There are a number of factors to consider before opting for the exciting, in-demand career of truck driving. First and foremost, future students must investigate, evaluate, and select the right truck driving school. This article examines the top 10 questions future truck drivers must consider when selecting a school to guide them through the process of training for and passing the CDL, or commercial driver’s license, exam.
When sifting through the myriad truck driving school options available in any given state, it is important to focus on the details of the school from the beginning. Small, homegrown schools may offer a comfortable, one-on-one teaching environment, but the equipment may be outdated and practice space may be minimal or nonexistent. On the other hand, schools so large that students get lost in the fold also may not offer the best fit for every aspiring truck driver.
The best way to get a clear idea of what a school is really like is to visit and investigate in person. Talking to recent graduates as well as current students and instructors is a great way to gather information on a prospective school.
A related matter concerns how long ago a particular school was established. While there is a chance that those schools with a long history may not be as up-to-date concerning technology as a brand new school founded by up-and-coming tech enthusiasts, it is often the case that the best option is the one that has already been tried and tested by scores of students. In general, schools with staying power have continued success for a reason.
In particular, their graduates recommend them precisely because carriers tend to hire their graduates. Another reason to verify that a prospective school has a long-standing record in the industry is that longer lasting businesses often have strong ties to state licensing agencies, ensuring that the courses offered teach students what they need to know to be up-to-date in terms of truck driving laws and regulations in their home state.
An important factor that many students may not consider until graduation is the job placement rate of a given driving school. This, of course, is one of the most important factors determining future job placement. Well-established driving schools will have a verifiable job placement record and should be more than happy to share their high placement rates with interested potential students. If a school is hesitant to talk about job placement, this is a red flag that should be taken seriously. Of course, even schools willing to talk about their success may be prone to exaggeration, so students should always verify the advertised job placement rate by talking with recent graduates.
Another significant factor is where a given school is located. A conveniently located school may not be the best option in terms of value and training. While location should be among the top aspects considered by prospective truck driving students, relatively less weight should be placed on convenience than on value, job placement, and overall track record. A minor inconvenience during a few months is nothing compared to completing a driving course only to find out that the training was sub-par, there was little to no support for job placement after completing the course, and the equipment used to train students was too out-dated to be of any use.
Also important in terms of location is whether a particular school offers the type of licensing needed to become a commercial driver in the student’s state of residence. That is, not all certifications are transferable, and a test taken in one state may not be accepted in another for CDL purposes. Here, students should verify trucking laws through their state licensing agency before selecting a school.
While many years in the business may make for unparalleled experience, not everyone who does something well can teach that skill to others. Teachers must be both knowledgeable in their field and also passionate about imparting knowledge to their students. Moreover, the best instructors are those who are interested in staying abreast of skills and technology, taking continuing education courses and exploring the latest innovations. The best way to assess the quality of instructors is to meet them in person and talk with current students before deciding on a particular driving school.
Here it is also important to consider the student to instructor ratio. Schools should be willing to divulge this information to prospective students; any schools that avoid the topic or refuse to disclose data should be avoided. In general, a ratio of no more than four students per instructor will offer the best balance between individual instruction and time to process new skills and learn by observing (a few) fellow students.
Most students expect adequate time behind the wheel at driving school and some may assume that driving time is relatively fixed regardless of what school they choose. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While the absolute minimum drive time students receive should be around 32 hours, obviously the more time behind the wheel controlling the truck under active instructor supervision, the better. The quality of that drive time is also quite important. Simply controlling the truck without much instruction can give students a false sense of ability.
If students are left unsupervised or do not receive adequate feedback, they may repeat mistakes often enough that they actually become habits, which are far more difficult to change once they become ingrained. In part, the lower the student to instructor ratio, the better the quality of the drive time offered. There is, however, one caveat: students actually benefit from observing some fellow students, as this additional time spent around trucks and drivers is an excellent opportunity to absorb new skills and observe other drivers
While some smaller schools may provide more one-on-one instruction, they may not be able to offer the latest technology, multiple practice lots, and several different trucks for student training. On the other hand, all students should receive direct instruction while driving, so schools that are too large also present a disadvantage in this respect.
The best option will be a school large enough to offer several vehicles and ample space to maneuver them, while also offering driver training that makes use of the latest technology and is geared toward the needs of different potential carriers. Again, the best way to investigate a school is in person; potential students should sit in on classes wherever possible.
While tuition is critical, it is important to consider not just the cost of the school, but the value. That is, what the school offers for the cost of tuition. A school that costs just a few hundred dollars more —but offers several more vehicles, has more highly trained and dedicated instructors, and provides job placement upon completion— is well worth the added expense. Moreover, some schools may be able to offer grants, payment plans, or other assistance to help students pay for their driving course.
While at first glance it may sound like a match made in heaven, truck driving schools that are solely associated with one carrier may not be the best option in terms of ensuring a broad range of employment opportunities. In particular, contract driving schools may limit the employment options available to students upon passing their exam.
While such schools offer discounts on tuition, the cost to the student includes fulfilling a contract with just one carrier, often the only carrier associated with that school. This situation can severely limit the student’s employment options after taking the course and passing the CDL exam.
This last point is important in terms of the regulations specific to each state. In some areas, only state testing facilities are approved for CDL exams. In other cases, each driving school may be allowed to hire their own independent truck driving license testers. Other states allow third party testers. If a particular driving school is unable to hire independent CDL testers and is not licensed as a third party tester, students should be aware that they may face delays in taking the necessary licensing exam upon graduation.
This, in turn, can delay any future employment until the test can be taken and passed successfully. To avoid delays, the best option is a school that either has its own testers or one that is certified as a third party tester.
Future truck drivers should consider all of these factors, weighing the pros and cons of each aspect before deciding upon a CDL school.