2020 Online Vocational Trade Schools and Degrees

Written by: Sandy McGee

Online Vocational

Vocational schools, also known as trade or career schools, train students for skilled jobs like medical assistants, automotive technicians, and paralegals. Some online vocational trade schools help degree, diploma, or certificate candidates apply for jobs and learn how to find employers.

Trade schools usually offer programs in the most-demand fields, such as HVAC installation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for HVAC installers to grow much faster than other occupations at a rate of 13% from 2018 to 2028. The BLS also projects growth in other trade school fields: for example, over the next decade, medical assistance jobs should increase 23%, and paralegal positions should increase 12%.

Trade schools differ from colleges and universities in at least three ways. First, trade schools ask students to specialize only in a specific trade or skill, like hairstyling or plumbing; general education courses are usually not required. Second and relatedly, because they focus so intensely on one skill, trade school programs take less time to complete than associate or bachelor's programs. Finally, trade schools cost considerably less than a college degree.

There are many options for trade schools. Some institutions offer training programs geared towards a specific field or specialize in only one field, such as an automotive technical school. Learn more about vocational schools below.

Top 5 Online Vocational Trade Schools and Degrees

Rank School Location Program
1 Madison Area Technical College Madison, WI Associate degrees in administrative professional, fire protection, medical administrative specialist, office management, and various technical diplomas and certificates
2 Siena Heights University Adrian, MI Bachelor of Applied Science (look under "technical/trade & industrial professions")
3 Vaughn College Flushing, NY Bachelor and associate degrees in airport management and aviation maintenance (certificate also available)
4 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY Associate degrees in general studies, paralegal studies, paramedic and police studies
5 Hampton University Hampton, VA Associate degrees in aviation management (air traffic control), flight education, general studies, including a certificate program in paralegal studies


Is financial aid available?

Learners who attend accredited online vocational trade schools can apply for financial aid, including federal loans and Pell grants. Financial aid eligibility depends on type and requirements.

Are scholarships available for vocational students?

Vocational students can apply for both merit- and needs-based scholarships. A learner may receive a scholarship based on academic achievement, specific background, or career interest.

Where can students find information about scholarships?

Learners can find scholarship information through a program's financial aid office and the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool.

Are other supplementary funding sources available?

Yes, you may qualify for other funding through vocational rehabilitation programs, such as the U.S. government's Adult and Dislocated Worker Program and Trade Adjustment Assistance Program.

Can trade school credits transfer?

Yes, some vocational school credits can transfer to college. Verify if your coursework can transfer by talking to an employee at your institution's admissions or registrar's office.

2020 Online Vocational Trade Schools and Degrees

Prospective students looking to study a specific career that may prepare them for employment after graduation may benefit from enrolling in an online vocational school. With hands-on learning techniques and areas of study including HVAC training to dental hygiene, many schools now offer vocational programs to meet the high demands of college-bound individuals. To help students choose the right school for them, we analyzed every school with an online vocational school and created a list of the top schools based on factors such as cost of tuition, class size and graduation rates. Learn about the best online vocational schools for 2018-2019 here.

Rank Logo School Tuition # of Online Programs Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid Credit For Experience Placement Service Counseling Services Description & Additional Information Toggle
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1 Madison Area Technical College Madison, WI Tuition $3,911 # of Online Programs 18 Acceptance Rate - Graduation Rate - Financial Aid 14% Credit For Experience Yes Placement Service Yes Counseling Services Yes

Madison Area Technical College offers more than 180 trade school programs. MATC also provides liberal arts majors. The college operates eight separate Wisconsin locations, with campuses in Madison, Fort Atkinson, Portage, Reedsburg, and Watertown. 

MATC's cost per credit is one of the lowest among Wisconsin's two-year colleges. MATC provides learners with apprenticeships, which help students develop hands-on skills that make them more attractive job applicants for employers. Approximately 98% of learners who complete Madison College's apprenticeships find full-time employment after graduation.

Distance learners can receive online advising through MATC. MATC offers credit for prior learning. The college's scholarships provide $15 million in funds to more than 40,000 students. 

