S. Navy ships. Southwestern College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  3. Long Beach City College

    Long Beach, CA

    Founded in 1927 with 503 enrollees, Long Beach City College now serves more than 33,000 students each year. The school offers over 70 associate and certificate programs across diverse disciplines, including advanced transportation technology, communication studies, digital media arts, and public health science.

    LBCC offers associate degree transfer (ADT) programs designed for students planning to pursue a bachelor's program at Cal State University after graduation. Students who complete an ADT program receive priority consideration when applying to Cal State University.

    Online and on-campus enrollees can take advantage of several academic resources, such as supplemental instruction, computer centers, tutoring services, and career counseling. LBCC also offers an apprenticeship program in construction trades. The apprenticeship program meets the regulatory requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

    Long Beach College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  4. Palomar College

    San Marcos, CA

    Founded in 1946, Palomar College serves a district covering 2,555 square miles, enrolls more than 30,000 students each year, and offers over 300 programs across five academic divisions.

    Palomar College offers job placement assistance for its career and technology students, as well as apprenticeship programs registered with the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards. Students gain access to behavioral health counseling services, career and academic counseling, and group and one-on-one tutoring sessions.

    Students can participate in the Transfer Admissions Guarantee Program that Palomar College maintains with six campuses of the University of California system. Additionally, some California colleges, including San Diego State University and California State University San Marcos, offer scholarships for Palomar graduates.

    Palomar College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  5. Ventura College

    Ventura , CA

    Ventura College began in 1925 as a junior college department at Ventura Union High School. In 1955, the college moved to its present 112-acre location and became a community college. Ventura College currently enrolls approximately 14,500 students each year.

    Ventura College offers associate of science and associate of arts degrees in 33 majors in addition to certificates of completion and proficiency awards in 61 areas of study. Students can pursue programs in diverse areas, such as water science, diesel mechanics, criminal justice, and construction technology. The school maintains transfer guarantee agreements with several four-year state institutions, including the University of California in Santa Cruz and California State University Northridge.

    Student services include tutoring sessions, career advising, an online job board with internship and volunteer opportunities, and the Educational Assistance Center for enrollees with disabilities. Career education programs at Ventura College provide students with internship and on-the-job training opportunities directly related to their field of study.

    Ventura College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  6. Oxnard College

    Oxnard, CA

    Established in 1975, Oxnard College occupies 118 acres on California's Central Coast. It serves more than 7,000 students every year and offers 18 certificate programs and 37 associate degrees across 60 disciplines. The school also offers 18 associate programs designed for transfer to four-year institutions. Qualified junior and senior high school students can attend Oxnard College concurrently without paying tuition.

    Oxnard College offers a variety of student services including tutoring sessions, career counseling, and employment programs. The college offers many unique learning experiences. For example, at the OC Marine Center and Aquarium, students can explore touch tanks and enroll in classes in oceanography, marine biology, resource management, and environmental studies. Meanwhile, many of the school's culinary arts students staff the school's gourmet restaurant and the Condor Café, where they learn and practice real-world culinary skills.

    Oxnard College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  7. Santa Rosa Junior College

    Santa Rosa, CA

    Established in 1918, Santa Rosa Junior College enrolls around 27,000 students annually. SRJC offers associate and certificate programs across a variety of disciplines, including engineering and applied technology, agriculture and natural resources, biological sciences, and industrial and trade technology.

    The Transfer Center at SRJC assists students who plan to continue their education at one of the California State University campuses. Students who satisfactorily complete an associate-for-transfer degree at SRJC receive priority admission with junior status at a CSU campus offering a similar program.

    Student resources include academic and career counseling, clinical and mental health services, and a career hub where students can search for on-campus work and internship opportunities. In addition to a variety of academic scholarships, SRJC extends financial assistance to students who need help paying for non-academic expenses, such as rent, utilities, and food.

    Santa Rosa Junior College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  8. De Anza College

    Cupertino, CA

    Founded in 1967, De Anza College enrolls approximately 21,500 students each year through 71 associate and 95 certificate programs across 11 academic divisions. De Anza also offers associate transfer degrees in fields such as business administration, early childhood education, communication studies, and political science.

