Trades vs college?

I know this is COLLEGE confidential but curious about others decision making. I know many kids struggle with what to do after high school.

Did you or your kids consider a trade or alternate path to a career?
If so, which trades did they consider? What degree versus trade did/are you debating?

I know some kids who chose to train as electricians first before considering engineering. Or we have a friend who is considering air traffic control but was told they need a 4 year degree first. My daughter is considering being a police officer but wants a criminology degree first.

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Would it help if more police officers had social work degrees, since much of what police officers do is made up of the social work problems that have been neglected by everyone else (e.g. homelessness, mental health, domestic disputes, etc.)?

Note that, as college majors, “criminology” and “criminal justice” are often significantly different in emphasis.


My D25 has slowly been doing her own research and thus far (in her very young mind) likes more the sociology combo often offered with criminology versus criminal justice.
She has 4 years or more to figure it out.

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I have a young family member who is planning on becoming a master plumber and specialize doing outdoor water feature installation.


My oldest is making a nurse, but he considered electrician and might have gone that route if he had not gotten enough scholarships to cover college. My youngest son says he is going to be a power lineman, he is 13 so we will see. Daughter will be a junior next year and wants to go to college, but if she doesn’t get enough enough scholarships to pay for it she might consider a trade. She is actually pretty good at that kind of thing.

Great idea for a thread! I have just been thinking about this question with respect to my daughter, who just graduated from high school and doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. I was in the same position a long time ago, although I didn’t catch on until after I had botched my first two years of college. My father was an electrician - he learned in the Navy - and he told me “learn a trade.” So I went to secretarial school (Katherine Gibbs if anyone remembers that “white glove” institution) and then went to work as a Kelly Girl (if anyone remembers that!). They kept sending me to law firms, and I finally figured out that I liked lawyers. So eventually I went back to college and then to law school. It was kind of a long and winding path, but I got there in the end, and I can still type faster than any of my colleagues. So I’ve always thought that learning a trade is a great idea, either for the short-term or the longer-term, and I’ve been browsing the various community college trades classes with my daughter. I remember resenting in high school the feeling that we’d all been put on a conveyor belt that directed us all to college, and I don’t want to make that mistake with my daughter. On the other hand, I’m not sure what trade would work for her. She’s not going to be an electrician or a plumber and some of the trades that interest her - floral design or hairdressing, for example - tend to be very low pay unless you own your own business. I look forward to reading other’s thoughts and experiences.


I personally went into a trade, electrician, because I didn’t think college was possible 35 years ago with my family’s resources. I had a good job working on commercial projects and certainly could have stayed there and done very well financially. At a point in my early 20s I had a life changing event and decided it was time for me to go to community college. I received an associate’s in electronics and have done very well with that degree. I think I was much more prepared for college after maturing for a few years and working hard in a trade job. I was highly motivated and it has all paid off. My degree opened doors and set me up for success in my new field. That being said there are many trades that all could certainly do well in if they chose to. HVAC, plumbing, etc pay very well and many companies are looking for workers and are very willing to train them. Six figure incomes happen in many of these trades. College isn’t the only option for many.


Most people in my family went into the trades, local public service (cop, firefighter, sanitation), or the military. I was the first person in my family to go to college and am the least successful (as measured by $$) so college is not something hyped in our circles. My younger daughter was trying to go to a healthcare trade school but just couldn’t get the schedule to line up properly- she’s also in a ballet trainee program and both were too structured to fit together. So, she’s starting at the community college to work toward an elementary ed degree.

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Community colleges offer a lot of options—respiratory therapists, nursing, paralegal, EMTs and more. You can start there and get a 4 year college degree as well—while working in your trade/profession or before.


My D’s family and consumer science teacher in middle school spent a lot of time praising welding as a career option. It is actually lucrative! After my uncle retired, he got a small engine repair license and was so busy fixing lawnmowers in his shed, he hardly had time to bother my aunt!

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I know a number of kids who are living happy lives as diesel mechanics, electricians, welders, etc. They are good at what they do and enjoy it. This option is a good one for more kids than take it, I’d guess. It does create a narrower band of career alternatives but they tend to lead to steady jobs.

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A few kids we know are going into welding, electrical and plumbing trades. With the boom in building here, companies are desperate. They’re offering $5k signing bonuses and people can make $25-$45/hour with 1 year experience; 3 years of experience can be over $100k. We’ve seen a lot of young women entering the trades and more women owned trades popping up lately as well, pretty cool.


I wish there were more advisement about the trades as an alternative. I attended a HS back in the day that offered a variety of trades including secretarial (I liked your story @tkoparent), “beauty school,” carpentry, electrician, plumbing, and welding certification, to name a few. Many students who opted for these paths have gone on to have satisfying careers and earnings. Some of them were more than capable of doing well in college, they simply were not interested in academics or couldn’t afford it, as @marylandjoe described. The trades can be a great step to something else or a strong, long-term option in their own right.


Trades are common destinations from my high school esp since most don’t have college educated parents setting a precedence, but no, my own kids weren’t interested (and we wanted ours to go to college, so definitely were an influence). For many students they’re great fits, even if they could be academically capable of college.

IMO kids should sift through all sorts of options to see what appeals to them coupled with what they are good at. We need all niches in life filled by those who are good at their jobs.

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I wish more kids would study trades.

Good friend has a son who has been unfocused all his life. Years ago I remember him saying he wanted to be a plumber. My friend immediately shot that down and said he was going to college.

College was a disaster for him. He has no real interest in anything academic, true through all his schooling. He’s been floating around between various jobs for over three years since leaving high school.

Apparently he now wants to go back to college and major in a humanities subject with a goal to teaching. I wish him luck, but I can’t ever see it happening.

I can’t help but think plumbing was a great option for him. Maybe he will explore that again.

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Sending kids to trades “just because” is as much of a disaster as sending them to college TBH. It’s easy to fail as a plumber or electrician or hair dresser (or whatever) if your talent and heart aren’t in it.

Factory jobs and retail - if considered trades - can take pretty much anyone (sometimes), but not what folks on here are talking about.

Most of us don’t tell every student they can be an engineer. Ditto with plumbing. The best have a talent and love for the job. The worst find themselves putting hours and money into the training only to fail.

Sure, but it might have been a better use of time and money to let him try out plumbing first. At least he was interested in it.


@helpingmom40 My oldest son graduated from Virginia Tech with a mechanical engineering degree and works his “day job” in that field. However, what he really loves is buying (or collecting from machines put out for trash pickup), fixing up, and reselling lawnmowers and snowblowers. He took an adult education course in small engine repair at the local technical school. As soon as his son is through college, he plans to retire from his day job, which he doesn’t enjoy, and just live off investments and small engine repair.

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Since he expressed an interest, I’d definitely agree.

Our school requires students spend a day shadowing someone in a career they are thinking about. It’s a really good thing with some kids coming back sure they like what they saw and others realizing they want to keep looking around.

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Yes, the good jobs are often in the skilled trades, where one has to be able to learn the applicable skills and use them effectively.

Also, plumbers may get paid well in part because they get to deal with unpleasant things like sewers and their contents.

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