Best Online Vocational & Trade Schools

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Top Online Vocational and Trade Schools

Online trade schools offer affordable options to help students launch or advance their career. Most vocational and trade programs are available through a community college or a private institution. Community colleges typically offer associate degrees, apprenticeships, diplomas, and certificates. Many two-year colleges deliver fully online programs.

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Learners can earn associate degrees and certificates in fields such as occupational safety, auto bodywork, physical therapy, and veterinary technology. These programs typically require 1-2 years of study. Learners at community colleges can also obtain a commercial driver's license. Others pursue a diploma and apprenticeship in diesel technology, electrical work, surgical technology, or welding. After earning a diploma or certificate, students can transfer their credits toward an associate degree or immediately join the workforce. Salary potential for graduates depends on their specific career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, electricians earned a median salary of $55,190 in 2018, and dental hygienists earned a median of $74,820. This guide explores opportunities for students attending vocational and trade schools, along with career options for graduates.
Rank School Location Program
1 San Juan College Farmington, NM Associate degrees in occupational safety, health information technology, physical therapist assistant, veterinary technology, certificates in medical coding/billing
2 New Mexico Junior College Hobbs, NM General associate of arts or associate of science degrees and associate degrees in criminal justice, energy technology
3 Metropolitan Community College Omaha, NE Associate degree in corrections, law enforcement, medical coding and billing, medical office management, administrative assistant, office professional
4 State Fair Community College Sedalia, MO Associate degrees in health information technology, medical assistant; certificate in medical coding, medical assistant, nurse aide, pharmacy technician
5 Southwest Virginia Community College Cedar Bluff, VA Associate degrees in administrative support technology; certificates in electronic medical records specialist, general education, health sciences, legal studies

Vocational Training FAQ

Four-year programs require significant financial and time investments and may not fit every student's budget and career goals. Many learners seeking a direct and affordable pathway to career advancement choose trade schools. Online trade schools allow students to continue working while they earn an associate degree, certification, diploma, or license.

Programs from online trade schools typically require one to two years. Learners who decide to pursue further education can often transfer credits from their associate degree, diploma, or certification toward a four-year degree. The following section includes answers to common questions about vocational and trade schools.

What is vocational training?

Vocation training helps students develop technical skills necessary to work in a certain field, such as electrical technology, plumbing, web development, or respiratory care technology. Unlike academic programs, vocational programs typically require few if any general education credits in areas such as humanities and English.

Learners at vocational schools often earn certifications and complete apprenticeships to build knowledge and practical training. These programs usually require 31-38 credits and often cost less than $64 per credit.

Trade school programs generally include internships and labs, during which students gain marketable skills that can lead to employment. Applicants to vocational programs may need to take prerequisite courses or exams. However, some schools require applicants to submit only high school transcripts or GED scores.

Where is vocational training offered?

Vocation training helps students develop technical skills necessary to work in a certain field, such as electrical technology, plumbing, web development, or respiratory care technology. Unlike academic programs, vocational programs typically require few if any general education credits in areas such as humanities and English.

Learners at vocational schools often earn certifications and complete apprenticeships to build knowledge and practical training. These programs usually require 31-38 credits and often cost less than $64 per credit.

Trade school programs generally include internships and labs, during which students gain marketable skills that can lead to employment. Applicants to vocational programs may need to take prerequisite courses or exams. However, some schools require applicants to submit only high school transcripts or GED scores.

How do vocational schools compare to traditional schools?

Online vocational schools often appeal to students who work full time and those without the budget for a four-year program. As tuition costs at four-year schools continue to rise, many students choose vocational training as an affordable alternative.

Vocational schools and community colleges generally charge lower tuition rates than four-year institutions. As a result, students enrolled at online vocational schools typically incur less debt. Additionally, the technical training students receive often leads directly to job opportunities. Students at online trade schools generally take one to two years to complete their program. The short completion time allows individuals to quickly enter the workforce and pursue career advancement.

