Best Online Trade Schools

Penn Foster offers self-paced online courses with instructor support

We publish unbiased reviews; our opinions are our own and are not influenced by payments from advertisers. Learn about our independent review process and partners in our advertiser disclosure.

An online trade school is designed to provide students with vocational and technical skills as well as job placement tools. These programs can prepare you for a specific job or trade such as a medical coder, an electrician, or a respiratory therapist. Once you finish your education, you will receive a diploma, a certificate, or in some cases a degree in that field. 

The best online trade schools offer a wide variety of online classes taught by industry professionals with comprehensive curriculums that cater to a variety of different learning styles. They also offer flexible schedules, are competitively priced, and help with job placement once the program is completed.

Best Online Trade Schools of 2021

Best Overall : Penn Foster College


Penn Foster

 Penn Foster

Why We Chose It

Penn Foster College offers high school, college, trade school, and business courses at affordable prices and with flexible class schedules. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Easy-to-use website

  • Thorough information on each course

  • Self-paced online courses with instructor support

Cons
  • All of the options could feel overwhelming

  • Complaints about long wait for diplomas

Overview

Penn Foster College and Penn Foster Career School offer high school courses for those looking to get their diploma and college courses to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree. Their main focus, however, is trade classes which can earn you a certificate or a diploma. The school was founded in 1890 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and is a private for-profit online college. 

Some of Penn Foster College’s popular courses of study include medical terminology, wedding planning, appliance repair, paralegal studies, physical therapy aide, virtual assistant, tax preparation, and more. The school also offers a student life blog and a career link center which includes resume building tools, job searches, career assessments, mock interviews, and appointments with advisors. 

Tuition varies depending on the type of program you take but the website does a good job of laying out the tuition, the curriculum, and any prerequisites needed. Most programs offer payment options which include full payments or monthly payments. Discounts are offered if you pay in full or if you enroll in autopay.

Best for Flexible Schedule : Ashworth College


Ashworth College

Ashworth College

Why We Chose It

Ashworth College offers affordable high school, college, and career programs that are flexible and can be taken around your schedule. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • So many courses to choose from

  • Customized studies to fit your life

  • Enroll any day of the year

Cons
  • Career services less personal than other schools

  • Difficult to get exact tuition rates

Overview

Ashworth College was founded in 1987 as a family-owned school that offered one distance learning class in real estate appraisal. Today, the school offers all of its courses exclusively online, including high school classes, associate degree programs, bachelor’s degree programs, and master’s degree programs, in addition to certificate programs and diploma programs. 

Some of Ashworth College’s certificate programs include courses on automotive automatic transmissions, civil litigation, medical terminology, real estate law, sterile compounding, and several other topics. These are all part of the career school programs which are designed to be affordable and boost your skill sets quickly and efficiently. They are completely flexible, all online, and can be completed around your schedule in as little as four months. 

If you know you want to take a career program but aren’t sure which one, Ashworth College offers a quiz to help point you in the right direction. Additionally, there are career resource tools you can use when you're looking for employment, including resume templates, access to exclusive job listings, and guides for building an online portfolio.

Best for Information Technology : Devry University


Devry University

Devry University

Why We Chose It

Devry University offers multiple online information technology programs with different specializations.  

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Lots of career resources and tools

  • Stackable certificates can be turned into a degree

  • Online chat with fast response

Cons
  • Need to sign up for more course information

  • Website isn’t well organized

Overview

One of the most well-known trade schools, Devry University offers completely online programs as well as on-campus courses. It was founded in 1931 with a vision that visual learning advances education. It delivers technologically focused education and offers many different technology degrees and programs to choose from. Each program is designed to help the student develop relevant skill sets. 

Devry offers a wide variety of programs ranging from certificates to associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees. Hybrid and online courses are available as well as individual classes. You can also take a certificate program and then use some of those credits to stack towards a degree in the same field. 

Other Information Technology Certificate Programs include cybersecurity, web and mobile applications, cloud computing, and data mining. The certificate programs are taught by industry experts and teach fundamental IT skills, including networking, digital devices, programming, and operating systems. No prior experience is required. 

Once you complete the course, you will receive a certificate and access to the extensive career resource center which helps with resume writing, one on one interview coaching, networking tips and opportunities, job search strategies, and more. 

Tuition varies based on the chosen course but is usually charged on a per-credit basis. The Information Technology essential Certificate Program can be completed in as little as eight months and costs $11,822.

Best for Medical Coding and Billing : San Juan College


San Juan College

San Juan College

Why We Chose It

San Juan College offers medical billing and coding certificate programs that can be completed at your own pace and include access to a helpful career center. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Affordable tuition

  • Can be completed around your schedule

  • Abundant career resources

Cons
  • Only two certificate programs offered

  • Need to contact the school about program specifics

Overview

San Juan College is a public community college in Farmington, New Mexico, founded in 1956 as a branch of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts. It offers associates degrees in a variety of subjects, including information technology, occupational safety, veterinary technology, and more. In addition to the certificate for medical coding and billing, there is also a certificate for surgical first assistants. Tuition is $9,450 for out-of-state students for the online medical coding and billing certificate program. 

Students have up to two years to complete the program and can finish it at their own pace. They must maintain at least a C average and a 2.75 GPA and can have one retake of the course. There aren’t prerequisites but you do need to contact the school to find out certain program requirements and guidelines before applying. 

Once completed, you will have a certificate in the subject and access to job placement tools. San Juan College also offers a center for student careers and employment that helps current students and alumni prepare for their careers and meet their goals, including jobs and internships, resources, workshops, and events.

Best for Criminal Justice : American Intercontinental University


American Intercontinental University

American Intercontinental University

Why We Chose It

American Intercontinental University (AIU) offers a flexible program for criminal justice that can be taken on your mobile device as well as career resources to help with job placement. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Thorough course curriculum

  • Multiple degree programs offered

  • Self-paced mobile courses

Cons
  • Tuition is on the high side

  • Website is a bit outdated

Overview

AIU was founded in 1970 and it awards associates, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in a range of subjects. Its Associate of Science degree in criminal justice gives students a solid foundation in the criminal justice field, including adjudication of cases, punishment of criminal offenders, and law enforcement.

AIU’s course is mobile-friendly and can be accessed anyplace and anytime so you can work at your own pace. Most students finish within two years. There are no prerequisites required and SAT scores are not required either. 

AIU’s faculty have years of industry experience and create interactive modules based on current events and policies. The school also offers a career counseling center that provides personalized career coaching, alumni resources, and resume support. Tuition for the degree is $32,740.

Best for Respiratory Therapists : University of Cincinnati


University of Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati

Why We Chose It

The University of Cincinnati offers an affordable online bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy that can be completed by current or aspiring respiratory therapists. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Flexible class schedules

  • Easily transfer credits from other schools

  • Degree doesn’t say that it was completed online

Cons
  • Must have an associate degree in respiratory therapy

  • Need to contact an advisor for specific course information

Overview

The University of Cincinnati was founded in 1819 as a public research university with a focus on creativity, ingenuity, invention, and inclusion.  It offers hundreds of programs of study both in undergraduate and graduate degrees and also has articulation programs with community colleges throughout the country which make it easy to transfer credits towards a degree. 

The University of Cincinnati offers a completely online Bachelor of Science program in respiratory therapy aimed to help respiratory therapists advance their careers and take on leadership roles. The 50-credit program is usually completed within two years but it depends on your schedule. The program offers a flexible schedule and costs $26,350 for out-of-state students and $25,600 for Ohio residents. 

The University of Cincinnati requires you to complete a total of 120 semester credit hours in order to graduate, though up to 70 credits can be transferred from eligible respiratory care or therapy associate degrees. In addition, only students with an associate degree from a CoARC-accredited respiratory therapy/care program can apply. 

Once you apply online for $50, you will get a more detailed list of all the program requirements. Upon completion of the program, you will also have access to complimentary career coaching that includes resources, strategies, and job placement tactics.

Final Verdict

All of the best online trade schools that made our list offer beneficial features and each have their pros and cons. Some online trade schools focus on offering flexible scheduling for busy working students. Others offer affordable tuition and multiple program types. 

Overall, we recommend checking out Penn Foster College first. This school has a range of online certificates and degree programs at varying affordable price points and its courses are designed to be taken at your own pace. 

Compare the Best Online Trade Schools

School Annual Tuition Duration Program Type
Penn Foster College
Best Overall
Starts at $79 per credit 2 months to 4 years Diploma, certificate, and degrees
Ashworth College
Best for Flexible Schedule 
Starts at $999 per semester  3 months to 4 years  Diploma, certificate, and degrees 
Devry University
Best for Information Technology 
$11,822  8 months  Certificate 
San Juan College
Best for Medical Coding and Billing 
$9,450 (out-of-state); $5,446 (in-state)  Within 2 years  Certificate 
American Intercontinental University
Best for Criminal Justice 
$32,740  2 years  Associate of Science Degree 
University of Cincinnati
Best for Respiratory Therapists 
$26,350 (out-of-state); $25,600 (in-state)  2+ years  Bachelor of Science Degree 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is an Online Trade School? 

An online trade school is one that offers classes completely online in technical and vocational fields. It usually offers certificate programs and may also allow you to take a degree program such as an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. 

Trade schools teach skillsets for specific trades, including occupational therapy, information technology, or medical billing. They’re usually less expensive and less time-consuming than typical colleges and universities. 

How Much Does an Online Trade School Cost?

Online trade schools vary in the types of programs they offer which typically include certificates, diplomas, and degrees. The costs also greatly vary. Typically, programs charge by the credit, so the more credits you take, the more expensive the cost will be. Programs can cost as little as $1,000 to more than $50,000 for a degree program. 

Degree programs are usually more expensive than certificate programs as well. Each school will list its pricing, how it charges, and if any scholarships, financial aid, or grants are available.

Are Online Trade Schools Worth it?

Online trade schools are generally worth the investment. They’re less expensive than attending school in person, usually take less time, and don’t require additional expenses such as commuting. 

If you know what trade or vocation you want to pursue, an online trade school can be a great place to do that at a pace that is affordable and convenient for your schedule. Financial aid for trade schools may be available as well and may make it even more affordable. 

Is a Vocational School the Same as a Trade School?

"Vocational school" is more of an archaic term and has mostly been replaced with trade school or technical school. Both schools teach real-life skills intended to be used by the student in the field of study the course teaches. Trade and vocational schools now include technology courses since technology careers are so sought after and offer many different specialties. 

How Long Does It Take to Graduate From Trade School?

Trade schools offer different programs of varying lengths so how long it takes to graduate from trade school depends on the program you choose. A certificate program may be completed in as little as two or three months or as long as eight to 10 months. It also depends on how much time you have to devote to the course and how many classes or credits you’re taking at one time. 

Longer programs such as associate degrees typically take two years while undergraduate degrees usually take four years to complete. However, there are some accelerated full-time programs available that may take less time. If you already have earned some applicable credits, you may also be able to shave off some time. 

Methodology

We looked at a dozen of the best online trade schools for this review. We considered elements like programs offered, pricing, the length and type of each program, and job placement tools. We also reviewed the type of curriculums taught and the flexibility of the courses. 

All of our top choices offer numerous programs that are taught completely online with knowledgeable teaching staff, competitive pricing, and flexible teaching styles.