Vocational Trade Schools in Washington [2022 Guide]

A technical education can open up a new pathway in your career. Here, we list the best trade schools in Washington.

Updated August 15, 2022 • 6 Min Read

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Why Choose Trade School?

Trade schools in Washington provide career-focused training in high-demand fields such as healthcare, legal services, and emergency services. Learners can earn vocational certificates and degrees to prepare for careers as paramedics, medical assistants, occupational therapy assistants, and dental hygienists. Trade school graduates can also work as electricians, HVAC technicians, paralegals, cosmetologists, and mechanics.

Trade schools offer several benefits over four-year academic programs. Earning a vocational certificate or degree generally takes 1-2 years, allowing learners to enter the workforce more quickly. Vocational programs often cost less than academic degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, professionals with an occupational credential had a 4% higher employment rate than professionals with an academic degree.

Many vocational schools offer self-paced or accelerated programs to accommodate busy schedules. A growing number of schools also offer online vocational programs, which can be ideal for working professionals.

This page introduces the top-ranked vocational schools in Washington to help prospective students find the best fit for their career goals. The following sections also include employment and salary data, descriptions of popular vocational programs, and a list of scholarship opportunities for learners at trade schools in Washington.

FAQ About Trade Schools in Washington

What is the difference between a trade school and a college?

Trade schools train students for specific career paths, generally with programs that blend classroom and experiential learning. Many colleges offer both academic programs and vocational programs.

Can trade school credits transfer?

Yes. Credits earned at a trade school can transfer to other institutions. Credits earned from a regionally accredited school are the most likely to transfer.

What is the difference between trade school and technical school?

Both trade and technical schools offer career-focused programs in areas such as allied healthcare, the skilled trades, and STEM fields. Vocational programs at both types of institutions provide classroom instruction and hands-on training.

How much does a trade school cost?

The cost of trade school varies by program. Many trade schools in Washington offer vocational certificate and degree programs that cost less than $4,000 per year, including tuition and fees.

Accreditation and Licensing for Trade Schools

Students should check each prospective trade school's accreditation status before applying. Accreditation demonstrates that the institution delivers high-quality educational programs that prepare students to enter the workforce.

To earn accreditation, colleges and universities undergo a rigorous review process by an independent accrediting agency. During the review, the agency evaluates the school's student learning outcomes, academic mission, and faculty qualifications. Accredited schools must undergo regular evaluations to maintain their status.

Credits earned from an accredited school are more likely to transfer to other institutions, and many professional licenses and certifications require candidates to hold credentials from an accredited school. Additionally, only learners at accredited institutions can qualify for federal financial aid.

U.S. schools can hold regional or national accreditation. Community colleges and four-year universities typically obtain regional accreditation. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities grants regional accreditation to Washington institutions. 

Trade and vocational schools in Washington often hold national accreditation from specialized agencies, such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Approved by the Department of Education, ACCSC accredits more than 650 trade and technical colleges. Similarly, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission grants accreditation to online schools. This resource provides more information about the accreditation process.

Postsecondary institutions in Washington must also hold a license from the Washington Student Achievement Council.

AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Vocational Trade Schools in Washingotn

Trade schools in Washington provide focused training that prepares students for specific career paths. By attending a top-ranked vocational program, students can advance their education and increase their earning potential. The ranking below includes the best vocational schools in Washington.

  1. Spokane Community College

    Spokane, WA



    When Spokane Community College opened in 1963, 1,298 students enrolled during the school's initial year. Now one of the largest community colleges in Washington, SCC admits over 20,000 students each year and offers more than 120 programs of study across eight academic disciplines. Students can work for an associate degree or occupational credential in healthcare, public services, building trades, and business, among others.

    SCC offers a bachelor of applied science in respiratory care, a four-year program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. Completing the program qualifies students to sit for professional certifications in the field. This trade school in Washington currently maintains 18 apprenticeship programs in diverse professional arenas including elevator construction mechanics, electrical, plumbing, and cement masonry.

    Students who plan to pursue a bachelor's degree at Eastern Washington University (EWU) after completing an associate degree can participate in SCC's Destination Eastern program. Advisors from both schools work closely with program participants to make sure they stay on track from the day they enroll at SCC and graduate from EWU.

  2. Spokane Falls Community College

    Spokane, WA



    Starting out in 1967 as part of Spokane Community College, SFCC became a separate institution in 1970 and today enrolls about 5,000 students annually. Students can pursue a degree or certificate in six areas of study, including education, social, and behavioral sciences; health; and visual, performing, and applied arts.

    SFCC offers a bachelor in applied science in three fields: information systems and technology, applied management, and cybersecurity. Applicants must hold an associate degree in the field or a closely related professional area. Applicants without an associate degree can request evaluation of their professional experience, prior training, or military background for admission and college credit.

