The demand for skilled and qualified workers in middle skill jobs—those requiring less than a bachelor’s degree—continues to increase. In fact, the Center for Education and the Workforce projects that more than one-third of all jobs in the US will require vocational training for employment by 2020. The following guide provides a high-level overview of vocational degrees and the relevant online learning options in fields ranging from personal care to construction, automotive repair to health care.
Best Online Vocational Trade Schools 2018-2019
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.
Online Vocational School Search Tool
Prospective students interested in exploring educational options, planning their academic futures, and finding the right type of training necessary to pursue a career can use the search tool below to learn more about vocational schools that meet their personal, professional, and academic needs.
Online Vocational Trade School Subject Map
Vocational career training prepares students to enter specific career fields that require specialized skill sets, such as automotive repair, medical assisting, and heating and air conditioning installation and repair. In order to serve the needs of their students, vocational education providers—including community colleges, technical schools, and trade schools—have launched online programs that offer alternative learning methods to meet the needs of those students. Below is an overview of some major fields of study and different degree options available to prospective vocational students.
Health care is one of the largest occupational fields in the country and medical support—a specialized branch of careers—employs approximately 4 million people nationally. Even though the majority of these roles are vocational in nature, they are critical to delivering high quality patient care in every sector of the health industry—from nursing to dental care. Prospective students can select from a spectrum of vocational certificate, diploma and associate programs that can be completed in as few as a few months and up to two years of study.
Online medical transcription programs are designed to teach students the fundamentals of transcribing healthcare documents. Traditionally offered as a certificate, these programs can be completed in as little as four months to one year of study. Curriculum covers topics ranging from HIPPAA regulations to body systems technology, pharmacology to healthcare documentation. Students gain practical skills in transcribing medical records in different specialties, such as cardiology, internal medicine, pathology, and urology. Graduates are qualified to pursue careers as medical transcriptionists and pursue certification after meeting professional experience requirements.
Medical billing and coding programs cover major topics including the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System, ICD-CM Coding and Current Procedural Terminology. Offered as either a career diploma or certificate, medical billing and coding programs typically require between 10 months and one-year of full-time study to complete. Students take courses in topics such as medical terminology, medical office procedures and health insurance. Graduates of these programs can sit for the AAPC Certified Professional Coder examination and pursue a range of professional opportunities such as coding specialist or medical biller.
Pharmacy tech programs are career-focused, teaching students about the core concepts of pharmacy operations, from verifying and preparing medications to dispensing medications to patients. The goal of these career diploma programs is to prepare students to sit for national certification examinations, including the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) or the ExCPT Pharmacy Technician certification. Curriculum is directly tied professional knowledge and skill development, covering courses in pharmacology, pharmaceutical measurements and calculations, and medication safety. Upon graduation, students can pursue a variety of career avenues, including pharmacy clerk or pharmacy technician.
Since 2010, nearly 1 million jobs in health care have been created, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While many associate patient care with nurses and doctors, the field is much more broad, encompassing multiple vocational career avenues in areas such as radiology, nursing, and diagnostic imaging. Education options are just as varied, spanning short multi-week programs to full two-year associate degree programs.
Radiology tech requires the completion of a two-year associate degree. In these programs, students develop career skills in radiographic imaging. Coursework covers topics such as body positioning, examination techniques, radiographic biology, radiation safety and human anatomy. Graduates of these associate degree programs are traditionally qualified to sit for the Radiography Certification Examination from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. After completing their education, students can move into entry-level positions such as radiologic technologist, X-ray technologist, and radiologic technician.
Respiratory therapy students can complete an online Associate of Occupational Science in respiratory therapy or an Associate of Science in respiratory therapy. These two-year programs are designed to prepare graduates to sit for certification examinations from the National Board for Respiratory Care: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Curriculum is divided between online coursework and clinical instruction and includes topics such as anatomy and physiology and advanced career-focused classes in topics including respiratory procedures, cardiopulmonary diagnostic testing and critical care monitoring. Graduates are qualified to pursue entry-level employment as respiratory therapists.
Paramedic vocational training is typically offered via hybrid programs—programs that include both in-person and online instruction. This instruction involves didactic (online classes), clinical and field practice. Students are typically assigned to a local clinical setting to complete required clinical hours (usually more than 300). In these settings, students can apply their didactic knowledge and gain clinical experience. The field internship is a proctored, experiential learning requirement where students complete real-world tasks under direct supervision to prepare for their day-to-day responsibilities. Students can enter into entry-level work as an emergency management technician (EMT) after graduation or pursue additional training to qualify to work as a paramedic.
