Technical schools are related to technical colleges, trade schools, and vocational schools. This article explains what a technical school is, how to find technical schools, and what types of technical schools exist.

Technical education is often contrasted with academic education. By definition, it includes mechanical and industrial arts and applied science. Along with other forms of career education, technical education makes up the area of what used to be called vocational education and is now referred to as Career (and) Technical Education or CTE. For more on technical schools and their role in technical education, read on.

What Is a Technical School?

With the advent of CTE and other changes in the field of education, today it may be more appropriate to think of a technical school as any school that teaches technical subjects, rather than expecting that such subjects will be isolated from other types of subject matter, as used to be the case.

For example, you may find a school with a set of courses in each of the following areas:

  • Information technology
  • Applied science and technology
  • Professional and personal services

 - the latter consisting of dental assisting, child care and human services, cosmetology, professional foods, and ophthalmic medical assisting. You can see that this school, which is actually called Center for Technology, Essex, provides courses of study that are technically outside the realm of technical education, a typical example of the changing world of vocational education.

Today, not only do we see more schools offering a combination of technical training along with career training in other areas, but we also see the lines being crossed between technical training and academic training. This is in keeping with new technologies, that have different training requirements and research that shows that integration of academics and technology leads to a higher rate of student retention as well as improved test scores and other marks of success. In line with this, technical training is not only be offered at specialty technical schools that do nothing else, but also at community colleges, colleges, and universities.

In addition, it is important to know that technical schools exist at two different levels: the secondary level and the tertiary level. Today, it is not unusual to see technical education referred to in terms of K-16, rather than K-12: that is, through the completion of a bachelor's degree, rather than simply through high school. This reflects the fact that for certain technologies, the technical training received by grade 12 graduation is not sufficient, and a full program of study continues after high school.

Finding a Technical School

One sees evidence of these changes to the concept of technical school and technical education if one uses standard sources such as Barron's Profiles of American Colleges. No longer is the college a place for academics and separate from technical schools and other types of vocational education.

In the 2007 edition, Technical Education, Vocational Education, and Trade and Industrial Education all have their place among the index of college majors, as do many of the more specific fields that one typically finds at technical schools. Would you have pegged Brigham Young University, Ohio State University, or University of Southern Maine as technical schools? Probably not. Yet each of schools has a Technical Education major, according to Barron's.

As you consider an array of technical schools, including the traditional, the new, and even online choices, it is a good idea to consult the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook here: This resource gives you expert information about the training you need for the fields you are interested in, which in some cases may not be available through a school, but may be best gained through an apprenticeship or some other training format.

Another useful tool is the College Navigator on the National Center for Education Statistics site, here: The secret to using this tool well for technical school course is to take advantage of the “Select” button next to the Programs/Majors field just below the ZIP code entry window. You can either use the provided categories and drill down for your interests, or - to get to what you want more quickly - try entering the word technology (not technical) in the keyword field. Then choose all the fields of interest to you and then add as much or as little other information as you like and click on “Show Results.”

Finally, before settling on a school you should do two more things. Check the school's accreditation with a reputable group and check for licensure or certificate requirements in the state(s) in which you hope to work to ensure that the program will qualify you.


U.S. Department of Education: Career Colleges and Technical Schools -

National Center for Education Statistics -

National Governor's Association: Retooling Career Technical Education -