Veterans’ Guide to Choosing the Right Vocational or Trade School

Advice and Resources for Finding Programs that Aid Veteran Success

Attending a vocational or trade school can lead to a stable and rewarding career. Individuals can pursue vocational programs in fields such as carpentry, automotive mechanics, plumbing, cosmetology, and medical technology. These programs often lead to certification or licensure, and some result in an associate degree.

National data indicates an increasing demand for trade experts, with salaries comparable to those of positions requiring postsecondary degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters earned a median salary of $55,160 in 2019.

During the same year, electricians earned a median of $56,180, medical and laboratory technologists earned $61,070, and construction managers earned a median salary of $95,260. The BLS projects employment for plumbers to increase 14% from 2018 to 2028. The BLS projects a 10% job growth for electricians and construction managers during the same time frame.

Veterans whose military experience includes work in administration, construction, aviation, equipment maintenance, or tactical operations may be particularly suited to vocational careers. In addition, many vocational and trade programs honor benefits provided by the GI Bill®, allowing veterans to obtain credentials affordably and quickly. These benefits can include funding for tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend for textbooks and supplies. To qualify for this funding, veterans must apply for GI Bill benefits with the Veterans Affairs (VA) office.

After selecting a field of study, individuals must choose the best trade school for their needs. The following guide provides information about trade schools for veterans, including VA-approved schools. The following sections explore common questions regarding choosing a vocational school and resources to help you find the right program.

According to the Hechinger Report, in 2014 community colleges with 100 or more GI Bill® recipients managed to graduate only one in five veteran students.

Student Veterans and Vocational and Trade Schools: Common Questions Answered

Veterans applying for GI Bill benefits often have questions about available funding and GI Bill-approved trade schools. This section answers frequently asked questions regarding the application of GI Bill benefits to vocational and trade programs. If you have more specific questions, contact the GI Bill representative at your prospective school.


  • How do I find which vocational or trade schools are covered by the GI Bill?

    Veterans pursuing technical training typically receive GI Bill payments in the same manner as recipients enrolled in academic programs. However, the GI Bill does not cover all schools or programs. The VA maintains online tools to help veterans locate GI Bill-approved trade schools and compare benefits across schools and programs.

    Learners can use the WEAMS institution search to find trade schools covered by the GI Bill. The GI Bill comparison tool helps students determine which GI Bill benefits are available at various schools and programs. The amount of a learner’s monthly housing allowance depends on location.


  • How do I find GI Bill schools near me?

    The WEAMS institution search helps veterans find approved schools and programs. Users can search by institution name and state. Because the search tool does not separate results based on types of available programs, users should already know which schools they are considering. After choosing a prospective school, learners can input the name of the institution into the search tool to determine whether students at the institution qualify for GI Bill benefits.


  • What are the different GI Bill payout rates for vocational or trade training?

    The amount of funding veterans receive from the GI Bill depends on their institution and the individual’s eligibility for specific GI Bill programs. For example, Post-9/11 GI Bill payments cover in-state tuition and fees up to a national maximum, which can change annually. The maximum amount for the 2020-2021 academic year is $25,162.

    The program also provides a monthly housing allowance based on location and a monthly stipend for books and supplies. All other GI Bill programs pay a monthly amount based on the veteran’s program and length of active service.


  • Are there differences in online and on-campus trade and vocational programs for veterans?

    Many trade schools for veterans offer both online and on-campus classes, often taught by the same faculty members. Online courses typically include interactive components and prepare students to take any necessary certification or licensing exams. Online programs often allow learners to complete supervised experience or internship requirements in an approved local setting.

    Formerly, the GI Bill provided a monthly housing allowance based on the living expenses near the main campus of the recipient’s school. However, the GI Bill currently bases these amounts on the cost of living for the location at which the student physically attends most of their classes.


Choosing the Right Vocational or Trade School as a Veteran

After deciding to pursue a vocation or trade, veterans should consider several factors to choose the best school and program for their needs. Learners should consider each prospective program’s length, cost, and curriculum. Students should also understand the school’s policy on awarding credit for military or prior learning experience. Transitioning from military service into civilian life can be overwhelming, and choosing the right vocational school can improve a veteran’s learning experience and future employment opportunities.

