Why Choose Trade School?
Trade schools in Montana offer career-focused training in fields like healthcare, skilled trades, industrial technology, and personal services. Graduates work as medical assistants, mechanics, construction managers, paralegals, and cosmetologists. Enrolling in a vocational program helps professionals train for new careers and increase their earning potential.
During a vocational program, students complete courses and gain practical training through laboratory, practicum, and clinical requirements. Paramedic studies learners, for example, train in ambulances and hospitals, while electricians strengthen their skills during a practicum.
Vocational training offers several benefits over a four-year academic program. Earning a vocational certificate or degree generally takes 1-2 years, meaning students complete their program and enter the workforce faster.
As a result, vocational training often costs less than a bachelor's degree. Professionals with an occupational credential also benefit from a higher employment rate than those with an academic credential, according to 2009 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Many vocational schools offer self-paced or accelerated options to fit the schedule of working professionals. Learners can also choose an online vocational program to maximize flexibility.
Our ranking lists the best vocational schools in Montana to help prospective students find the right fit to reach their career goals. This page also provides career and salary data on trade school occupations, introduces the earning potential and licensing requirements for popular vocational careers, and lists scholarship opportunities for trade school students.
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Accreditation and Licensing for Trade Schools
Prospective trade school students should always check a school's accreditation and licensure status before applying. Attending an unaccredited or unlicensed school can shape a student's educational experience and job prospects after graduation. Many vocational careers require a state-issued license, and only students who attend accredited schools qualify.
Accredited schools meet high standards for educating students. Colleges and universities undergo a rigorous review from an independent accrediting agency to earn accreditation. During the review, the accrediting agency evaluates the school's student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and academic mission.
Choosing an accredited school benefits students in several ways. Credits earned at an accredited institution are more likely to transfer to other schools. Only students attending accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid programs, including Pell Grants. Furthermore, many professional licenses and certifications require an accredited certificate or degree.
Schools that offer vocational programs may hold regional or national accreditation. Community colleges and four-year universities generally hold regional accreditation. In Montana, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities awards regional accreditation to schools.
Trade and vocational schools typically hold national accreditation from a specialized agency like the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, which accredits more than 650 trade and technical schools. Other specialized accrediting agencies include the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, which evaluates online schools.
Postsecondary schools must also hold a license to operate in Montana. The Montana University System maintains a database of approved schools.
Learn more about the accreditation process.
Vocational Trade Schools in Montana
Trade schools in Montana provide job-focused training for careers in healthcare, technology, construction, and the skilled trades. By choosing a top-ranked vocational program, professionals can advance their education in 1-2 years and increase their earning potential.
The following list ranks the best vocational schools in Montana.
Located in Kalispell and just a short drive from Glacier National Park and the Canadian border,Flathead Valley Community Collegeserves over 2,300 students annually. With an additional campus in Libby, FVCC reaches students across Northwest Montana, offering small class sizes and over 50 programs that prepare learners for fast-growing positions.
Many of FVCC's learners study agriculture, healthcare, occupational trades, math, or science. FVCC offers two-year associate degrees and certificate programs. Some associate degrees prepare learners to transfer into a four-year program. Others lead straight to employment. Students can complete several programs at either the associate or certificate level. For example, students can pursue the firearms technology program as a 65-credit associate degree or 27-credit certificate.
FVCC also offers two apprenticeship options: electrical or HVAC and refrigeration. These programs take four and two years to complete, respectively, though students work throughout the apprenticeship.
University of Montanaranks among the largest and most well-respected institutions of higher education in Montana. Based in Missoula, UM enrolls over 10,000 students at every level, including individuals pursuing an associate degree or vocational certificate.
Like several other trade schools in Montana, UM offers dozens of associate and certificate programs, many of which students can complete entirely online. Unlike other schools, UM offers most of its programs at either the certificate or associate level, not both. The only exception, welding technology, awards associate degree students a certificate in welding after completing the first year of the program. Most of UM's associate degrees require 60-65 credits that learners complete over two years. Most certificates require 25-30 credits and one year to complete.
Originally created as a vocational school,Great Falls College Montana State Universityjoined the MSU system in 1994, expanding the school's resources and eventually leading to an online division. Great Falls College MSU continues to offer vocational programs and only uses accelerated eight-week courses in its programs. This accelerated structure provides learners with more flexibility and allows students to graduate quickly.
Great Falls College MSU offers four associate degrees and two certificates, all of which come with specializations. For example, individuals pursuing a certificate of applied science specialize in industrial tech or welding technology and fabrication. The certificates take 1-2 semesters to complete and require 30-45 credits. The associate programs build off the certificate programs. In some instances, students earn a certificate en route to an associate degree. The associate degrees require 60-72 credits and typically take two years to complete, though some students complete their associate degrees in just three semesters.
Helena College University of Montana, a two-year college in Helena, offers 28 degrees and certificates. With an average class size of 11, Helena College's students get to spend quality one-on-one time with faculty.
Helena College offers 10 associate degrees, some of which prepare students to transfer into Montana State University Billings and complete a four-year degree online. However, because Helena College does not offer online education, learners must complete their two-year associate degrees on site in Helena.
Other programs, such as the entrepreneurship certificate of applied science, combine with associate degrees. While earning the entrepreneurship certificate, students also complete credits toward an applied associate degree in business technology. Most of Helena College's certificate programs take two semesters to complete. Students can also enroll in the college's sheet metal apprenticeship, a 30-credit program that takes four years to complete.
Created in 1978 by the Tribal Executive Board of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes,Fort Peck Community Collegeis a regional leader for Native American education. The small school serves just over 300 students annually and awards roughly 50 degrees each year.
FPCC offers 15 certificates and associate degrees that lead to local positions. Some unique programs, such as the Native language instructor associate degree, cannot be found at most other schools in Montana. This associate degree requires 60 credits and typically takes two years to complete. FPCC's one-year certificates require half as many credits and lead to entry-level positions in various industries.
While FPCC does not directly offer an apprenticeship, learners pursuing a welding technician certificate can enroll in an apprenticeship while completing the certificate. The apprenticeship requires up to four years of welding work.
Originally created as an extension of a high school,Dawson Community Collegeeventually grew into a separate and accredited college. Based in Glendive, DCC continues to provide education to Montanans, including online learners.
Many of DCC's technical programs lead to positions in local industries. For example, because livestock and farming are important to Montana's economy, DCC offers two associate degrees and two certificates in agriculture. The college also offers associate degrees and certificates in criminal justice, welding, and corrosion technology.
DCC offers several technical associate degrees and certificates entirely online. However, the college does not provide flexibility with specialization options, requiring online students to complete generalized degrees and certificates. DCC sometimes provides learners with apprenticeship opportunities.
Salish Kootenai Collegeteaches over 800 students annually, nearly three-quarters of whom come from Native descent. This aligns with SKC's goal of being a preeminent center of workforce education for American Indian students. While still small, SKC continues to grow, so far awarding nearly 3,700 degrees and certificates since its founding in 1977.
Many of SKC's associate degree and certificate programs, such as hydrology, health promotion, and business management, teach important skills required in local industries. Others prepare graduates for incredibly niche fields, such as the certificate in unmanned aircraft systems operations. The associate degrees require roughly 90 quarter credits to complete while some of the certificates require only 11 credits.
SKC does not directly offer apprenticeships, but the school's Career Services staff connects students with internships, military positions, and various apprenticeships. Students find available apprenticeships through SKC's online portal.
Bozeman-basedMontana State Universityis the largest university in Montana, enrolling over 16,700 students. Nearly half of MSU's students come from Montana, and Montana residents secure a low in-state tuition rate.
Through MSU's Gallatin College, students pursue various applied associate degrees and certificates. The programs prepare learners for specific careers in Montana. For example, the aviation associate of applied science leads to piloting, a high-growth field in Montana. The associate degree requires at least 60 credits, though specific credit amounts vary based on students' chosen elective courses. MSU also teaches several 30-credit certificate programs that take just two semesters. Some of the programs and courses allow for online education.
MSU created a unique apprenticeship program for students interested in science. The six-week summer apprenticeship teaches existing students new skills related to STEM fields.
Founded in 1939,Miles Community Collegefocuses on workforce development through academics. While the community college offers several associate degrees designed to transfer, most of MCC's academics consist of applied associate degrees and certificates.
MCC breaks programs down by topic, with most technical degrees and certificates falling under business, information technology, and nursing and healthcare. Some certificates and degrees, such as the nursing and radiologic technician programs, also satisfy Montana's requirements for professional licensure. Depending on the program, students may complete the entire degree or certificate online. Applied associate degrees and certificates at MCC take roughly 60 and 30 credits, respectively.
MCC requires applicants to submit a high school or GED diploma, immunization records, and any official college transcripts. Students may submit ACT or SAT test scores to boost their application or try to secure financial aid, though MCC does not require test scores.
To increase student success and maximize hands-on learning, theUniversity of Montana-Westernintroduced the unique Experience One concept. Through this program, students complete just one course at a time, letting them dive fully into the material. While learners only take one course at a time, they still finish associate degrees in two years and certificates in 2-3 semesters.
Most of UMW's vocational programs focus on horses and animals. The university's popular Equine Studies Department offers associate degrees in equine studies and natural horsemanship, which require 64 and 72 credits, respectively. The department also provides certificates in farrier science and small animal grooming, both of which require 24 credits and take two semesters to finish. Most courses count as four credits, so prospective students can anticipate intensive courses. Those interested in other fields can pursue a school-arranged apprenticeship.
