The traditional four-year university experience is becoming less traditional, with many students preferring options that incur less debt while still leading to comfortable careers. As a result, trade school programs are seeing large increases in enrollment.
Like vocational schools and tech schools, trade schools teach hands-on skills for specific professions. And the best part? Online trade schools make it easy to get the training you need when it's convenient for you.
Here, we rank the best online trade schools based on factors such as cost, student outcomes, and overall academic quality.
Can You Do Trade School Online?
Yes, you can attend vocational schools online. But how does it work exactly?
Online trade schools blend virtual coursework with practical, hands-on training. These programs prepare you for popular roles like licensed practical nurse, HVAC technician, plumber, and electrician.
Some trades may require additional training in the form of an apprenticeship.
To enroll in an online vocational certificate program or associate degree program, you'll typically need a high school diploma or GED certificate. Some trade schools also accept the HiSET.
If you don't have a high school diploma or equivalent credential, consider taking GED prep classes, which many community colleges offer at little to no cost.
Did You Know?
Trade schools often have fewer admission requirements than universities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a whopping 44% job growth for wind turbine service technicians from 2021-2031. The median annual salary for professionals with some college was $40,000 in 2020. By 2028, there will be more than 3 million job openings in skilled trades! Many tradespeople eventually run their own businesses or operations.
Why Take Online Trade Courses?
- Most trade programs take just 1-2 years, allowing you to enter the workforce quickly.
- You'll gain in-demand skills through practical, hands-on training.
- Online tech schools can grant you balance and flexibility in your schedule.
- Trade programs often have smaller class sizes that mean more one-on-one instruction.
- Online trade schools are usually more affordable than traditional in-person programs.
- Many trade careers are in demand and growing quickly.
Check Out Our Featured Online Trade Schools
Why Accreditation Matters for Online Tech Schools
Accreditation can help ensure that an online trade school offers the same educational quality as a traditional program. Your trade school must also be accredited so that you can qualify for professional certification and receive federal financial aid.
Potential employers will want your trade school to be accredited, too. Accreditation verifies that the curriculum meets certain professional standards.
Some trade school accreditors to look for include:
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training
- Council on Occupational Education
Top 5 Accredited Online Trade Schools
Read About Our Methodology Here
West Kentucky Community and Technical CollegeLocation
Located in Paducah, WKCTC offers online vocational trade degrees, diplomas, and certificates in several in-demand fields.
The school offers several associate degrees in fields like computer and information technology, logistics and operations management, and medical information technology. The school also offers a unique degree or certificate in marine technology, preparing students for life on the water. Students seeking other certificate programs for fast employment can choose from the same fields as those above but graduate from the program in just a few months.
Most students complete the school's 39- to 43-credit diploma programs in about one year. Notable choices include medical information technology, computer-aided drafting and design, and business administration systems.
Students applying to associate programs ideally possess a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Diploma and certificate choices require students to submit a completed application for the college.
WKCTC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Clovis Community CollegeLocation
Located in Clovis, New Mexico, CCC offers several online vocational trade degrees and certificates. Students can complete course requirements 100% online with no residency requirements.
Online degree and certification options include several in business administration, paralegal studies, behavioral science, and computer information systems. Associate degree programs require about 60 credits each to complete. Students can complete the certificate of completion programs in about a few months to a year of study. Notable choices include a certificate of achievement in income tax preparation, certificate of achievement in fundamentals of game design, and certificate of completion in legal assistant studies.
The school prefers students to possess a high school diploma to apply for associate degree programs. For certificate of achievement choices, students must submit a completed application and take placement tests. The school offers counseling and advising services for online students and does not require standardized tests to begin the admission process.
CCC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Central Community CollegeLocation
Grand Island, NETuition
Serving students in Grand Island, Nebraska, CCC offers several online certificate, diploma, and associate degree programs. Students outside of Nebraska must reside in an authorization reciprocity state to attend.
Students can complete associate degrees in a variety of fields such as business administration, health information technology, and early childhood education. In addition, the school offers information technology certificates like Cisco networking and business-related certificates like logistics or entrepreneurship. The school also offers year-long diploma programs for students exploring career choices in similar fields.
Students do not need a high school diploma or GED to apply, but the school prefers students to submit them for placement purposes. Standardized tests or placement exams can help students that need to complete general education courses.
CCC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical CollegeLocation
Shell Lake, WITuition
Located in Shell Lake, WITC offers 37 online associate degrees, certificates, and technical diplomas, offering students a jumpstart in in-demand fields.
Students can choose one of 11 associate degrees, including accounting, early childhood education, health information technology, and medical and administrative professional. The school also offers certificates in customer service, management, group childcare essentials, and tax preparer assistant. Learners can also participate in technical diplomas with concentrations such as drafting technician, medical billing specialist, office technology assistant, or office support technician. Students wanting to work in childcare settings can choose a one-year technical diploma in childcare services, completing the first year of the associate degree for fast employment.
The school offers credit for prior learning and a generous transfer credit policy. Applicants do not need a high school diploma, but possessing one makes the placement process easier.
WITC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Wiregrass Georgia Technical CollegeLocation
Located in Valdosta, Wiregrass offers online degrees, diplomas, and technical certificates, allowing students to complete courses without coming to campus.
Students can begin with certificates in fields like child development specialist, technical specialist, and fire officer. Students can complete most certificates in a matter of months. Some departments also offer diploma choices — including fire science technology and accounting — allowing students to specialize further with a one-year program. Full associate degrees include fire science technology, accounting, business management, and criminal justice technology. The programs follow the same structure as on-campus classes, but most happen asynchronously.
Students do not need a high school diploma or GED to apply but need to send transcripts of any completed school work. Wiregrass is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
What Types of Online Trade Programs Can You Do?