    De Anza sponsors a yearly Transfer Day event. Representatives from several participating private and public in-state and out-of-state institutions meet with De Anza students to discuss their transfer requirements. The Student Success Center maintains several programs that support classroom learning and online instruction, including Zoom online peer tutoring, skills workshops, standardized test preparation, and a Writing and Reading Center.

    The De Anza College Promise program exempts eligible students from paying tuition and fees for two years and awards an additional $1,000 ($500 per year) for books and other materials.

    De Anza College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  9. Bakersfield college

    Bakersfield, CA

    Founded in 1913, Bakersfield College enrolls about 31,000 students each year through certificate, associate, and bachelor's programs. BC groups its academic offerings into 10 learning and career pathways to help students achieve their educational and professional objectives.

    Designated a Hispanic Serving Institution, BC offers an English for Multilingual Students program that assists enrollees in developing English communication skills. Additional student support services include critical academic skills workshops; tutoring sessions; transfer assistance; and academic, career, and personal counseling. Students can also explore apprenticeship opportunities in carpentry, sheet/metal, electrical, and plumbing.

    BC maintains articulation agreements with several UC and CSU campuses and three private institutions within the Golden State. BC also supports undocumented students with funds from the California Catalyst Grant.

    Bakersfield College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  10. Fullerton College

    Fullerton, CA

    Fullerton College opened in 1913 with an initial enrollment of 26 students. Today, the college hosts around 23,000 students annually through 110 certificate, 122 associate, and 25 transfer associate programs.

    Fullerton College graduates more students that transfer to four-year California institutions than any other community college in the state. The school offers associate transfer degrees in areas like anthropology, business administration, journalism, and math.

    Students gain access to tutoring services and academic, career, and personal counseling. Fullerton College also offers apprenticeship opportunities for its students, coordinating with corporate partners and county organizations, including Disneyland Resort and the Orange County Electrical Training Trust.

    Fullerton College participates in the Western Undergraduate Exchange program. Graduates can enroll in a university or college in other participating states without paying full out-of-state tuition.

    Fullerton College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Find Vocational and Trade Schools in California

California's community colleges make up the biggest higher education system in the country and are California's largest workforce training providers. However, community colleges are not the only vocational and trade schools in California.

Postsecondary students can also get career and technical education through California's Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs), apprenticeship programs, and adult education programs. Comprehensive high schools, magnet schools, early-college high schools, and ROCPs provide vocational and trade education to California's secondary students.

Career and Salary Outlook for Trade School Graduates

Trade school graduates work in healthcare, technology, hospitality, and many other industries. As a result, the career and salary outlook for trade school graduates varies by field.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that technical and trade occupations earn an average salary of around $55,000 per year. Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations earn $50,000 per year, while healthcare practitioners make over $55,000 per year. Management occupations earn over $96,000 per year.

Students considering trade and vocational schools in California can look up California wage estimates for state-specific information. For example, dental hygienists in California earn over $106,000 per year, while respiratory therapists earn nearly $84,000 per year.

Many vocational careers offer strong job growth. The BLS projects faster-than-average job growth for dental hygienists, respiratory therapists, and HVAC technicians.

Vocational programs also prepare graduates for in-demand careers in STEM. Over one-third of STEM professionals do not hold a bachelor's degree, according to the Pew Research Center. Many of these professionals work as healthcare technicians, engineering technicians, and tech workers -- fields that do not require a bachelor's degree.

What Kinds of Trade School Programs Are Available?

Vocational and trade schools in California offer programs in allied health fields, professional trades, legal services, and other in-demand fields. Students can prepare for careers as dental hygienists, veterinary technicians, or occupational therapy assistants at a trade school. Vocational programs also prepare graduates for careers in plumbing, medical assisting, and cosmetology.

This section covers some popular vocational school programs. In addition to these options, prospective students can research other programs.

  • Dental Hygienist Schools

    Dental hygienists examine patients and clean teeth to improve oral hygiene and health. They assess a patient's oral health, provide preventative care, and discuss treatment plans with dentists. Dental hygienists typically hold an associate degree that includes coursework in anatomy, periodontics, and clinical dental hygiene.

