My Best Career Decision? Choosing Trade School Over College — Here’s Why

© / Adobe Stock

Woman working

© / Adobe Stock

Alex Wilson
Alex Wilson
June 19, 2024 at 12:53AM UTC
After graduating from trade school in 1995, Melissa Smith became the administrative professional she’s always wanted to be.
“I always knew I wanted to be an admin,” Smith said. “My mom was an admin, so the decision to go [to trade school] was a no-brainer for me.”
Right from the get-go, Smith’s trade school experience was focused on the job she was training for. Everything that Smith and her classmates did, learned and studied was directly relevant to administrative work.
“I wanted to do things I was actually going to do. I didn’t want to take a math class if I wasn’t going to be using math,” Smith said. “It was very much hands-on work. Trade school is pretty much a nine-to-five, and I felt very prepared to enter the workforce. I knew what it was like to be at the office all day long. I knew what it was like to sit in front of a desk, be on the computer, to wear heels. We had to dress as if we were going into the office every day.”
An alternative to traditional undergraduate programs, trade schools (also known as vocational schools) are educational institutions that focus their curriculums on specific jobs. Courses of study can range from animal care, carpentry and auto repair.
In Melissa Smith’s case, the course of study was medical office administration. After graduating from trade school in 1995, Smith became the administrative professional she’s always wanted to be. She’s also become a virtual assistant staffer, remote work consultant and has even written a book, “Hire the Right Virtual Assistant.”
Despite going training for a specific vocation in a specific industry, the skills that Smith learned have been applicable in each stage of her career journey. Trade school trained Smith on how to use various computer programs, including Medical Office Manager and early versions of Microsoft Office, making her an asset to offices in multiple industries.
“Most notable was the doctor’s appointment scheduling,” Smith said. “It was such a small portion of our class, but the scheduling helped transform my career because managing schedules has only gotten harder, not easier.”
Smith used her organization and communication skills to move from the medical industry to higher education and, eventually, to virtual work.  Realizing she didn’t have to be in one physical location to do her work, she took advantage of the timing to start her own business. Today, while she’s connecting virtual assistants with businesses in need, she’s also traveling the world. (12 countries in 12 months!) Smith credits trade school with a lot of her success.
“I still think it was a great decision even though I didn’t stay in the medical field,” Smith said. “My skills have been transferrable to every position I have ever held.”
Does Smith’s story inspire you to consider trade school? Here are the three questions you should ask yourself before you enroll:
1. Is this exactly what you want to do?
Your entire day will revolve around the profession that you’re studying for. If it’s something you’re not 100 percent invested in, you might want to reconsider. According to Smith, trade school takes commitment, dedication and passion. “It is the equivalent of someone who wants to be a teacher or astronaut or doctor when they grow up — they’re going to find a way, and they’re going to do it,” she said.
2. Am I ready for this workload? 
Trade school programs range from one year to 18 months, much shorter than traditional two or four-year college programs. Despite being shorter, trade school is rarely less work.  “It’s a full-time job, going to trade school,” Smith said. “You have to commit to it now and know that you might be working two jobs if you have to work and go to trade school at the same time.”
3. Am I willing to update my perspective? 
According to Smith, one of the biggest ways trade school influenced her was by opening her up to new opportunities. “We had so many amazing teachers at the school that I went to that came from all these different fields,” Smith said. “They didn’t grow up thinking that they were going to do that. They were taught there and used to be in the field that they were teaching in. It makes you think ‘okay, this is what I’m going to do forever but it may not always look the same.’”
Even though your education has a singular focus, there are multiple benefits to attending trade school. When you’re considering your next career move, make sure you add it to your list of possibilities.

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always