Middle skill jobs—those that require postsecondary education, but not a college degree—not only account for the most jobs in the country, but are some of the fastest growing fields as well. According to Economic Modeling Specialists, approximately 2.5 million middle skill jobs are expected to be created. An expansive employment field, students can enroll in a variety of programs, such as construction, cosmetology, auto repair, information technology, plumbing, and more.
Cosmetology programs provide students with fundamental training in the basics of hair, skin and nail care. Students develop product knowledge, study the theory of hair styling techniques, learn about manicure and pedicure methods and build communication skills to work with clients. Blending online instruction with in-person lab training, the study of cosmetology can prepare graduates for an array of professional opportunities in each specialization. To work professionally, graduates must meet state licensing requirements, which also typically includes an examination.
HVAC/R online career diploma programs provide students with a central understanding of how to inspect and repair heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems in both homes and commercial properties. Graduates are traditionally eligible to take EPA certification examinations, which are required for any professional handling refrigerants. Curriculum is broad in scope, reviewing not only the core concepts in heating and cooling systems, but advanced instruction in system design and installation, green technology systems, and absorption systems. After graduation and passing the EPA examination, students may pursue entry-level employment as HVAC/R technicians.
Help desk technician programs concentrate in two areas: conflict management skills and technical knowledge. Graduates of these programs are trained to help IT customers, troubleshoot hardware, software, and network problems, and install computing systems. Curriculum covers the basics of the profession, including classes in topics such as an introduction to computer support, computer hardware fundamentals and troubleshooting. After completing the program, students may choose to take certification examinations, such as the HDI-Desktop Support Technician certification and pursue entry-level employment in occupations such as desktop technician or customer support representative.
Vocational certificate and diploma programs are not considered degrees, but an award conferred by an educational institution after the student completes a formal postsecondary program of study. Program length varies tremendously: Some certificate programs require only a few weeks of study, while others may take up two years to complete. Example career areas that fall under this umbrella include emergency medical technicians, nursing aides, and hairstylists.
Program Spotlight: Online Medical Assistant Diploma
Online diploma programs in medical assisting are designed to prepare students for career opportunities in patient care support and management. Medical assistants perform a variety of clinical, administrative and laboratory tasks in health care settings, such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes. Depending on the institution, diploma programs may require between 50 and 60 credit-hours of study to complete and typically include a clinical externship conducted in the student’s local area.
Medical Assistant Courses
In this course, students study medical language, including spelling, pronunciation, word roots, and suffixes. Students apply this knowledge when studying major body systems, such as the nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems.
This class covers the basics of medical coding principles, including a review of health insurance policies, claims, and terminology.
|Anatomy and Physiology||
This class provides students with an in-depth examination of the human body, its body systems, tissues, and structure.
|Medical Office Management||
In this course, students explore the operation of a medical office, along with the role and responsibilities of the medical assistant. Subjects covered range from private information privacy to appointment scheduling, administrative tasks to managing patient charts.
- Clinical skills (e.g. phlebotomy, administer medication, conduct electrocardiograms)
- Knowledge of medical billing and coding practices
- Administrative skills (e.g. scheduling appointments)
- Demonstrate understanding of scope of the medical assistant’s role
- Clinical medical assistant
- Certified medical assistant
- Administrative medical assistant
Associate degrees generally require at least two years, but no more than four years of full-time of academic coursework. While associate degree programs are career-specific, they also usually include general education requirements as well. Example vocational career paths at this level include respiratory therapist, dental hygienist, and electronic technician.
Program Spotlight: Online Associate of Science in Electronics Technology
An online associate degree program in electronics technology provides graduates with specialized knowledge of analog and digital electronics that positions them to follow a wealth of career avenues in fields ranging from power plant operations to communications, engineering to manufacturing. Students are typically expected to complete between 60 and 66 semester credit hours over two years to earn their degree.
Associate of Science in Electronics Technology Courses
This course covers topics revolving around computer design, including the study of digital systems, computer interface design, and memory system organization.
This class introduces students to voltage and related topics of resistance, power and current. Students learn about the fundamentals of circuit analysis, how to use industry tools, and best practices for circuit testing and measurements.
This class serves as an introduction to digital systems, including their analysis and design. Subjects of study range from number systems to Boolean logic, algebra to specific digital components (e.g. SSI and MSI).
