With so many out of work or struggling to make ends meet in their current positions, more and more people are turning to vocational schooling as a way to transition into a new field and pad the all-important, but often lacking, Education section of their resumes. Many of these industry-specific programs offer accelerated, highly technical programs promising students the keys to a bigger paycheck and a better life. When considering these options, however, it is important to weigh the pros and cons.

On the bright side, vocational training typically takes less time than traditional college and graduates come out knowing exactly what job they now qualify for; but that kind of intense, focused curriculum generally comes at a price. Although there are moderately-priced trade schools out there, many vocational institutions match, and often exceed, the tuition of major universities. Student aid is available, in many of the same forms as conventional colleges – federal student loans, Pell Grants, bank loans, and scholarships, including many industry-specific offerings.

However, it is vitally important for prospective students to consider that the jobs they will most likely get upon graduation will be entry-level as they transition into their new field and gain real-world experience. As such, they need to evaluate whether the initial incremental increase in pay will enable them to deal with their new financial burden of student loan debt. Sadly, many vocational schools overpromise prospective recruits, quoting salaries and positions more appropriate to mid-career, or even management-level jobs. Students are often also talked into taking on loans far beyond their ability to repay.

With that understanding, however, a wise student, dedicated to their new field can find success and fulfillment. Education is certainly an important first step towards that “bigger paycheck and better life,” but the cost should not be such that any benefit (financial or emotional) is swallowed up by overwhelming debt repayment. According to the New York Times, The current administration is toughening rules which curb for-profit schools, which receive the bulk of their revenue from federal loans and grants, “from paying their admissions recruiters on the basis of enrollment numbers.” The Department of Education is working to bar programs “from loading students with more debt than justified by the likely salaries of the jobs they would pursue.”

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