Working man on safety hat

I was more interested in how to learn a trade than getting a degree for "show" when I returned to school at 47 years old.

In my mind, I would have a much better chance of getting employment if I enhanced my skills and turned them into something useful for an employer.

What I learned along the way will help you — no matter your age — to focus your intentions on how to get the most bang for your buck from your education.

The thing is …

I was clueless about what to do at first.

But I thought ...

I'm going to try.

Since I'd been an artist all my life, I had a vague idea that I wanted to be in visual communications.

If there even was such a thing.

Last time I was in school, there wasn't even an internet. So I had no idea what kind of options I'd find.


I made a career out of learning everything I could about communications on my own.

Along the way, I had inadvertently become a professional at online research.


As it turns out ... Visual communications is totally a thing! It's hard to feel validated or to be certain that you know what you're talking about without the education though.

A high school diploma will no longer be sufficient. But that post secondary education does not have to be a four-year university or a four-year college. It can be career technical education, vocational education, community college. 

--Raja Krishnamoorthi

Human Brain


So, I decided to go to the community college that was within walking distance of my house.

And guess what?

It was the best choice I have ever made for myself.

My brain was HUNGRY.

What I quickly found out was that if you want to go to school to learn a trade, there are a few things you need to know to make the most of the education.

And this makes all the difference.

Man on red jacket


Start with the Basics

I spent the first few quarters taking basic English and math classes because I needed to remember the rules.

It renewed my confidence and revamped my life!

English 101 is not just a college-level writing class

Here's the thing ...

English 101 teaches you critical thinking skills as well as how to write at a college level.

The mark of higher education isn't the knowledge you accumulate in your head. It's the skills you gain about how to learn.

 --Adam Grant

An English 101 class will prepare you for the writing that you must do, regardless of your career choices.

No matter what your trade, you'll find there will be professional writing at some level. If you take the time to take this class first, you will no doubt have a better college experience.

Of course ...

And this makes all the difference if you want to learn a trade...

You can test out of English 101 if your education is recent.

Say, you just graduated from high school, or you've worked somewhere that kept those skills sharp.

By the way...

You may also have to start at a lower level English course and work your way up to the college courses.

So you can see why it's a good idea to use a checklist to keep track of the steps you need to take.

That way you won't miss an important step or get distracted along the way.


Checklist Section One —

  • Chosen Trade:
  • School:
  • Address:
  • Phone number:
  • Email:
  • Program adviser:
  • Name:
  • Phone number:
  • Email:


What college-level English is required?

Is my current English level adequate?

Steps to take to get to college-level English?


What college-level math is required?

Is my current math level high enough?

Steps to take to get to college level math? 

Testing center information —

  • Address:
  • School:
  • Phone:
  • Testing schedule:
  • Appointment date/ dates:
  • Time needed to complete the placement tests:

Test Prep

Accuplacer is one of the tests that trade schools and community colleges use to determine your skill level.

If you feel like you may do poorly, or need to brush up, you can prep online ahead of time at Test Prep.

They provide practice tests exactly like the required ones that you'll take to get placed in your first English and math classes.

Let me tell you...

I had to start with basic math and work my way up through algebra and finally college-level math.

That took some time!

Had I known about the test prep option when I started, I certainly would have invested the time so I could have skipped two of the basic math classes I had to take before moving on to algebra.

I dreaded taking math; however, I decided that I shouldn't put it off.

So, I persevered.

And if needing to take a handful of math classes was not enough:

Along the way, I got sidetracked with theater classes ...

The theater is a form of visual communications though, right?

The point is...

Stay Focused, and You'll Learn Your Trade Faster

Not only will you save time, but you will also save money if you think about a few things first.

College vs. Trade school

There are a lot of choices when it comes to your education. If you want to learn a trade, you won't need to spend as much time taking the preliminary classes, and you'll get plenty of hands-on experience.

Traditional college

  • Four plus years to complete
  • Time spent taking courses that aren't related to their major
  • Costs $30,000 to $70,000 per year = $127,000
  • Heavy loan debt
  • Will need the training to do the job

Trade school or community college

  • Programs ranging from four months to two years
  • Hands-on training specific to your degree
  • $10,000 to $25,000 for a 2-year auto mechanic program
  • High demand — High wage
  • May need additional education to move up

Things To Keep In Mind When Choosing A Trade School 

  • What are the prerequisite courses needed for my trade path? (Refer to section one and add anything specific to your chosen career)
  • Will any college credits I currently have a transfer?
  • Do I need to send an official transcript?
  • What classes do I need to complete to graduate?
  • How long is the program?
  • Are there certificates that I can earn along the way?
  • Is this going to enhance my current career, or be a whole new trade?
  • Is the institution accredited
  • Do they have job placement?


** Map out your classes ahead of time and verify your transfer credits with the college registrar .

Where to Learn a Trade

Like I mentioned earlier, you'll save yourself some time if you know what you want to study.