This class provides students with fundamental instruction in planning and designing electronic circuits. Students gain an understanding of how to translate theory into hands-on applications of circuit design.
- Ability to analyze DC and AC electronics and circuits
- Knowledge of embedded systems
- Problem solving techniques
- Communication skills
- Digital electronics design
- Electronics Technician
- Electrical Engineering Technician
- Calibration Technician
Perhaps not surprisingly, the number of vocationally focused programs at the bachelor’s degree level is limited. However, there are options available to students interested in completing a longer series of courses that include general education classes. Examples of these longer, vocational-focused subjects include paralegal studies, dental hygiene, and vocational education—for students that want to become vocational educators and instructors. Four-year degrees generally require students to complete 124 to 128 semester credit hours of study divided between general education classes, core curriculum, major requirements, and electives.
Program Spotlight: Online Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies
|Introduction to Paralegal Practice||
This course provides a high-level overview of the role of paralegal and offers a review of the legal system, paralegal practice, and professional ethics.
This class serves as an introduction to the foundational concepts of civil ligation, including procedure, and covers the role of the paralegal in civil lawsuits.
|Legal Research and Writing||
In this course students develop the basic writing, analysis, and research skills necessary to draft legal correspondence.
This class offers a comprehensive look at commercial law and the paralegal's role, covering topics such as the Uniform Commercial Code and drafting commercial law correspondence.
- Develop and implement legal research plans
- Writing and communication skills
- Ability to draft well-written legal correspondence
- Skills to apply legal concepts in different areas of law
- Knowledge of paralegal ethical obligations
- Paralegal/Legal Assistant
- Law Clerk
- Claims Adjuster
Vocational degrees do not exist at the graduate level. With that said, there are multiple vocational career paths that transition naturally into continued education in bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Below is a list of example vocational careers areas that have natural progression into advanced studies.
Master of Science in Nursing
Master of Science in Electrical Engineering
Master of Science in Construction Administration
Master of Science in Respiratory Care Leadership
Master of Science in Pharmacology
Financial Aid for Online Education FAQs
Financing a vocational education can be daunting, if not challenging for many students. Below is a list of commonly asked questions regarding paying for an online vocational program.
Is financial aid available?
Yes. Financial aid is typically available for schools that qualify under the Title IV Federal Financial Aid program. The type of financial aid depends on the qualifications of the students and eligibility requirements for state, federal or other sources of financial aid. This includes Federal Direct Loans, Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grants.
Are scholarships available for vocational students?
Yes. Students in two-year vocational or CTE programs may qualify for both needs- and merit-based scholarships. Scholarships are available from a variety of sources, including community organizations, professional associations, businesses, and vocational schools themselves. For example, Universal Technical Institute, a school that offers training in auto service and mechanical repair, has provided approximately $15 million in scholarships to students in 2015.
Where can students find information about scholarships?
Scholarship information is available from a variety of sources, including scholarship websites such as FastWeb and Unigo, media publications including US News and World Report and Peterson's, and professional associations such as ASHRAE (HVAC) and businesses such as Express Scripts (Pharmacy Technician).
Are other supplementary funding sources available?
Yes. Depending on the institution, students may be eligible for funding from additional programs including the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Trade Adjustment/Realignment Act) (TAA/TRA), or vocational rehabilitation. The WIA is a government-sponsored program that provides funding to individuals who are unemployed (or underemployed) so they may develop career skills. TAA/TRA is a program that sets aside funds to provide training to individuals who lost their job because it was moved overseas. Vocational rehabilitation funding programs are designed to support the education of individuals who experience employment barriers because of a mental or physical handicap.
Learn more about funding an online education with our financial aid guide.
The Tools That Make Vocational Study Online Possible
Vocational careers are largely hands-on, practical occupations. So, how does that translate to online learning? The amount of learning a student completes online actually varies by program. Some programs, such as medical transcription, can be completed entirely online. Others, such as medical assisting, require a combination of online and in-person study. Below is an overview of the tools and methods used by vocational institutions to train students.
Online courses take place in online learning platforms. These platforms allow students to access their course materials at any time, communicate with other students and the instructor, submit assignments, and participate in discussion sessions. Example content management systems include Blackboard and WebCampus.
Online vocational instruction is traditionally delivered in an asynchronous format, which means students control the pace, determine when they log-in to the online learning platform, and complete assignments according to their schedule.
