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Which Program? Deciding Between Vocational/Technical Education and the Liberal Arts

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When most people think about higher education, they think of four-year programs, ivy on brick walls, and high tuition bills. In reality, however, there are many alternatives to the classic liberal arts education for students who wish to pursue job training after high school. Many schools offer technical education and vocational training courses that represent an attractive alternative to bachelor degree programs.

Tech Schools vs. Traditional Colleges

In the short term, vocational or technical education programs are an excellent way to minimize cost and maximize earning potential. Training programs teach essential, marketable work skills. A good vocational, technical, or training program will allow you to graduate with the skills and experience you need to enter the workforce directly.

There is usually a sizeable difference in tuition cost between traditional college and university programs as well as a difference in time commitment. These benefits fade over time, however, so if you are concerned with building wealth over the course of your adult life then vocational training should be a first step in higher education, not a last one. Consider this: Long-term earning potential generally increases with the amount of education. In other words, the typical earning pattern for someone with a technical education starts out strong and rises slightly over time, but for the large part stays fairly constant. The typical earning pattern for someone with a liberal arts education starts relatively low, but continues to rise over time.

In addition, keep in mind that many technical and vocational careers tend to come with earlier retirement ages because of the physical nature of the work. To maximize the benefit of a technical or vocational path, you may with to develop and transition to other work interests over time. After beginning a career you might choose to go back to school part time, paying for it as you go, while earning a liberal arts degree that will lead to more money down the road. Some technical program credits may transfer to a bachelor’s if you desire to do one later, but most probably won’t. Check the guidelines at your state university to find out what classes will and won’t transfer.

Tech School Careers? Check Unemployment Rates

So if you do decide to enter a program of vocational or technical training, which career should you pursue? Fields that are hiring are your best bet. Green energy and medical support fields (such as nursing, pharmacy, and radiology) tend to be good choices, but you should do a little asking around to find out what’s hot in your area before making a decision. Even in a bad economy there are always areas of growth, and getting the training necessary to do specialized work in a healthy field.

Whatever you do, don’t stop learning! Try a course in an area of pure interest on-line at low or no cost. Your education doesn’t define you, and you are free to define your education. And while earning a living should, of course, be part of your decision when deciding where to go to school and what to study, it shouldn’t be all of it. Now is your time to build the life you want, so explore programs that will both allow you to earn and allow you to enjoy yourself while you work!

Learn more about hundreds of potential careers along with education and training requirements as well as salary estimates at Careers.StateUniversity.com.


Elisabeth Bailey+

Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

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