    Students looking for workplace training options can explore SFCC's apprenticeship programs. The college currently offers apprenticeships in aerospace, ironworks, bricklaying, and heat and frost insulation. Requirements for admission to apprenticeship programs vary, so applicants need to determine their eligibility.

  3. Olympic College

    Bremerton, WA



    Founded in 1946 and currently comprising three campuses, Olympic College enrolls an average of 13,000 students each year. Students can select from over 150 programs in diverse fields, including atmospheric science, elementary education, office administration and technology, and public service.

    Olympic College offers a bachelor in applied science in organizational leadership and technical management, digital filmmaking, and information systems. Associate-trained registered nurses can enroll in the RN-to-BSN program which is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The college maintains a partnership with three universities (Old Dominion, Washington State, and Western Washington) that allow associate degree-holders to complete a bachelor's program in an Olympic College campus.

    Collaborating with the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) and the Naval Intermediate Maintenance Facility (IMF), Olympic College offers an apprenticeship in industrial trades technology. The program currently accepts applications only from federal employees of PSNS and IMF. Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the program and Olympic College.

  4. Edmonds Community College

    Lynnwood, WA



    Established in 1967, Edmonds College currently enrolls about 10,300 students each quarter and offers more than 120 programs across 12 academic areas of study. Students can pursue an associate degree or occupational credential in fields like environmental science and horticulture, human services and behavioral health, and engineering and manufacturing.

    Edmonds College offers a bachelor of applied science in child, youth, and family studies. The program comprises 180 quarter credits, follows a cohort model of education, and includes online and on-campus coursework. Applicants must show completion of an associate degree for transfer in one of the following fields: addiction studies, early childhood education, family support studies, or human services.

    The college also offers a Certified Safety Specialist Apprenticeship Program. Students who complete the program earn college credits applicable toward an associate in occupational safety and health from Edmonds College. Graduates also earn a journey level certificate from the state. Many of the courses for this program are available online.

  5. Bates Technical College

    Tacoma, WA



    Starting out in 1940 holding classes in the basement of an elementary school, Bates Technical College now comprises three campuses in Tacoma, Washington. Bates currently enrolls over 7,000 students annually. Students can pursue an associate degree or occupational certificate in diverse fields including business, finance, and personal services; advanced manufacturing; education and human services; and engineering technology.

    Bates currently offers state-approved apprenticeship training programs in nine occupational areas, including welding, sheet metal technology, aviation, and construction trades. Program lengths vary from one to five years, and graduates earn a journeyman-level certificate upon completion. Apprentices can also earn an associate in apprenticeship studies from Bates.

    The college maintains direct transfer agreements with several four-year institutions in the region. These agreements facilitate the transfer process for graduates who plan to pursue a bachelor's degree after completing their program at Bates. Transfer advisors work with students in course and major selection, identifying internship and workplace training opportunities, and fulfilling the admission requirements of receiving schools.

  6. Seattle Central College

    Seattle, WA



    Seattle Central officially opened in 1966 as the first community college in the Emerald City. Even without a permanent home and holding classes in buildings scattered throughout the Seattle School District, the college enrolled more than 14,000 students during its initial year of operation. Seattle Central offers bachelor's and associate degrees, career certificates, and workplace training programs.

    The college is one of an increasing number of community colleges in Washington that offer four-year bachelor's programs. The bachelor of applied science (BAS) incorporates more hands-on learning opportunities for students and focuses on specific occupational arenas. Seattle Central's BAS programs follows a 2+2 structure; that is, it builds on a completed two-year associate degree by adding two more years of coursework and training in the same or similar field.

    Along with several other schools in the region, Seattle Central participates in the Partnership for Advanced Technology Apprenticeships in Manufacturing and Marine Engineering project (PATNAM). Funded by $4.8 million from the U.S. Department of Labor, PATNAM partner schools commit to provide apprenticeship programs in advanced manufacturing and maritime industry.

  7. Grays Harbor College

    Aberdeen, WA



    Founded in 1930 and comprising three campuses serving a two-county region, Grays Harbor College currently enrolls close to 7,000 students annually. The college currently offers nine associate degrees for transfer, 15 professional or technical degrees, 13 certificates, and three bachelor's programs. Fields of study include aerospace and advanced manufacturing, trade and technology, business support, and healthcare and nursing.

    Students can pursue a bachelor of applied science (BAS) in three areas: organizational management, forest resources management, and teacher education. Applicants to any of these programs must show proof of completion of an associate degree from an accredited institution. The BAS in teacher education leads to K-8 certification. Additionally, students typically qualify for graduate-level studies in the field after completing the program.

