2024 Trade Schools That Don’t Require GED or Diploma [Online & Campus]

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If you didn’t finish high school, trade schools that don’t require the GED or a diploma can provide a strategic path toward a successful future.

Trade Schools without GED

If you enjoy working with your hands, then you might be a good fit for a vocational program. Not having a high school diploma doesn’t need to stand in your way.

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If you’re ready to go further with your education and your career, a trade school certificate can help demonstrate your workforce readiness.

Trade Schools That Don’t Require a High School Diploma or GED

Trade Schools without High School Diploma

If you never finished high school, you may now be trying to figure out how you can increase your earnings or market yourself as a better employee. Enrolling in a trade school can be one way to advance your qualifications and marketability.

Trade schools are also known as vocational training programs or technical schools, and they offer practical training for various careers. They’re often focused on jobs that involve a lot of hands-on work.

By the time you finish your vocational program, you may possess a new set of employable skills. Trade schools can qualify students for specialized jobs that other people are not often trained to do. You might even be ready to apply for a license in your field.

Trade schools can offer training in different vocations, such as:

  • Cosmetology
  • Healthcare
  • Massage
  • Plumbing
  • Welding

Trade training is sometimes offered by community colleges, but other organizations can run vocational programs as well. Examples include a standalone beauty school or a nursing assistant program at a local hospital.

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Requirements vary from one school to another, but some trade programs don’t require students to get a high school diploma before enrolling. You might not need to earn a G.E.D. certificate either. Instead, a school might ask you take a proficiency test to show that you’re ready to be a student.

You might even be able to earn your high school credentials while working toward a career certificate. That way, you’d have two new diplomas by the time you finished up your program!

This may be especially important if you study for a career that requires being licensed. Some state licensure boards list a high school diploma or a GED as one of the requirements.

By taking care of your high school credits and your vocational training at the same time, you might be ready to get your license shortly after completing the program.

What Kind of Trade Schools Are There?

Vocational school

Vocational school isn’t for just one particular career path. Rather, there are trade diplomas that correspond to many different jobs. Knowing what job you want to do after finishing your program can help you decide where to go to trade school.

  • Cosmetology School. Beauty programs can train you to help others look their best. A cosmetology program will teach you to cut, color, and style hair for men and women. You might also learn how to do nails or apply makeup.
  • Culinary Training. If you enjoy working in the kitchen and have an aptitude for cooking, then you might be a good candidate for culinary school. This type of program helps you develop professional cooking skills and learn about the foodservice industry.
  • Massage Therapy School. You can use your hands to provide relief for others’ aches and pains. In a massage therapy program, you’ll learn how to deliver therapeutic massages. The courses will also teach you about the structure of the human body.
  • Medical Programs. If you’re interested in healthcare, you have a few different trade school options. One idea is to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA). CNAs care for patients’ needs and support nurses in their work. Other vocational options might include becoming a medical or dental assistant. Healthcare assistants are often trained to provide office support and carry out some clinical tasks.
  • Technician Training. Community colleges and other educational organizations have many vocational training programs geared toward technical trades. Popular examples include plumbing, welding, and refrigeration. You can also learn to work as an auto mechanic, an HVAC technician, or an electrical technician. There are also CDL truck-driving programs available. Truck-driving is a skill that could support you in one of these other trades or serve as a stand-alone career.

Trade diplomas are usually specific to particular career opportunities, so it’s helpful to choose your field carefully.

Admissions Requirements

Trade Schools admissions

Most colleges require a high school diploma or a GED for admission, but some trade schools accept other credentials instead.

Your admissions materials might include:

  • Certifications you’ve earned
  • Essay that talks about your trade school goals
  • High school transcript that shows the classes you’ve completed
  • Proficiency exam
  • Recommendation letters from supervisors

Just like colleges that accept GED, the requirements can vary from one program to another, so you can check a school’s website for details. You can also talk to an admissions counselor for more information.


Trade Schools accreditation

Some trade programs are associated with regionally accredited colleges. Accreditation is a sign that your career diploma comes from a school with a good reputation. Schools only get this type of accreditation after proving that they know how to provide a good education.

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Sometimes, technical credits will transfer into an associate or bachelors degree program. Credits often need to come from a regionally accredited school, though, in order to be eligible for transfer. Accreditation can also make a difference during a job search. Employers may put more stock in programs from accredited schools.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Trade Schools financial aid

Even though you don’t have a high school diploma, you might qualify for federal financial aid to help with school.

