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How Vocational Financial Aid Works


A recently laid-off Ohio plumber, enrolled in the Cerro Coso Community College wind turbine technician class, performs his maiden climb on a wind turbine.
A recently laid-off Ohio plumber, enrolled in the Cerro Coso Community College wind turbine technician class, performs his maiden climb on a wind turbine.
Gilles Mingasson/

"What do you do?" is one of the first questions a new acquaintance asks. Most of us define ourselves by our work, and our career choice can be one of the most pivotal decisions we make in our lives. Of the many paths that could lead to a satisfying, well-paying career, vocational education (also called career and technical education) is probably the most straightforward.

The next step is figuring out to pay for that education. It might surprise you to learn that vocational students have access to the same types of federal financial aid as college, graduate and professional degree students. A 2009 U.S. Department of Education study found that 66 percent of undergraduates, including those enrolled in career and technical training programs, received some sort of financial aid, including:

  • Pell Grants: money that does not have to be repaid, gifted to students with financial need
  • Stafford Loans: federal loans, available to all eligible students regardless of financial need
  • Work/study programs: federal program that matches students with paying jobs

[source: IES]

In addition, people interested in career and technical training may benefit from many other types of aid as well, including:

  • State and institutional aid: money gifted or loaned by states or schools
  • Scholarships: gifts of money for students who meet various criteria
  • Registered apprenticeships: on-the-job training offered by employers in certain fields
  • Job Corps: free U.S. Department of Labor job training program for at-risk young people ages 16 to 24
  • Workforce Investment Act Training: federal program that provides short-term training and education

[source: Career One Stop]

Federal aid is probably the most common form of financial assistance for either traditional four-year colleges or vocational education programs. We'll tackle eligibility requirements and different types of federal grants in the next section.