MATC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

2 Siena Heights University Adrian, MI Tuition $24,390 # of Online Programs 8 Acceptance Rate 72% Graduation Rate 53% Financial Aid 99% Credit For Experience Yes Placement Service Yes Counseling Services Yes

Founded in 1919, Siena Heights University welcomes working students from diverse backgrounds and offers 100 undergraduate and graduate programs. The university's 55-acre main campus overlooks downtown Adrian, Michigan. SHU awards degrees online and from eight additional centers throughout Michigan. SHU also offers several career-focused programs, making it one of the nation's best online trade schools.

One of only a dozen Dominican Catholic universities in the country, SHU serves approximately 2,300 learners. The university provides individualized attention through a 12-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. While not required, SHU invites learners to attend Mass on Sundays throughout the academic year. 

SHU accepts applications from transfer students with 12 credits of previous coursework and a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0. Prospective students who do not meet these prerequisites must apply as freshmen and submit official high school transcripts or GED scores and official ACT or SAT scores.

SHU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

3 Vaughn College Flushing, NY Tuition $22,740 # of Online Programs 6 Acceptance Rate - Graduation Rate 57% Financial Aid 86% Credit For Experience Yes Placement Service Yes Counseling Services Yes

Located adjacent to LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, Vaughn College helps learners gain skills required for engineering, technology, management, and aviation careers. Besides undergraduate and graduate degrees in these fields, the college also offers certificate programs in aircraft dispatch and maintenance and air traffic control. 

Vaughn provides individualized attention to more than 1,600 learners through a 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Vaughn's online courses last 16 weeks in the fall and spring and six weeks in the summer. 

Vaughn strongly recommends an interview with an admissions counselor for all applicants. Candidates who apply for the aircraft operations degree must complete admissions and financial aid interviews. Vaughn accepts transfer credits from applicants with a minimum GPA of 2.0.

Vaughn is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

4 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY Tuition $8,568 # of Online Programs 6 Acceptance Rate 86% Graduation Rate 45% Financial Aid 51% Credit For Experience No Placement Service Yes Counseling Services Yes

Located in Richmond, Eastern Kentucky University offers liberal arts degrees and professional training in various fields. Established in 1906, this student-centered regional university also provides degrees in business, computer science, and paralegal studies. 

Designed for working professionals, EKU offers online programs in convenient eight-week class formats, earning a place among the nation's best online trade schools. An advisor works with each distance learner to design a suitable course load each semester. Online students pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency. Admission requirements for online learners include official undergraduate transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. 

EKU offers the Selective Merit Aid or Reduced Tuition (SMART) program to eligible undergraduate applicants. 

EKU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

5 Hampton University Hampton, VA Tuition $8,568 # of Online Programs 6 Acceptance Rate 86% Graduation Rate 45% Financial Aid 51% Credit For Experience No Placement Service Yes Counseling Services Yes

Hampton University offers technical, liberal arts, and graduate programs. The university's surrounding area near Hampton, Virginia, features historical sites, beaches, and industrial enterprises. A historically black university, HU serves a diverse student body from 49 states and 35 nations and territories. 

Hampton U Online expands the university's offerings, providing 16 undergraduate programs, nine graduate degrees, and two certificate programs in paralegal studies and human resource management. Prospective students can try out an online course on the university's Blackboard platform for free. 

The university accepts transfer credits from learners with a minimum 2.0 GPA. HU offers an attractive transfer policy for active-duty military students, who can transfer up to 60 credits toward a program. 

HU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The Tools That Make Vocational Study Online Possible

This section discusses tools vital for online vocational trade schools, including online content management systems, asynchronous learning, and hands-on training. Learn about how these instruments help with online learning by reading below.

Online Content Management Systems

Distance learners can complete vocational coursework on an online learning platform, also called a content management system (CMS). Popular CMSs include Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Google Classroom, and Brightspace.

While the features and design of online learning platforms differ, each provides a virtual space for students to communicate with classmates and the instructor, to submit assignments, to participate in online forums, and to view course material at any time.