    The median annual salary for dental hygienists exceeded $76,000 in 2019, making it one of the highest paid vocational careers. Dental hygienists also benefit from much faster-than-average projected job growth between 2018 and 2028.

    In every state, dental hygienists need a license. The California Dental Hygiene Board licenses dental hygienists in the Golden State.

    For more, visit our page on dental hygienist programs.

  • Occupational Therapy Schools

    Occupational therapists care for patients with disabilities or injuries that limit their physical abilities. Occupational therapy assistants help occupational therapists by providing therapy to patients and training patients to use special equipment. They keep records on each patient's progress and report their work to an occupational therapist.

    Occupational therapy assistants typically hold an associate degree, which often includes courses in human anatomy, physiology, and occupational therapy. Programs also incorporate fieldwork to build practical skills. Occupational therapy assistants earn a median annual wage of over $61,000 per year and benefit from faster-than-average job growth projections.

    In California, the California Board of Occupational Therapy licenses occupational therapy assistants. Candidates must hold an associate degree from an accredited school with at least 16 weeks of occupational therapy supervised field experience and passing scores on a national exam.

    Learn more about occupational therapy programs.

  • Paralegal Schools

    Paralegals help lawyers by conducting legal research, preparing legal documents for trial, and reviewing trial transcripts. They also file legal documents in court, maintain documents and case files, and draft contracts. Paralegals typically hold an associate degree, which includes courses in legal research, contract law, and legal writing. The American Bar Association approves paralegal education programs that meet high standards.

    The BLS reports that paralegal and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of nearly $52,000 in 2019. The field offers much faster-than-average projected job growth. After completing a certificate or associate degree in paralegal studies, graduates can apply for paralegal jobs. The field does not require a state-issued license.

    For more information, visit our page on paralegal programs.

  • Respiratory Therapist Schools

    Respiratory therapists help patients who struggle from breathing problems, including people with chronic respiratory diseases. They conduct diagnostic tests to measure lung capacity and create treatment plans for patients. Respiratory therapists also teach patients how to use medical devices.

    Careers in respiratory therapy require an associate degree, which includes coursework in human anatomy, diagnostic procedures, and patient assessment. Students also meet clinical requirements to build practical experience.

    Respiratory therapists earned a median annual salary of over $61,000 in 2019 and benefit from much faster than average job growth projections. In California, respiratory therapists need a license from the Respiratory Care Board of California. Applicants need an accredited associate degree and must pass a national exam. The National Board for Respiratory Care offers the certified respiratory therapist and registered respiratory therapist certifications.

    Learn more about respiratory therapist programs.

  • Veterinary Technician Schools

    Veterinary technicians perform medical tests and examine animals under the supervision of veterinarians. They may prepare animals for surgery, administer anesthesia, and give pets vaccines or other medical treatments.

    During a veterinary technician program, students take courses in animal anatomy, veterinary medicine, and surgical nursing for animals. Vet tech students also complete an internship or practicum with clinical hours.

    According to BLS data, veterinary technicians earned a median annual salary of over $35,000 in 2019. The field benefits from much faster-than-average job growth. In addition to a vocational program, vet techs must also hold a state-issued license.

    In California, the Veterinary Medical Board licenses veterinary technicians. Applicants must attend an approved veterinary technician school and pass a national licensing exam.

    For more, check out our page on veterinary technician programs.

Financial Aid for Trade School Students

Vocational and trade schools in California often charge lower tuition rates than four-year colleges and universities. For example, California public universities cost around $8,000 per year in tuition and fees, while private universities cost over $33,000 per year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

In contrast, community colleges cost around $1,200 per year for California residents. By choosing an affordable vocational program, students can save thousands on their certificate or degree.

In addition, trade school students qualify for several forms of financial aid. Students enrolled in an accredited school can apply for federal financial aid by completing the FAFSA. This federal financial aid program offers loans, grants, and work-study opportunities for recipients.

Not all California technical colleges meet requirements for federal financial aid. Prospective students can check with schools to see if their students can receive federal financial aid.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.

See All Posts

AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Shape your future with an online degree

Connect with a community of peers, and find a program that will allow you to continue your education in a fast and flexible way.