Choosing The Right CDL Training
If you’re interested in becoming a professional driver, choosing the right CDL training program is essential. Trucking school, like all education, is an investment in both time and money. Make sure you pick a trucking school that prepares you to ace your CDL exam—the first time!
There are a few important questions you should consider when selecting a CDL school.
Is the school licensed by the State Department of Education or Department of Motor Vehicles? You should only pursue a school that is licensed by the proper State regulator so that your training credentials will be recognized and accepted by all trucking companies. Licensed schools and the right credentials will help you when choosing the best job opportunities. Many companies won’t consider hiring you unless your training came from a licensed CDL school that has a solid reputation.
Some schools may choose to align with professional driver training associations. Three of the predominant associations are the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS), and the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI).
Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) - CVTA is the largest association representing commercial truck driver training programs in the United States. CVTA members represent nearly 200 training providers in 42 states and trains over 50,000 commercial drivers annually. CVTA focuses on advancing the interests of trucking’s workforce providers and employers, CVTA advocates for policies that enhance safety through commercial driver training, enable students to secure employment within the trucking and bus industries, thus further advancing driver professionalism.
Founded in 1996, CVTA provides its members with programs and services that improve training programs, staff and operations, student outcomes, and regulatory changes.
National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS) - NAPFTDS is an organization for the promotion of public education for the transportation industry.
Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) - PTDI is a nonprofit organization that works with carriers, trucking schools and insurance companies to develop uniform skill performance, curriculum and certification standards. Founded in 1989, their focus is on safety.
Look for a school that trains for the type of driving you want to do, the type of truck you want to drive, and the type of work you prefer. Click here to learn more about the different license classifications.
This may sound a little odd when evaluating a CDL school but there are underlying reasons a peek at the school’s website could give you great information even before a visit. First, check the website address and its top-level domain name. Typically, a school website with a “.edu” top-level domain name (e.g. schoolname.edu) has a higher level of credibility because in order to receive address the entity must certify that they are non profit organizations and/or institutions of higher learning. If a school has a website ending in .com, .net, etc. it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a negative but just realize it’s typically a private business.
Secondly, check out the website content. Is it full of useful information? Pictures and links to employers and recent graduates? A website with informative content and a great design usually implies that the school has superior attention to detail and engagement. Hopefully this will transfer into their training program.
Lastly, see what happens when you submit a form requesting information or you call the school. Would you trust a school with your training if the school doesn’t call you back for days at a time? If the customer service is lacking at first contact, beware that the customer service may not get better when you start training or job hunting.
Don’t let anyone tell you that a CDL training program must have a 1-to-1 ratio (one instructor per student) to be a great program. On the contrary, you can learn a lot by observing another student driver. A 1-to-3 or 1-to-4 ratio is typical for CDL schools, but don’t settle for anything beyond 1-to-4. You’re paying for instruction, so an instructor should be ready when you’re on the training range or behind the wheel to promptly correct you when you make a mistake. If you see ten students and only one instructor, you should consider this a red flag and keep researching schools.
Go for the best value, which is not always the lowest cost. Expect to pay between $4,000 and $10,000 for CDL training. Don’t sign with the school with the lowest tuition unless it meets all of your other criteria as well. Major factors you should consider are program length, the type of equipment you’ll be driving (look for the newest trucks), the school facility and training range (training in dirt is not fun), job placement services, low student-to-instructor ratio’s, and really experienced instructors.
Some carriers may cover a portion of trucking school costs for a new recruit, but read the employment contract carefully before you sign to make sure all costs are included. You don’t want any unexpected costs to surprise you upon program completion.
If school still looks like more than you can afford, don’t be shy about asking about funding options or how other students afford CDL training. If a carrier recruits you while you’re still in trucking school, ask if they’ll reimburse you for some of your training. Many carrier’s offer tuition reimbursement programs once you become an employee which will quickly offset that initial investment.
Instructors should either be former drivers or still working in the industry as a trucker. Learning from someone with years of hands-on experience will give you a great perspective of the job and lifestyle. They should be experts in driving techniques, industry trends, and Federal and State regulations. Most of all, great instructors are passionate about their students’ success. These instructors are educators first and drivers second…but that will change quickly if you’re driving too fast. To find out if your school has great instructors, just ask to speak to the instructors or drop by the school around lunchtime and talk to current students on their break. We bet you’ll find some great information. And while you’re there, check out the classrooms and the equipment too. If you get a bad feeling or hear negative reports about the instructors or school, use that information to help you make the right school choice.
