Not everyone who continues their education after high school attends a four-year university or a two-year community college. Many students choose to attend a trade school, which offers shorter programs that are specifically geared toward getting you into the workforce with a hands-on skill.
Trade schools offer training for many different occupations, including carpentry, plumbing, HVAC, web development, health professions, and more. Whatever skill you’re looking to learn, there’s likely a trade school for it. Often, well-paying jobs await students who go to and complete trade school for these much-needed occupations.
The median annual wage for an electrical power lineman, for instance, is around $60,000, and the field is set to grow 9 percent by 2026. That translates into job security and advancement opportunities for you as move forward in your career.
Even though trade schools get you out working and earning a living much faster than a four-year college, it still costs money to attend. In fact, it be quite expensive in some cases—especially for high school graduates with little savings.
There are a number of ways to pay for trade schools, including student loans, grants, and scholarships. Each type of aid has different eligibility requirements and application processes, however, and it’s important that you understand each.
Student Loans for Trade School
Federal Student Loans
Most people think of federal student loans as only being for four-year colleges and universities. The truth is that there are many trade and vocational schools that also qualify for federal loans. If you’re considering specific trade schools, check with their financial aid offices to see if they are eligible.
When you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the first step in getting any financial aid from the federal government, you can enter the trade school’s code just like any other college. That school will then receive a report based on your FAFSA data and will create a financial aid package for you that may include federal student loans.
Federal Direct Subsidized Loans
The Federal Direct Loan program offers a subsidized option that allows students to borrow money for school based upon their financial need, as determined by their FAFSA.
With a subsidized loan, the federal government pays the interest on your loan while you’re in school, as well as during the six-month grace period after you graduate or are no longer attending half-time or more. This keeps the loan balance down, and helps you pay less over the term of the loan, since the interest does not start compounding until you pass your grace period and enter your repayment.
Rates for the 2018-19 school year are set at 5.05% and are fixed for the life of the loan.
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans
Much like its subsidized cousin, the Direct Unsubsidized Loan allows students to borrow from the federal government to attend school. Where the unsubsidized loan differs, is that the government does not pay your interest while you’re in school. Instead, the interest accrues and then compounds onto the balance.
This means that when you graduate or leave school, your balance will be slightly higher than when your loan was first taken out, and each time the interest compounds, it will increase the principal amount. You’ll pay more in the long run, but the interest rate is fixed for the entire term of the loan and is still 5.05%.
Private Student Loans
Another option you have when paying for trade school is a private student loan. These are loans offered by banks and credit unions and typically have higher interest rates than federal loans. They’re also based upon creditworthiness instead of financial need. That means that you can get a private loan even if you’ve maxed out your financial aid, if you need more money for living expenses during school. You will, however, need a good credit score or creditworthy cosigner to be eligible.
Sallie Mae allows loans up to the total cost of attendance and there is no origination fee or prepayment penalties. If you pay by auto-debit, you’ll another get a 0.25% discount on your variable interest rate, which starts at 6.37% and goes up to 13.47% APR depending on the credit of the borrower.
Sallie Mae offers two repayment plans. The first is an interest-only plan, in which you pay only the interest while you’re in school, taking on principal payments after graduation. The other is a fixed repayment plan, in which you pay $25 per month while you’re in school.
Wells Fargo offers student loans that can be used for a career-training program or trade school, with fixed or variable interest rates starting at 6.35% APR as of August 2018. You can borrow up to $15,000 in a single loan. No payments are required until six months after you graduate, giving you time to find a job in your new field. If you are able to make payments during school, however, there is no penalty for doing so, even if you pay off your loan early.
Income Share Agreements
Some colleges in recent years have begun offering a new option in lieu of student loans. Instead of borrowing money and paying it back with interest, a few schools now allow students to have money for their education up front. In return, the student agrees to pay the school a percentage of their income after graduation, when they’re presumably in the workforce with increased earning power.
Income sharing is still a relatively new concept. Not many colleges are doing it, although the numbers are growing. Check with your prospective school to see if it’s an option for you.
Grants and Scholarships
There are federal grants and scholarships available for trade school. Neither trade school grants nor scholarships need to be repaid. It’s essentially free money. When it comes to trade schools, each school generally has their own scholarships and grants offered to their students.
There are also a few state-based and third-party programs as well. Most of these programs are offered to a select section of the population, such as children of military personnel or adults reentering the workforce.
What to Watch For
When choosing the best option for you, free is always better, and interest rates shouldn’t be the only consideration. It’s always better to start by exploring trade school grants and scholarships.
Once you move into getting loans, try federal loans first. They’re better rates than private loans, but they also come with a wide variety of repayment plans and other perks that make them easier to manage than private loans, especially if you’re still in school. Compare terms, grace periods, and the total amount you’ll pay over time.
The bottom line is that you can get a number of financial aid options to help pay for trade school — whether you want to be a chef, a mechanic, or another profession.