The Ability to Benefit (ATB) program is designed for people who didn’t graduate from high school. It allows applicants who are enrolled in career programs to receive grants or other tuition assistance. To find out whether you qualify for ATB funding, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Your employer might also be motivated to help you enroll in school. Getting certified might allow you to take on new responsibilities at work. There may be a workplace tuition assistance program that could help you pay for school.

In addition, you might find some scholarships that are intended especially for students like you who want to get a fresh start. There may even be some scholarship programs offered through your vocational training center.

Programs and Organizations for Students That Didn’t Finish High School

Programs and Organizations for Students

Going back to school can be a big change, so it can be beneficial to have support in place. Family and friends can be a key part of your support team, but you may also benefit from an organization whose focus is on helping students like you succeed.

These groups offer a variety of resources that can help you succeed in school, and you might also get to know other students who are in vocational training.

Is a GED the Same as a Diploma?

GED or HS Diploma

General Education Development (GED) is a program designed to evaluate whether you have the knowledge that a high school graduate should have. To demonstrate what you know, you’ll take four tests. If you pass them, you’ll qualify for your GED.

The GED credential is considered a high school equivalency diploma. In other words, you won’t receive a diploma from your local public school, but you will have a document that shows that you’re on par with 12th-grade graduates. A GED diploma can help you get into trade school, apply for college, or qualify for a job that requires a high school diploma.

Can You Go to a Trade School Without a GED or HS Diploma?

Yes, just as there are colleges that don’t require the GED or high school diploma, some trade schools accept students who haven’t finished high school or earned a GED. Instead, the trade school requirements might include taking a placement test or getting recommendations from teachers or bosses.

Some vocational schools specify that students have to be at least 16 or 18 years old. Even if you don’t need high school credits to begin a trade program, you might be able to earn them by the time that you’re done. Some technical programs prepare students for the GED as well as a trade. Some schools offer the chance to take college courses and GED concurrently. Schools with GED programs may be worth considering if the prospect of getting a GED and degree appeals you.

Does Trade School Count as College?

Trade Schools college

Trade school and college are two different ways to continue your education after the high school level. Technical programs usually take less time, cost less money, and cover fewer academic subjects than college programs.

Even still, many vocational programs are offered by community colleges. In that case, you’d be going to college to earn your trade school diploma.

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Community colleges are usually accredited, which can make them a good addition to your resume. Plus, you might take courses beyond your immediate subject area, and some of those credits might be transferrable to a four-year college.

Does FAFSA Cover Trade Schools?

If you go to an accredited school, you may be able to receive federal financial aid to help pay for vocational training. You’ll have access to more funding options if your program is at least 15 weeks long, but you may even get some assistance with shorter trade programs.

You might qualify for FAFSA funding through the Ability to Benefit (ATB) program. ATB expands financial aid eligibility to students enrolling in colleges without high school diploma or GED. Trade schools and community colleges can be strategic options for ATB students.

What Can I Do with a Trade School Degree?

Trade School degree

Trade school can lead you down many different career paths. If you enjoy working with your hands, you might go to trade school to be trained as a mechanic, a welder, or an HVAC technician. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that installation, maintenance, and repair occupations pay a median annual salary of $48,750.

If you like working with people, you might think about studying massage therapy, medical assisting, or cosmetology. In those lines of work, you could help people look and feel their best. Nursing assistants earn a median annual salary of $30,850 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

How Long Is Trade School?

Trade school programs

Trade school programs typically take 1 to 2 years to complete, depending on the type of program and school.

Some programs, though, don’t even take a full year to complete. For example, you might be able to earn your certified nursing assistant credentials in just 6 weeks. You could spend 4 of those weeks taking classes and another 2 weeks completing clinical duties. On the other hand, auto mechanic school usually takes about 2 years.

If you need to take remedial courses or earn your GED credentials as part of your vocational program, that may add time to the overall length.

What’s the Difference Between Trade School vs. College?

Your higher education experience can include trade school or college. Understanding the differences might help you decide which is right for you.

Trade School College
  • Curriculum focused on specialized skills
  • Lower tuition costs
  • Shorter program length—usually less than 2 years
  • Often prepares you for one specific job path
  • Curriculum centered around general education and a particular field of study
  • Higher tuition costs
  • Longer program length—often 4 years
  • May get you ready for a variety of career options

If you’re interested in learning a skilled trade, then vocational school is often the quicker and more affordable option.