A good way to get going is to explore trade schools in your area.

An excellent way to find out what you might enjoy is to take a career aptitude test.

Think about it...

A career aptitude test will help you determine whether you want to work in an office, or outside, as well as uncover potential jobs that you may never consider otherwise.

I had no idea when I returned to school that I would end up becoming a writer as a communication major because I had always been a visual artist.

Had I taken the career aptitude test I would have no doubt uncovered that option a lot earlier.

But I took the LONG road

How to Find a School 

  • Determine what you want to do, what you're good at, and if it will bring in the right amount of income
  • Research the schools that interest you
  • Ask yourself these questions:
  • How far is the school from where I live?
  • Do I want to spend money on out of state tuition?

Types of Trades — 

You have many options to learn a trade —

You can become a:

Hand holding wrench

auto mechanic, via GIPHY

Woman wearing nurse uniform

nurse, via GIPHY

Man in red preparing his self for injection

phlebotomist, via GIPHY

Dentist checking man's teeth

dental hygienist, via GIPHY

man taking video recorder

filmmaker, via GIPHY

Dentist checking man's teeth

dental hygienist, via GIPHY

Man standing besides machine

aviation technician, via GIPHY

Film Edit

graphic artist, via GIPHY

For Example —

Medical Assistant — Phlebotomy

Break into the medical field as a Phlebotomist

What you will learn:
  • Study history, law, and ethics in medicine
  • Learn medical terminology
  • Understand infection control and prevention
  • Learn how to draw blood
  • How to collect and store blood samples
  • How to process specimens
  • Learn about OSHA and their safety standards
  • National certification exam
Expected income:

Remember that the wage is dependent upon where you live.

If you check in with Zip recruiter regarding the type of job you're looking for, you'll find the wage for your specific area.

Zip recruiter online reports that at the beginning of 2019, the average yearly salary for a Phlebotomist in the United States equals $33,022 per year.


On the low end is 3% of jobs that pay between $19,500 to $22,499


11% of phlebotomists make $22,500 to $25,499


18% fall between $25,500 to $28,499


21% of the jobs pay $28,500 to $31,499


The average wage throughout the country is at 17%, and the range is between $31,500 to $34,499


9% make between $35,500 to $37,499


7% of the salaries fall between $37,500 to $40,499


5% of phlebotomists make between $40,500 to $43,499


And 3% reach up to $43,500 to $46,499


1% of phlebotomists make $46,500 $49,499


While 2% of the workers make the highest average wage at $49,500 to $52,500

Aviation electronics —

If you love working with computers and have some math skills, then aviation electronics education may be a great way to learn a trade.

What you will learn:

PIA's aviation electronics program teaches students how to identify and fix navigation equipment, display screens, and more.

Plus they are enabled to test for the FCC General Radiotelephone Operator’s License (GROL) — Aviation electronics get hands-on training as they learn how to students test, inspect, and repair avionics systems. 

Expected income:

Zip recruiter reposts that the average wage for aviation electronics is $60,204 a year


On the low end, 15%% of jobs pay between $18,824 to $28,757


21% of avionics technicians make $22,500 to $25,499


10% fall between $39,693 to $48,627


11% of the jobs pay $48,628 to $58,562


The average wage throughout the country is at 12%, and the range is between $58,563 to $68,497


9% make between $68,498 to $78,431


4% of the salaries fall between $78,432 to $88,366


3% of avionics technicians make between $88,367 to $98,301


And 5% reach up to $98,302 to $108,236


2% of phlebotomists make $108,237 $118,170


While 1% of the workers make the highest average wage at $118,171 to $128,105

You can take an aptitude test to find out if aviation electronics might be your way to learn a trade

Here are 30 of the highest paying and in-demand jobs that you should consider when you're looking to learn a trade.

By now you probably realize what a fantastic option it is to learn a trade.

But wait, there's more!

Licensing and Certifications

As you're exploring where you want to learn a trade, keep in mind that most trades will require a certification or license to ensure that your skills and knowledge are up to standard.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has tons of information about the required certifications for every single trade.

Pro Tip —

Keep in mind that you must renew certifications and licenses periodically

Check with your school to see if they help or have resources for certification and licensing as part of your program.

Licensing and certification checklist

  • What certifications do I need to start working?
  • Do I need to get licensed before I can be employed?

By now you're probably wondering about how you will finance your education.

Here are a few ideas...

Funding Resources

Before you pay out of pocket or go straight for the loans, consider this:

The first place to start when you're researching your funding options is the Office of Federal Student Aid


The FAFSA is a free application for federal student aid.

It covers many expenses, such as the school's tuition and fees, any books you may need, plus supplies, and transportation costs.

Free government aid that you don't have to repay!

And free aid can help pay for other things in addition to the classes, like your computer, or laptop, childcare, and more.

Another thing:

There is federal aid for serving in the military or for being the spouse or child of a veteran.

