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Student Loans

Student Loans for Vocational Schools

Also known as trade or technical schools, vocational schools focus on hands-on training and education in specific trades, such as welding, construction, and automotive fabrication. While each program is unique, most take six to 12 months to complete. 

While vocational school is usually more affordable than college, it can still be expensive. Below, we’ll explore student loans for trade schools, as well as other resources and strategies for covering your education. 

Can you get student loans for vocational school?

Fortunately, you can take advantage of different types of student loans if you decide to enroll in vocational school. You’ll have access to federal student loans if your trade school is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges

Federal student loans are awarded by the government and offer various unique perks, including income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for federal student loans.

Private student loans are also available for trade schools. Offered by private lenders, such as banks, credit unions, and online lenders, these loans usually require a credit check. If you don’t have the best credit, you may need to apply for them with a cosigner to increase your chances of approval.

It’s a good idea to apply for grants and scholarships before or at the same time you apply for student loans. Since grants and scholarships don’t generally need to be repaid, they can help reduce the amount of student loans you take out and improve your financial situation.

Loan or lenderRates (APR)Federal or private?
Direct Subsidized Loan5.50%Federal
Direct Unsubsidized Loan5.50%Federal
College Ave4.07%16.69%Private
Sallie Mae4.50% – 16.70%Private

Vocational school grants

There are several vocational grants you may want to explore, including:

  • Pell Grant: Awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Pell Grant is a need-based grant intended to help low-income students cover the costs of college and trade school. The amount you may receive depends on your enrollment status, the cost of attendance, and whether you plan to attend for the entire academic year or less.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): The FSEOG is also offered by the U.S. Department of Education. It’s also need-based and offers between $100 and $4,000 per year, depending on your financial status and the funds available at your trade school.

In addition to these federal grants, other state-specific and private grants are available to offset the cost of trade school. Typically, you won’t have to repay the grant money you receive. 

Vocational school scholarships

Just like grants, scholarships don’t need to be paid back. There are several options for trade school, such as:

  • AWS Welder Training Scholarship: Created by the American Welding Society (AWS), the AWS Welder Training scholarship is for those attending a trade school with a focus on welder training and living within the boundaries of the AWS District.
  • Garage Gurus Scholarship: The Garage Gurus Scholarship is distributed by Garage Gurus, an organization that offers automotive training. It’s for students who plan to attend trade school to pursue an automotive technician degree or certification.

You can find more scholarship opportunities through trade schools, non-profit organizations, and employers. 

Federal student loans for vocational school 

If you’re interested in federal student loans for trade school, you should become familiar with Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans. Here’s a closer look at each one:

Direct Subsidized

Direct Subsidized Loans are offered to undergraduate students attending college or trade school who demonstrate financial need. They come with an interest subsidy, meaning the government will pay for interest charges while you’re enrolled in school at least half-time and during other periods of deferment. 

Your vocational school will determine the amount you can borrow, but that amount can’t be higher than your financial need.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Unlike Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans are for undergraduate and graduate students. They don’t have a financial need requirement, so you may qualify as long as you’re eligible for federal financial aid for trade school. 

Since there is no interest subsidy, these loans begin to accrue interest the day they are disbursed. You may face hefty interest charges if you don’t repay them in school.

It’s best to explore Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans first. These loans offer perks and protections you won’t find with other student loans, including private ones. These include lower interest rates, income-based repayment plans, and student loan forgiveness programs.

Private loans for vocational school 

Once you’ve exhausted federal student loan, grant, and scholarship options, you may want to look into private loans for vocational schools. These loans typically require good credit or a cosigner with a solid credit history who will agree to repay the loan if you can’t afford to.

We’ve researched the best private student loans to choose the top three private vocational school loan lenders.

  • Best overall: College Ave
  • Best for cosigners: Sallie Mae

College Ave – Best overall 

LendEDU rating: 5.0 out of 5

  • Offers a program completion reward
  • Choose your repayment term
  • 4 in-school repayment options

College Ave is our pick for the best overall private lender for vocational school student loans. Its career training loan can help pay for up to 100% of your expenses. 

College Ave stands out for its competitive rates, flexible repayment options, and the ability to apply for an additional six-month grace period after your initial period ends. We also like that it lets you choose between several repayment schedules.

To qualify for a career and vocational school loan from College Ave, you or your cosigner must have a valid Social Security number and meet College Ave’s proprietary credit score requirements. You don’t need to attend school full-time, but you must attend an eligible school and meet the requirements for satisfactory academic progress.

Sallie Mae – Best for cosigners

LendEDU rating: 4.8 out of 5

  • Cosigner release after 12 months of consecutive on-time payments
  • Repayment options include deferred fixed and interest-only repayment
  • Get a decision within 15 minutes

Sallie Mae is one of the best-known student lenders. It offers a Smart Option Student Loan for Career Training for vocational schools and other professional training programs.

We chose Sallie Mae as one of the best vocational school loans because full-time, half-time, and part-time students are eligible. The loan can cover up to 100% of your tuition, fees, books, and other supplies. You can release your cosigner after 12 consecutive, on-time principal and interest payments.

To qualify for Sallie Mae’s Student Loan for Career Training, student borrowers or their cosigners must meet the lender’s credit score and income criteria. Students (or their cosigner, if they’re international students) must also have a valid Social Security number.

How to apply for vocational school loans 

It’s fairly simple and straightforward to apply for trade school student loans. The process usually entails these steps:

  1. Fill out the FAFSA: Completing this form will inform you whether you qualify for federal loans and grants. Be prepared to share your Social Security number and submit financial documents, such as tax returns and bank statements.
  2. Research and compare lenders: If you decide to take advantage of private student loans as well, shop around to learn about the lenders available to you. Compare interest rates, terms, and perks. Many lenders will allow you to prequalify and get an idea of potential rates and terms without any impact on your credit. 
  3. Complete the application: Once you’ve found the right private student loans, you can apply online or in person, depending on the lender. You’ll be asked to provide personal and financial information, such as your monthly income and housing expenses.
  4. Wait for approval: The financial aid office at your vocational school should contact you and inform you whether you qualify for federal aid. Private lenders may inform you of approval within a few business days or even less.

Other options to pay for vocational school

Student loans are a solid option for those pursuing career-specific education, but the following financing methods are worth considering.


Work-study programs enable you to earn money while gaining on-the-job experience. Unlike vocational school loans, work-study doesn’t result in debt. However, balancing work and studies might be challenging.


Apprenticeships allow you to work and earn money while learning a trade. The significant benefit is that apprenticeships usually involve no cost. The downside is that completing your training and starting your desired career may take longer.

Employer sponsorship

In some cases, employers fund vocational education. Rather than repaying a lender, it involves a commitment to working for a specific employer. The substantial benefit here is that it eliminates loan repayments, but it might limit future career flexibility.

Income-share agreements (ISAs) 

ISAs are agreements in which a student pledges to pay a percentage of future income for a set period. Unlike student loans, ISAs limit the risk of high repayment if your income is lower than expected. However, high earners may end up paying more than they would with a traditional loan.

Recap: Best private student loans for vocational school

Loan or lenderRates (APR)
Direct Subsidized Loan5.50%
Direct Unsubsidized Loan5.50%
College Ave4.07%16.69%
Sallie Mae4.50% – 16.70%