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?
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.
What type of school is it?
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.
What types of licenses does the school offer?
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.
What does the school’s website look like?
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.
What’s the school’s student-to-instructor ratio?
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.
How much does the school cost?
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.
How good are the instructors?
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.
Does the school offer job placement?
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.
Does the school have a solid reputation?
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.
What should I expect to learn?
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.
Does the school offer a flexible schedule?
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.
Where is the school located?
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.
How much “drive time” should I expect?
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.
How long does it take to earn a CDL?
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.
What are the pros and cons of attending a company-sponsored training program versus a trucking school?
Do your research before selecting a trucking school. Look for information 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 you can afford. Remember, go for the best value, not the lowest cost.