Although students can access their materials online, many programs—such as HVAC diploma programs—mail students printed learning materials, study guides, and textbooks.
Online vocational programs require students to have a computer and Internet access to complete their work. Technology requirements vary by educational institution.
Complementing the online, concept-based instruction are field practicums and externships. Practicums and externships are in-person, experiential training sessions that provide students an opportunity to develop professional skills beyond the classroom. Programs such as medical assisting, radiography, and cosmetology are just a few examples of the types of vocational programs that require experiential learning. Typically, students work with their educational institution to find a local placement to complete their training, such as in a hospital, laboratory, or private business.
How to Evaluate Online Vocational Programs
Because vocational training is career-specific, choosing the right educational institution is paramount to achieving future employment success. Making sure the online program offers the proper mix of rigorous academic and skill-based instruction, as well as personal and professional support services allows students to make an informed decision about which program to choose. Below is a checklist of factors to consider prior to enrolling in a vocational program of any type.
Is the school accredited?
Accreditation is an indicator of the school’s quality. It means the school has invested efforts to adhere to academic standards and training guidelines established by accrediting agency. Because not every vocational school is accredited, students should check the US Department of Education’s list of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies.
Is the school licensed?
Many states require technical and/or career colleges to be licensed to offer vocational courses and programs. In fact, some states even require the school to hold a license to operate legally. Check with the state’s Department of Education to see if the vocational provider holds a valid and active license. Another resource is to check with the school directly and ask which state agency handles educational licensing.
What are the admission requirements?
Different schools may require different admissions requirements for the same program of study (e.g. medical assisting). Prior to enrolling, students should review the admissions process and required documentation? Does the school require students to hold a high school diploma or have previous industry experience? Are they required to take prerequisite courses? Do they need to submit standardized test scores?
Does the curriculum offer practical instruction?
Before enrolling, students should review the online program’s curriculum. Just like their campus-based counterparts, online programs should provide students with practical skill development in that specific field. For example, the courses in an online medical billing certificate program should teach students about medical terminology, medical coding, and health insurance.
Does the school offer support services?
As an online learner, access to academic and career services is important. Students should ensure their program offers assistance to online students, not only with standard services—such as tutoring or financial aid services—but career placement assistance to find a job after graduation.
Are faculty members qualified?
The academic background and professional experience of the school’s faculty is another indicator of program quality. For a specific field of study (e.g. pharmacy technician or HVAC training), students should review their potential instructor’s experience in that area. Do they have industry knowledge? Do they hold specialized training or certifications? How long have they been teaching in online settings?
Vocational & Trade Training Resources
There are a variety of resources available, from government agencies to professional associations, to support vocational students. Below is a list of some of these resources, including career databases, employment profiles, student aid information, and career planning services.
Association for Career and Technical Education
Commonly known as ACTE, the Association for Career and Technical Education is a nationwide association that is dedicated to advocating for vocational education and supporting students in their academic endeavors.
Sponsored by the Department of Labor, Career One Stop offers a variety of resources to prospective vocational students include career planning tools, a list of profiles of vocational careers, and a database of local training programs.
College Navigator is a database of information about any postsecondary institution and its programs, including vocational schools. Students can learn about a variety of items, such as tuition, enrollment rates, and programs offered.
Employment and Training Administration
Through its ApprenticeshipsUSA program, the Employment and Training Administration offers a list of state apprenticeship websites-useful for vocational students seeking opportunities in their local area.
Federal Student Aid
An office of the US Department of Education, Federal Student Aid is a one-stop informational hub about all things federal financial aid, including a breakdown of the different types of aid available and instructions for applying for aid.
My Next Move
My Next Move was developed by the National Center for O*NET Development and is an interactive tool for individuals researching career options. They can browse industry profiles, learn about the skills, tasks, and salaries of a particular career, and even receive personal career suggestions.
National Career Development Association
The National Career Development Association maintains a list of online resources and tools that users can leverage to plan a career path, locate appropriate training, or find career opportunities.
Occupational Employment Statistics
Managed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics is a database of wage profiles and estimates for more than 800 occupations-allowing users to learn more about the earning potential of a specific career path.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
Also maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Occupational Outlook Handbook includes profiles of more than 800 careers, including an overview of the career's responsibilities and tasks, educational requirements, and employment growth projections.
The Job Corps
The Job Corps provides no-cost career and technical education programs to individuals between the ages of 16 and 24. Through a blend of classroom- and real-world instruction, students develop both employability and vocational skills.