Technical Colleges vs. Community Colleges | Which Should You Choose

Technical Colleges vs Community Colleges Cover
Picture of Santiago Mallea

Santiago Mallea

Content Writer At Gradehacker

The best way to improve your quality of life is to invest in higher education and earn a certificate that opens the door to the best-paid positions. 

If you are on the first steps of thinking about what and where you will study, you need to address an important face-off: Technical Colleges vs. Community Colleges.

Because perhaps, you have the big view and are planning on first getting an associate degree, then a bachelor’s, and then going all the way up and earning a Master’s degree. It might take you up to 10 years, but that graduate diploma will undoubtedly be worth it.

But maybe, you have specific needs and can’t afford that long-lasting path. On the contrary, you want to specialize in an industry and start working as soon as possible.

Community colleges and technical colleges can be the starting point of your academic journey, and many people think they are the same educational institution. We have news for you if you saw it that way; they are not!

So, what are the key differences? Which costs the most? And which will give you a diploma in a shorter time? What careers can you follow with each?

You need these questions answered before you make up your mind and see which program suits you better. If that’s so, you are in luck!

Here at Gradehacker, we have helped college students in classes at both community colleges and technical schools. We know how they work, how much they can cost, and what you can get from their education courses.

That’s why we are reviewing Technical Colleges vs. Community Colleges, with all their differences, pros, and cons. By the time you finish this article, you’ll be more than ready to make an informed decision that takes you where you want to be.

Let’s begin!

Technical Colleges vs Community Colleges

What are Technical Colleges?

One huge mistake some people make is confusing technical schools with community colleges. Also called trade schools or vocational colleges, they offer hands-on programs where you learn specific skills that meet the minimum education requirements to begin a technical career.

Trade School programs can be both secondary and post-secondary levels, and they might include certificates of completion. But instead of going through general courses, such as Math, English, or Literature, vocational colleges students are prepared for specific careers and taught hands-on skills that quickly make them experts in that field of study.

They are usually taught by teachers who have many years of professional experience and recognize the most important and required teachings that technical students need to know. Students are instructed in their technical fields, and as soon as they earn their certification exam, they are ready to enter the workforce.

What are Community Colleges?

On the other hand, community colleges offer a more general education program, but you’ll earn an associate degree or a career certificate after you graduate.

You’ll learn fewer practical skills, but you’ll have a broader knowledge base, which is great if you plan to continue with a Bachelor’s degree.

Still, community college degrees are perfect for those who want to get a school diploma fast and find a better job in the short term.

So, Which Are The Differences?

The main difference is that community college programs are more general-focused, while trade school programs are all about providing hands-on training.

But there are many more essential aspects we still need to address.

Technical Colleges vs Community Colleges


The first key difference is the time you need to complete each program of study.

Technical School

While it depends on the career field and the institution, many technical colleges can be completed in less than a year, with others that can take two. But still, it rarely takes more than that.

Because students spend less time studying, they can enter earlier into the workforce. Plus, many technical schools have partnerships with local companies and professional organizations to provide classroom training to their students.

Not only do they get on-the-job experiences from skilled workers, but they also take their first steps as professionals in their field of study. Besides having work experiences to add to their resume, students have the possibility to stand out and stay in touch with these local companies, which can guarantee a job position with them once they have finished their technical college program.

Community College

On the other hand, community colleges generally require two years to complete. It can be more, but it depends on the degree you are pursuing and the time you have available. For example, if you are a non-traditional student who works and takes care of your family while studying part-time, you’ll likely earn your advanced degree in three or four years.

You will need more time, but you’ll earn an associate degree. It might not be the best diploma, but it’s enough to access well-paid jobs. Plus, you will be able to transfer your college credits to a four-year college and get a bachelor’s degree in another two years.


Now let’s see one of the most common questions: How much does each one cost?

Technical School

The bad news is that technical colleges usually require a higher up-front investment. Many institutions need a greater budget to provide and maintain all the types of equipment that are part of their technical curriculum.

The good news is that the overall cost will be much lower in the long run. On average, trade school tuition can be $3,00 per semester or $15,000 in total, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

However, keep in mind that it will always depend on the school and program.

While some schools might have higher fees because they have up-to-date equipment currently used in the industry, others may charge less per semester but require you to purchase expensive objects besides their tuition cost. For example, automotive technology students can be asked to spend up to $1,500 on a professional set of tools.

Plus, you also have to pay for books and other supplies! Maybe it’s not that much of a difference, especially if we compare it with the costs of private institutions, but these are expenses that slowly add up to a higher overall cost.

Community College

On the contrary, community college tuition can be cheaper at first. Still, if you are planning on pursuing other academic certificates after you get your associate degrees, it will be way more in the long run.

According to EducationData, community college tuition costs $10,300 per year on average, which would mean around $20,600 in two-year colleges. 

If you want to pay less, the best choice would be going to an in-state public community college, as they charge an average of $3,400 for attendance. However, if it’s within your budget and you want to go to a private institution, the average annual tuition ranges from $15,000 to $25,000.

Bear in mind that an associate degree in a community college may only be the first of many steps in your college journey. For instance, if you are planning on getting a Bachelor’s degree, it would mean another two years, which according to EducationData, would be around $35,000 per year.

Sum it up, and you have over $90,000 spent in four years. And we are not even considering a Master’s degree!

Of course, in return, you would have your Bachelor’s degree and be ready to apply to some of the best positions in your field of study.

Technical Colleges vs Community Colleges

Career and Salary Outlook

We have seen the time necessary and the budget needed to pursue each. But how about the careers and job opportunities that you can access with each degree? And how much can you earn with them?

Technical School

Vocational colleges provide specific training for each student’s chosen future career. As their programs of study are more specialized, graduates can mostly apply for job positions where their particular technical skills can be used.

Even though it’s only a two-year degree, or even less, salaries for people with only vocational training can be similar to what people with an associate’s degree can earn.  

These are some jobs and salaries that you can earn by going to a Technical School.

Community College

As always, it depends on the institution and educational program, but because community college students receive a broader education, their associate’s degree lets them apply for several positions that are not limited to a specific path

These are some of the highest-paying jobs you can get by earning your degree in a community college:

Technical Colleges vs Community Colleges

Which Should You Choose?

To know which college you should enroll in, you must be sure of your career and personal goals.

Then, review the pros and cons of pursuing each advanced diploma.

Technical College
Community College

Specialized training in the technical field

Broader learning, with general education courses

Gives a certificate of completion

Gives an associate degree

Can take less than a year to complete as a minimum and two years maximum

Can take two years to complete as a minimum, and two/three as maximum

On average, tuition costs $15,000 in two-year colleges

On average, tuition costs $20,600 in two-year colleges

Salaries range between $40,000 and $50,000 on average

Salaries range between $60,000 and $70,000 on average

Technical College might be for you if you:

On the contrary, a community college degree will suit if you:

It’s all about your dreams and where you want to be.

If you want to find a job as soon as possible where you can earn almost as much as someone with an advanced degree makes, search for the best vocational college and get ready to become an expert in your field of study with hands-on learning.

But if you dream of applying for the highest-paid jobs and want a Bachelor’s degree, and later even a Master’s, starting your journey in a community college and then transferring your college credits to a four-year university will be the best and cheapest way to achieve your goals.

If you have this similar question of whether a community college or a university is the institution for you, check out our article and find the pros and cons of studying at each!

We hope that you now have a better understanding of what you can get from each degree with this detailed blog. Remember that if you ever face a complex essay or want to accelerate your journey, you can always count on Gradehacker to help you earn your degree!

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