Although program length varies by school and field, most vocational programs require about two years. Since this is about half of the length of a bachelor’s program, vocational training for veterans allows individuals to enter the workforce sooner. Learners can attend trade school to learn skills such as carpentry, automotive mechanics, and plumbing. Other vocational programs explore technical fields such as dental hygiene, radiologic technology, medical sonography, and nursing assistance.

Vocational programs help learners develop skills that apply directly to careers in the field. Trade programs typically comprise classroom learning and a supervised experience or internship. Most vocational programs emphasize a particular specialty area, so learners should research schools that offer programs in their desired focus area. For example, veterans interested in roofing should look for construction programs that offer specific coursework or a concentration in roofing.

Students can compare each prospective program’s curriculum and requirements. Some professions require state certification or licensing, and candidates for these credentials may need to complete a certain number of clinical hours or supervised work hours. Learners who plan to pursue a vocation that requires additional credentials should ensure their prospective program meets certification or licensing requirements for the state in which they plan to work.

What to Look for in a Vocational or Trade Program as a Veteran

Support resources available to veterans vary by school. Many trade and vocational institutions provide resources specifically for veterans, such as student veteran groups and spaces, a dedicated veterans certification office, reviews written by other veterans, and GI Bill services and information. Understanding available services and resources can help learners choose between schools that offer vocational training for veterans.

Dedicated Veteran’s Support Groups or Spaces

The first GI Bill was passed at the end of World War II. Service members were returning to civilian life and matriculating into schools across the country. Educational institutions struggled to provide veterans with the resources and assistance they needed, and student veterans began forming peer support groups to overcome the challenges related to reintegration. Today, student groups can help veterans find camaraderie with individuals who face similar challenges.

The Student Veterans of America is one of the most prominent student veteran support organizations. Some vocational schools maintain dedicated spaces for veterans to meet, and others offer veteran academic success centers and mental health services for veterans. Because not all schools provide services and programs to help veterans transition to a civilian learning environment, learners should research the resources available at each prospective school. The presence of veteran support groups and spaces can indicate a larger veteran community on campus.

A Veteran Certification Official

Veteran certification officials help students understand and apply for veteran education benefits. A veteran certification office may comprise a team of staff or a single individual. These offices answer questions about GI Bill benefits and services available to veterans. In addition to supporting student veterans, veteran certification officials submit enrollment certifications to the VA. This notifies the VA of all students enrolled in approved programs and certifies that student veterans are making progress toward program completion so they can receive GI Bill benefits.

VA certification procedures vary depending on each learner’s sources of tuition assistance and which GI Bill benefits the student qualifies to receive. Veteran certification offices may also provide academic advising, registration assistance, and technical support. Selecting a school with a veteran certification official on staff can simplify these processes for student veterans.

Positive Testimonials or Reviews of Veteran Services

Speaking with other student veterans or alumni about their experiences at a school or program can help prospective students make an informed decision. Some schools post student testimonials online, including testimonials from veterans. Additionally, some independent websites offer reviews of veteran services at various educational institutions. Students can read reviews on personal blogs and third-party review sites.

Learners may also consider contacting the veteran certification office or veteran student support office at their prospective school to ask about speaking with a current student veteran. This allows student veterans to ask questions about the specific school or program.

The VA website provides a platform for student veterans to provide anonymous feedback related to VA-approved schools and training programs. Through this platform, users can raise concerns directly to the VA.

College-Veteran Partnerships

Some colleges partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help ease the transition from military service to academic life and foster supportive communities for student veterans. Some schools maintain peer mentorship programs, in which trained student veterans work with incoming student veterans. Mentors in these programs offer personalized assistance, which many veterans are reluctant to seek out.

Through partnerships with the VA, schools also receive government resources and personnel that address gaps in service. These partnerships often increase student access to VA resources and can lead to other forms of institutional support, such as veteran-only classes, career planning assistance, and scholarships.

The VA also partners with certain programs to provide veteran-focused training. For example, the VA Nursing Academic Partnership is a joint effort between nursing schools and VA facilities to provide student veterans with clinical training. Similar partnership programs exist for veterans who aspire to careers helping other veterans.

