Your Complete Guide to

Online Trade & Technical Degrees

The best vocational or trade programs, pros/cons, list of universities, rankings, FAQs and everything you ever wanted to know.
Grant Aldrich on March 14, 2023

Why We Love Them

  • Marketable Skills Training
  • In-Demand Trades

Making the decision to go back to school and earn your degree is a big one! What a wonderful opportunity for you to pursue your dreams and earn more for your family. But now the question is, which degree is the right one for you and your career goals? Well, if your goal is to get a great job shortly after graduation, then you will want to focus on a technical or vocation degree.

Here’s a truth that not everyone will talk about: A lot of degrees teach students theory. Upon graduation, these students pound the pavement in search of a job only to discover their degree doesn’t guarantee them a job. And so they find themselves in debt with little to no job prospects.

A vocational or technical degree doesn’t teach you a bunch of theory; it gives you the skills needed to get hired and start earning a great salary. Another benefit is that a vocational degree can be earned in a shorter amount of time than a typical bachelor’s degree, so you can begin earning that much sooner! Furthermore, technical and managerial courses more often than not come with additionally working as an apprentice and offering hands-on training and experience, allowing young professionals to not get valuable real world experience but also allow them to network in the industry before they have started out.

In this article, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about earning a trade or vocational degree. We’ll cover the best technical degrees that offer the biggest career potential, compare online programs with traditional programs, and compare certifications vs associate’s vs bachelor’s degrees.

But be sure to read this ENTIRE article because we’re also going to tell you exactly how could help you save a LOT of time and money toward your tuition!

Let’s get started…

8 Best Online Trade & Technical/Vocational Degrees

We’ll talk about specific degrees in just a bit, but before we do, let’s first discuss why we feel the following degrees are the best.

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Higher Employment Rates

Vocational and trade degrees prepare students to enter the job market, right away with the needed skills. While a traditional 4-year college degree depends on a theoretical framework, technical degrees offer students specific industry situations, so they can be marketable and start earning upon graduation.

Technical degrees place a lot of importance on training and giving that real world practical experience. The best thing about it is that students get to work with some of the latest technologies and learn about industry standards and this makes them highly competitive in the job market. This can make them a preferred choice for many looking for a fast entry into the job market.

Perfect for Changing or Advancing Careers

Many working adults find themselves in a situation where they either don’t like the career they have or aren’t earning enough. Getting a technical degree is a good option in both of these cases. It will help you gain those skills you need to change careers much faster and also advance your skills so you can start earning more!

A technical degree can help you advance in your career by preparing you for jobs with higher degrees or responsibilities, which means the chance at earning a higher salary and financial stability.

Flexible and Affordable

We’ve decided to focus on those trade and vocational degrees that can be earned online because they allow busy working adults the opportunity to learn on their own schedule. Online degrees are also far more affordable than traditional college tuition. With these benefits, it makes it easier for working adults to follow in their dream of continuing education.

Now that you know why we chose the online vocational degrees we did, let’s dive in:


Are you someone that has always been fascinated by aviation? Do you love watching planes take off and land? Whether you want to fly planes, build and maintain them or direct them for a living, a bachelor of science in aviation may be the perfect choice for you to start your dream of a career in aviation.

In an aviation program, students learn about the various careers in the field of aviation. While pilots tend to get the spotlight, there are a lot of people behind the scenes that keep the aviation industry soaring and you can be one of them with an education in the field. You’ll learn about engineering, maintenance, dispatch and air traffic control. But if you so choose, you can also earn your pilot’s license as part of your degree.

Some of the fun and fascinating courses you’ll take include:

  • Aeronautical Science
  • Aviation Legislation
  • Aerodynamics
  • Aircraft Performance and Weather
  • Aviation Management
  • Airport Security
  • Aviation Regulations
  • Private Pilot Fundamentals

Career Outlook

Did you know that Boeing, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of aircrafts, is expected to create more than 500,000 new jobs for pilots and more than 600,000 new jobs for aircraft mechanics by the year 2034? Also, we’re not going to stop flying to places around the world anytime soon. These figures suggest that graduates should be able to find work not only as pilots, but also as engineers, mechanics, air traffic controllers, and administration.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to grow 6% by 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $202,180 in May 2021, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $208,000.


Do you enjoy working with your hands and building “stuff?” Do you have an eye for details? If so, a welding career might be the right fit for you.

Welders are involved in the building and repair of, well, just about everything from furniture to cars to ocean liners. Well-trained welders are some of the most essential workers across many industries such as construction, manufacturing, and transportation. The profession is a great choice for those who wish to be in the technical field, and at the same enjoy having a range of opportunities to choose from. And since their work and contributions are so important, you may be interested to know that skilled welders are in high demand as there is an ongoing shortage of them.

A welding program provides a combination of hard and soft skills, so students come out of welding programs with the perfect combination of learning to land a job. Students learn the craft of welding and how to weld plate and pipe in multiple positions, as well as all of the 4 major welding processes (SMAW, GTAW, GMAW, and Flux Core Arc Welding). These are the most common types of weld and the ones that most employers look for.

You’ll also spend some time learning associated “soft skills” such as:

  • How to communicate clearly
  • Technical writing
  • The psychology of the workplace
  • Skills or knowledge related to a specific industry

What Does the Future Look Like with This Degree?

A degree in welding will qualify you for an entry-level job as a welder. This is great because it will help you gain experience so that someday you may move up into a supervisory role such as a welding inspector or teacher. These roles will give you more responsibility, better pay as well as opportunities for career growth.

According to the BLS, employment of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers is projected to grow 2% from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers was $47,010 in May 2021 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $63,660.

Web Design

These days, business and social interactions all take place on the World Wide Web. No matter if your business has 2 employees or 500, a web presence is necessary in today’s digital marketplace. And the people responsible for putting businesses, and people on the World Wide Web and building all of the websites we use on a daily basis are web designers.

A bachelor of science in web design and development is a multi-faceted degree that allows students to build websites and applications from start to finish. You’ll study everything from how to code in multiple languages and create user-friendly online experiences to web design best practices.

Here are just some of the cool courses you’ll get to take in a web design program:

  • Fundamentals of Information Technology
  • Website Design
  • Database Design and Management
  • Object-Oriented Analysis and Design
  • Mobile Application Design and Development
  • Ecommerce Systems
  • Web and Mobile User Experience
  • Cyberlaw and Ethics

Potential Career Path

Graduates of web design programs have acquired the skills needed to develop websites and applications for a number of platforms. You’ll be in high demand because you’ll know how to build beautiful and highly functioning website as well as mobile apps for iOS and Android devices, the demand for which is not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it will only increase rapidly! Because of this, graduates should have no problem finding great-paying jobs.

According to the BLS, the employment of web designers is projected to grow 13% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for web developers and digital designers was $79,890 in May 2021 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $168,200.

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Medical Billing and Coding

If you’d like to be part of the healthcare industry, the fastest growing industry in the world, but don’t love needles or the sight of blood, then a career in medical billing and coding may be a great option. The job of a medical coding and billing specialist is to ensure medical records and other health-related information of the patients are recorded accurately, organized, and maintained on a routine basis. They make the very foundation of a well-run patient care system, including insurance billing. While doctors and nurses tend to get a lot of attention, the truth is, medical billers and coders play an important role in the healthcare industry.

Students of this program will study the many diagnostic codes used by healthcare facilities and insurance companies, such as the ICD-10 codes, CPT, and HCPCS Level II codes. You’ll also dive into other topics such as types of providers, types of payers, and different types of insurance (government vs commercial).

In addition, students will explore some fascinating subjects on insurance fraud and abuse, compliance, and audits, as well as adherence to HIPAA regulations.

The Future Looks Bright!

A career in medical billing and coding will provide graduates with good job prospects and an enviable salary. According to the BLS, the employment of medical billers and coders is expected to grow 13% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than all other occupations.  The BLS also reports that the median annual salary for these professionals was $39,180 in 2017. The salary data also suggests those billers and coders who earned additional credentials have greater earning power. For instance, the American Academy of Professional Coders 2016 Salary Survey showed that coders who had earned the Certified Professional Coder credential earned an average wage of approximately $52,690.

See More Medical Certifications Here >>>


We’ve all seen those TV legal dramas where lawyers fight the criminal justice system on behalf of their clients. What you don’t typically see on those shows is the people working even harder behind the scenes. These are the Paralegal superheroes of the legal system.

Paralegals don’t usually get their own TV show, but they should, because these professionals are the backbone of any law firm, performing a variety of important tasks that help lawyers represent their clients. On any given day paralegals may:

  • Investigate and gather the facts of a case
  • Conduct research
  • Organize and maintain documents
  • Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review
  • Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • And more…

As you can see, these professionals play an integral role in the legal system. If you’ve always had a fascination with the legal world but don’t have the time or finances to spend years pursuing a law degree, then a paralegal career may be ideal. It will help you enter the field faster and still be able to contribute in a meaningful way.

The job of a paralegal professional can be very interesting but also challenging. They work with lawyers and are involved in the legal process from preparing drafts for legal documents to helping with the various aspects of their trials.

Students in this program will develop legal analysis and insight as well as writing skills, learn to navigate research tools, and discover the best practices for managing legal relationships. Some of the fascinating courses you’ll take are:

  • Introduction to Law and the Legal System
  • Introduction to Legal Research
  • Paralegal Capstone
  • And more…

Job Outlook & Salary

There will always be a need for the services lawyers provide. Therefore, there will always be high demand for trained paralegals. According to the BLS, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 14% from 2021 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants was $56,230 in May 2021 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $88,640.

Culinary Arts

Would your friends and family classify you as a “foodie?” Do you love trying new restaurants and recipes at home? Do you have a passion for creating new food experiences for people around you? If food is a passion of yours and you like the idea of working in a restaurant, café or bakery or possibly owning one someday, then you’ll find a degree in culinary arts delicious!

With a bachelor of science in culinary arts, you’ll study every aspect of running a foodservice business. Yes, you’ll definitely learn to prepare popular dishes and craft your own signature recipes, but you’ll also learn to present food so it looks appealing. In addition, you’ll learn how to manage and operate a restaurant.

Here are just some of the fun and exciting courses you’ll take in this program:

  • Science of Food and Cooking
  • Food and the Senses
  • Foundations of Professional Baking
  • Nutrient Quality and Composition
  • Introduction to Business Statistics
  • Corporate Dining Concepts
  • Financial Management
  • Microbiology and the Chemistry of Food Safety

What Jobs Can You Get with A Degree In Culinary Arts?

The culinary industry is booming! People love dining out and ordering in, and that love has caused an increase in demand for qualified chefs. According to the BLS, the employment of chefs and head cooks is projected to grow 15% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for chefs and head cooks was $50,160 in May 2021 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $84,570.

But here’s the really cool thing… you can have a rewarding and lucrative career in the culinary industry and not stand in front of a hot stove all day or all night. Here are just some of the job titles a degree in culinary arts can get you:

  • Food Safety Specialist
  • Food Technologist
  • Food Scientist
  • Food Service Director
  • Food and Beverage Director
  • Food Safety Manager
  • Culinary Instructor
  • Nutritionist
  • Personal Health Coach
  • Food Writer
  • Food Stylist
  • Molecular Gastronomist


Here’s something all human beings have in common: we all like to be comfortable. We want our homes to be just the right temperature inside no matter what the weather is outside. And because of this, HVAC technicians are ALWAYS IN DEMAND!

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and there’s a wide range of jobs available. Many HVAC professionals get their start with a two-year degree or certificate, which is a great way to get one foot in the door and gain some necessary experience while still having opportunities for career advancements. However, for those individuals who want to own their own HVAC business one day, a bachelor’s degree can represent a major competitive advantage.

A bachelor’s degree in HVAC provides a well-rounded educational experience. Students get the education that comes with training, which is more than just technical. Students are also trained in managerial skills, which can be essential for running a business, opening up opportunities for self-employment.

In this program, students will learn how to successfully install and maintain HVAC systems. You’ll dive deep into the technical aspects as modern HVAC systems are more complex than those from years past. Beyond basic electrical configuration, pipefitting, and soldering, HVAC students will learn about intricate electrical systems, refrigerants, and heating and cooling devices.

What Might Your Career Look Like?

A majority of homeowners in the country rely on HVAC systems to keep their homes comfortable, therefore, they rely on HVAC technicians to keep their important HVAC systems running smoothly. The BLS projects employment of HVAC mechanics and installers will grow 5 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is a little faster than all other occupations.

The BLS also reports the median annual wage for HVAC mechanics and installers was $48,630 in May 2021 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $78,210.

Diesel Technology

Were you one of those kids that loved watching big rigs and bulldozers in action? Do you have a love for big machines? Have you always had a knack for fixing things? If so, you might love a career working on powerful high-tech equipment.

Did you know that today’s modern trucks are incredibly technical? Most heavy-duty trucks these days have not one, not two, but SEVEN different computers on them and seven different modules that control and monitor sensors and systems. These are complicated pieces of machinery and require experts to handle them. Today’s diesel technicians must also be computer and electrical experts.

Students in this program will learn the fundamentals of engine repair and operation in a very practical way. You’ll learn the various components that make up the internal combustion engine as well as learn all of the parts and what they do so you can build that engine from scratch. Once proficient in building and tearing down engines, students will move on to learn electrical diagnostics, fuel systems and valve adjustments.

Other exciting courses include:

  • Diesel Truck Manual Transmissions
  • Diesel Truck Brake Systems & Chassis
  • Diesel Truck Steering & Suspension Systems
  • Automotive Climate Control Systems and Repair
  • Diesel Hydraulic Systems

What Kind of Job Can You Have with This Degree?

The trucking industry is growing and with so many baby boomer mechanics aging out, there is high demand for new skilled technicians and also technicians that are experts in the new technology. Graduates will have a choice of the kind of environment they want to work in: independent truck repair shops (AKA Mom and Pop shops), company shops that manage their own fleet, leasing companies or dealerships.

According to the BLS, employment of diesel service technicians and mechanics is projected to grow 4% from 2021 to 2031, as more freight is shipped across the country. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for diesel service technicians and mechanics was $48,690 in May 2021 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $76,150.

Online Vs Traditional Campus Trade or Vocational Degrees

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, we are focusing on those degrees which may be earned online, and for 3 very good reasons:

  1. You Learn When You Want

If you’re a busy, working adult with a family, you know that it is incredibly difficult to find the time for anything else when you have so many other commitments to take care of. It’s next to impossible to be able to attend classes on a college campus. But online learning allows adult students to study when is convenient for THEM.

Online programs come with a greater degree of flexibility and convenience. Increasingly, students now find themselves dealing with multiple commitments at the same time such as managing a job alongside their studies and sometimes their families as well. In such a situation, online education can help them to manage their schedules with greater flexibility.

  1. Online Degrees are Affordable

Compared to traditional college campus courses, online degrees are incredibly affordable. They cost less and help you save in so many ways. Students with online programs not only benefit from programs that cost less but also end up saving money on things like campus accommodation, meals, and commuting costs. These kinds of savings make online learning quite an attractive option, especially during these tough economic situations. Keep reading because we’ll tell you how you can save even more on your online degree!

  1. Take Your Education with You

Maybe you suddenly need to move to another state to be near an aging parent. No need to drop out of classes and lose all of that money and time. Simply take your laptop and classes with you. Maybe your family is going on vacation for 2 weeks. That’s fine, take your laptop and squeeze in a class or two while your family is at the hotel pool. You can earn your degree from anywhere in the world. All you need is a computer and internet access. It’s that easy and convenient.

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Benefits of a Trade or Vocational Degree

Here are just a few benefits of getting a trade or vocational degree:

  1. Quick but Thorough Programs

Many of the degrees on this list are bachelor’s degrees, but there are some trades that only require a two-year associate’s degree. Depending on your immediate goals and needs, you can choose which way you want to advance your learning. A quick program gets you into the workforce faster so you can gain experience and begin earning. You can always go back to school to earn your bachelor’s degree at a later time.

  1. Marketable Skills

You won’t walk away from these programs with theory but will have real skills that will help you land a job. That’s always better. For many, this might be a useful incentive to know that their education is directly applicable in their workplaces instead of spending years studying concepts that may not directly come into use in workplaces and in achieving career goals. This in addition to the convenience of online learning can make it a very easy choice.

  1. High Paying Careers & High Employment Rates

Many trade and vocational careers provide excellent pay and benefits. Second, many trade programs will help you connect with employers upon graduation.

Cost and Tuition of Obtaining a Trade or Vocational Degree

Deciding to go back to school to earn your degree is a big decision and one that entails an even bigger financial commitment. Sadly, many people deny themselves the chance to pursue their dreams because they assume they can’t afford college tuition.

