Vocational Trade Schools in Minnesota

ASO Staff Writers
Updated September 5, 2023
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Why Choose Trade School?

Trade schools in Minnesota prepare learners for high-wage, high-demand careers in diverse sectors. While vocational education prepares students for traditional “shop” jobs, such as plumber, auto mechanic, and electrician, vocational students can also pursue careers that fall under the more modern “voc-ed” umbrella, including jobs in robotics, cybersecurity, and engineering.

Vocational schools in Minnesota blend classroom learning with hands-on training. For example, learners studying to work as occupational therapy assistants complete clinical training to build hands-on skills in the field.

Students can begin vocational training at the secondary level. They can then pursue one-year diplomas, two-year associate degrees, and short-term certification programs through a variety of trade and tech schools in Minnesota. Many two-year colleges hold articulation agreements with four-year public colleges to facilitate seamless transfer to a bachelor’s program.

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The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the leading organization representing vocational education in the U.S., underscores that career and technical education (CTE) enhances student outcomes. For instance, recent data show that 87% of Minnesota’s postsecondary CTE students were employed following program completion.

The Carl D. Perkins CTE Act annually provides $1.2 billion in federal funding for vocational education in all 50 states. ACTE and other stakeholders also regularly lobby Congress to maintain and increase funding. In 2019, Minnesota received more than $18 million in Perkins funding for the fiscal year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.


What is the difference between a trade school and a college?Trade schools provide career-focused training that prepares students for specific jobs after graduation. Colleges focus more on academic training, covering a larger variety of disciplines.
How much does a trade school cost?The cost of attending trade school varies by program, but Minnesota community and technical colleges cost around $5,400-$6,000 per year in tuition and fees, on average.
What are examples of vocational jobs?Examples of vocational jobs include paramedic, occupational therapy assistant, mechanic, and dental hygienist.
What are the different types of trade schools?Minnesota contains 30 community and technical colleges with a diverse selection of programs leading to certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees.

Accreditation and Licensing for Trade Schools

Students should verify the accreditation status of prospective schools. To receive accreditation, institutions must undergo a voluntary, third-party review process that evaluates factors like faculty qualifications, student learning outcomes, and academic rigor. Schools must regularly repeat the review process to maintain accreditation.

Accreditation benefits students in several ways. For example, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions. Additionally, many professional licenses and certifications require an accredited degree.

Many schools hold regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation typically applies to nonprofit, degree-granting institutions. Six regional accrediting bodies accredit schools in the U.S. based on where the school is located. The Higher Learning Commission regionally accredits Minnesota schools.

National accreditation typically applies to for-profit vocational and trade schools. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges accredits more than 650 trade and vocational schools nationwide. The Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training also accredits vocational programs. Certain programs within a trade school may also hold accreditation. For instance, the ASE Education Foundation accredits automotive programs. Additionally, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission accredits online trade schools.

Students can learn more about accredited distance education in the trades from Accredited Schools Online.

Vocational schools in Minnesota also need a state license to operate. Students can verify a school’s licensure status through the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Vocational Trade Schools in Minnesota

Prospective students can use the following ranking of the best trade schools in Minnesota to find the right school for their interests and career goals.

Century College
LocationWhite Bear Lake, MN

Century College's online and hybrid programs include associate degrees in art, Chinese, and education. This trade school in Minnesota also offers vocational certificates in areas such as cybersecurity and global studies. Online and hybrid learners use D2L Brightspace to access virtual content.

Distance-education students at Century College access valuable career resources at the Career Services and Industry Partnerships Center, such as recent job openings with employers in and around White Bear Lake, a resume toolkit, and interviewing tips. The CareerPlan website provides learners with information about careers, allowing them to set individualized goals.

Application requirements include holding either a high school diploma or a GED equivalent. Learners who enroll early receive a rebate to use on tuition or textbooks. All Minnesota residents pay the same tuition and fees, and many students qualify for one of more than 100 institutional aid programs.

Minnesota State Community and Technical College
LocationFergus Falls, MN

M State's online campus offers degrees in numerous subjects including digital marketing, computer programming, and human resources. Students select a transfer pathway if they plan to earn a bachelor's degree at a different college or university. All online coursework uses an asynchronous curriculum, though some programs include on-campus requirements.

