Best Trade Schools in North Carolina

ASO Staff Writers
Updated April 16, 2024
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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 Technical Community College
LocationWinston-Salem, NC

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.

Isothermal Community College
LocationSpindale, NC

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
LocationWinterville, NC

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.

Cleveland Community College
LocationShelby, NC

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.

Western Piedmont Community College
LocationMorganton, NC

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
LocationMarion, NC

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.

Wayne Community College
LocationGoldsboro, NC

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.

Vance-Granville Community College
LocationHenderson, NC

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 Community College
LocationSalisbury, NC

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.

Fayetteville Technical Community College
LocationFayetteville, NC

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.

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 $55,510, 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 7% between 2022 and 2032, a rate significantly higher than the national average. The BLS projects the demand for radiologic and MRI technicians to grow 6% 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.

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.

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