A traditional college degree offers the promise of higher lifetime earnings, a more versatile education, theoretical knowledge and opportunities to study for a master's or doctorate degree. Trade schools take less time to complete, cost less, are favored by some employers and generally employ a hands-on approach that is superior to lectures for some individuals. Which path is correct depends upon the individual and his goals.
College graduates make more money annually than non-graduates by about $15,000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Trade school graduates also earn more than those who did not pursue higher education, making $42,000 annually against a college grad's $45,000. Trade school can take as little as eight weeks to complete and seldom takes longer than three years, allowing trade school graduates to enter the workforce long before college students have completed studying. This extra income serves to narrow the gap further, especially if compounded interest on student loans is a factor.
College graduates have more versatility than trade school grads. While a Bachelor's degree in science can be applied to multiple fields, like chemistry or teaching, a welding certification can be used only to weld. Should welding prove to be the wrong career choice for an individual with the certificate, he has no recourse but to go back to school and learn something else, and the welding certification becomes a sunk cost with no tangible benefit. However, the specific nature of the degree allows trade schools to establish relationships with employers in their fields, frequently leading to superior job placement programs.