Chartered in 1975 by Tribal Ordinance,Chief Dull Knife Collegeoriginated as an institution to educate nearby miners who lived in Lame Deer. However, as the student body grew and graduates saw more success, CDKC added new programs geared toward preparing learners for new career opportunities.
Learners can pursue applied associate degrees in addiction studies, allied health, animal science, and office management. Students can also pursue certificates in behavioral healthcare aide, office assistant, and entrepreneurship. The applied associate degrees require 60 credits to complete, and students must maintain a 2.0 GPA to graduate. Most learners complete their associate degree in two years. The certificates require 30-45 credits and take up to three semesters to complete.
Those interested in continuing their education can seamlessly transfer into the Montana University system. Students can also complete some courses virtually through a new online portal.
A community college controlled by the Chippewa Cree Tribe,Stone Child Collegeworks to preserve the Chippewa Cree culture and history while educating students. SCC offers an array of two-year degrees, certificates, and continuing education to support the Box Elder community.
SCC's associate degrees in health promotion, addiction studies, rural behavioral health, and health and physical education teach useful skills required for many local jobs. The associate degrees generally require 60 credits. These two-year degrees combine general education with health-based courses.
The community college also offers four vocational certificates: rural health, hospitality/customer relations, building trades, and accounting/information management. Each option takes one year to complete, except for the two-year building trades certificate. Upon completing the certificate, students gain enough hands-on experience to apply for local positions in their field.
Established in 1974,Blackfeet Community Collegeenrolls over 2,200 students. Created to meet the educational needs and long-term goals of the Blackfeet Tribe, BCC provides many unique vocational programs, including several that lead to positions assisting Native American communities.
BCC offers vocational associate degrees in hydrology technician and behavioral health aid. The behavioral health aid program allows students to build their own curriculum, preparing them for an entry-level position within a human services agency or to transfer into a four-year institution.
BCC's certificates generally take one year to complete and lead to specific positions. For example, the Blackfeet legal studies certificate prepares students to work as a tribal legal assistant and covers tribal codes to prepare graduates for the Tribal Bar Exam. Other certificates focus on building trades, heavy equipment, and agricultural business, all important industries in the Browning region.
A community college chartered by the Crow Tribe,Little Big Horn Collegestrives to promote vocational and professional development for individuals, and in some instances, prepare learners to transfer into a four-year institution.
As a small school, LBHC only offers six vocational programs. The associate of science in agriculture: livestock management, takes two years and 61 credits to complete and prepares graduates for local positions at ranches. These one-year certificates take as little as 30 weeks to complete, though most students take two full semesters. While the certificates prepare learners for specific career outcomes, not all certificates satisfy Montana's requirements for professional licensure or certification.
Created to offer postsecondary education to individuals at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and nearby areas,Aaniiih Nakoda Collegecombines vocational education with courses covering the Aaniin and Nakoda Tribe histories and cultures. Many of ANC's students receive grants for specific programs, making some options incredibly affordable.
ANC offers vocational associate degrees in industrial trades and chemical dependency counseling. Both programs take two years to complete and require 62-67 credits, depending on whether students choose to complete additional education to meet Montana's requirements for professional licensing. While both options use the traditional semester system, some students complete summer courses.
ANC also offers one-year certificates in welding, health science, and tribal management. The certificates require 29-34 credits. These certificates meet industry requirements to begin working immediately after graduating.
Find Vocational and Trade Schools in Montana
Students can enroll in accredited vocational and trade schools in Montana to prepare for careers in key industries driving Montana's economy, including agriculture, business, health sciences, industrial services, and technology.
Montana contains 485 approved career and technical education (CTE) programs. More than 150 high schools participate in CTE programs to better prepare students for the skilled workforce.
The state fully supports vocational programs. The legislature doubled funding for CTE in May 2015 to ensure that students are prepared for the job market.
Use the tool below to find the vocational school that meets your educational and career goals.
Career and Salary Outlook for Trade School Graduates
Many trade school professions offer strong career and salary outlooks. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects much faster-than-average job growth for paralegals, dental hygienists, and HVAC technicians between 2018 and 2028.
Salary potential for trade school graduates varies depending on the industry and location. Overall, trade school occupations pay an average of $55,000 per year, according to BLS data.
Management occupations offer the highest earning potential, with an annual average salary of over $96,000. Healthcare practitioners and technical occupations earn around $55,000 per year on average, while installation, maintenance, and repair occupations average around $50,000 per year.