Transfer Credit for Military Experience

Many schools and programs offer course credit for military experience. The American Council on Education and the Department of Defense evaluate military training, occupational experience, and prior learning. Each service member’s Joint Services Transcript provides college credit recommendations based on the individual’s military experience, exam scores, and credits completed during service.

Each school evaluates these recommendations and decides how many credits to award the student. Most credits awarded for military experience apply toward lower-division, general education, or elective coursework. Colleges do not always follow the American Council on Education’s recommendations, and each school interprets military experience differently.

Choosing a school that awards credit for military experience can save veterans time and money. By entering into a program with transfer credits, learners must complete fewer courses to meet program requirements. This allows students to graduate sooner and spend less on tuition and course materials.

Professional Development or Veteran Support Training for Faculty

Schools that provide faculty with professional development related to veteran support training can often better serve the needs of student veterans, in both their campus and classroom experiences. Faculty members may complete online professional development programs or in-person workshops or seminars. Topics often include military culture, PTSD and war-related trauma, mental health wellness and services, VA education benefits, and effective strategies for working with military students.

research projected demand for certain jobs, required education, and median annual salaries through the BLS. After choosing a vocation orStudent Veterans of America partners with Kognito, a company that creates simulations to prepare individuals for important conversations, to provide the Veterans on Campus program for faculty and staff. Veterans on Campus consists of two 30-minute online simulation experiences designed to improve military cultural competency. Currently, 185 United States schools use the program. Other schools provide their own support and training programs for veteran educators. This education helps faculty and staff improve the transition experience and help veterans succeed academically.

Choosing the Right Vocational or Trade Degree as a Veteran

Choosing a career path can be confusing, and veterans face particular challenges when selecting a vocation or trade. Some veterans establish a civilian career similar to their military work, while others apply their skills to a completely different field. Veterans should also consider the types of jobs available for individuals with military experience and the education requirements for those positions.

The work individuals completed during their military service often informs their career choice. For example, a veteran who worked on airplanes in the military may study aircraft mechanics and maintenance. A veteran with experience helping wounded soldiers or providing medical assistance in the field may select an allied health profession. Individuals who choose a vocation related to their military occupation may complete their training and enter the workforce sooner than those who pursue an entirely new field.

In addition to hard skills that transfer directly to a civilian vocation, veterans may apply soft skills gained during their service. For example, professionals who oversaw logistics and personnel or coordinated military operations may leverage their management experience. Former service members can apply skills such as teamwork, leadership, organization, and communication toward civilian professions.

Many military service members manage responsibilities that far exceed most civilian jobs. However, some employers struggle to understand how military experience translates to career skills. Attending a vocational school and obtaining certification provides evidence of competencies in a particular skill or trade.

The VA provides an online self-assessment tool that helps veterans understand their interests and skills to find a fulfilling civilian vocation that matches their passions and experience. The tool generates career recommendations based on the individual’s aptitudes. The tool also provides information about the training necessary to pursue each career.

The Department of Labor offers a career search platform that allows veterans to browse careers by industry and find jobs similar to their military work. While this platform is ideal for veterans who are currently seeking employment, the resource can also help student veterans explore career paths that align with their skills and experience.

Other considerations in choosing a vocation or trade include earning potential, job security, and the cost of the required education. Veterans can research projected demand for certain jobs, required education, and median annual salaries through the BLS. After choosing a vocation or trade, veterans can begin evaluating schools and programs.

Degree, Non-Degree and Certificate Programs for Student Veterans


  • Licenses

    Each state sets unique requirements for professions that require a license. Licensing requirements often include a degree and a certain number of supervised work hours. Also, candidates must typically pass a state-approved licensure exam. Students should ensure their program meets licensing requirements for the state in which they plan to work, especially if the school is located in a different state.

    Positions that require state licensure include cosmetologist, medical technician, electrician, and nurse. Professionals must renew their license periodically and may need to complete continuing education coursework to qualify for renewal.


  • Certifications

    Certifications provide evidence of competencies in a particular field or specialty. Candidates must typically pass an exam to obtain certification. Unlike licensure, certification is typically voluntary and not required to practice. However, earning a certification can improve an individual’s job prospects and lead to career advancement.