And there are tax benefits for education.

You may be eligible for an award for community service with AmeriCorps.

There's also educational training funding for you if you are or were a foster child.

Types of student aid

At the federal level, you'll get a funding package once you apply through FAFSA.

Pro Tip:

You should NEVER pay to fill out the FAFSA. It's a FREE APPLICATION

The federal aid package may include a pell grant, and additionally, offer you the option for a work-study program so you can earn the money that the government is awarding.

Man counting dollar


Workforce Education

You have a few additional funding options at the state level through Workforce Education.

Here's the thing:

If you qualify for federal financial aid, it's likely at least one of these programs will offer you additional money!


US Dollar Banknote

Opportunity grant

The opportunity grant is an add-on for those who qualified for the federal Pell grant.

The requirements include:

  • Low income as defined by the state
  • Must be enrolled in a trade (professional technical program)
  • Do not already have a degree
  • Must be a state resident
men working construction

Worker retraining

The Worker retraining grant is a state-funded grant that helps people who are laid off, homemakers who need training because of divorce or other circumstances, and the unemployed, among other things.

Some of the criteria include:

  • You must be currently receiving unemployment
  • Or you've run out of benefits within the past 48 months
You heard right!

Same for displaced homemakers ...

  • If you've lost income because the primary breadwinner left or is gone, within the past 48 months, then you may get money to go to school
man holding his certificate of recognition


  • If you were self-employed and that isn't working out
  • Honorably discharged military
  • If you are in a temporary or part-time job that isn't meeting your needs
  • Disaster victims are eligible for this grant

Sounds great, doesn't it?

But wait, there's more!


The Basic Food and Employment and Training Program is a state program offered the Department of Human Services.

Check with your local DSHS if you are low income and receive food benefits.

Here are some of the requirements:

  • You must currently receive federal food assistance
  • Can't be receiving cash benefits (If you are receiving cash, you may qualify for TANF)
  • A resident of the state where you're attending school
  • Disaster victims are eligible for this grant
  • You have to be able to work at least 20 hours per week or able to within a year
  • BFET helps with tuition, books, transportation, testing, certification costs, and more!

Funding options

PRO Tip ** Make sure that your school accepts federal financial aid 

  • Apply for FAFSA
  • Pell grant award
  • Work study award
  • Work study job choices

Other financial aid opportunities

  • State grants
  • Opportunity grant
  • Basic Food and Education grant
  • Worker retraining
  • Grants through the school

Time to Get to Work

One of the best things about trade school is that you get hands-on experience so when it comes time to look for a job, you feel confident in your ability.

You should make it a point to network with industry professionals the entire time you're getting trained.

Meeting with people in the industry not only gives you valuable insight, but it also shows them your interest.

Another wonderful thing about trade school is that you're likely to make contacts along the way who will be happy to employ you once you're certified or have your license.

In fact:

Many trade schools have job placement programs.

Knight Transportation is an example.

Not only do they have fleets of trucks throughout the country, but they also train their truck drivers!

Even better:

You can get paid while you're getting your commercial driver's license (CDL).

Check in with your school's career services before it's time to graduate

If your trade school doesn't have a career center, you should probably look elsewhere since the goal of a trade school is to get you working.

PIA school for aviation and electronics technology has the kind of career services your chosen school should offer.

One more thing:

Your school must have a career or job services center where you'll be able to:

  1. Meet with your career coach and talk about your options
  2. Write your resume
  3. Practice interviewing
  4. Look for job opportunities online as well as with your advisor
  5. Find information about job career fairs
  6. Find recruiters on campus

Indeed is a great place to search too!

Informational interviews

If you want to find out more about your chosen career, or specifically, the requirements it takes to get in at a particular company, then an informational interview is a technique you might want to try.

What does this mean for you?

You'll get information from an insider who knows what it's like to work for that company.

In addition to getting firsthand knowledge...

Preparing for an informational interview gives you an opportunity to learn more in-depth details about your field as you work out the open-ended questions to ask your interviewee.

Plus, conducting interviews is a fun way to learn!

Find a job

What kind of work can I do while I'm in school to ensure employment after graduation?

  • Meet with my career coach
  • Write a resume
  • Post it online at places like Indeed and LinkedIn
  • Job offers
  • Date of hire

Life Choices

Vocational education programs have made a real difference in the lives of countless young people nationwide; they build self-confidence and leadership skills by allowing students to utilize their unique gifts and talents. 

--Conrad Burns

Here's the truth:

In the long run, it's up to you to make the most of your education.

You have the option to fool around and take a few classes here and there, or you can learn a trade quickly by printing out our checklist, making a plan, and keeping your eye on the prize.

Who knows where your knowledge and education will take you? Education is a beginning, not just a means to an end.

What kind of trade are you considering? Did we address it here? Let us know your dreams in the comments!

Get Your Trade Degree!

Find schools and get information on the Trade Program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *