If you’ve decided to pursue a career as a truck driver, you might have a little sticker shock when you find out just how much truck driving school costs.
It’s not for the faint of wallet. But if you’re like most people, paying for it all yourself up front just isn’t feasible. The good news is, you probably won’t have to.
Truck driving school is a lot like college or other professional and technical schools in that you can get help in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans.
Another benefit of getting your CDL comes in the form of employment. Statistics show there will be a continuing need for CDL drivers for years to come, so although you need to spend some time and money getting your CDL license, it will pay for itself sooner than later.
Before you apply to any school, you should do some research and find out:
- What schools are in your area?
- How much do schools charge for tuition and books?
- What other expenses might you incur?
- What is the length of the program?
- Is the school certified?
- Is the trucking school considered a public or private school?
Most public schools that offer CDL training programs operate under a vocational type of school, but this is important information to know because it can directly impact grants you can receive for schooling.
Scholarships, Grants, and Loans – What’s the Difference?
What is a Scholarship?
A scholarship is money given to a student that doesn’t need to be paid back.
This money usually comes from private organizations or individuals and the money given out is based on need, merit, or some other criteria.
Scholarships can also be given out to people pursuing a specific career, such as truck driving, by companies who have an interest in seeing more graduates in that field.
What is a Grant?
Grants are the same as scholarships in that they don’t need to be paid back. They are different in that the money usually comes from a government organization, foundation, or corporation.
Sometimes the money is given directly to the school for them to disburse or it can be given to the school for a particular student. Individual states usually have grant money for CDL schools from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, whose goal is to have safer roads and highways.
What is a Loan?
Loans for CDL schools are always an option, but should be applied for only if scholarships and grants aren’t available, since this money will eventually need to be paid back.
When you take out a loan, the money is given to the school by the bank or lending institution. The school will then apply the money towards your bill and give you the difference, if there is one. In some cases, the bank may give the money directly to you, and then you pay the school.
Depending on the actual loan you take out, you will either start repaying it as soon as you complete schooling or a set number of months after you graduate. The latter is the better option because it can give you time to find a job and start getting money coming in.
Who Needs a FAFSA and What is It?
FAFSA is the acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application works for technical schools, colleges, and even some CDL schools that meet minimum requirements.
The student fills out the form and the financial aid office receives information on eligibility for any federal, state, or school sponsored aid. This can include grants and loans, and for some colleges, work study programs.
The application takes into consideration how much money the student or family can contribute to their education and how much they should be eligible to receive from grants or loans.
The good thing about getting a student loan this way is they usually have much lower interest rates than traditional loans and the terms to pay them back are also better. Should something unforeseen happen, such as losing a job or another such hardship, the loans can often be deferred for a considerable length of time.
If you qualify for a loan by the information provided on the FAFSA, make sure to read the fine print before accepting it. Some loans begin to accrue interest as soon as you get the check, while others will defer interest until after you’ve graduated and are on your way to working in your new career.
The FAFSA also determines eligibility for a Pell grant. This grant was designed for students from lower income brackets in an attempt to make higher education more accessible. However, the CDL school you attend must be considered a public school and not a private, which many of them are.
If you’re not sure about the school you’re interested in going to, just ask the financial aid office if they are a public or private entity. It’s also important to note that a Pell grant won’t be given for shortened CDL schools, and students must attend for a minimum of 24 weeks to be eligible.
The CDL school you apply to should have a list of scholarships available in their financial aid office. Before applying for a scholarship, make sure to read all of the requirements. This will save you time as you don’t want to apply for any you might not qualify for. Since a CDL school is geared towards a specific career, they should have a list of scholarships their students have received in the past as well as any that may pertain to future students.
There are federal grants, which can also be obtained by filling out the FAFSA. They are often need based, so depending on your financial situation you may or may not qualify.
There are also private grants, like those from trucking companies, and they are often a good deal. These grants are given to students in return for them agreeing to work for the company for a set number of years.
The trucking companies understand that if they are able to help with a student’s financial obligations they will have a knowledgeable, safe driver on the road for them for several years. With any luck, the company and their new employee will be a good match and they can end up with an employee who is with them for years. Since good employees can be hard to find, this is a win/win situation for both parties.
Workforce Investment Act
Grants are awarded under the Workforce Investment Act, which falls under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Adult and Dislocated Worker Program. It’s designed to give aid to workers who have lost their job due to the economy or to those who don’t currently have skills necessary to find viable employment. These grants will often pay the full tuition for CDL schools as well as other vocational training programs. Eligibility can be determined by visiting Career One Stop, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA Grant)
The U.S. Department of Labor also sponsors Trade Adjustment Assistance. Otherwise known as a TAA grant, these grants are offered to help displaced workers who have been laid off from their jobs due to a shift in foreign trade.
If the U.S. Department of Labor determines an applicant has lost their job through no fault of their own, and that job loss was because of a change due to international trade, money is often granted for retraining as well as other benefits to successful applicants. TAA grants can be used for vocational and CDL schools. To apply, simply fill out their form.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Filing out numerous applications and forms can be tedious for anyone. However, to successfully fund your CDL school with as little money coming out of your own pocket as possible, it is necessary.
Make sure to take the time to complete the forms in their entirety, and double check the spelling of your name, address, and be sure your social security number is correct. Mistakes on these forms can lead to even more paperwork than necessary or missing out on potential funding.
If you find you’re not comfortable with any of the forms or determining if you qualify for certain types of financial aid, be sure to contact the financial aid office at the school you’re applying to. Their job is to help students find funding and they are very familiar with all of the forms and eligibility requirements. They are usually happy to help and it may just take one appointment to get what you need done.
Filling out these forms may seem tiresome, but it is well worth the time spent, especially when you receive free money for your schooling that doesn’t have to be paid back. Just remember this is the hard part, and going to school learning a new trade will be not only fun, but rewarding as well. When you’re out on the open road in a big rig making a good living wage, you’ll be glad you spent the extra time to fund your new career.