Why Choose Trade School?
Trade schools prepare graduates for a specific professional career path, such as dental hygiene, auto repair, or radiology.
Trade schools serve students entering a new field and working professionals who want to develop their careers. Trade programs are typically cheaper and faster to complete than four-year programs.
Most trade school programs take 1-2 years. Some programs enable students to either enter the workforce immediately upon graduation or continue on to earn an associate or bachelor's degree.
Trade schools emphasize practical skills and fieldwork, rather than the theoretical approaches that characterize many four-year colleges. Students often spend a significant portion of their time in workshops, labs, and professional simulation environments.
This focus on professional preparation yields strong career outcomes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, trade school graduates report higher rates of employment and are more likely to hold a job related to their field of study than graduates of academic programs.
Accreditation and Licensing for Trade Schools
Accreditation is the process through which colleges evaluate and regulate themselves. Accreditation ensures that schools meet designated academic standards and adequately prepare students for employment after graduation. A school that lacks proper accreditation should be considered disreputable and unworthy of further research.
Accreditation exists in two main forms: regional and national. About 85% of schools hold regional accreditation, but many vocational and trade schools hold national accreditation from agencies such as the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
Community colleges that offer trade and vocational programs typically hold regional accreditation from agencies such as the Higher Learning Commission or the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Accreditation becomes particularly important when researching online schools, as prospective students may not be able to visit a campus to determine a school's legimtacy. Fraudulent schools may attempt to pass themselves off as legitimate institutions by presenting professional web design and fictitious accreditation credentials.
When researching trade schools, look for DEAC accreditation, which generally serves as the standard for national accreditation.
Schools offering trade and vocational programs must also typically be licensed either by state or national agencies. In most instances, individual state agencies manage licensing for different professional fields, such as nursing or dental hygiene. However, some private vocational schools may instead be licensed through the state's Department of Education.
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Vocational Trade Schools in North Carolina
This ranking compiles the top vocational schools in North Carolina, highlighting colleges that offer strong professional preparation, flexible education options, and affordable tuition.
Forsyth Tech opened in 1960 and enrolls approximately 11,450 students each year. Forsyth Tech offers degree and certificate programs in fields like biotechnology, computer-integrated machining, electronics engineering technology, and supply chain management.
Forsyth Tech participates with several four-year institutions statewide in the Independent Comprehensive Articulation Agreement. The agreement increases access to higher education for community college graduates by facilitating the transfer process among participating schools.
The Learn & Earn Apprenticeship Program (LEAP) allows students to complete an associate in science degree in advanced manufacturing industry while receiving paid, on-the-job training. The college partners with local companies who provide extensive hands-on training and agree to wage increases for apprentices who meet set competencies. Students who complete LEAP also earn a journey worker credential from the state and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Founded in 1964, Isothermal Community College offers close to 90 associate, diploma, and certificate programs. Students can pursue study in arts and sciences, applied sciences and engineering, business sciences, and health and public services. The college also offers adult education classes, continuing education, industrial training, and other community-based enrichment programs.
The Advising and Success Center at the College provides academic and career counseling, placement services, and tutoring sessions. New students can join the Peer 2 Peer Mentorship Program, pairing them with a second-year student who provides social and personal support. The center holds workshops throughout the year to help students improve their study and research skills, write their resume, and assist them with job search and application.
As part of the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS), ICC participates in the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement between the University of South Carolina institutions and the NCCCS. The agreement facilitates the transfer of community college graduates to participating UNC institutions.
Pitt Community College began as the Pitt Industrial Education Center in 1961. Currently enrolling approximately 23,000 students each year, PCC is the sixth largest member-school in the North Carolina Community College System. This vocational school in North Carolina offers over 60 associate, certificate, and diploma programs across five academic divisions. Students can pursue a degree or occupational credential in the arts and sciences, business, construction and industrial technology, health sciences, and public service and fine arts.
The college participates in the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement between University of South Carolina institutions and the North Carolina Community College System. The agreement simplifies the process of transferring between participating schools.
PCC maintains additional articulation agreements with other schools for specific programs. For example, the college has an agreement in place with North Carolina Wesleyan College for early childhood education graduates, as well as with University of Mount Olive for banking and finance graduates.
