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What’s the difference between truck driving school and paid CDL training?


Trying to decided between attending a truck driving school or signing up with a trucking company directly might be a challenging decision. Either option has merits and both options will put you on the right track for advancing your career.  

Should I go to Truck Driving School to get my CDL?

Attending a local truck driving school may have been the first thing that came to your mind when you initially started to think about getting your CDL.  Truck driving schools do a great job of preparing you for the various written exams that you will need to take. They also have qualified driver instructors who normally can show you a few tricks of the trade. Truck driving schools offer classes catering to every student’s needs. But before signing up, it’s important to visit as many schools as possible. Inquire about tuition cost, job placement, class size and how much experience the instructors have.

How much will it cost to attend school? On average, tuition is about $4000, but this amount can vary based on your state and the availability of competitor school in the area. A general rule of thumb is that you will pay between $3,000 to $6,000 for tuition. The good news is that most people can qualify for student loans to cover the tuition cost. Truck driving schools will provide you with assistance for obtaining a student loan. Most trucking schools have a financial aid departments that can walk you through the student loan application process.  Once you graduate from school and you start driving you will have 6 months before your student loans are due so this should give you plenty of time to start making some money before your first payments become due.

Keep in mind that there are trucking companies out there that offer tuition reimbursement so depending on the job you are looking for you may be able to find an employer that will help you pay back your student loans. Reimbursement programs are typically disbursed incrementally and then, only after working for a specified period of time. Some employers do offer full scholarships, but be cautious; terms and conditions can have damaging consequences.

Once you’ve selected a school, don’t expect to hop into a truck right away. About 20 hours will be spent in a classroom gaining the skills necessary to pass the written part of the CDL. In addition, class time can also be spent learning about federal regulations, log books, pre-trip, as well as map reading skills and trip planning. Some schools will offer simulator training, but this shouldn’t be considered as “driving” experience. Occasionally, guest speakers (truck drivers) will visit and talk about the industry.

The second portion of truck driving school is spent hands-on with the equipment. At this point, some schools may even offer a block of instruction on how to chain-up. The truck you’ll drive will usually be a sleeper cab with considerable mileage. Some schools will provide training on day cabs, single axle trucks or even a rig with an automatic transmission. You should expect to spend about 20 hours on a closed course learning pre-trip and basic driving skills followed by about 20 more hours driving on a designated route through your community. The typical route usually includes city and highway traffic situations: hills, stoplights, left and right turns, rail crossings and highway merge/exit.

When finished, you’ll take the CDL test. Successful completion will earn you the opportunity to begin your adventure with the transportation industry!

The advantages of going to truck driving school is that many people can find one close to home.  This normally means they can stay home while attending school.  This is a good option for people who still need to work full time or part time while attending school. Let’s be honest, we all gotta eat so you may not be able to quit the job you have to take classes. Some truck driving schools have night classes for people who need to work during the day and then attend classes at night.

Company Sponsored Training Programs

Another option besides enrolling at a local truck driving school is to qualify with a trucking company that offers a training program. As the driver shortage continues to grow, many companies are starting to offer training programs as a way to attract new talent to their company. Each company has slightly different requirements, but generally a company sponsored training program will not require any out of pocket expenses on your part. This means no student loans are required. In addition, the company who trains you will also guarantee you a job for them once your training is complete. Some companies even pay you a wage while you are training so you have money coming in. While all of these things are better in the short term it doesn’t mean that the program is free or the better option.

Normally, with a company sponsored training program the company will still charge you tuition, but they will defer your entire tuition cost as long as you remain eligible for the program and meet their predefined drive time requirements. Basically, after you complete their training program and get your CDL you start working for them for a lower rate of pay. The company then recuperates your tuition cost by having you as a driver who is being paid less money. In addition, the company who paid for your training will normally require you to invest a minimum amount of time in which you are not allowed to quit to find new work elsewhere.  If you end up quitting the program or are terminated from the company before the training time frame is complete you most likely will be required to pay back the tuition cost. Some companies might prorate your remaining tuition cost so you may not be required to pay back the full amount, but nevertheless, with a company sponsored program you are at the company’s mercy. For lack of better words, the company owns you until you complete the program. In addition, with a company training program you have to travel to wherever their training facility is. This means that from day 1 of your never career in truck in you away.  There is no transition period.  Also, while going through the training program it is not uncommon for drivers to be out away from home for weeks at a time.

Questions CDL Students Should Ask Before Training Starts

Below are some questions you may want to consider asking trucking companies who sponsor training opportunities.  Keep your questions open ended to gain a thorough understanding of what to expect.

  1. What are the financing requirements for my training?
  2. Can your send me an overview of the financing requirements?
  3. What funds will I need up front (if any) before starting school?
  4. Will you provide me a study guide to get my permit?
  5. How long does it take to get my CDL and training diploma?
  6. What endorsements will you prepare me for?
  7. Will I receive my diploma after training?
  8. Where is the training facility?
  9. What is the instructor student ratio?
  10. Will I receive travel assistance to the facility?
  11. Will I be provided meals and lodging during my training?
  12. What type of trucks will I use during training?
  13. Will I learn on a standard transmission?
  14. How many students do you assign to each truck during training?
  15. Will I learn to back and road skills with a 53 foot trailer?
  16. Will the trailer I use be loaded or empty?
  17. How do you prepare new drivers for unfavorable weather conditions?
  18. Do you use any simulators to train with?
  19. How long is the training to get my CDL?
  20. How are you meeting licensing / physical requirements set by FMCSA?
  21. Will I receive any pay during school?
  22. Once I finish the school, how long will it be before I can receive my CDL?
  23. Once I finish school, how long will I have to ride with a trainer or mentor?
  24. Does the trainer of driver finisher have a specific guide to follow?
  25. Will I receive a copy of the training guidelines they are supposed to follow?
  26. While I expect the trainer or driver finisher to evaluate me, do I also evaluate the trainer or driver finisher?
  27. What will I be earning while I am with the trainer or driver finisher?
  28. What will my pay be once I am released from my trainer or driver finisher?
  29. What is the hours I can expect to driver per day during the first two weeks?
  30. How many hours a day should I expect to driver after two weeks?
  31. How much emphasis will the trainer or drive finisher put on backing?
  32. Will the trainer or driver finisher focus on post trip / pre trip inspections?
  33. If paid for my own training, how does the reimbursement plan work?
  34. What will my rate of pay be once I am released from my trainer or driver finisher?

Which option is better for me?

As we have already discussed, there are pros and cons to each CDL training method. New drivers just need to evaluate what their overall needs are. Everyone’s situation is unique. Some drivers will be better off going to a truck driving school where they can stay local, get their CDL and have more flexibility once they graduate.  Other people might want to get paid right away and do not want to take out student loans for tuition so for them signing up for a paid CDL training program is the way to go.

Here is a recap on the pros and cons of each training method.

Truck Driving School
Ability to stay close to homeInitial out of pocket cost
Good academic preparation to pass CDL ExamsNo job is guaranteed after you graduate
Potential of night classes so you can still work Might train in poor equipment
Qualified instructor to prepare you for driving test
More flexibility with job choice once you graduate
Company Sponsored Training Program
No out of pocket feesMust travel to companies training facilty
Ability to get paid for trainingCommitment to work for the company for a predetermined time frame
You already have a job when you get your CDLWhen training is complete you typically work for lower wages
Might need to ride along and team with another driver during training

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