Affording Vocational Education
Affording Vocational Education
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For many students, vocational students included, finances are an important factor in the college decision. The good news is that tuition at a vocational school is often less expensive than tuition at a traditional four-year school. Not only that, but vocational students tend to finish their programs in shorter time frames, meaning that they have to pay for fewer classes and that they enter the workforce quickly. There is plenty of financial aid available to vocational students.

How much is the cost of attendance at a vocational school?

The cost of a vocational program depends on whether the host institution is nonprofit or for-profit (nonprofit schools are generally cheaper; for-profit institutions tend to raise their tuition rates to counter their students' federal financial aid awards), as well as its location, subject of focus, and the length of the program, among other factors. Research the cost of tuition, fees, and required books for any potential program; you can find this information on the school’s website. Some supplies may be provided by the school, but you may be responsible for purchasing other training materials. Determine what these are likely to cost, and add this to your cost of attendance. This number may seem too high to be attainable; don't worry. You may be eligible for scholarships and other forms of aid that will reduce how much you will have to pay out of pocket. This article provides step-by-step instructions for calculating an estimate of how much you will have to pay after all forms of financial aid are considered.

How do I make sure the cost of my chosen school is reasonable?

Compare the numbers you come up with to the costs of other programs throughout the country using the U.S. Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency Center’s database. This database will show you the cost of tuition and net cost (the cost of attendance minus the amount that students receive on average in grants and scholarships) for the top 5% most expensive and bottom 10% least expensive schools. You can also enter a vocational track (e.g., HVAC or nursing) and receive a list of institutions that offer the chosen program, their tuition costs, and the average net costs. This can help you determine if a school you want to attend falls within the normal limits of costs or if your program is on the expensive side (then your next job is to find out why).

Can I apply for federal financial aid if I am a vocational student?

If your chosen school is accredited, you may qualify for federal financial aid depending on your (and your family's) financial situation. Since it's free to file for aid, you should even if you aren’t sure you are eligible. It’s easy to do; just fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which becomes available online October 1 each year. You will need current bank account information and tax documents from two years prior (if you fill out the FAFSA during the 201819 school year, you will need tax documents from 2016) for both yourself and your parents unless you are an independent student.

Pay close attention to your school’s FAFSA deadline so you don’t miss an opportunity to receive a federal grant (money that doesn’t need to be repaid), a work-study assignment (a part-time job while you are in school for which you will be paid at least federal minimum wage), or federal loans (borrowed money that needs to be repaid with interest). To estimate your monthly federal loan payments after graduation, use the Federal Student Aid Repayment Estimator.

Are there any nonfederal financial aid opportunities for vocational students?

If you still need money to pay for school beyond your federal financial aid package, you may also qualify for state aidinstitutional scholarships, or private loans.

State-based financial aid is often available at public institutions. You may receive a discounted tuition rate if you choose to attend a school in your state of residency; likewise, you may have to pay a higher tuition rate if you leave your state to attend school. If your prospective program isn't offered at any schools in your state, you may be able to receive discounted tuition at a school that offers your desired program in a neighboring state.

To receive financial aid from your school, you may be required to fill out the CSS Profile, a financial aid application similar to the FAFSA. Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile is not free to file, though there are fee waivers available for eligible students. Check with your school's financial aid office to learn whether you'll be required to fill out the CSS Profile or any other forms and to learn the deadline for submitting your aid application.

If you need to take out loans to supplement the grants and scholarships that you've received and you're offered the option to do so in your federal financial aid package, do it. Federal loans generally have lower interest rates and more flexible payment options than private loans, so they are a better option for students with little income. All loans that you take out for your education, be they federal or private, will need to be repaid following graduation (and in some cases, while you are still in school).

Are there any scholarships for vocational students?

Yes, there are some specific private and institutional scholarships available to students interested in attending vocational or trade school:

  • American Public Power Association: This organization provides both scholarships ($2,000) and paid internships to students interested in continuing their education in a field that is necessary to electric utilities. This applies to students attending vocational school and traditional institutions.
  • Church’s Chicken Community Scholarship Program: Students who are living in one of 16 eligible states and who are planning on pursuing their education at accredited vocational or technical schools are eligible to apply for this $1,000 scholarship.
  • Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation: This foundation awards merit-based scholarships to students who are pursuing postsecondary education at accredited institutions. Over $66 million has been awarded to students in the past 30 years.
  • MikeroweWORKS Foundation: This foundation awards ethics scholarships to individuals interested in learning a skill and mastering a trade at any location.
  • National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Organization: FFA awards scholarships to students interested in pursuing careers in agriculture or specific non-agricultural fields, including journalism, mathematics, and welding. Students can receive two FFA awards in their lifetimes. You may apply once while you are a high school senior and once while enrolled in college.
  • Oil and Energy Service Professionals (OESP): The Dave Nelson Scholarship Program provides between three and six $5,000 scholarships each year to students interested in pursuing careers in the oil and energy service industry.
  • Outlaw Student: This website awards scholarships to students pursuing all types of education, including those planning to attend two-year public or private institutions or vocational and technical schools.
  • Union Plus: This organization provides $500–$4,000 in scholarships to participating union members and their children who are planning to attend college, university, trade, or technical school. These scholarships are one-time awards, but students are eligible to reapply for funding each year.
  • Universal Technical Institute: This school offers scholarships to students pursuing careers in NASCAR, vehicle mechanics, or collision repair at any of their many locations.

This list is by no means complete, and not all scholarships have the requirement that students attend a vocational or trade school. In fact, many scholarships just require that applicants be enrolled or planning to enroll in an accredited institution; the type of institution and the length of the program are not specified. This opens you up to a much wider range of scholarships. In addition to vocational school-specific scholarships, many states and small, private organizations offer scholarships to students who fulfill specific requirements (for example, children of strawberry farm workers, children of firefighters who died in the line of duty, or students with intellectual disabilities). This list is inclusive of location-restricted scholarships and scholarships with specialized eligibility requirements.

How do I get an idea of how much money I will make after graduation?

It is important to have a general idea of what your salary might be following graduation before you shell out for your education. Knowing that you'll make a decent starting salary after graduation can help you feel more at ease about paying big tuition bills now. Contact the school of your choice for information. A lot of schools (especially for-profit schools) give students inaccurate information and overestimate a student’s salary prospects after school. To counter this, follow up to see if your school can give you names of recent graduates so that you can ask them how easily they found their first jobs. You can also contact current professionals in your prospective career area to learn about their starting salaries, current and prior employment, and education. Use the Occupational Outlook Handbook provided online by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics to see the average salary and projected job growth for careers that interest you.

Page last updated: 07/2018