Opening in 1965 as the Cleveland unit of Gaston College, Cleveland Community College enrolled fewer than 40 students during its first year of operation. Today, the college serves about 2,500 students annually and offers associate and certificate programs across 15 fields of study. Students can enroll in programs in electronics engineering technology, computer-integrated machining, emergency medical service, and broadcasting and production. In addition, CCC maintains community-based programs with adult education classes and professional development courses.
CCC maintains several support services, including individual and group tutoring sessions, accommodation and assistive resources for students with disabilities, and academic counseling. Students can also take advantage of career exploration services and access an open job board.
The college provides classroom instruction for apprenticeship programs established in partnership with local companies and businesses. Upon program completion students earn a certificate of completion from CCC, which they can credit toward an associate degree at a future date. They also earn an industry-recognized National Career Readiness Certificate.
Chartered in 1964, WPCC enrolls over 7,000 students each year. Students can explore educational programs in computer engineering technology, horticulture, electrical engineering, and game design and programming.
The Academic Success Center helps students register for courses, enhance academic writing and research skills, and improve academic performance through one-on-one tutoring. Other career services include resume reviews, job search and interview tips, career exploration, and professional skills assessment.
WPCC participates in the Apprenticeship Burke program. Local manufacturing companies provide onsite training for student workers enrolled in industry-related courses at the college. Apprenticeship opportunities include industrial systems technology, mechanical engineering, and mechatronics engineering. Upon completion of the program, WPCC awards an associate degree or occupational credential. Graduates also receive a nationally recognized journeyman credential from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
McDowell Technical Community College began in 1964 as Marion-McDowell Industrial Education Center. A rural campus, the college enrolls just over 1,100 students every year. Students can enroll in associate and certificate programs in emergency management, basic law enforcement training, electrical systems technology, and landscape gardening, among others.
The Academic Resource Center provides an array of supportive services for students, including group or individual tutoring sessions, test proctoring, and open computer labs. Students can use the resources of the Student Enrichment Center, which includes career exploration and assessment, internship or job shadowing opportunities, and job search and application.
The college helps students enrolled in a manufacturing or career readiness program explore apprenticeship opportunities. McDowell Tech works with several manufacturing and industry community partners to ensure the relevance of their academic offerings and employability of their graduates.
Originally named the Goldsboro Industrial Education Center, Wayne Community College currently enrolls more than 3,200 students annually and offers over 140 occupational credentials and associate degrees in 14 fields of study. Students can explore programs in business administration and operations management, computer-integrated machining, dental hygiene, and basic law enforcement training.
Student services at WCC include a Writing Center, Testing Center, and an Academic Skills Center. The centers offer tutoring services, academic counseling, and research and writing assistance.
The college partners with several local businesses to offer apprenticeship programs to students. WCC's latest partnership gives students the chance to earn an associate in applied science degree in industrial systems technology. Apprentices receive a salary, free tuition, and benefits. The program follows a cohort model of education.
Established in 1969, VGCC enrolls over 3,000 students annually. The college offers more than 40 degree and certificate programs in 13 areas of study. VGCC also provides continuing education opportunities and short-term professional development courses.
The college recently launched a new program for students who plan to enter the field of aviation. The program currently includes coursework and training for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, with plans to design an instruction and training curriculum for commercial pilot ground school.
The Transfer Center at VGCC helps students navigate the transition to four-year institutions through careful course selection, internship opportunities, and other services. The Student Learning & Success Center offers academic and career counseling, tutoring services, disability resources, and job search assistance.
VGCC offers several apprenticeship programs. The college recently received a grant from a community partner to expand apprenticeships in the mechatronics, industrial maintenance, and welding fields.
Rowan-Cabarrus began as an industrial education center in 1963, offering an assortment of short courses for adults and a handful of pre-employment programs. Today, the college enrolls more than 6,300 students and offers over 175 associate, certificate, and diploma programs in 15 areas of study. Students can earn a degree or occupational credential in aviation electronics, civil engineering technology, hospitality management, and early childhood education. Rowan-Cabarrus also offers continuing and adult education classes for members of the larger community.
Rowan-Cabarrus recently received funding for a new apprenticeship program in the multi-craft maintenance technology field. The program includes coursework in machining, programmable logic controls, welding, and fabrication while community industry partners provide extensive hands-on training. At the end of the four-year program, the college awards graduates with an associate in applied science degree. In addition, students earn a certified journeyman status recognized at state and national levels.
Established in 1961 as the Fayetteville Area Industrial Education Center, FTCC admits about 11,000 students to its degree and certificate programs and another 24,000 enrollees in continuing education classes. The college offers more than 280 associate, certificate, and diploma programs in diverse areas of study, such as health and fitness science, small business accounting, nonprofit and community leadership, and general healthcare management technology.
FTCC assigns an academic advisor to each student to make sure they stay on track for completing their program. Advisors help students in course and major selection, connecting them to campus services and community resources. The Student Learning Center offers group and individual tutoring, computer access, academic counseling, and other support services. The center regularly holds Foundational Skills Workshops to help students improve their study, writing, and research skills.
Some programs provide work-based or cooperative learning opportunities that give students the chance to apply classroom knowledge to actual workplace settings.
Edgecombe Community College opened in 1967 as an extension unit of the Wilson County Technical Institute. Today, the college enrolls close to 4,000 credit-seeking students with an additional 4,700 in continuing education classes. Students can pursue an associate, certificate, or diploma program in diverse areas of study including dental hygiene, early childhood education, hunting and shooting sports management, and electrical systems technology.
The Student Success Center provides subject-specific tutoring, test and placement services, disability resources, and academic, career, and personal counseling. The college connects students with other supportive resources within the community through the Single Stop program. Trained intake personnel help students access government benefits Medicaid, Food Stamps, legal referrals, and child care assistance.
Edgecombe Community College offers apprenticeship courses approved by the Department of Commerce. The college continues to work with area businesses and trade organizations to increase their apprenticeship offerings.
A charter member of the North Carolina Community College System, Durham Tech opened in 1961 as the Durham Industrial Education Center. The college currently enrolls over 18,000 students across seven campuses. The school offers more than 100 associate and certificate programs. Students seeking immediate employment or university transfer can explore programs like industrial systems technology, hospitality management, computer-integrated machining, and medical assisting.
Durham Tech maintains support resources for veterans, students with disabilities, and single parent enrollees. Additionally, the college offers an emergency financial assistance program for students facing unforeseen financial emergencies.
Durham Tech recently partnered with local companies and Durham public schools to inaugurate a program designed to meet the increasing demand for skilled trade workers. Durham Tech plans to offer a new HVAC apprenticeship opportunity under the program.
Since opening in 1958 with only 43 enrollees, GTCC has grown to serve a student population of approximately 35,000 each year. The college offers over 80 associate, diploma, and certificate programs. Areas of study include aviation systems technology, accounting and finance, basic law enforcement training, and emergency medical science. GTCC also offers non-credit adult and basic education classes, career development courses, and other community-based educational opportunities.
The Center for Academic Engagement at GTCC offers tutoring services, college success classes, and academic writing assistance. Students can also avail of career exploration and planning, disability resources, and academic and personal counseling. Trained transfer counselors guide students throughout the transfer process to make sure students stay on track toward continuing their education at a four-year institution.
GTCC participates in GAP Apprenticeships, a program that funds apprenticeship programs in several community colleges in the region. Students can apply for apprenticeships in cybersecurity, logistics, robotics, HVAC, and computer-aided design, to name just a few currently available programs.
Chartered in 1963, Gaston College admitted 445 students during its initial year of operation. Today, annual enrollment approaches 10,000 students and offers over 170 programs of study. Students can earn an associate, diploma, or certificate in diverse disciplines, including business administration, electronics engineering technology, emergency management, and computer-integrated machining. The college also offers workforce and occupational training programs, adult and continuing education classes, and other community-based learning opportunities.
Gaston College maintains articulation agreements with several schools to facilitate the transfer of its graduates to four-year institutions. Associate degrees for transfer include programs in health and fitness science (Lenoir-Rhyne University), global logistics and distribution management (Gardner-Webb University), and emergency medical science (Western Carolina University).
Gaston College offers several apprenticeships including industrial maintenance mechanics, machine set-up operations, and mechatronics technology. Apprentices receive free tuition, an industry-level salary, and benefits.
Wake Tech began as the Wake County Industrial Education Center in 1958, offering a few short courses and holding classes in various community sites. Today, the college comprises six campuses and enrolls more than 21,000 students at its main campus in Raleigh. Wake Tech offers over 200 associate, diploma, and certificate programs in fields like biopharmaceutical technology, construction equipment systems, business analytics, and data science and programming support services. The college also offers non-credit community-based programs, adult education and ESL classes, and customized corporate training.
Wake Tech currently offers five apprenticeship programs through WakeWorks: carpentry, electrical, HVAC, plumbing and pipefitting, and welding. The college plans to add apprenticeships in apartment maintenance, automotive technology, building and code inspection, EMT/Paramedic, and tower technology. Apprentices receive a salary from their employer, and the program pays for tuition, fees, books, and other supplies.
Opened in 1963 as an industrial education center, Davidson County Community College currently serves over 3,600 students annually. DCCC offers 45 associate and certificate programs in diverse fields including accounting and finance, electronics engineering, supply chain management, and medical assisting. The college is one of only a handful of community colleges in the country offering programs in aquarium science and zoological science technology.
The Learning Commons at DCCC provides tutoring, testing, and placement services. It regularly conducts workshops designed to help students improve their study, research, and writing skills. At the Career Development Office, students consult with trained counselors for assistance with course and major selection, career exploration, and internship opportunities.
DCCC currently offers electrical and plumbing apprenticeships. The college participates in the Apprenticeship Consortia, giving them access to additional funding to improve and expand their apprenticeship programs.
Johnston Community College opened in 1969 and currently enrolls over 13,000 students in its degree, technical, and non-credit continuing education programs. Students can pursue an associate or occupational credential in several areas of study, including cardiovascular sonography, diesel and heavy equipment technology, commercial building automation, and manual machining.
The Student Success Center offers a variety of support services, including individual and group tutoring, course selection, transfer advisement, and assistive resources for students with disabilities. Students can also receive career exploration and job search assistance, testing and placement services, and academic and personal counseling.
JCC administers the Johnston County Apprenticeship Program, connecting industries in the area with students seeking hands-on training. The college has partnerships in place for applied engineering and electrical students to begin as apprentices in local companies. JCC continues to work with area businesses to offer additional apprenticeship opportunities in the future.
Established in 1970 with an initial enrollment of 266, Piedmont Community College began as the Person County Technical Institute. PCC currently enrolls just over 1,200 students and offers associate degrees and occupational credentials in more than 80 fields. The college groups its educational offerings into five categories: business studies and emerging technologies, public safety and human services, health and natural science, university transfer and general education, and technical and manufacturing programs.
The Learning Commons at PCC provides tutoring and testing services, meeting rooms, and technical assistance. The college also maintains several resources for students with special needs.
PCC participates in the North Carolina Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA). The program facilitates the transfer of community college graduates to four-year public institutions throughout the state. PCC also maintains articulation agreements with several other private colleges and universities.
South Piedmont resulted from the 1999 consolidation of Anson Community College and Union Technical Education Center. The school currently admits over 10,000 students each year across two campuses. Students can enroll in associate and certificate programs in diverse fields, including arts and digital media, culinary and food service management, manufacturing, and human services.
The college maintains articulation agreements with several four-year public and private institutions, facilitating the transfer of South Piedmont graduates to senior colleges and universities.
South Piedmont partners with area industries and local businesses to create apprenticeship programs for their employees and the college's students. South Piedmont currently offers apprenticeships for industrial maintenance technicians, machinists, electricians, quality associates, and process technicians. Students who complete the program earn an associate degree or occupational certificate from South Piedmont. They also receive an industry-recognized journeyman certificate.
Central Piedmont opened in 1963 with 12 programs and 1,600 enrollees. Today, the college comprises six campuses, offers over 300 programs, and enrolls approximately 56,000 students annually, making it one of the largest colleges in the Tar Heel State. Students can pursue an associate degree for transfer or occupational credential in various fields of study, including biomedical equipment technology, hospitality management, basic law enforcement training, and medical assisting.
Student support services include transfer and job search assistance, as well as academic and career counseling. Central Piedmont maintains an emergency food pantry for students facing food insecurity issues. The college also provides opportunities for students and faculty to participate in service-oriented activities within the community.
By partnering with local industries and businesses, Central Piedmont provides students with a variety of work-based learning opportunities such as apprenticeships, cooperative education, and internships.
Mitchell Community College originally began as a Presbyterian school for women in 1852. Today, the college offers associate and certificate programs across 14 fields of study and enrolls just over 3,100 students. Learners can explore transfer degrees and occupational credentials in diverse fields, including mechatronics engineering technology, sustainable farming methods, turf and landscape management, and embedded microprocessor design.
Students can also take advantage of support services, including tutoring sessions, academic and career counseling, technical assistance, and accessibility resources for students with learning or physical disabilities.
Mitchell recently launched Apprenticeship Iredell, a program meant for hands-on training in the mechatronics field from a longstanding community partner in the industry. Students who complete the program earn an associate degree in addition to a journey worker credential recognized by the state and throughout the country.
Founded in 1959, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College enrolls close to 7,000 students and offers more than 120 certificate, degree, and diploma programs. Students can choose a program from several fields of study, including brewing, distillation, and fermentation; public safety administration; air conditioning, heating, and refrigerator technology; and golf course management.
The Academic Learning Center offers tutoring services and academic writing assistance. The Career Center assists with resume and cover letter writing, career exploration and planning, and job search. Transfer advisors work with students in course and major selection to ensure a seamless transition to a four-year institution. All member schools of the University of South Carolina System accept transfer credits from A-B Tech.
A-B Tech participates in a regional apprenticeship program with four other community colleges (Blue Ridge, Haywood, Isothermal, and Southwestern). The college coordinates with local industries and businesses to provide workplace internships, pre-apprenticeships, and cooperative education opportunities for students.
Cape Fear Community College opened in 1958 and currently admits over 8,600 credit-seeking students per year. CFCC offers over 135 associate and certificate programs across five academic departments: business technologies, engineering technology, marine technology, public service, and vocational. The college also offers non-credit continuing education classes, academic and career readiness courses, business and industry services, and other community-based programs.
The Learning Lab at CFCC provides tutorial assistance, basic study, research, academic writing skills workshops, and supplemental instruction in a group setting. Other student support services include academic and personal counseling, career exploration and planning, testing and placement services, and assistive and accommodation resources for students with learning or physical disabilities.
CFCC currently offers four apprenticeship programs: electrical, electrical line worker, fire alarm systems training, and plumbing and pipefitting. The Continuing Education Department coordinates apprenticeships and other work-based learning programs, including internships, job shadowing, and cooperative education.
Lenoir Community College enrolled approximately 80 students during its initial year in 1958. Today, the college serves over 3,500 credit-seeking students and more than 9,400 non-credit enrollees. LCC offers 170 associate, diploma, and certificate programs across eight fields of study. Students choose from programs like aviation management and career pilot technology, dental hygiene, auto electronics, and global logistics.
Student services at LCC include academic writing assistance, course and major selection, individual and group tutoring, and assistive resources for students with learning or physical disabilities. The college further supports students by providing academic, personal, and crisis counseling, career exploration and planning, and transfer assistance.
LCC offers scholarship programs for students enrolled in a workforce development and continuing education program. Additionally, students who have completed at least nine semester hours with a minimum 2.0 GPA can earn college credits for working in jobs related to their program of study.
Chartered in 1963, Sandhills Community College was the first school in the North Carolina Community College System to offer a college transfer program. The college enrolls just over 4,000 credit-seeking students and offers more than 100 programs across six academic departments. Students can pursue an associate degree or occupational credential in diverse professional arenas such as architectural technology, business administration, health and fitness science, and baking and pastry arts.
