College Vs. A Career In The Trades: Which Is Better?

Jason Burns
Sr Content Strategist

Posted 04/20/2019

In the last 2 decades, public leaders, media figures, high schools, and resources counselors have encouraged students to consider higher education as their next step after high school. Going to college is seen as equal to “success” and starting life with greater advantage than those who do not complete college. However, the market has become saturated over the years, rendering a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts almost useless when trying to beat out the competition at white-collar jobs today.

If you’re interested in sliding into a lucrative career in less than 4 years that offers a fraction of the competition of the white-collar world, then you may want to consider the trades as an alternative to a college degree. We’re going to look at higher education versus trades, in terms of which option is best for earning.

College Vs. The Trades

There’s more than one path to success. At the age of 18, you’re tasked with a big decision: higher education, or immediate training for a hands-on trades job. Let’s compare the two side-by-side:

The Trades

  • 2 years before workforce entry
  • $33,000 average education cost with loans & interest
  • $35,720 median starting salary
  • $39,381 media salary after 3 years
  • $79,607 net earnings after debt for 5 years


  • 4 years before workforce entry
  • $154,000 average education cost with loans & interest
  • $46,900 median starting salary
  • -$107,100 net earnings after debt for 5-years

Looking at the cold, hard breakdown of the two options ahead of you, it looks like the trades are the only option that currently offers immediate financial savings and personal wealth growth after the 5 year graduation period. Requiring half the time of completing a college degree a, you can work off your $33,000 student loan debt while your higher-education counterparts are still in college. What this essentially means is that in the same time it takes a student to complete their college degree, you can already be making huge strides towards being debt-free. 

What’s Best for You?

If you’re looking to get to work sooner rather than later,  while accruing minimal debt and beginning your financial savings, then a career in the trades could be right for you. Many tradespeople will earn 6-figure incomes throughout their lifetimes, comparable to or even greater than their college-educated counterparts – with less debt. If you like to work with your hands, get outside, move around, and exercise your body and your brain at the same time, the trades could be your pathway to success. Remember: there is no right path for your future. Evaluating which is the best one for you is all you can do! Both options are honorable and respectable.

Download the Infographic and explore how going to college could stack up against starting a career in the trades.