Is college the only way to success? Trade school vs. four-year college: The Pros and Cons

The question of whether a person should go to college was often posed in many Black middle-class homes. The answer was never in doubt: It was a resounding “Yes!” Going to college meant “bettering oneself,” which usually translated to obtaining a bachelor’s degree to access white-collar, knowledge-based jobs and, by extension, a better life.

This conversation took place while high schools were discontinuing “wood shop” and other trade programs, and “good jobs” that didn’t require a 4-year degree but paid enough for a middle-class life, like working at a car assembly line, were either being denigrated or disappearing from the U.S.

Getting a 4-year degree gradually became more expensive as tuition increased, and people took out more student loans to afford access to a middle-class life. The rap about arts and humanities degrees also became dismal, with “What can you do with that degree?” curdling into actively discouraging students from taking those courses and getting degrees that would leave them with heavy student debt. As a result, those departments are slowly closing.

Now, trade schools are being touted as a way to make decent money, while sciense technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees are considered the degrees to pursue. “Critical race theory” and “wokeness” are the latest strawman arguments to deter students from studying literature, history, and other non-STEM subjects.

While a college degree has long been considered a pathway to success, the rising cost of tuition and the uncertain job market have led many to question the value of higher education. With graduation around the corner for many Black high-school students, the question of what kind of education to pursue in this economic climate is very real.

When choosing between trade school and traditional 4-year colleg, several factors need to be considered.


Career-Focused Education: Trade schools offer career-focused education that prepares students for specific careers in a shorter amount of time. The curriculum is designed to teach practical skills that are needed in the workforce, which can lead to higher job placement rates.

Lower Cost: Trade school is generally less expensive than traditional four-year college. Students can save money on tuition and other expenses, and may also be able to start earning a living more quickly.

Hands-On Training: Trade schools provide hands-on training in a specific trade, which is valuable in industries that require practical skills. Students learn by doing, which can lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

High Demand for Trades: Many trades are in high demand, and trade school graduates are often highly sought after by employers. This can lead to good job opportunities and job security.


Limited Transferability: Trade school programs are highly specialized and may not be transferable to other fields or industries. This means that students may need to start over if they decide to pursue a different career path.

Limited Advancement Opportunities: Some trades may have limited opportunities for career advancement beyond entry-level positions. Students who want to advance in their careers may need to pursue additional education or training.

Physical Demands: Trades can be physically demanding, and students with physical limitations may find it challenging to succeed in certain trades.


Higher Earning Potential: Graduates of four-year colleges tend to earn higher salaries over their lifetime compared to those without a degree. This can lead to financial stability and a better quality of life.

Wide Range of Degree Programs: Traditional four-year colleges offer a wide range of degree programs allowing students to explore different fields and interests. Students can pursue careers in a variety of industries and have the flexibility to change career paths if desired.

Transferability: College credits are generally transferable between schools and programs, which allows students to explore different areas of study and transfer to a different institution if needed.

Networking Opportunities: Traditional four-year colleges provide networking opportunities through alumni networks and social events, which can be valuable for finding job opportunities after graduation.


Higher Cost: Traditional four-year colleges are generally more expensive than trade schools, and students may accumulate significant student loan debt.

Lengthy Time to Completion: Traditional four-year colleges require several years of full-time study, which can delay entry into the workforce and lead to a longer period of time before earning a full-time income.

Limited Hands-On Training: Traditional four-year colleges may not provide the same level of hands-on training as trade schools, which can be a disadvantage in certain industries.

Limited Job Placement Assistance: Some traditional four-year colleges may not provide as much job placement assistance as trade schools, which can make it more difficult for graduates to find employment in their field of study.

When making a decision between the two, it is important for students to consider their personal goals, financial situation and priorities. Students should research the job market and demand for their chosen field, as well as the curriculum and resources offered by different institutions. Ultimately, the right choice depends on each individual student’s unique circumstances and career aspirations.





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