For many considering what to do after leaving high school, or for those who are looking for a career change, a technical school can be a better fit than a traditional college. In fact, this option is overlooked by many for whom it might offer a much better path.
Trades and skills are in demand, and getting a certificate from a trade school can often take just one or two years and lead to a well-paying job right out of the gate. Among jobs that can be had with a technical degree or certificate are:
- Massage therapist
- Pharmacy technician
- Dental hygienist
- Computer technician
- HVAC technician
- and many more
These careers require specialized training that is achieved through targeted programs where the primary learning is focused on the specific career instead of being more broad.
But how do you pay for tuition at these programs? As it turns out, for most such programs, as long as they are accredited, many of the same financial options exist as are available for traditional four-year degrees. This includes federal financial aid in the form of grants and loans, as well as state- and school-level grants and scholarships. There may even be additional sources of funding through unions and trade organizations.
This article outlines all the ways you can get “free money” to put toward technical school. That is, we will look specifically at grants and scholarships – which you don’t have to pay back – as opposed to loans, which you do.
Types of Financial Aid
There are many sources students may draw from when financing their education. Financial aid typically falls into the categories of need-based and merit-based.
Need-based aid is granted on the basis of need, whether that is due to low income, minority status, first-generation college status, or something else. Merit-based aid is based on merit. It may be tied to grades and academic rigor, or it could be based on an essay, competition, portfolio, or any other signs of merit.
Another way to break down financial aid is to consider whether it is a grant, scholarship, work-study, or a loan.
Grants and scholarships are very similar, and, in fact, the words may be used interchangeably. Both are forms of free money – that is, money for school that you don’t have to pay back. Grants tend to be need-based, while scholarships tend to be merit-based.
Grants and scholarships can be received from the following sources, whether you are attending a technical school or a four-year college:
- Federal government
- State and local government
- The school you attend
- Private organizations
Loans are money for school that does need to be paid back, although if the loan is a federal student loan, interest tends to be low, and many options for repayment that will work well for you exist. Work-study is essentially a part-time job while you are at school. It is a way of earning money toward your education by doing work.
Start With the FAFSA
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is the best place to start when trying to accumulate the funds needed to pay for technical school.
When filling out the FAFSA, you will need your Social Security number as well as the Social Security numbers of your parents if you are still a dependent, your driver’s license or another ID, tax information, and other financial information.
You will also enter codes for the school or schools you are considering attending. Those codes can be looked up on the Federal School Code Search page. Note that many technical schools are included, but it’s possible some might not be.
If your school cannot be found in the search, this is an indication that you may not be able to apply for federal aid for that school and may have difficulty securing other types of aid, as well. This might also be an indication that you should look into other school alternatives, although there are many perfectly valid trade education programs that don’t tend to be covered by federal aid – such as a tattoo school, for example.
Once you have filled out and submitted the FAFSA and included the codes for all schools you are considering attending, you then need to wait for your student aid report (SAR), which will give an indication of how much aid you might receive. Exact amounts of aid will depend on the school you attend, but the types of aid that you have access to through FAFSA include:
- Federal Pell Grant: Awarded based on financial need for students attending an undergraduate college or technical school. The current maximum annual amount is $6,345.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): Awarded based on financial need for students attending an undergraduate college or technical school. The current maximum annual amount is $4,000.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: For students ineligible for a Pell Grant whose parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of performing military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. Students must also have been younger than 24 and enrolled at least part time at a college or career school at the time of the parent or guardian’s death. The current maximum annual amount is $5,829.50.
In addition, work-study and qualifying for loans also happen through the FAFSA.
State-Level Grants and Scholarships
Filling out the FAFSA doesn’t just help you receive federal grant money, but also the information from your FAFSA form is often used to determine eligibility for state- and school-level financial aid.
Grants and scholarship opportunities at the state and local levels vary, but you can find specific options available in your area through the Department of Education state contacts website by selecting your state and following the associated links.
As an example of what might be available at the state level, take a look at the Oregon Office of Student Access and Completion website, which lists access grants, such as the Oregon Opportunity Grant and the Oregon Promise Grant, as well as scholarship application links.
Provided your technical program is accredited, you should have access to many of the same grants as those attending a traditional four-year college. Scholarship opportunities, however, may not be as numerous because many are targeted at students obtaining bachelor’s degrees.
Grants and Scholarships From the School You Will Attend
Look at what the school you plan on attending has to offer. Many schools have their own programs in place to provide additional assistance to students in the form of grants or scholarships.
Go to your school’s website and look for a link to the financial aid section. They may or may not have a separate link for scholarships and grants specifically.
For example, consider Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota, which offers a merit award program for incoming students of as much as $1,000. Paul Mitchell Schools gives away $1 million in scholarship money to its students each year, as well. Likewise, the Refrigeration School offers merit- and need-based gifts for vocational training.
Grants and Scholarships From Unions and Trade Organizations
Just as four-year-degree students have access to many grant and scholarship opportunities just for them, so too do technical school students. Technical skills are in demand, and because of this, many organizations offer funds for students who want to get a degree or certificate in such programs.
Among organizations offering grants or scholarships for technical school include:
- Union Plus: Offers scholarships to current and retired members of participating unions, their spouses, and their dependent children.
- National FFA: Offers scholarships to students pursuing degrees or certificates in agriculture-related fields.
- PHCC Educational Foundation: Offers scholarships for those pursuing careers in plumbing, heating, and cooling.
- TechForce Foundation: Offers scholarships for students pursuing careers in automotive technology.
To find scholarships and grants targeted to your field of study, search for national or local organizations associated with that field, and see what they might have to offer.
Other Sources of Free Money
Other sources for school funding exist. One option to consider is your employer, especially if you are currently employed at a place that can make use of the technical skills you would like to acquire.
The Department of Education has a website with links to grants and scholarships specifically targeted toward those in career and technical education programs, so you will want to check out their page as well.
If you are a former military member, you have access to the GI Bill, which can pay for most, if not all, of your educational expenses. Visit the VA’s website to check if your school or program is approved and what might be covered.
Prepare for Your Education Today
If you are ready to start figuring out finances as you prepare for starting a technical school program, visit College Finance for all the resources you need. The experts at College Finance can help you understand the ins and outs of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and loans, and help you determine the solution that is right for you.
Many or all of the products presented on this page are from sponsors or partners who pay us. This compensation may influence which products we include, as well as how, where, and in what order a product appears on the page.