If you didn’t want a job, you probably wouldn’t be considering getting a CDL. Selecting a CDL school that is unable or unwilling to help place its students with trucking companies may not be the right school for you. Don’t be shy about asking for the school’s job placement services. Ask which companies have hired their recent graduates and which companies visit the school. Follow-up by calling one or two of these companies. If they’ve never heard of the school, that’s a strong sign that you should drop this school from your list of options.
Do your own research and do not take the school’s word for it. Check online reviews, ask employers, and seek out previous graduates to gather information. But generally, the longer a school has been helping students successfully train, pass exams, and find jobs, the better the reputation.
A good CDL training curriculum includes a mix of classroom time, range, and on-the-road training in a truck with an instructor. By the end of your training, you should be skilled in driving, turning, backing up, maneuvering, map reading, managing logbooks, the rules of the road, and state and federal regulations. Reputable programs should be anywhere between 160 and 200 hours in length. Anything shorter than 160 hrs. may not give you enough behind the wheel time to pass your CDL test and anything longer than 200 hrs. is just holding you back from entering the workforce and earning a paycheck.
Do you have job or family commitments during the week? You might look for a school that offers CDL training programs at night or on the weekends. This is a good sign that the school understands that students need flexibility when making a career change.
You’re about to embark on a career that will take you all over the country. Why would you limit yourself only to CDL schools close to home? Compare schools strictly on their merits. If a better school is 30 minutes farther away, drive the extra 30 minutes (consider it practice) to check it out. If, however, your top pick is an out-of-state school, confirm that your CDL will be transferrable to your state of residency.
Drive time is the time behind the wheel (“BTW”) where you’re controlling an actual truck, not a simulator. The more drive time you get in school, the better. A good CDL school will guarantee you at least 27 hours of BTW training. But don’t underestimate the value of “observation time” in the truck. Learning to drive is hard work, so it can be a benefit to let another student take the wheel for a while. You can learn a lot by watching and listening as your instructor works with the other students. This is an example of how a 1-to-3 or 1-to-4 teacher-student ratio can actually work to your advantage for BTW and observation time.
Like all companies, trucking companies want to hire drivers that have graduated from the best schools. Programs at the most respected CDL schools are at least four weeks in length. Many of the large, national carriers will expect you to have a certificate confirming at least 160 hours (about 4 weeks) of training time. You may see ads for schools offering a CDL in one week. You should avoid them. There’s more to being a trucker than just learning to drive a big rig to pass the CDL test. Thorough training takes many weeks, not days to learn and it’s very common to train even more when you join your employer.
Although unemployment income doesn’t go towards paying for your CDL training school, there are programs and funding available for unemployed individuals who are struggling to find employment in their current industry or with their current set of skills in their industry. The main funding available for unemployed individuals is the Workforce Investment Act or WIA. In order to be eligible to receive funds from the WIA you must:
-Be legally allowed to work in the U.S.
-Be at least 18 years old
-Meet income requirements for unemployed workers
-Be registered with the Selective Service
-Be attending a job training program that is up to 26 weeks long
-Make sure your training program/truck driving school is approved by the WIA
-Be pursuing a career that is considered a high-demand occupation
Thankfully, truck driving is a high-demand career that falls into this category, which makes pursuing funding for CDL school via the WIA a great option for unemployed individuals looking to get into a great career.
While there are other funding options for unemployed individuals, they vary by state. Contact your state government and ask them about state programs for funding training for unemployed individuals. Keep in mind that you can also apply for other scholarship and grant opportunities if you're unemployed.
The short answer to this question is—yes. Financial aid can, and does help many people pay for truck driving school. There are many different types of financial aid to consider. Here are some of the most common types of financial aid individuals can use to help cover the cost of trucking school.
-VA Department Of Labor Driver Apprenticeship Program: This program helps veterans cover their truck driver training costs.
-Federal and State Funding Programs: There are a variety of different funding options at the federal and state levels. For example, the state of Colorado offers the Colorado Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Programs like this help individuals get the job training they need to find meaningful careers.
-Carrier Sponsorships: Some trucking carriers will sponsor individuals to go through truck driver school programs. Individuals often contract to work with these trucking companies after they have graduated—ensuring you get the training you need and come out of school with a great job.
-Tuition Reimbursement: Instead of sponsorships, some trucking companies will pay you back for attending trucking school. Reimbursements are often distributed in installments as part of your monthly payment while you drive with the company.
Make sure to check with your truck driving school, federal, and state government agencies, and any trucking companies you’re interested in working for if they offer financial aid help for CDL school. It can make a big difference when it comes time to pay for your truck driving school education.