Students support services include tutoring, academic advisement, writing and research assistance, and personal counseling. Students can also receive assistance with resume writing, job search and interviews, and career planning. The college supports students with disabilities by providing sign language interpreters, books on tape, testing accommodations, and note-takers.
Sandhills Community College offers work-based learning opportunities through the Workforce Continuing Education program. Work-based learning opportunities include internships, practicums, pre-apprenticeships, and registered apprenticeships.
Career and Salary Outlook for Trade School Graduates
Salaries for trade school professions depend on experience, location, and industry of employment.
Given the variety of career paths available, location can play an even greater role for trade school occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the annual mean wage for all trade school occupations is $55,270, but this figure encompasses a vast selection of careers with varying salaries.
In general, trade school jobs offer strong salaries compared to tuition costs, and many of these careers offer strong projected growth.
For example, the BLS projects the demand for dental hygienists to grow 11% between 2018 and 2028, a rate significantly higher than the national average. The BLS projects the demand for radiologic and MRI technicians to grow 9% during that same period.
What Kinds of Trade School Programs Are Available?
Read on to learn more about the most popular fields at vocational and trade schools in North Carolina.
Dental hygienists clean teeth, check for diseases, and educate patients about proper oral care. Many dental hygienists work part time. These professionals typically need an associate degree to enter the field, and most programs take 2-3 years to complete.
According to the BLS, dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of $76,220 in 2019, with jobs in the field projected to grow 11% between 2018 and 2028.
Learn more about how to become a dental hygienist.
Mechanics inspect, repair, and maintain cars and trucks. Mechanics typically need at least a postsecondary certificate or diploma. They usually earn professional certification as part of a vocational program. These programs take about 12 months to complete.
Paralegals assist lawyers in preparing for hearings, trials, and other legal proceedings. They conduct research, investigate cases, organize case documents, draft legal correspondence, and summarize case findings. Paralegals need at least a two-year associate degree, although some positions may require bachelor's degrees.
Unlike many trade professions, paralegals typically do not need licensure or certification. However, some employers may prefer candidates who earn voluntary certification.
According to the BLS, paralegals earned a median annual salary of $51,740 in 2019. Paralegal jobs are projected to grow 12% between 2018 and 2028.
Learn more about how to become a paralegal.
Radiology technicians perform imaging examinations on patients in several medical settings. They operate and maintain equipment, prepare patients for imaging procedures, and take and store X-ray images.
Radiology technicians usually need at least a two-year associate degree, and they must hold licensure or certification in most states. Most radiology programs lead directly to professional licensure. Some radiologists go on to become MRI technologists after gaining professional experience.
According to the BLS, radiologic and MRI technicians earned a median annual salary of $62,280 in 2019. Careers in the field are projected to grow 9% between 2018 and 2028.
Learn more about how to become a radiology technician.
Financial Aid for Trade School Students
In general, trade schools offer lower tuition rates than four-year colleges. Students also reduce their costs by staying in school for 1-2 years rather than four. However, tuition expenses still add up, and trade school students can explore several options to finance their education, including loans, grants, and scholarships.
All students should complete the FAFSA, which determines eligibility for federal student aid, including loans. Completing the FAFSA gives students access to low-interest federal loans and several grants. Grants do not need to be repaid.
Scholarships function similarly to grants in that they provide funding for higher education that does not require repayment. However, most scholarships maintain eligibility requirements, including a minimum GPA or professional experience. Scholarships may also serve students from specific backgrounds, regions, or schools.
Scholarship for Trade School Students
See below for a sampling of scholarships open to students enrolled in trade schools in North Carolina.
Who Can Apply: Any North Carolina student in the second year of a two-year educational/technical program can apply. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and academic promise.
Who Can Apply: All students at any North Carolina community college enrolled in an allied health program are eligible.
Who Can Apply: North Carolina residents studying air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration at any eligible North Carolina community college can apply.
Amount: Up to 90% of full-time tuition expenses
Who Can Apply: North Carolina students attending participating community colleges can apply. Applicants must also demonstrate financial need.
Amount: $750/semester for curriculum students, $250/semester for occupational students
Who Can Apply: Students pursuing an approved plumbing, heating, or cooling apprenticeship, certificate, associate, or bachelor's program can apply.