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Vocational Degrees

A vocational degree program is a program that involves a curriculum centered on preparing students for a career. Since the curriculum is very specific in nature, these programs are often less academic than a traditional college program. For example, in cosmetology, which is considered a vocational program, students are trained in the areas of hair styling, color techniques, and nail care. In contrast to students in non-vocational programs programs, cosmetology students don’t have to complete classes in other areas such as in math or English to earn their degrees. Vocational degrees can often be earned in a short amount of time and the educational experience tends to be very hands-on. The classroom setting for students often mirrors the settings they will work in once they graduate. For example, students may go to class in a salon, workshop, or garage environment. Vocational degrees can most often be earned by attending a vocational school. There are a wide variety of vocational degrees available; below we list a few popular examples. 

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Vocational Programs: Cosmetology

Individuals interested in becoming cosmetology professionals can graduate from a program in less than a year. Cosmetology involves providing beauty services for paying customers. On a daily basis, cosmetologists may encounter clients looking for hair, nail, or skin treatments. Professionals may choose to offer all of these services or specialize in one area such as hair services. Students involved in a cosmetology program will work in salon settings and even provide services to real paying customers throughout their study.

Some class examples that students can expect to take include introduction to cosmetology, general science of hair, chemical texture services, beauty business, basic nail design, and general science of hair coloring. Individuals interested in seeking an education in cosmetology must be aware that admission requirements may differ from state to state. For example, some states may require that applicants hold at least a high school diploma or GED while others accept high school juniors and seniors. The average total cost for a cosmetology program is around $17,975.

Cosmetology Career Specialties

Upon graduation individuals may choose to take different career paths and specialize in different areas rather than practice all the skills they learned in their program. The following categories are some of the possible career specializations available to cosmetologists:

  • Hair Stylist: Hair stylists focus on strictly providing hair services. This includes hair cutting, styling, and coloring. Hair stylists may even provide chemical treatments for their clients such as perms or chemical straightening.
  • Nail Technician: Nail technicians provide nail care services. These services include manicures and pedicures. Nail technicians may also hold expertise in the areas of nail design and offer detailed nail painting to their clients.
  • Esthetician: These professionals specialize in providing various skin treatments including facials and chemical peels.


It is mandatory for all working cosmetologists to be licensed. The requirements to become licensed vary from state to state, thus aspiring cosmetologists must research their state's requirements before committing to a cosmetology program.


The main accrediting body for cosmetology programs is the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS). The NACCAS conducts reviews based on factors such as classroom setting, student resources, faculty and program testing procedures to ensure quality education is being dispersed by all programs in which the agency accredits. The reviews enable accredited programs to ultimately set students up for success as they enter into the career field after they have completed their studies.

Vocational Programs: Carpentry

A diploma in carpentry can often be earned in fewer than six months. During their studies, students will learn how to construct the frames of different buildings. They will also learn the various types of materials used in the building process and the tools necessary for completing each task. The courses that students participate in include hand tools, power tools, floor framing, roof framing, interior doors and trim, additional unit materials, and drywall techniques.

The admission requirements include a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Students can expect to pay between $500 and $700 for the total cost of their program. Upon graduation, carpenters will be prepared to enter into an apprenticeship to receive on the job experience. Carpenters often work for construction companies and their daily job duties may differ from day to day. For example, one day they may be needed on a construction site to frame a door while the next day they may be needed to install cabinets.


Licensing requirements for carpenters vary by state, and some states do not require it at all. However, licensure can have the effect of making professional carpenters more reputable and thus more desirable during the hiring process. For this reason, it is something worth looking into regardless of state requirements. Again, due to the variety of licensure requirements from state to state, the testing procedures will also be different. Therefore, it is important that prospective carpentry professionals research their state procedures before starting a carpentry program at the post-secondary level.


Accreditation is important in any educational setting, including vocational programs. This ensures quality education and sets the students up for a solid future career. Although there is no accrediting organization that is specific to carpentry individuals should look for programs at accredited schools recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Vocational Programs: Culinary Arts

Individuals interested in working in the food industry as chefs, food writers, restaurant owners, and restaurant managers can earn their associate in culinary arts over the course of two years. The course curriculum for this type of program usually consists of 60 to 90 credit hours and includes core courses such as culinary math, pastry arts, meat identification, elements of entree production, wine studies, and kitchen fundamentals. Individuals attend their classes in a restaurant-style kitchen setting where they will learn through hands-on experience.

Some programs also offer their students internship opportunities for further immersion into the industry before graduation. Admission requirements are fairly typical across many different vocational schools and universities and include a high school diploma or a GED. Annual tuition rates for an associate degree in culinary arts average around $17,320.


Culinary professionals do not usually need a professional certificate to find work. However, as with most voluntary certifications, it can set the individual apart from others in the industry. Culinary professionals interested in seeking voluntary certification can become certified through the American Culinary Federation (ACF). The qualifications to sit for an exam at ACF differ depending on the area of expertise. These qualifications can be viewed directly on the ACF website.

Most culinary arts professionals work to prepare food for customers thus it should be noted that food safety and sanitation are important and professionals need to hold a food handler's permit. The food handler's permit requirements vary by state so individuals must research the state that they plan on working in upon graduation. Individuals can find this information on their state's Department of Health website.


The American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission (ACFEFAC) is the main accrediting body for culinary arts programs. A list of current accredited programs can be found directly on the ACFEFAC website.


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