What are the differences in professional trade certificate and associate degree programs?

What question do teenagers in high school get asked of them the most by their teachers, parents, grandparents or even their fellow classmates? That’s right… “Where are you going to college?” While some have a definitive answer, others have no idea. Some students are expected to go to their parent’s alma mater, while some just want to go as far away from home as they can get. Some students want to stick close to home, while others don’t want to go at all.

But, as we all know, the key to success in this world is a good education. For those that do not want to take time to earn a four-year degree at a college or university, earning an online professional certificate or diploma for a trade is the answer and you will be able to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation. However, have you considered earning an associate degree? Which type of program adheres to your timeline and your convenience? Which is the most cost effective for your situation? Is your potential earning a salary more or less with one program or the other? These are all good questions to consider when choosing the right program for you.

Let’s start with the differences in a certificate program and an associate degree program. Typically, trade schools offer coursework in a particular subject. For example, you may choose a career in cosmetology, car repair, plumbing or locksmithing, among many others. In these types of career choices, a professional trade certificate may be your only choice, however, in others, such as in construction, dental assisting or business fields, you may have the option of earning either a trade school certificate, a trade diploma or earning an associate degree from a college or university. In some cases, if you decide to earn a trade certificate, you may be allowed to transfer your credits to an associate program or a four-year university, if you decide later to obtain your bachelor’s degree, such as in construction management or business management.

In addition, you may have the opportunity to earn a trade diploma. Although trade certificates and trade diplomas are terms often used interchangeably, the diploma option typically requires a few more credit hours than certificate programs and also entails a more comprehensive training option compared to a certificate program. For example, instead of earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, some hospitals offer specialized training programs within their institution that will provide the student with the extensive training needed to earn a diploma of nursing.

An academic degree is earned through a college or university and ranges from a two-year associate level degree to six to eight years and beyond for a doctoral degree. Now, let’s be honest, the higher the degree, the more earning potential and opportunities you may have. In fact, many employers require their applicants to have, at the very least, a bachelor’s degree. However, if your career choice does not require a degree, a trade certificate or diploma can help you obtain a lucrative living and in some instances, you can exceed the salaries earned by doctoral degree holders.

As previously discussed, the associate degree program typically will take students two years to complete, however, it will require additional coursework over and beyond your technical focus. These general education courses may include basic math skills, English, science, communications, humanities and possibly a foreign language. Within a full-time trade certificate program, you will typically earn your credentials between a year and 18 months, depending on the program requirements.

Generally, associate degree and professional trade certificates are both attainable through the means of distance learning programs. Through an online format, you can choose a program that is flexible and fits your busy lifestyle. Although online learning is convenient, depending on your career choice, you may be expected to participate in clinical or hands-on learning at a college or other facility provided by your program. You will need to check out this possibility before signing on to an online format to be sure that you can complete the requirements. Also, keep in mind that the length of online programs will depend on if you are attending full-time or part-time, as some schools provide both options.

Furthermore, the cost of an online trade program is a fraction of the cost needed to attend an online associate program or a bachelor’s degree obtained from the traditional brick and mortar university. Therefore, an online trade program is the most cost-effective option. Most trade schools do offer financial assistance.

In the past, trade schools have gotten a bad rap. They once were considered options for only those that did not have the academic skills needed to continue their education at a four-year university. This stigma goes back to the 1970s when it was considered the path of least resistance and the rigorous coursework required of today’s vocational schools was not in place. That is not the case anymore. The stigma that has surrounded vocational learning is no longer warranted. Today, if you choose to earn a professional certificate in a particular trade, rest assured you will receive a technical education second to none with the academic and hands-on experience that you deserve.

After high school, all forms of postsecondary education are beneficial, without a doubt. Through your own research and help from your school’s career counselor, you can find a program that fits your needs, your career goals, and your personality. If you are interested in a technical education, please see our Online Trade and Vocational Schools Directory and our choices for 30 High Paying Trade School Degrees.