Asynchronous Learning

Online trade schools traditionally deliver online courses asynchronously, which means a student can complete coursework at any time and from any location. Learners do not need to attend classes online at a specific time.

Asynchronous learning helps students learn from a distance by providing a flexible and convenient schedule. It also allows students to work full time, spend time with family, and perform other duties.

Hands-on Training

Hands-on training provides vocational students with the experience and skills needed for specific careers or trades.

Trade school programs may provide hands-on training in the form of field practicums, internships, or externships. For example, an institution may require a learner studying medical assisting to complete minor duties at a clinical setting or observe a healthcare professional at work. While not all online vocational trade schools require hands-on training, institutions often help distance learners find local training placements.

How to Evaluate Online Vocational Programs

When deciding among trade school programs, research each institution's accreditation, admission requirements, and support services. Further, learn how to evaluate online vocational programs by asking these questions:

Is the school accredited?

A school's accreditation remains vital to your future. An institution receives accreditation when it meets standards set by an accrediting agency. If you attend an unaccredited program, you could become ineligible for professional licensure, financial aid, transfer credits, or even employment. Verify online trade schools' accreditation by visiting the U.S. Department of Education's (ED) list of accrediting agencies.

Is the school licensed?

Most states require trade schools and career colleges to obtain certification or licensure to offer programs. Receiving licensure also means that the institution meets specific standards. Typically, a state agency manages licenses for trade school programs, and the ED handles these credentials for private vocational schools. Contact your institution and ask which state agency handles licensing; then, contact the agency to verify.

What are the admission requirements?

Admission requirements vary among online trade schools. Some institutions may call for a high school or GED diploma, while other schools may require specific SAT or ACT scores, prerequisite courses, or even previous industry experience. To find out the minimum entry requirements at the career college or technical school you want to attend, contact the institution and ask about admission requirements. Or visit your local library to look up information about the school.

Does the curriculum offer practical instruction?

When researching online vocational courses, confirm that the program offers practical instruction, especially if you are pursuing a degree or certificate in a field requiring hands-on experience, such as aviation or mechanical engineering. Online technical schools should offer some practical instruction to help students gain vital skills and stand out among job candidates. To find out about a program's practical experience, check its curriculum online.

Does the school offer support services?

Online trade schools should offer distance learners the same support services as on-campus students, but these services -- e.g., online tutoring, financial aid assistance, career placement -- vary among schools. Online support remains vital to distance learners since they cannot physically access offices on campus. Contacting your institution to see which support services it offers.

Are faculty members qualified?

Faculty members are another indicator of an online trade school's qualifications. Students should inquire about the instructor's qualifications and background, including industry knowledge, specialized training, and certifications. Also, see if the faculty member has experience teaching online by contacting the school, researching the instructor online or on LinkedIn, attending a class and observing the instructor, or speaking with other students.

Vocational and Trade Training Resources

A variety of resources, from government agencies to professional associations, support vocational students. With that in mind, consider this list of career databases, employment profiles, student aid information, and career planning services:

  1. Association for Career and Technical Education: The ACTE is a nationwide assocation that advocates for vocational education and supports students in their academic endeavors.
  2. CareerOneStop: Sponsored by the Department of Labor, Career One Stop offers career planning tools, profiles of vocational careers, and a database of local training programs to prospective vocational students.
  3. Employment and Training Administration: Through its ApprenticeshipsUSA program, the Employment and Training Administration offers a list of state apprenticeship websites for vocational students seeking opportunities in their local area.
  4. Federal Student Aid: An office of the ED, Federal Student Aid is a one-stop informational hub concerned with all things federal financial aid, including a breakdown of the types of aid available and instructions for applying for said aid.
  5. National Career Development Association: The NCDA maintains a list of online resources and tools users can leverage to plan a career path, locate appropriate training, and find career opportunities.
  6. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Maintained by the BLS, this handbook features profiles of more than 800 careers, including an overview of each career's responsibilities, educational requirements, and employment growth projections.
  7. Job Corps: Job Corps provides no-cost career and technical education programs to individuals age 16-24. Through a blend of classroom- and real-world instruction, students develop employability and vocational skills.