What’s the Difference Between Trade School vs. Community College?

Both trade school and community college can be options for students without a GED, but here’s how they differ from each other:

Trade School Community College
  • Courses focused around one career goal
  • Hands-on training
  • Takes 2 years or less
  • Usually leads to a trade diploma or certificate
  • General education courses and classes related to your major
  • Lectures, textbooks, and some hands-on learning
  • Takes around 2 years
  • Usually leads to an associate degree

Trade programs are often delivered by community colleges, so there can be some overlap between the two categories.

Is Trade School Worth It?

Yes, trade school is worth it for many students. If you enjoy working with your hands, solving problems, or helping people, vocational training can help you turn those interests into a productive career.

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Often, the things learned in trade school are skills that the general public doesn’t possess. That makes them in-demand, employable skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in installation, maintenance, and repair are expected to increase 3% over the next ten years. Nursing assistant jobs are growing at an 8% rate.

Trade Schools That Don’t Require High School Diploma or GED for Admissions

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and don’t require a high school diploma or GED for admissions.

Bakersfield College

Bakersfield College

Bakersfield College offers admission to applicants who do not have high school diplomas or equivalent if they are 18 years old or older.

Any male students between the ages of 18 and 25 must be registered with Selective Service to receive financial aid. When applying, applicants must supply a driver’s license, a social security number, and information about their parents.

Bakersfield College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Central Community College

Central Community College

Central Community College offers different admission options for those without high school diplomas or GEDs.

Applicants who are 16 years old or older and not in high school may apply for the GED program or any other programs offered by the college. Students who do not possess high school diplomas or the equivalent are not able to receive financial aid.

Central Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Cerritos College

Cerritos College

Cerritos College offers admission to students who are 18 years old or older and don’t have high school diplomas or GEDs.

The school also offers a Re-Entry program for students who have taken time off before returning to school. The program offers students personalized assistance in the application process, free workshops, and scholarship opportunities.

Cerritos College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges.

El Camino College

El Camino College

El Camino College offers a GED and High School Diploma program. The GED program requires students to complete 40 class hours to be eligible to take the Inglewood Adult School test. To apply for any of the programs offered by the school, applicants must submit transcripts from their last year of high school.

El Camino College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

Gateway Community and Technical College

Gateway Community and Technical College

Gateway Community and Technical College offers admission to students without high school diplomas or GEDs. Those planning to obtain a GED may apply for any program but are not qualified for an associate’s degree. ACT scores must be submitted when applying. Students who did not graduate from high school cannot receive financial aid.

Gateway Community & Technical College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Greenville Technical College

Greenville Technical College

Greenville Technical College offers a number of online trade programs for students who have not obtained a GRE or high school diploma. The school offers an open door policy. To apply to the program, applicants must complete an online application and submit official transcripts from high school.

Greenville Technical College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Lamar Institute of Technology

Lamar Institute of Technology

Lamar Institute of Technology offers admission to applicants who don’t have high school diplomas.

Students without high school diplomas may attend all degree programs except for any Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Art programs. Those still in high school may apply for the dual credits program to allow them to earn credits early.

Lamar Institute of Technology is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Santa Rosa Junior College

Santa Rosa Junior College

Santa Rosa Junior College offers a high school equivalency program. Applicants must be age 17 or older and must have worked at least 75 days as an agricultural worker and been eligible for the Migrant Education program in the past two years.

Santa Rosa Junior College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Southwestern College

Southwestern College

Southwestern College offers admittance to applicants who do not have a high school diploma or GED if they are 18 years old or older. While students may take courses online, they must be or intending to be residents of California. Students may apply for courses within 2 weeks of classes starting.

Southwestern College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

St Charles Community College

St Charles Community College

St Charles Community College offers admissions to applicants who have not received a high school diploma or GED if they have the Ability to Benefit status. An academic skill assessment and a meeting with an academic advisor must be done to determine the applicant’s eligibility.

St. Charles Community College is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Attending Trade School Online

Trade School Online

Dropping out of high school may have limited your earning opportunities, but going to trade school can help provide a fresh start. Vocational programs that don’t require high school diploma can help you get ready for a professional license, a new job, or a higher salary.

Not all trade programs are based on school campuses. You might also have the option to earn vocational credits through online study. If you’re a full-time worker or a busy parent, you might appreciate the flexibility of distance learning. You can check out accredited online schools to find the right vocational training for your future job goals.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.