    GHC holds membership in the Washington Technology Industry Association. The membership gives GHC students access to nationwide apprenticeship programs in engineering, IT, and technology. Many of the apprenticeships focus on providing opportunities to students from traditionally underrepresented groups including minorities, veterans, and women.

  8. Green River College

    Auburn, WA



    Moving to its current location in Lea Hill one year after it opened in 1964, Green River College comprises 180 acres of forested land in Auburn, Washington. The college enrolls more than 8,400 students and offers certificate, associate, and bachelor's programs in 16 different fields.

    Students can pursue a bachelor of applied science in eight areas, including forest resource management, software development, marketing and entrepreneurship, and aeronautical science. Green River maintains direct transfer agreements with several four-year institutions in the region and throughout the state. Students who complete degrees covered by these agreements experience a smoother transition to senior colleges and universities. The college offers over 100 occupational certificates in fields such as aerospace and advanced manufacturing, court reporting and captioning, forensic technology, and carpentry.

    Along with several other community and technical colleges in the state, Green River participates in a reading apprenticeship program that aims to improve students' reading comprehension.

  9. Highline College

    Des Moines, WA



    Highline opened in 1961 as the first community college in King County. The college enrolled 385 students and held classes in portable classrooms on the grounds of a local high school. Today, Highline College enrolls over 16,600 students each year and sits on 80 hilltop acres on Puget Sound. The college offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs across six educational pathways including art and communication, business, STEM, and health and wellness.

    Highline offers bachelor of applied science (BAS) degrees in cybersecurity and forensics, respiratory care, global trade and logistics, youth development, and teaching and early learning. Highline's BAS degrees transfer directly to master's programs at Western Governors University. The college recently added BAS programs in integrated design and teaching.

    The dispensing optician apprenticeship at Highline qualifies graduates to sit for the Washington State Optician Board Examination. The program comprises 45 quarter credits, and students enroll in one online course per quarter. Graduates earn a certificate in the field after completing the program.

  10. South Seattle College

    Seattle, WA



    Established in 1969, South Seattle College currently serves a population of over 15,000 students in its West Seattle and Georgetown campuses. South offers associate degrees for transfer, occupational certificates, and bachelor's programs across eight areas of study.

    Students can pursue a bachelor of applied science (BAS) in hospitality management or sustainable building science technology. BAS programs at the college require applicants to have an associate degree and related work experience. South offers associate degrees for transfer in fields including nutrition science, public health, business, and environmental studies.

    The Georgetown campus serves as the apprenticeship and education center of South Seattle College. Students can explore apprenticeship programs in several fields, including aerospace, construction trades, masonry, and ironworks. The college awards the appropriate certificate to apprentices who complete their program. Graduates can build on certificate credits to earn an associate in applied science degree for transfer by enrolling in a few additional courses.

Career and Salary Outlook for Trade School Graduates

Many trade school programs lead to careers with above-average salaries and strong demand. Salaries for trade school graduates vary depending on the individual's industry, location, and experience.

Graduates of trade schools earn an average of $55,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, salaries vary widely by field and position. For example, professionals in personal care and service occupations earn an average of $32,000 per year, while managers earn average salaries of more than $96,000 per year. Workers in healthcare practitioners and technical occupations earn an average of more than $55,000 per year, while the average salary for healthcare support professionals is about $45,000 per year.

According to BLS data, dental hygienists in Washington earn average salaries of more than $93,000 per year, and respiratory therapists in the state earn an average of nearly $72,000 annually. Washington paralegals earn an average of about $61,000 annually, and the average annual salary of electricians in the state is more than $71,000. Prospective trade school students can research the earning potential for individual occupations when choosing a field and program.

In addition, many occupations for trade school graduates report strong job growth. The BLS projects much faster-than-average job growth for dental hygienists, HVAC technicians, and paralegals between 2018 and 2028. The BLS also projects growth for careers in allied health, the skilled trades, and STEM fields.

What Kinds of Trade School Programs Are Available?

Vocational and trade schools in Washington offer certificates and degrees in many high-demand areas. Programs for dental hygienists, mechanics, paralegals, and radiology technicians typically take less than two years. Students can also pursue vocational programs to train for careers as occupational therapy assistants, cosmetologists, HVAC technicians, and pharmacy technicians.

See below for a few popular fields for trade school students.

  • Dental Hygienist Schools

    Dental hygienists conduct examinations and clean patients' teeth. These professionals look for signs of oral diseases and provide preventive care. Dental hygienists report their findings to dentists, and they document treatment plans.

    Most dental hygienists hold an associate degree with coursework in anatomy, periodontics, and oral hygiene. Dental hygienist programs also include laboratory and clinical instruction, which helps students gain skills in patient care. According to the BLS, dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of more than $76,000 in 2019. The BLS projects employment for dental hygienists to increase 11% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

    Dental hygienists need a license. In Washington, the Washington State Department of Health licenses dental hygienists who complete an accredited dental hygiene program, pass the dental hygiene national board exam, and pass clinical examinations.