But guess what? There are a TON of ways you can save BIG on your college tuition and we want to help you. Read our article on 5 ways you can save on college tuition, and also use our free Smartplan to find ways to save at various schools across the country by taking advantage of free courses, discounts and more. In fact, that’s why we created so that everyone could have access to an affordable education.

Choosing the Right Type of Trade or Vocational Degree

Are you starting to think a trade or vocational degree is the right choice for you? If so, that’s excellent! Now we need to talk about the common types of technical degrees available to you so you know which will help you reach your career goals.

Bachelor’s Degree

The degrees we listed here are all bachelor’s degrees. These degrees typically take 4 years to complete, though there are ways you can shave time off, especially with online learning. When it comes to vocations or trades, a bachelor’s degree is really great for those people who intend to take on supervisory roles or start their own business one day. So again, if you not only want to be a cook but own your own restaurant one day, a bachelor’s degree is a good choice. Want to own your own HVAC shop? We recommend you go for a bachelor’s degree.

A bachelor’s degree gives you something extra, there is more in-depth analysis and understanding of the subject matter involved and this pays off, especially for those who wish to progress and work in higher level positions with more responsibility and complexity.

For students who do not want to pursue a four-year degree, there are other educational opportunities to consider.


Certification programs provide short and intensive training that prepares individuals for a specific trade. These programs offer students the core skills needed to perform daily tasks for certain vocational careers such as carpentry, appliance repair, automotive maintenance, plumbing, dental assisting, etc. These programs are ideal for those who don’t have the time or budget for lengthier training programs or who wish to enter the job market as quickly as possible. Or maybe you’re someone who is interested in having a vocational career. It all depends on how you want to shape your career.

Associate Degrees

An associate degree is in between a bachelor’s degree and certification training. Associate degrees typically take 2 years to complete and offer students more versatile and transferable skills than what you may get in a certification program. Essentially, an associate program is the first 2 years of a bachelor’s program.

This degree is a great option for students who want to stand out from other candidates, but who don’t necessarily want to go to school for 4 years. The benefit of this degree is, should you decide you want to earn your bachelor’s degree so you can become a supervisor in your company and start earning more, you will have already completed your first 2 years.

Choosing the Correct University or College for a Trade or Vocational Degree

Now that you have a good idea of which online trade or vocational degree interests you, it’s time to find the right school!  Here are a few things we think are hugely important for adult students. Choose a university with:

  • Online Programs
  • $0 in application fees
  • No required SAT/ACT testing
  • Faculty and professors that understand adult students’ needs
  • Discounts or scholarships
  • Convenient enrollment dates year-round (so you don’t have to wait for Spring or Fall)
  • Accreditation

Granted, finding adult-friendly schools that match these can certainly be challenging!

BUT that’s why we created our Smartplan.

We know that every student has their own unique requirements and we set out to help students find the right school for them.

Register today to get your free Smartplan and compare different colleges to find the ones that meet all of your unique criteria! >>

Salary Data for Those in a Trade or Vocation Profession

Let’s take a look at some of the common vocations or trades with their salaries, according to the BLS:

  • Aircraft Mechanics – $65,380
  • Air traffic controllers – $129,750
  • Diesel Technicians – $48,690
  • Chef – $50,160
  • Paralegals – $56,230


Q: Is a Vocational Certificate the Same as an Associate Degree?

A: No. Associate degrees take 2 years to complete and offer a broad range of skills, whereas certification can take as little as 6 months to earn and prepares students for a very specific job or task.

Q: Which Is Better: Associate or Bachelor Degrees?

A: That answer really depends on your career goals. Those that want to get into the job market as quickly as possible may decide to go for a two-year associate degree over a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Those who wish to stand out and earn more may decide to go directly into a bachelor’s program.

Q: How Do You Get Into Vocational Training?

A: Your first step is to decide which trade suits your passion and skillset. Then you’ll want to use our Smartplan to find schools that fit your criteria and complete and application to those schools.

How to Get Started

Wow, we’ve just covered a LOT of information. You may be wondering what you should do next.

We highly recommend you take a few moments to use’s Smartplan to find the right school that offers all of the criteria you’re looking for.   We’ve provided this helpful and free tool for you to help you make the right decision and find ways that could end up saving you a TON of time and money toward your vocational degree!

Register today for free >>

About the Author
Grant Aldrich
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.

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