Career outcomes and salary potential depend on the learner's field of study. Many vocational schools offer career services to help students secure employment in positions such as pharmacy technician and plumber.

How are hands-on training and clinical experiences integrated into online programs?

Students attending online vocational schools often complete their program remotely, without ever visiting campus. However, some programs include synchronous components, which require learners to log in at set times. Students may also need to take proctored exams and complete internships or labs in person.

Internships help students gain practical skills and make connections that can lead to job opportunities. Internship locations vary by program. For example, learners studying the culinary arts may undertake an internship in the kitchen of a restaurant, while automotive maintenance students may complete repair labs at an auto shop.

Online learners can generally complete internships in their community. In some cases, students can fulfill internship requirements at their current job.

Types of Online Vocational Training Programs

The duration, cost, and career outcomes of a vocational program depend on the field of study, school, and type of program. Online trade schools generally offer four types of vocational training programs: apprenticeship, certification or licensure preparation, diploma or certificate, and associate degree.

Students should choose a program that aligns with their career goals. Working professionals often pursue an apprenticeship, certification, or diploma to achieve quick and affordable results. Learners who plan to continue to bachelor's studies may earn an associate degree. The following sections examine various types of vocation programs.

Apprenticeship

Apprenticeships reinforce classroom learning through practical experience, preparing students to practice a trade. Students typically complete apprenticeships as part of an associate degree, certification, or diploma program. Apprentices apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations.

After completing the required courses, students complete apprenticeships under the supervision of professionals in the field. Schools determine specific guidelines for apprenticeships. For example, a fashion apprenticeship may require students to work 120 hours at a fashion company. A plumbing apprenticeship may involve experience supervised by a licensed plumber.

To satisfy state requirements, schools often administer a final exam and require general education coursework in English and math. An apprenticeship can last up to one year. Some apprentices receive pay, though typically less than the salary of a fully qualified tradesperson. Tuition rates for apprenticeships vary, and some programs offer discounts for ungraded apprenticeships.

Certification/Licensure Prep

Apprenticeships reinforce classroom learning through practical experience, preparing students to practice a trade. Students typically complete apprenticeships as part of an associate degree, certification, or diploma program. Apprentices apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations.

After completing the required courses, students complete apprenticeships under the supervision of professionals in the field. Schools determine specific guidelines for apprenticeships. For example, a fashion apprenticeship may require students to work 120 hours at a fashion company. A plumbing apprenticeship may involve experience supervised by a licensed plumber.

To satisfy state requirements, schools often administer a final exam and require general education coursework in English and math. An apprenticeship can last up to one year. Some apprentices receive pay, though typically less than the salary of a fully qualified tradesperson. Tuition rates for apprenticeships vary, and some programs offer discounts for ungraded apprenticeships.

Diploma/Certificate

Most community colleges offer career-focused diplomas and certificate programs. These options are ideal for students who plan to immediately enter the workforce rather than pursuing a four-year degree. While earning a diploma or certificate, learners gain in-depth knowledge in a technical career or trade. Learners can study topics such as automotive analysis and repair, machine shop operations, Java programming, landscape design, and fire science.

Certificates typically require up to 60 credits and take two years to complete. Students earning a diploma generally complete 30-48 credits, including on-the-job training. Most diploma programs last one year.

Learners can usually apply credits from a diploma or certificate program toward an associate degree. A certificate can help individuals pursue a new career or advance within their current trade.

Associate Degree

An associate degree can serve as an affordable first step toward a bachelor's degree. This two-year degree helps recent high school graduates and working professionals gain foundational knowledge necessary to land entry-level careers. Community colleges often maintain articulation agreements with four-year schools to help students easily transfer to bachelor's programs. Community colleges typically charge lower tuition rates than universities.

Students can earn an associate of arts, an associate of applied science, or an associate of science. Associate of applied science degrees provide technical career training through classwork, internships, and labs. Online learners can pursue associate of arts degrees in subjects such as art, journalism, communications, and religious studies.

