Technical School: What It Is And Why It Might Help Your Career

By Kristin Kizer
Sep. 22, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

Many people say that you need to go to a four-year university in order to start a career, but that isn’t necessarily true. Some careers require bachelor’s degrees, but many others simply require a professional certificate and on-the-job training, which you can get at a technical school.

In this article, we’ll explain what technical, vocational, and vo-tech schools are, why you should consider attending one, and the professions that these schools can help you enter.

Key Takeaways

  • A technical school provides training in a specific field, profession, career, or trade.

  • Technical school teaches both theory and hands-on skills, while vocational schools focus mainly on hands-on training.

  • Technical or vocational schools can prepare you for a career as an electrician, cosmetologist, or dental hygienist, to name just a few.

Technical School: What It Is And Why It Might Help Your Career

What Is a Technical School?

Technical schools can be called technical colleges or technical institutes. They typically offer associate’s degrees and can even be referred to as a Community College or a Junior College, although those terms are pretty outdated.

Any technical program’s goal is to provide specialized training in a specific field, profession, career, or trade. Most technical schools offer various programs. But that’s most tech schools, and you will find some that are more specialized and limited in their offerings.

How Long Is a Technical School Program?

On average, students in a tech program can expect to spend two to four years of training. Each program or field in a tech school has their requirements, and some people will earn their certificate, diploma, or associate degree faster than others.

If the idea of four years of post-secondary education sounds a lot like a traditional college to you, you’re partly right. Yes, that’s how long it typically takes for a bachelor’s degree. But a bachelor’s program at a university is designed to give you a broad-based education and requires many general education classes that are unrelated to your field of study.

People attending technical schools will only be taking classes related to their field of study. That is if that’s what they want. No one is going to stop you if you want to take a class outside of your field just because you’d like to learn more. But those classes are not a part of your curriculum.

What Is a Technical High School?

As a subcategory of tech schools, there are now technical high schools that give you the general curriculum of a high school but have a few vocational programs built to give you a huge head start on your career path.

Some tech high schools will give you a certificate or a degree program along with your high school diploma. Others offer you some credits toward your further education, which can get you in a real-world work environment sooner.

What Is a Vocational School?

Vocational schools are very similar to technical schools. They’re often found together, and you’ll see that school listed as Vo-Tech, which means it has both.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, technical schools are designed to teach you the theory and science behind a specific occupation. They say that vocational schools tend to be more hands-on, giving you real-world experience in your chosen field.

You can expect your vocational school to focus on learning by doing and to give you a lot of help when it comes to internships, on-the-job training, and job placement.

Technical vs. Vocational Schools

So how do you choose between a technical institute or a vocational school? What is the difference? The difference is in theory, but today, that’s lost a bit for many vocations in practice.

The theory is that a technical school’s curriculum gives students a broader academic foundation for their future careers. It’s a lot more textbooks and reading and less hands-on and doing.

The vocational school has less to do with textbooks and focuses on learning while doing. Because there is less time spent studying theory and textbooks, vocational schools tend to offer completion in a certificate or a degree faster than technical schools.

Vo-Tech Schools

Vo-Tech or vocational-technical schools have been mentioned a few times. So, what are they? They’re a hybrid of the technical approach and the vocational approach. And they might be the best way to go, depending on your trade. Sometimes these educational centers are even referred to as trade schools.

The idea is that you’ll learn the theory behind the profession, and then you’ll dive in and do some work. This will reinforce your learning by showing you the theory in practice.

Because people who decide to go down this educational path typically know what they want to do, it can be a wonderful experience. No time is wasted pondering university classes like Philosophy or World Regional Geography.

Instead, you get an immersive education in what interests you most. If you want to learn the other stuff on your own time, you’re welcome to it, but it won’t slow down your career progression.

Why Attend a Tech School, Vocational School, or a Vo-Tech?

Traditional college or a university is a great option after high school, and you’ve probably been told this your whole life. But there are other options, and you might find that they’re more suited to you and your career goals. One of these other schools might even be a better choice for several reasons.

  • Career-focused. Why learn all that other stuff that doesn’t interest you when you know what you want to do? There is no need to go to college if you know you want to enter a profession that only requires a technical or vocational education.

  • Fast track. It’s not always true that a tech, vocational, or vo-tech school will get you to a degree faster. But for some, it does, which means you’re out there earning money sooner.

    This is especially true if you can attend vocational or technical classes while you’re still in high school and graduate with both a high school diploma and a professional certificate.

  • Less expensive. If your chosen trade requires less time in school, then you’ll be paying less money. Classes also tend to be significantly less expensive than traditional colleges or universities. This is great for your chosen career and for any additional classes you want to pick up, just for fun.

  • Practical experience. Even technical schools, which are supposed to focus on theory, tend to give you more practical experience. If you are a kinesthetic learner, you learn best by doing and touching things. These schools offer the perfect learning model for you.

  • Easier entrance. Don’t sweat the admission requirements. When it comes to tech, vocational, and vo-tech schools, admissions are usually pretty easy. Some of these classes are even woven into high schools, so you won’t even need a high school degree or a GED to get started.

  • Flexible classes. Technical classes were often called night school in the past. While they’re not usually called that now, there are still night-time offerings. Many of these schools know they’re appealing to people who have other jobs and daytime obligations. So, they offer flexibility in scheduling and even how classes are offered.

  • Online curriculum. Speaking of flexibility, how about taking all of your classes online? This obviously isn’t an option for all of the programs offered through vocational schools or vo-tech schools. But a number of technical school trade classes can be performed online as they revolve around the theory.

  • Access to experts. While a traditional college tends to have a professor, an expert in teaching one subject, you don’t get a lot of access to people working in the field.

    Many trade schools are taught by professionals and experts who were recently working in the field. They also do a great job of pairing students with mentors, internships, apprenticeships, and on-the-job programs.

  • Additional training. Even if you have a college degree and are a professional in your chosen career, you might want a little more training in a specific area, or you might want a certificate that will help you professionally. You can do this by taking some tech classes while still working at your job.

  • Job placement. A traditional university teaches you a lot of stuff and then sends you out into the world. There usually are some services to help you find a job, but you have to take advantage of them.

    Tech schools actively help with career development to get you ready for work from your first day in a classroom. Vocational schools will usually have you working before you’re even done with school.

  • Smaller class sizes. Having fewer classmates means you get more one-on-one, personalized instruction from your teachers. It also means you get more hands-on learning opportunities and the chance to build strong relationships with your classmates — aka your future colleagues.

Professions That Require a Technical or Vocational Education

In addition to all of the reasons above, the biggest reason to opt for an education in a technical or vocational setting is that your job requires this type of training.

There are some careers that simply require the type of training that you’ll find in these career training facilities. Some of those professions include:

Believe it or not, these are only a few of the jobs you can get with a tech school or a vocational degree or certification. There are many jobs out there, and there are many certificate jobs that pay well, too.

If you’d like to learn more about finding a technical college in your state, you can search online or, if you’re still in high school, your counselor can help. If you’re already employed but want to further your training, talk to your employer to see if they will fund that education for you. They might also recommend a specific program or school.

Once you’ve decided on a school and a path, get ready because you’ll be working and earning money before you know it.

Final Thoughts

Post-secondary education is any school or training you do beyond high school. Well, that’s what it’s meant to be. Some educational programs are now considered post-secondary, but you can do them concurrently when you’re still in high school.

There are plenty of options for people who are looking to advance their professional careers through training that goes beyond a high school diploma or a GED. Some of those programs can have you earning a decent salary rather quickly. There are even on-the-job training programs that will let you earn while you learn.

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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