Virtual career services at M State include quick guides that cover resume writing, interviewing, and job fair networking. Students create a CAREERnet account to research the latest job postings. Resources for alumni include resume and cover letter guides.

M State awards credits for prior learning: work experience, military training, and personal accomplishments. The college does not require students with ACT, MCA, or SAT scores to take a placement test. More than 50% of learners do not pay tuition due to the college's generous scholarships and grants.

Minnesota West Community and Technical College
LocationGranite Falls, MN

An excellent trade school in Minnesota for prospective learners who want multiple online options, MWCTC offers online degrees in more than three-dozen fields. Programs such as health information technology, pharmacy technology, and business management lead many students to in-demand careers. The college also offers numerous certificates in the computer science field.

MWCTC provides online students with invaluable job-hunting resources that include a job board, resume critiques, and informational podcasts and videos. The Career Services website also contains links to information regarding Minnesota career trends and top jobs throughout the state.

General admission requirements include a GED equivalent or high school transcripts, FAFSA results, and a modest application fee. MWCTC does not use a GPA cutoff for transfer credit and asks transfer learners to take a placement test if they lack mathematics or English credits. Lastly, the college's Our Opportunities website highlights the latest institutional scholarships, and most scholarships award $250-$500.

Hennepin Technical College
LocationBrooklyn Park, MN

HTC offers dozens of online degrees and certificates in growing trades that include culinary arts, cyberdefense, and fire protection technician. Over 80% of learners study part time, making this technical school in Minnesota an excellent choice for working students. Also, 99% of HTC alumni find a position relating to the degree or certificate they earned.

Career Development's advisors connect students with resume reviews, practice interviews, and alumni mentors. They also help learners research local internship opportunities.

HTC's admissions process involves student success advising, financial aid, placement testing, and orientation. New learners make advising appointments through the college's e-services portal. Additionally, new learners need only submit the HTC Foundation General Scholarship application to apply for all institutional aid programs.

Central Lakes College-Brainerd
LocationBrainerd, MN

From its Brainerd and Staples campuses, CLC offers online students seven online degrees in topics such as agricultural science, computer information technology, and viticulture. Many distance-education learners earn an associate for transfer. Additionally, all online courses use D2L-Brightspace software to deliver course content and facilitate communication among students and professors.

CLC proudly participates in the TRIO Upward Bound program to offer free academic support to first-generation and low-income college students. Additionally, the Veterans Resource Center provides both academic and career resources to veterans transferring back to civilian life.

Enrollment steps include applying online, submitting financial aid forms, and taking placements tests. This trade school in Minnesota charges a slightly higher tuition rate to online and hybrid learners, but distance-education students can apply for institutional scholarships.

Ridgewater College
LocationWillmar, MN

At Ridgewater, learners choose from 15 online programs that include associate degrees in activity direction, administrative assistance, and legal assistance. Available programs include two certificates -- early childhood and early childhood special education. Also, all distance-education courses use an asynchronous curriculum, making this Minnesota technical college a superb choice for learners who work full time.

For online students, Ridgewater's Career Services website provides helpful resources such as a job board, CareerForce workshops, and individualized coaching. These tools help 94% of recent graduates find a job soon after earning a degree.

Ridgewater accepts GED scores, and new learners with a minimum 22 ACT score do not take the ACCUPLACER exam. Other admission steps include attending orientation and applying for financial aid. Finally, students with 2.0 GPA who take six credits each semester qualify for institutional scholarships.

Northland Community and Technical College
LocationThief River Falls, MN

NCTC offers 29 online degrees and certificates that include dietetic technician, early childhood and paraprofessional, and welding technology. Distance education at this trade school in Minnesota uses asynchronous learning, and each course undergoes a peer-review process to ensure academic rigor. Some courses require proctored exams at an authorized testing center.

Student Career Success professionals provide learners with links to top job sites, career-hunting tips, and resume and cover letter guides. NCTC's dedication to learners' success after graduation results in an impressive alumni job-placement rate.

