College may be the logical next step for many high school seniors, but it’s certainly not the only option.

While you may be hearing a lot about finding the right college, there’s a crucial question you should answer before giving any thought to building your college list: Is going to college the best path for you? Or could trade school be the better choice?

College prepares students for professional careers through academics. Trade schools—also called vocational schools—are focused on providing technical training in a skilled trade. That training can prepare you for jobs in a variety of fields, including criminal justice, information technology, plumbing, and construction. Trade school programs generally last anywhere from eight months to two years. Once you’ve successfully completed a trade school program, you’ll receive a diploma, trade certificate or, in some cases, an associate degree.

If you’re weighing your options between trade school and college, this quiz can help point you in the right direction.

Trade School Might Be a Good Option for You

You’re a hands-on learner and already know what career you want. You’ve researched your intended profession and know that trade school is the best option to get prepared for your field. The programs are shorter than a traditional four-year college, so you will save time and money. According to high school counselor Nikki Specht, “The average four-year degree than a two-year trade school degree, and because of the shorter time frame, trade schools have a lower dropout rate.”

Still, make sure to speak with your high school counselor and your family about your decision. They could offer insight into the benefits of traditional college—social, academic, financial, or professional—that you may have overlooked.

Do More Research Before Deciding

Choosing between trade school and college is a crucial decision and it sounds like you need to do some more thinking and information-gathering before making it. Nikki Specht, a high school counselor in Philadelphia, advises this course of action: “Outline what your goals are. If your goals are to complete a program and get to work quickly, a trade school might be best. If your goals are unclear and you’d like time and space to explore options, a more traditional college will meet those needs.”

In addition to thinking about your goals, visit the campuses of both traditional colleges and trade schools. Ask to speak to students, alumni, and administrators from both types of schools to get a clear sense of what they offer. You should also connect with adults working in jobs that seem interesting to you. Find out what type of education they pursued—and what they’d recommend to someone eager to join their industry. You’ll also want to talk to your family and your high school counselor about the factors that will influence this decision.

For an additional resource, Specht recommends the Occupational Outlook Handbook, developed by the Bureau of Labor & Statistics. “It gives an outline of many jobs—expected education, salary, job growth, and related careers,” she explains. “This can be very helpful to browse and see what options are out there, and what it will take to get there.”

After conducting more research, if you’re still unsure, you may want to consider taking a gap year to give yourself additional time to reflect before making a decision. Both trade school and college require a large commitment—in terms of time and money—and you want to be as sure as possible that you’re selecting the right path before diving in.

You’re College Bound! 

While trade school may be the better fit for some students, your sights are set on college. Based on your goals and interests, a traditional four-year college is the optimal match for you. You seem drawn to academics and are looking to your education after high school to help shape your future career. That’s exactly what college is for. You’ll be exposed to new ideas and experiences—including the potential to study abroad. Get started on making your college list so you can get your applications submitted on time. If you have any concerns about pursuing a traditional college degree, talk to your family, high school counselor, teachers, and alumni from your high school who went to college. They can help answer your questions and provide guidance.

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