Location also affects salaries. In Montana, many trade school careers pay more than the average annual wages of $45,000. Respiratory therapists earn over $58,000 per year on average, and electricians make over $60,000 annually in Montana. Dental hygienists earn an average salary of $75,000 per year, and physical therapist assistants make nearly $54,000 per year.
Prospective trade school students can research the earning potential and job growth in their specific field to learn more.
What Kinds of Trade School Programs Are Available?
Trade schools educate students in high-demand fields like allied healthcare, technology, the skilled trades, and legal services. In 1-2 years, students can earn a vocational certificate or degree and enter the workforce. Vocational programs train students for careers as dental hygienists, mechanics, paralegals, and radiology technicians.
This section introduces popular trade school programs, their earning potential, and any licensure requirements.
Dental hygienists conduct preventive examinations and look for signs of oral disease while cleaning patients' teeth. They apply treatments to protect teeth, take dental X-rays, and report findings to dentists. Dental hygienists also teach patients about oral hygiene.
Most dental hygienists hold an associate degree with coursework in anatomy, periodontics, and oral health. Students also complete laboratory and clinical requirements to strengthen their patient care and practical skills.
The BLS reports that dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of over $76,000 in 2019 with much faster-than-average projected job growth between 2018 and 2028. Dental hygienists need a state license. In Montana, the Board of Dentistry licenses dental hygienists.
Learn more about dental hygienist programs.
Mechanics inspect and repair vehicles. They use computerized diagnostic equipment to identify problems, test parts to improve performance, and perform repairs. Mechanics also explain problems and repairs to clients.
Vocational certificates and degrees in automotive service technology prepare graduates for careers as mechanics. Students may gain specialized training in areas like brake systems and engine repairs. Associate programs offer general automotive service training. In addition to courses, students complete fieldwork.
After completing a program, graduates can demonstrate specialized skills with a certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. The institute offers certification in diesel engines, electronic systems, engine performance, and other areas.
The BLS reports that mechanics earned a median annual salary of around $42,000 in 2019.
Learn more about mechanic programs.
Paralegals help lawyers prepare for trials and manage their cases. They conduct research into laws and regulations, draft legal documents including contracts and affidavits, and assist lawyers during trials. Paralegals also file briefs and appeals with the court or opposing counsel. Some paralegals specialize in an area like corporate law or litigation.
Vocational schools in Montana offer paralegal studies certificates and degrees. Students learn about legal writing, contract law, and legal research. After completing a paralegal studies program, graduates can pursue professional certification.
BLS data shows that paralegals earned a median annual salary of over $51,000 in 2019 with much faster-than-average projected job growth between 2018 and 2028.
Learn more about paralegal programs.
Radiology technicians use diagnostic imaging equipment like X-ray machines to create diagnostic images for physicians. They prepare patients for procedures, position the equipment to capture the correct image, and evaluate the quality of images. Radiology technicians also follow safety guidelines while operating medical equipment.
An associate degree is the entry-level educational requirement for careers as a radiology technician. During an associate program, students take courses in patient care, radiation physics, and image evaluation. They also complete clinical requirements.
Radiology technicians earned a median annual salary of over $62,000 in 2019 with faster-than-average projected job growth between 2018 and 2028. Most radiology technicians hold professional certification from The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and a state-issued license. In Montana, the Board of Radiologic Technologists licenses radiology technicians.
Learn more about radiology technician programs.
Financial Aid for Trade School Students
Trade school students can use financial aid to pay for their degree. Federal loans, private loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study programs all help students cover the cost of a vocational program.
Students can receive federal financial aid by completing the FAFSA. However, only accredited schools meet the requirements to distribute federal financial aid to their students. Prospective applicants can check with schools to find out whether they qualify for federal student aid programs.
Recipients do not need to pay back grants and scholarships, making them one of the best forms of financial aid. Many organizations offer scholarships for trade school students, including the five opportunities listed below.
Scholarship for Trade School Students
Students attending trade or vocational schools in Montana qualify for multiple scholarship opportunities. Private foundations, government agencies, and professional associations all support trade school students through scholarships, grants, and other awards.
Who Can Apply: Students earning a certificate or associate degree in a STEM or healthcare field can apply for this scholarship. Applicants need a minimum 3.25 GPA and must
enroll full time.
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports survivors of childhood cancer who enroll in postsecondary educational programs. Recipients must live in either Montana or
Who Can Apply: The Horatio Alger Endowment Fund awards over 1,000 career and technical scholarships annually. Recipients must attend an eligible career or technical program at an accredited school.
Who Can Apply: The state funds Montana residents attending qualifying schools and pursuing a certificate or associate degree. Applicants must demonstrate financial need.
Who Can Apply: The Pride Foundation offers scholarships to LGBTQ+ students and allies in the Pacific Northwest, including students in Montana. Applicants can submit one
application to apply for over 60 scholarships.