How to Pick a Truck Driving School
The truth is that in many states, if you are smart and test well, you may be able to get through the CDL and FMCSR exams and requirements on your own. Some states do not require class time, and if you have prior experience driving truck-related vehicles (like military experience, or public transportation experience, or more), then you might even be able to get a CDL without much hassle at all. But for everyone else, going to trucking school is a good idea. Here’s how to make sure the $2500 to $4000 you spend on trucking school gets you where you want to be.
In fact, where trucking school will really benefit you is when you’ve passed all the required exams and are actually looking for a job. If you’ve got a certificate from a well-respected school, your foot is already in the door, and many of these institutions actually offer job placement. But not all trucking schools are equal. If you do not do your research, and go to what’s considered a “license mill”, a school that’s just in the business of prepping you for the exams and getting you out the door as soon as possible, with as little training as they can get away with, then you will not have an easier time during the interviews.
A poor quality school is also a problem because it will make your life much harder even if you do get a trucking job. You will be behind the curve compared to what your better-trained colleagues know. As most trucking schools last four weeks or so, don’t expect a graduate degree quality program, but be aware that there are some license mills around, and make sure you don’t waste your money on one.
So what’s the easiest way to spot-check truck driving schools? Certification from the Professional Truck Driver Institute, also known as the PTDI. The vast moajority of schools worth their salt have this certification, and you’d do well to just trim your list of prospective schools down to the ones that have made the PTDI grade.
As you review the specifics of the program you are considering, make sure there is plenty of behind the wheel training in addition to classroom time. What is the ratio of trucks to students? Are the trucks and other training equipment current, and in good condition? You should be getting at least 44 hours of practical training behind the wheel from any program.
The next way to check if a school is worth going to is to call your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Make sure that the program you are considering meets all the requirements of your state DMV for the license you want to get. Ask the person at the DMV if this school is well-recognized, and if they have a good reputation. Depending on who you’re talking to, you may get a more or less helpful answer, but it never hurts to ask. Try to call during a slow time and you’ll get a longer answer. The word of the DMV personnel is not carved in stone, but it is a good data point to consider. You want to have graduated from a program that is well-known and well thought of.
The next thing to check is how happy graduates from the school are. The alumni or continuing education office may be able to give you a few names, but it is better to find one or two of the trucking companies near you (especially the ones you would like to work for), and ask them if they have any recent graduates from the school you want to go to. If you can find a recent graudate, also ask them if they would have gone to a different school now that they are through the whole process, and which school that would have been.
Finally — and this is important — ask the trucking companies you want to work for which schools they recommend. They know more about the training that new truckers get than anyone else, and ultimately it is the trucking company’s opinion that will matter most. Usually an office manager or a senior person in human resources can answer your questions. And make a good impression — this is probably the same person you’ll be talking to a few months from now when you want a job.