Some new students who live near one of NCTC's five campuses attend a SOAR Day to complete registration, while other online learners speak with an advisor over the phone. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin residents pay the in-state tuition rate. NCTC awards multiple program-specific scholarships to eligible students.

Saint Cloud Technical and Community College
LocationSaint Cloud, MN

SCTCC's online learners choose from seven online degrees. The college designed two of the online degrees -- business and psychology -- for transfer students. Other degrees include finance, medical coding, and health information technology. Online courses also feature tremendous flexibility, allowing students to fit studying around their busy schedule.

Whether preparing for a career or transfer, many students benefit from the Center for Academic Success (CAS), which provides tutoring and counseling resources. Some learners also use Tutor.com at no charge to receive help with many academic subjects. Other CAS services include test proctoring, academic workshops, and course resources; students enjoy access to many of these resources 24/7.

Application steps include submitting FAFSA results and completing placement testing. SCTTC's online courses charge a higher per-credit tuition rate than on-campus courses. This vocational school in Minnesota awards financial aid to 80% of its learners.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College
LocationMinneapolis, MN

MCTC offers dozens of online programs with many unique options that include addiction counseling, Arabic, and Somali. Using D2L Brightspace, learners complete coursework at convenient times. Additionally, this trade school in Minnesota provides students with dozens of technology guides that cover typical software students use to learn and communicate with peers and professors.

Preparing for a career at MCTC involves career assessment, career exploration, and experiential learning. Career Services (CS) provides all three and offers virtual advising sessions for distance-education students. The CS website also features links to the best job-preparation websites, including My Next Move and CAREERwise.

Admission requirements include submitting high school transcripts or GED scores, watching orientation videos, and applying for financial aid. The college charges much less in tuition than the nearby University of Minnesota, making it affordable for in-state learners. Students can apply for institutional scholarship opportunities.

Riverland Community College
LocationAustin, MN

Riverland's multiple hybrid programs make it an excellent technical school in Minnesota for students who live near the college's Austin, Owatonna, or Albert Lea campuses. Fully online programs include web development, supervisory management, and administrative assistance. Additionally, most associate degrees require 60 credits, while certificates require 18-20 credits.

Riverland's counselors offer students academic planning guidance and links to top job-hunting websites. Many new learners start a job hunt by using GPS Lifeplan to take a self-assessment and research different career paths.

Submitting ACT or SAT scores exempt some students from taking placement tests. New degree- and certificate-seekers speak with an advisor before registering for courses.

Career and Salary Outlook for Trade School Graduates

The National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2017, the median salary for full-time, year-round workers with some college but no degree was $35,000, while those with an associate degree earned $38,850. However, salaries for trade school graduates vary significantly by factors like location, experience, and industry. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of $76,220 in 2019.

Since many occupations fall under the vocational education/CTE umbrella, learners should research the job outlook and salary information for their intended career. Prospective students can search the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the BLS for career information such as median pay, entry-level education requirements, and job growth projections.

The BLS reports faster-than-average job growth for nursing assistants, electricians, computer support specialists, registered nurses, and paralegals between 2018 and 2028. None of these occupations require a four-year degree for entry-level employment.

What Kinds of Trade School Programs Are Available?

Trade schools in Minnesota can lead to diverse careers in areas such as healthcare, technology, and the skilled trades. The following sections outline information on trade schools for dental hygienists, mechanics, radiology technicians, and paralegals, but students can also research trade schools that prepare them for many other types of careers.

Financial Aid for Trade School Students

Students attending community and technical colleges in Minnesota can pursue financial aid opportunities, such as loans, scholarships, and grants. To qualify for federal financial aid, learners must submit the FAFSA every year. The federal government offers a variety of scholarship, grant, loan, and work-study opportunities, such as the need-based Pell Grant.

Unlike loans, scholarships and grants do not require repayment, making them ideal forms of financial aid. The following section outlines several scholarship opportunities for trade school students in Minnesota.

Scholarship for Trade School Students

Many public organizations, private companies, and government agencies offer scholarships for students based on factors like financial need, academic merit, and identity. The following list outlines several scholarship opportunities for students attending trade schools in Minnesota.

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