There are lots of options for paying for CDL driving school. Considering the cost of truck driving school can fall between $4,000 to $10,000, it’s a considerable expense to cover. This is where financial aid options come in. Here are some of the most common forms of financial aid:
-VA Education Benefits
-FAFSA-Federal Student Aid
-Company-Sponsored or Paid CDL Training Programs
Access to this financial aid is determined based on a number of factors including veteran status, financial situation, current job training, and more. Asking around about financial aid opportunities is the best way to go about getting financial aid for truck driving school.
Whether you can use Pell Grants for truck driving school depends on a few different factors. First, you must make sure that the trucking school you want to attend is eligible for Pell Grants. Not every school is eligible or accepts Pell Grants, but it is possible to use them if you do a little preparation.
Before you can get your Pell Grants, you must fill out a FAFSA (Federal Application for Federal Student Aid). The Pell Grant itself has some main requirements as well:
-You must be a U.S. citizen, eligible non-alien, or U.S. national.
-You must fill out a FAFSA (Federal Application for Student Aid) at FAFSA.gov.
-You must be completing a level of your degree—usually as an undergraduate student.
-You must be enrolled in an eligible program that leads to a certificate, degree, or diploma.
-You must not have any defaulting federal student loans.
-You may only use your Pell Grant for your education.
-You must show you're continuing academic advancement.
-You cannot have any convictions for selling drugs or possessing drugs during the time you've received financial aid in the past.
There are other requirements as well based on income to determine whether you qualify to receive federal financial assistance. It’s also important to note that Pell Grants can only be used to cover long-term training programs. While looking for the right truck driver school, keep in mind that a 9-week course probably won’t qualify for Pell Grants, but a 24-week program with a residency might.
Call around to trucking schools you're interested in or ones that are in your area to find out if they are eligible for Pell Grants for funding. Local colleges that offer CDL training school might qualify for Pell Grants as well, so it’s worth checking around.
The increasing need for truck drivers means there are more employers and organizations who want to make truck driving school accessible for entry-level drivers. Where you live and which school you want to attend will play a large role in whether you can get grants or scholarships for truck driving school. Make sure you contact the schools you’re interested in and ask about grants and scholarships they have available. Here are a few different types of grants you may be able to get for Truck Driving School:
-Workforce Investment Act: We’ve already reviewed this grant, but this is a great option for individuals who lack the skills to find employment in their current career.
-Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR): This grant is for individuals who have either physical or learning disabilities.
-The Trade Adjustment Act (TAA): This grant is for individuals who have lost their jobs because their positions were moved overseas.
-GI Bill Grant: This grant is for military service members, vets, and dependents to cover education costs and possible funding for living expenses while in school. Check with the VA to find out if you qualify.
-Women in Trucking Foundation Scholarship: This funding option is specifically for women who want to enter the truck driving occupation. This scholarship awards $500 to $2,000 for female students to attend truck driving school.
Other available grants vary by state, so check with your local government agencies on whether they offer grants for truck driving schools. A little time spent calling around and doing some research can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
A quick Google search will reveal dozens of companies willing to pay drivers to attend CDL school and get training to meet your CDL license requirements. If you choose to go through a truck driving company to cover your CDL driving school, know that most schools either offer to pay your tuition or offer tuition reimbursements upon graduation.
For schools that pay your truck driver training tuition, they often deduct a portion of the tuition amount from your paycheck for the first year on the job. If you leave before your year is up you are required to pay back the amount you owe on your tuition. Companies that reimburse you for paying your own tuition usually pay reimbursements as part of your monthly salary for a predetermined amount of time.
Some of the top companies that provide CDL training include Roehl, FFE, C.R. England, Knight Transportation, Prime Transportation, Pam Transport, SWIFT Transportation, USA Truck, and Stevens Trucking. Check with the company before you sign on to see what their conditions are for company-sponsored training programs.
Company-sponsored training programs can be a great way to cover your truck driving school costs. Some of the main pros include free training, benefits, a job when you graduate, and sign-on bonuses. On the flip side, some of the cons of attending a company-sponsored program are long training days, lots of time away from home, and an agreement to work for the company sponsoring your training. Make sure you consider all your options when deciding whether attending a company-sponsored training program is right for you.
To learn more about the pros and cons of CDL Paid Training, click here.
Do your research before selecting a trucking school. Look for information in online articles or blogs, make a list of the pros and cons for each school on your list, and then pick the best CDL training school you can afford. Remember, go for the best value, not the lowest cost. Check out CDL today to find the right trucking school for you.