Should You Take Out a Student Loan for an Apprenticeship?

For recent high school graduates or others exploring higher education, apprenticeships are a viable alternative to a traditional bachelor’s degree.

An apprenticeship can be invaluable to students pursuing certain careers because they allow for “learn by doing” hands-on experience. Also noteworthy: Apprenticeships are getting more attention as rising college costs and student loan debt cause public concern and many U.S. companies face a challenge finding the skilled workers they need to drive innovation and stay competitive.

In response, the U.S. Department of Labor continues to fund the Apprenticeship: Closing the Skills Gap grant program, which began during the administration of Donald Trump and provides nearly $100 million for apprenticeships in fields including information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing.

The program, which encompasses 28 public-private partnerships in various states, supports job-related instruction combined with structured on-the-job learning experiences. In many cases, classroom instruction is offered by postsecondary institutions, like community colleges, which means that federal student aid funding may be used to support students in apprenticeships.

[READ: For Affordable Job Training, Consider Modern Apprenticeships.]

This career training option, which varies in length depending upon the specific apprenticeship and the industry sector, could help students avoid taking on more student loan debt than they can afford. In some cases, an apprenticeship could even help participants avoid student loan debt altogether.

Here are some key steps to take if you’re thinking about an apprenticeship program and weighing how to pay for it.

Get Reliable Information

Wondering if an apprenticeship is right for you? The Labor Department provides a one-stop platform, Apprenticeship.gov, to connect job seekers, job creators, training providers, parents, teachers and federal and local agencies with information and resources about apprenticeships.

Other federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also provide apprenticeship programs.

Some states like Kentucky have state-funded scholarships that can be accessed for approved registered apprenticeships, while other states such as Washington and North Carolina have programs that waive part or all of the tuition costs for apprenticeships under certain circumstances.

Check with your state of residence to see what may be available, as programs vary. Some states may require that enrollment take place within a certain time frame after high school graduation or even before graduating. Other models have grants that cover additional costs, such as registration fees, or operate on a reimbursement basis.

[READ: Ways Cooperative Education Can Reduce Student Loan Borrowing.]

Veterans should also explore their options. Eligible veterans may qualify for GI Bill funds to subsidize apprenticeships and vocational training at approved programs in certain industries. Since many apprentices receive 50% pay or less during their vocational training, this GI Bill benefit provides a stipend for housing, books and supplies to subsidize reduced earnings while the student learns the trade.

Explore Apprenticeship Fields of Study

Many well-known U.S. companies include apprenticeships as part of their workforce development. Popular fields of study include manufacturing, construction, energy, health care, IT, telecom and transportation.

Look at current opportunities to explore the specific industries offering programs. Consider success stories to get a sense of the experiences of those who have completed apprenticeship programs, as some states such as Maryland and Kansas publish apprentice testimonials online.

In today’s job market, one of the most popular industry sectors offering apprenticeships is IT, particularly software engineering. As an example, the Code for America website shares apprenticeship opportunities that are unique to IT, including pairing apprentices with mentors to work on the latest information technology challenges.

[See: Top Colleges, Universities for Internship, Co-Op Programs.]

Determine How Student Loans May Play a Role

Student loans may be necessary to cover costs not paid by grants and other funding sources you don’t have to repay.

The range of options for apprentices will depend on the status of the institution and if it is deemed eligible for federal student aid. Qualifying programs offer enrollees the opportunity to borrow through the federal direct loan program.

It helps to know the apprenticeship program’s accreditation status before you enroll, as this will tell you whether it will meet eligibility guidelines for federal financial aid. Nonaccredited programs usually don’t qualify.

Borrowing any amount while enrolled in a program should support the goal of completing the apprenticeship and should not be used for unqualified expenses like recreation.

When thinking about financing an apprenticeship program, consider factors specific to your situation such as any debt you might already be carrying and the availability of financial aid options that don’t involve borrowing.

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Should You Take Out a Student Loan for an Apprenticeship? originally appeared on usnews.com

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