    This list includes the best dental hygienist programs.

  • Mechanic Schools

    Mechanics, also called service technicians, inspect and repair vehicles. They use diagnostic equipment to identify problems, and they repair worn parts and perform maintenance on cars and trucks. Mechanics may specialize in an area such as engine repair, transmissions, or electrical systems.

    Many mechanics complete a vocational program in automotive service technology. Students take courses in automotive repair, electronics, and brake maintenance. Learners gain practical training through practicum or laboratory requirements.

    After completing a mechanic program, graduates can pursue a specialty certification from an organization such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which offers certifications in areas including engine performance, suspension, and automatic transmissions. Mechanics earned a median annual salary of about $42,000 in 2019, according to the BLS.

    This resource provides information about the top mechanic programs.

  • Paralegal Schools

    Paralegals assist lawyers by conducting legal research, drafting documents, and summarizing reports. Paralegals can specialize in an area such as contract law, corporate law, or litigation. These legal professionals also file briefs and appeals with the court.

    Learners at vocational schools in Washington can pursue paralegal studies and legal studies programs. Paralegal studies programs typically include coursework in legal writing, business law, legal terminology, and legal research. Paralegals do not need a license or certification to practice, though some employers prefer certified candidates.

    Paralegals earned a median annual salary of more than $51,000 in 2019, and the BLS projects employment for these professionals to increase 12% from 2018 to 2028.

    This page offers additional information about paralegal studies programs.

  • Radiology Technician Schools

    Radiology technicians, also called radiographers, take diagnostic images to help physicians treat patients. They prepare patients for procedures, operate imaging equipment such as X-rays, and evaluate the quality of images. Radiology technicians must follow safety procedures to protect patients and themselves.

    Most radiology technicians hold an associate degree with coursework in anatomy, radiation protection, image evaluation, and patient care. Radiology students also complete clinical requirements.

    Graduates in the field typically earn professional certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. According to the BLS, radiology technicians earned a median annual salary of more than $62,000 in 2019. The Washington State Department of Health licenses radiology technicians.

    This guide provides information about the best radiology technician programs.

Financial Aid for Trade School Students

Trade school students often use financial aid to help fund their education. Learners can apply for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. To receive federal financial aid, students must complete the FAFSA annually. However, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid. Students should understand whether each prospective vocational school meets the requirements for federal student aid eligibility.

Students can also lower the cost of their degree by choosing one of the more affordable vocational schools in Washington. The total cost of a vocational program varies widely by type of school. For example, the cost of tuition and fees at public universities is typically much less than at private universities. However, community colleges generally offer the most affordable tuition rates.

In addition to federal financial aid, trade school students can apply for grants and scholarships from private foundations, government agencies, and professional associations. Unlike loans, scholarships do not require repayment. The following section includes some scholarship opportunities for learners attending Washington trade schools.

Scholarship for Trade School Students

Students attending trade schools in Washington can qualify for many scholarships and grants. Scholarships can help learners reduce the cost of earning a vocational certificate or degree. In addition to the scholarships below, students can research opportunities based on their field or school.

AOFT Washington Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Washington division of the American Occupational Therapy Foundation offers this scholarship to an occupational therapy assistant student in Washington State. Applicants must hold membership with the Washington Occupational Therapy Association.

Amount: Varies

WSEA Vocational Grant

Who Can Apply: The Washington State Elks Association offers this grant to graduating high school seniors pursuing a vocational certificate or degree. Applicants must be attending one of the community colleges or tech schools in Washington.

Amount: Varies

Matsuo Bridge Company, Ltd. of Japan Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The scholarship supports learners studying welding engineering, welding engineering technology, or a related field. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and attend an accredited school. Washington residents receive priority.

Amount: $2,500

Pride Foundation Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Pride Foundation offers multiple scholarships to students who identify as LGBTQ or allies. Recipients must be pursuing a postsecondary education at community college, four-year university, or vocational school in Washington.

Amount: Varies

Joseph Darimont Vocational Award

Who Can Apply: The scholarship from the Washington State Elks Association supports one student per year. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 50. Recipients can apply the funding toward the cost of tuition, fees, books, and supplies.

Amount: $1,000

Additional Education and Career Resources

The state's largest professional organization represents educators and staff employed in career and technical education. The organization sponsors an annual conference for members. The TSA serves high school students who have completed their technology education or pre-engineering courses and are eyeing careers in fields such as architecture, construction, engineering, graphic arts, manufacturing, or film/video production. Washington's official state site for career resources provides a resume help/skills center, and the organization hosts state and regional job fairs.

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