Some people, like me, entered trucking because of an economic emergency. It let me really turn my life around. I’m glad I entered it. One of the first things you will want to consider whether you look at trucking as a back up plan or your dream, is how to pay for CDL school. Several ways to get your CDL are through military service, paying for a private CDL school, company-sponsored or «free» training, local vocational-technical training / community college, or through WIOA which is a free grant from the govt for trade school . Each has certain advantages and disadvantages.
My first recommendation to anyone considering this job is the fit between you and your needs and that of a particular trucking company is the most important factor. I frequently use the example of picking a pair of shoes. Each of us is different and we may have very different needs or requirements. If I’m working in an office and a foot taller than you, who works on a farm the shoes that fit me will not be the right shoes for you.c Even if my shoes for the office are the made of the most expensive leather, custom-made for my feet, and cost $800 and will last me 15 years, they aren’t what you need. The highest quality shoes for your child will not fit you. The lowest quality shoes for me will not fit you. The difference between trucking companies, in pay, benefits, work conditions, home time, area of the country, etc can be huge. There are probably more than 10,000 trucking companies. If each company is a «shoe» you need the «shoe that fits you.
All military services have truck driving specialties and training. Enlistments will require a few number of years but they also have pay and benefits, including the GI Bill of Rights, among others. Those benefits a pay for CDL training after your service, if you didn’t earn CDL experience as part of your job in the military.
For-profit CDL schools are in every state. For the most part they have classes starting every Monday. The cost of these schools vary based on many factors such as location, schedule flexibility, equipment availibility and number of instructors and students in each class. The quality, student to instructor ratio, number of trucks, etc can vary from school to school. The costs can range from $3500 to $8000 for a 3 week course, including school room classes, and instruction and practice inside the trucks. One thing almost every CDL school will have is a source through which students can borrow money to pay for school. Also, of the trucking companies that do hire CDL drivers with no previous experience, about half of those companies have a Tuition Reimbursement payment. TR is an extra amount of money given to the new CDL driver, weekly or monthly, to help repay the cost of CDL school. If you take a loan for school, the term and amoutn of payments may or may not be of the same amount or schedule as the employer’s TR program. For example, your loan payment might be $200 per month. The employer’s TR may pay $75 per week or $150 per month. You will be responsible for paying your loan in the amount and on schedule in your loan agreement. Your TR may fully pay more or less than your CDL school loan, but you are still responsible to pay your school loan. This is how I paid for my CDL school. I borrowed the amount for school from a finance company and then paid off that loan while working as a truck driver over the next year or so. The trucking companies often want students who have completed a minimum of 160 hours of instruction and training. A typical day can be as long as 10 hours.
Another path to getting your Commercial Driver License (CDL) is a local community college or vocational/technical school. I looked into this before I decided to go to a for-profit CDL school. Generally these CC or Vo-tech schools provide longer training, more days and more hours of instruction, over a 2-4 month period. Some CC or vo-tech programs are outsourced to for-profit schools. The cost is almost always much cheaper than a for-profit CDL school. In my area the for-profit CDL schools charge something under $4,000. The vo-tech charges under $1,000 for CDL instruction and training. Usually the manner of instruction is closer to 6- 8 hours per day for more days until the course is completed. So why would anyone consider a school charging $4,000 when other schools are only charging $1,000? That can come down to how long before the school will accept a new student. When I was making a decision between the local community college and a for-profit CDL school, the community college had a 6 month long waiting list. The for-profit CDL school had room for me starting the Monday after next. When I added up my living expenses between today and the start of training plus the 3 months of training at the community college it was far more than my living expenses and tuition at the 3 week for-profit CDL school.
Another path to getting a CDL is signing a contract with one of the trucking companies that has their own CDL school or contracts with a community college or for-profit CDL school to train new drivers. The most important thing to know about this method is you are signing a legal binding contract, sometimes with a non-compete clause that will limit or prohibit working for other trucking companies until your contract is completed. Your contract obligates the trucking company to provide «free» instruction and training in exchange you are obligated to work for the trucking company for a period. Typically, that contract period is 12 months. If you complete CDL training and get your license and fail to work for the trucking company you will be obligated to repay the cost of your instruction and training. This approach has benefits and drawbacks, like any of the ones above. Some of these company sponsored «free» training program will pay the student a modest weekly income, like $500. Some do not pay anything to the student until they complete the training and are licensed. Most of these «free» training programs are done at one or only a few locations around the country. Many of these company-sponsored «free» training programs will provide a shared hotel room and one free meal per day. It varies between companies if the student is paid, housed, or fed and how much or how long. All companies providing this «free» training require about 1 year of full-time work as a CDL driver to fulfill your obligation. Choose wisely. You aren’t just picking a CDL school. You are picking who, where, and how you will be working for the next 12 months.
Company sponsored and for-profit CDL schools may only be 2-5 weeks long, or maybe 8-16 weeks at a community college or vo-tech school. You will be busy with instruction, training , and driving and backing practice during that time. CDL school is not like high school or college where you have lots of time after class to do thorough research on which trucking company to work for, or «pick out the right shoes to fit you.» In my opinion, picking where you work that first year is more important than which CDL school you pick or how much that CDL school costs, if anything. When you pick a trucking company to work for you are picking the atmosphere under which you will work for the next year. You are picking where you will drive, what type of freight you will haul, how much money you will make, how comfortable will the truck you drive be and what features (refrigerator, APU (heat and air conditioning while engine is stopped), whether your pet or a family member can ride with you. You are more or less deciding how often you get home and/or how much time you ca be at home. When you choose which trucking company to work for you are deciding a lot of things about your life for the next year, whether you realize it or not. You will not be changing the way the trucking company conducts their business just by not being happy when you are doing the job.
For this reason, I always recommend you use your time, this message board, and thorough internet research to find out what each trucking company is like. I would suggest any trucking company you are considering should put you in contact with a current working driver that is doing the type of work (dry van/reefer, flatbed, tanker, etc) and working the same way you are considering (over the road OTR, regional, local). Web ads, web pages, and empty «promises» from a recruiter are NOT enough to make a smart decision. You need to talk to drivers doing what you may soon be doing. There is variation among most trucking companies in pay, benefit quality and cost, schedules, area of the country, type of freight, drop and hook or live loads/unload, etc. Look before you leap. There are many veteran drivers on this message board than may be able to help you choose a company to work for, or help you decide what questions you need to ask a potential employer. There are drivers that may have worked for an employer you are are considering. Some of the trucking companies have their own section of the message board for their drivers.
This message board has free practice exams for all of the endorsements you can and should add to your CDL, each endorsement allows you to haul more and different types of freight. It is easiest and cheapest to get all endorsements you may want to get when you get your initial CDL. HazMat endorsement is the only endorsement you may want to delay. It can costs more than $200 and take several weeks or more. Other endorsements cost in the neighborhood of $20-30 and only require answering questions on a computer. All endorsements, other than HazMat, never expire or require a renewal in most states. HazMat will require a large fee $200-ish, background check, fingerprints, and weeks or months of waiting, plus another trip to your drivers license office.