    Employers in the information technology industry, in particular, favor candidates with certifications in particular software programs or computer skills. Information technology professionals can earn the Microsoft technology associate, Oracle certified professional, and certified data professional certifications.


  • Certificate Programs

    Many vocational and trade school programs are certificate programs. Certificates are not mandatory for particular jobs and do not require an exam. However, some certificate programs prepare students to obtain licensure or certification. Certificate programs typically require 12-15 credits and can help student veterans stand out in the job market.

    Obtaining a certificate can also help working veterans hone their abilities and advance professionally. For instance, a veteran working in construction may pursue a certificate in construction management to qualify for supervisory positions.


  • Associate Degrees

    Associate programs typically require about 60 credits, which most full-time students complete in two years. Associate programs prepare students for employment or further studies in their field. An associate degree requires larger time and financial investments than certificate programs. Some associate programs meet requirements for state licensure or certification, including internships or supervised work experience.

    Graduates often transfer their associate degree into a bachelor’s program. Earning an associate degree allows veterans to enter the workforce after graduation and pursue a four-year degree at a later date. Many veterans receive GI Bill benefits while earning a vocational or technical associate degree.


MOS-Based Vocational and Trade Careers for Veterans

Below are a few military occupational specialties (MOS)-matched career ideas for veterans. The following list also includes vocational training for veterans based on certain skills and abilities. These suggestions can help student veterans make the most of their military service experience.


  • Veterans with Aviation Experience

    Each branch of the military has rotary-wing aircraft, fixed-wing aircraft, or a combination of both. Veterans with aviation experience often work in the following vocational and trade positions.

    Aircraft and Aviation Mechanic

    • Training: Postsecondary certificate
    • Pay: $64,310

    Avionics Technician

    • Training: Postsecondary certificate
    • Pay: $64,310
    • What They Do: Avionics technicians repair and maintain the electronic instruments of aircraft. These technicians work with navigation, communication, and radar systems.

    Airfield Operations Specialist

    • Training: Associate degree
    • Pay: $52,200
    • What They Do: Airfield operations specialists implement airfield safety procedures, assist in aircraft emergencies, manage wildlife on airport property, and coordinate airfield construction.


  • Veterans with Clerical Experience

    To function, the military requires personnel, administration, and human resources professionals. Veterans with service experience in these fields can easily transition into the positions below.

    Medical Secretary

    • Training: Postsecondary certificate
    • Pay: $35,760
    • What they do: These individuals schedule and confirm patient appointments, surgeries, and medical consultations. Secretaries typically work in an office environment and use office equipment such as computers, copiers, and phone and messaging systems.

    Library Technician

    • Training: Postsecondary certificate
    • Pay: $34,040
    • What They Do: Library technicians maintain library materials, help patrons find resources, and answer questions in person and on the phone. These professionals also process new publications for inclusion in collections.


  • Veterans with Communications/IT Experience

    Individuals who work with high-tech military equipment must understand computers and computer networks. These veterans often work in the following civilian occupations.

    Computer Network Support Specialist

    • Training: Associate degree
    • Pay: $62,770
    • What they do: These specialists manage computer networks. Responsibilities include controlling access and permissions, configuring security settings, and analyzing and reporting attempted and successful network breaches. These professionals also test software and equipment.

    Web Developer

    • Training: Associate degree
    • Pay: $73,760
    • What they do: Web developers write code for computer programs. Developers work with programming languages, design tools, and applications. They also design, build, and maintain websites.


  • Veterans with Surveillance Experience

    All military personnel receive situational awareness training. However, veterans who specialized in security or surveillance often excel in the following careers.

    Firefighter

    • Training: Postsecondary certificate
    • Pay: $50,850
    • What they do: These individuals assess fires and situations and fight fires. They also search and rescue victims from burning buildings, accident sites, and water hazards.

    Police Officer

    • Training – Postsecondary certificate
    • Pay: $65,170
    • What they do: Police officers identify, pursue, and arrest suspects and criminals. They work to maintain public safety and community relations by responding to emergencies and protecting people and property.


Support for Student Veterans in Trade & Vocational Programs

Below are some additional education and support resources that student veterans can use:

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