Common majors for students earning an associate of science include math, computer science, engineering, and science. Associate programs require 60-65 general education credits, and full-time students usually graduate in two years.

2020 Best Online Vocational and Trade Schools

Rank School Name
1 San Juan College

San Juan College offered only evening classes when it opened in 1956. Today, SJC educates more than 15,000 students every year. Learners can take classes on four campuses, including the main location in Farmington, New Mexico.

San Juan College delivers nine fully online associate degrees. Online students can earn an associate degree in business administration, psychology, health information technology, occupational safety, physical therapist assistant, or veterinary technology.

Many of the online trade school's distance programs offer accelerated pathways that save students time and money. Accelerated options are ideal for working professionals who intend to transfer to a four-year school or change careers. For example, students can earn an associate in business administration degree with an accompanying business management certificate in 16 months.

Online students can access career services, including resume assistance and career assessments. SJC maintains an open admissions policy and is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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2 New Mexico Junior College

One of the best online technical schools in the Southwest, New Mexico Junior College delivers two-year degrees and career training programs. Learners can study online or at the flagship 243-acre campus in Hobbs.

Ideal for working professionals, NMJC offers fully online associate degrees in business, computer information science, criminal justice, and energy technology. Before beginning an online program, students can take a self-assessment to determine whether distance learning is right for them. Academic counselors help students design individualized academic plans.

Online learners complete 31 general education credits in subjects including composition and rhetoric, communication, fine arts, math, and laboratory science. Transfer students must complete at least 15 credits through NMJC to receive an associate degree.

The New Mexico Junior College Foundation offers a variety of scholarships to applicants with a minimum 2.0 GPA. NMJC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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3 Metropolitan Community College

Metropolitan Community College, one of the top online technical schools in Nebraska, delivers more than 100 programs. The school maintains eight locations and enrolls more than 25,000 students.

The college's online degrees and certificates are ideal for working professionals who need flexible scheduling options. MCC's online offerings include associate degrees in accounting, business, computer technology, criminal justice, health information management, and office technology.

Learners can also pursue academic and career certificates in customer service representative, financial studies, and general management. Academic advisors and counselors help online learners plan their educational pathways. MCC maintains transfer agreements with four-year schools to help graduates enroll in bachelor's programs.

Learners pursuing an associate degree complete 40 general education credits. Students can apply for more than 125 scholarships. MCC holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

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4 State Fair Community College

Founded in 1968 with 436 students, State Fair Community College maintains seven locations and a virtual campus. Today, SFCC enrolls more than 4,700 learners. The college delivers online programs through Canvas and offers more than 260 online classes.

Students can earn a fully online associate degree in business management, health information technology, or healthcare specialist. Each program comprises 60-64 credits and prepares students to enroll in a four-year program or immediately enter the workforce. One of the leading online trade schools for healthcare students, SFCC offers online certifications in pharmacy technician, nurse aide, and medical coding.

Learners can complete their program fully online or in a hybrid format. Students who choose to take some in-person classes can study in Boonville, Clinton, Eldon, Lake of the Ozarks, Sedalia, or Warsaw. SFCC also delivers courses at Whiteman Air Force Base.

The college provides online technical support and tutoring, and distance learners can access more than 500,000 digital library resources. SFCC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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5 Southwest Virginia Community College

Established in 1927, Southwest Virginia Community College is one of the best online trade schools for busy learners. The college offers more than 80 programs and delivers on-campus and online classes.

Learners can pursue affordable, fully online associate degrees in administrative support technology, accounting, administration of justice, business management, early childhood education, and psychology. The college also offers online certificate programs in fields including medical records, health sciences, and legal studies.

SVCC delivers online courses asynchronously through Canvas, allowing learners to access assignments and discussions at their convenience. Some students, such as those who live in Tazewell or Buchanan County, may qualify for tuition-free learning.

Online students can communicate with advisors through email, phone, and chat. Learners can also access online tutoring and digital library resources. SVCC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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