Vocational or technical colleges offer career-specific programs that are typically shorter and more focused than a four-year traditional degree. Such vocational programs are available through so-called trade schools or through community colleges that offer a number of career and vocational degree programs. Horticulture, hospitality and automotive technology are common vocational degree programs. Vocational schools have both pros and cons relative to traditional colleges and universities.
Vocational school programs are typically shorter than a four-year private or public college. Associate degree programs at community colleges or technical schools typically include two years of full-time study and 60 to 65 credit hours. Students can also earn specialized certifications in degree programs that may take as little as nine to 12 months to earn, such as welding. Along with the shorter time to earn a degree, students usually invest less money for the entire education that you would in four years earning a bachelor's degree. These programs can be excellent options for students who feel that a traditional college program or career is not the right fit and want a more hands-on career.
Technical programs typically include required core classes and electives that allow students to branch into sub-topics or specialty areas such as construction or auto repair and maintenance. This makes for a more focused learning experience than a bachelor's degree that includes liberal arts requirements. Plus, technical schools commonly include hands-on classroom experiences and internships as part of the educational process. Students leave with industry experience to coincide with their degrees, and this makes them very desirable to employers. Many students may even find immediate employment with an internship employer, or an employer who is willing to set up an apprenticeship and then move to hiring after it is completed.
The drawback of such a concentrated education is the limited flexibility that it provides. If you start in an auto/diesel mechanic program and realize halfway through that you want to go into business, the time and money you have initially spent largely goes to waste. A student who starts at a four-year school can take general requirements early, while exploring options to select a degree program. Plus, a career-focused bachelor's degree still includes an array of classes and experiences which better prepare you for diverse career options.
Despite the low costs often promoted by vocational schools and the shorter duration, technical programs do sometimes have higher fees and program-related costs. A tool and die student, for instance, is often required to purchase hundreds or thousands of dollars in equipment and tools to use during the course of his program. Other programs may involve materials and workshop fees or required participation in professional industry associations.