If you’ve noticed all the trucking ads claiming they will pay for school, and set you up in a career, it’s real. The reality is, they will set you up with the school nearest you and will pay for your schooling in full - in exchange for you signing their contract, and what they won't tell you is what you should be weary of.
CDL schools range significantly in cost, anywhere from a few thousand to upwards of $10,000 at private institutions. Sticker shock much? It will be best that you atleast know exactly what you are getting into, before you decide the best option for you.
Company Sponsored Training
The CDL school we went to was a partner CDL training school to a large trucking company, so most of our peers were company sponsored students. Their pay rate out of school was less than half of ours, because we had our expenses for schooling covered; allowing us the freedom to choose what company we wanted to join. They also didn't get to take advantage of quarterly bonuses, yearly raises, or weekly guarantees, as per their contract. (All questions you should be asking the company you decide to pursue sponsorship through.)
Now there are pros and cons to going about company sponsored training. You will sign a contract to work from anywhere from 9 months to 1 year after your training. They will start you out at a much lower RPM (Rate Per Mile) likely to recover the money they invested into your schooling. You will find yourself upset when you start to talk to other truck drivers at the truck stops, because they are making double or triple what you are, and they're doing the same job with the same level of experience or less. The good news is that you should expect a raise after completing your time under contract or you can find a better paying job with the experience you have. Fortunately you'll be joining an industry in demand, and you can be in a new truck in a matter of weeks. It's really that simple, though not suggested. You might even find that it's slow, you're not getting a lot of miles, sitting around, and burning a hole in the jump seat but most large companies have a weekly guarantee, (if applicable) which is another safety net to keep you from going unpaid. These can range anywhere from $500-$1500 a week. The guarantee is that if you don't earn a certain amount or drive a certain amount of miles, they will still compensate you a flat rate. Be careful though, there are usually a few stipulations that come with these guarantees.
A general recommendation is to get a solid 2 years under your belt at one company to show stability, safe record, and put some miles with every season of weather under your belt. It will make you more desirable for other trucking companies and start to qualify you for local driving jobs, if that's your goal.
With that being said, company sponsored training is a pretty solid guarantee that you will have a job right out of school. There is no better feeling than going through schooling with a job waiting for you on the back end. Not to mention, free of debt associated with CDL costs. Bottom line, the pros are no debt and guaranteed job placement. The cons are the lengthy contract, no guaranteed pay, and a lower rate per mile.
Financial aid is an option that most people don't think to take advantage of. Contact your local schools with CDL programs and invest some time inside of their Financial Aid offices. You will find there are many grants and scholarships available to you for trucking school costs. Whether you are a displaced homemaker, a militaty veteran, or a 21 year old kid that wants an alternative to college, you'll see there are ways to get the cost fully covered or atleast partially.
Other options include WorkForce One, Goodwill Career Centers, and/or your local County Office for job placement programs and/or secondary schooling programs.
You might also inquire about a cash discount at your local schools.
The pros of having school paid on your own accord is the freedom to choose a company or move yourself to a better fitting position if it falls in your lap within your first year.
Loans and Lines of Credit
The last option I'd ever recommend are charging your credit cards, taking a loan, or opening lines of credit with private CDL schools. You have to be responsible with your payments and know for sure that trucking is what you want to invest yourself into. If you are not financially responsible, please let this be your last resort.