Diploma or Certificate
You'll learn a specific skill or trade and be certified for professional work, usually in a year or less.
This two-year degree offers a more comprehensive education and sets you up to pursue a bachelor's degree.
A structured work experience program that includes education and training so you can become a certified professional.
Licensure or Certification Prep
A trade course that specifically prepares you for state licensure or professional certification.
How Much Do Online Vocational Schools Cost?
Annual tuition and fees for online trade schools generally range from $4,000-$16,000.
What you spend will depend on the type of school you attend, the program length, and whether you qualify for financial aid or in-state tuition.
You can minimize debt by applying for institutional grants and scholarships. You should also fill out the FAFSA to see if you're eligible for federal funding.
Be sure to budget for additional expenses as well, like technology fees, books, uniforms, and lab equipment. For example, if you're training to become a practical nurse, you'll likely need to buy scrubs.
Some online trade school graduates will need to get a state license or certification after graduating, which can cost money. In California, for instance, electricians must pay $175 in exam and licensure fees.
Certification fees vary by organization, with many offering member discounts.
Popular Vocational School Diploma Programs and Degrees
What Careers Can Online Tech Schools Prepare You For?
You can pursue a variety of careers by attending a trade or vocational school. Online trade schools offer programs for hands-on roles, from automotive technician to paralegal.
Here are some of the fastest-growing trades over the next decade, according to the BLS.
|Job||Median Annual Salary (May 2021)||Job Growth Rate (2021-2031)|
|Wind Turbine Technicians||$56,260||44%|
|Solar Photovoltaic Installers||$47,670||27%|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||$61,180||26%|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||$77,740||15%|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||$56,230||14%|
|Morticians, Undertakers, and Funeral Arrangers||$48,950||9%|
How to Find Good Online Trade Schools: 5 Features to Look For
With so many online trade schools to choose from, it's important to know the features you'll use to compare programs. Here are the top five qualities to look for.
Most schools list their accreditations on their websites, but you can also contact the admissions office directly.
Different trades tend to have different accrediting bodies. For example, dental schools use dental-specific accreditors.
You can find a list of legitimate trade school accreditors on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's website.
2 Nonprofit Institution
A nonprofit college gets its funding from tuition, the government, and endowments. This means that funds go back to the school itself so it can provide a strong educational experience for students.
Many trade and vocational schools are for-profit colleges advertising lower tuition rates. But take caution when considering for-profit schools — they're often pricier than community colleges, leading more students to take out federal loans.
For-profit schools are also notorious for offering a lower-quality education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for-profit colleges have an average graduation rate of just 29%, whereas private nonprofit colleges have a graduation rate of 68%.
Opt for a nonprofit trade school when possible, but if you're considering a for-profit college, make sure it's accredited and has solid retention and graduation rates.
3 High Retention and Graduation Rates
Online trade schools' retention and graduation rates can tell you how successful students are.
Retention rate refers to the percentage of students who remain enrolled in a school, usually after their first year. The more students who choose to remain at a trade school, the more likely that the school provides a satisfactory experience.
For example, Bates Technical College had a retention rate of 80% in 2018, while the Community College of Denver had a 51% retention rate that same year.
Graduation rate, in contrast, is the percentage of students who complete a program. A high graduation rate means more students have successfully finished their programs.
Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado had a 21% graduation rate in 2021, whereas East Central College in Missouri reported a 40% graduation rate in 2022.
Many online vocational schools post their retention and graduation rates on their websites.
4 Promising Career Outcomes
One way to evaluate online trade schools is to examine their career outcomes. Graduates from a high-quality trade program are more likely to find employment.
Many online tech schools provide data on the employment or post-graduation success of their graduates. Bates Technical College, for example, reports that 77% of its graduates were employed in 2018.
A good trade school will also offer career resources. That may mean connecting students with apprenticeships, hosting job fairs, and providing resume support.
5 Satisfied Alumni
Reaching out to alumni is a great tool for learning more about the quality of trade schools' online programs. Alumni can provide real insight into the courses, faculty, and projects a vocational school offers.
Try connecting with trade school graduates through LinkedIn or by asking professionals in the field where they went to school.
Search for Online Vocational Schools by State
Frequently Asked Questions About Online Trade Schools
Can you do vocational training entirely online?
Most online vocational schools offer a hybrid structure in which you take classes online and get hands-on training through in-person labs and internships.
The online options available to you will depend on the trade you're studying. Some skills, like welding and auto mechanics, must be taught in person, whereas other vocations, like web programming and paralegal, can adapt to online learning more easily.
Is vocational school the same as trade school?
The terms "vocational school" and "trade school" are often used interchangeably.
By definition, vocation means trade or profession. Trade school is more commonly used to refer to hands-on professional training programs, whereas vocational school can refer to any career-based educational program.
Some schools may differentiate the two terms or have their own way of defining them.
Do online trade schools accept financial aid?
Yes, many online trade schools accept financial aid. You can use federal financial aid like loans and grants to attend trade school. That said, the school must be accredited in order for you to be able to use any federal aid.
You can also apply for private student loans and independent scholarships.
What is the easiest trade?
While the easiest trade for you will depend on your passions, skills, and interests, many consider HVAC technician and truck-driving trades to be relatively easy to learn.
You may prefer mechanical trades like becoming an electrician because you have a more analytical style of thinking. Or, you may prefer a more creative trade like cosmetology, which gives you more freedom to think outside the box.
What are the highest-paying vocational jobs you can get?
Some of the highest-paying trade jobs include construction manager, radiation therapist, dental hygienist, electrical engineering technician, aircraft technician, boilermaker, construction and building inspector, and electrician.
High-paying vocational jobs can earn you nearly $100,000 a year!