How to Find a CDL Training School in Pennsylvania
Congratulations on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a CDL school in Pennsylvania. Maybe it has always been your fantasy to hit the open road while driving a huge tractor trailer. Or maybe you have done some research and have found that an occupation as a truck driver offers good wages and flexible work prospects. Whatever your reason is, it’s essential to obtain the proper training by enrolling in the right CDL school in your area. When evaluating your options, there are various factors that you’ll want to think about before making your final choice. Location will no doubt be an issue, especially if you need to commute from your residence. The cost will also be of importance, but picking a school based solely on price is not the best method to make certain you’ll get the appropriate education. Don’t forget, your objective is to master the knowledge and skills that will enable you to pass the CDL exams and become a qualified truck driver. So keeping that goal in mind, just how do you pick a truck driving school? That is what we are going to cover in the balance of this article. But first, we are going to discuss a little bit about which commercial driver’s license you will eventually need.
Which Commercial Drivers License Will You Need?
To operate commercial vehicles lawfully in Pennsylvania and within the United States, a driver must attain a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License). The 3 classes of licenses that one can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the subject of this article is how to pick a truck driver school, we will address Class A and B licenses. What differentiates each class of CDL is the kind of vehicle that the driver can operate together with the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Following are brief explanations for the 2 classes.
Class A CDL. A Class A CDL is required to operate any vehicle that has a GCWR of more than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of more than 10,000 lbs. Several of the vehicles that operators may be able to drive with Class A licenses are:
- Interstate or Intrastate Tractor Trailers
- Trucks with Double or Triple Trailers
- Tanker Trucks
- Livestock Carriers
- Class B and Class C Vehicles
Class B CDL. A Class B Commercial Drivers License is needed to operate single vehicles having a GVWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., or a GCWR of more than 26,000 lbs. including a towed vehicle weighing up to 10,000 lbs. Several of the vehicles that operators may be qualified to drive with Class B licenses are:
- Tractor Trailers
- Dump Trucks
- Cement Mixers
- Large Buses
- Class C Vehicles
Both Class A and Class B CDLs might also require endorsements to drive specific kinds of vehicles, such as passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the proper required endorsements, can operate any vehicle that a Class B license holder is authorized to drive.
How to Assess a Truck Driver School
Once you have decided which CDL you wish to pursue, you can start the undertaking of evaluating the Pennsylvania trucking schools that you are looking at. As already discussed, cost and location will certainly be your initial considerations. But it can’t be stressed enough that they should not be your sole considerations. Other factors, for instance the experience of the instructors or the reputations of the schools are similarly if not more important. So following are some more things that you need to research while conducting your due diligence prior to selecting, and especially paying for, your truck driver training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Very few Pennsylvania truck driver schools are accredited due to the stringent process and cost to the schools. However, certification is more commonplace and is provided by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not required to become certified, but there are several advantages. Potential students recognize that the training will be of the highest caliber, and that they will get plenty of driving time. As an example, PTDI requires 44 hours of actual driving time, not simulations or ride-alongs. So if a school’s course is certified (the course, not the school is certified), students know that the training and curriculum will satisfy the very high benchmarks set by PTDI.
How Long in Operation? One indicator to help measure the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in operation. A negatively rated or a fly by night school typically will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. Having said that, even the best of Pennsylvania schools had to begin from their first day of training, so consider it as one of several qualifiers. You can also learn what the school’s history is concerning successful licensing and employment of its graduating students. If a school won’t supply those numbers, look elsewhere. The schools should additionally have relationships with regional and national trucking companies. Having a large number of contacts not only points to a quality reputation within the industry, but also bolsters their job placement program for graduates. It also wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with the Pennsylvania licensing authority to confirm that the CDL trucker schools you are researching are in compliance.
How Good is the Training? At a minimum, the schools should be licensed in Pennsylvania and employ teachers that are experienced and trained. We will discuss more about the teachers in the following segment. In addition, the student to instructor proportion should not be higher than 4 to 1. If it’s any greater, then students will not be receiving the individual instruction they will need. This is particularly true regarding the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And be critical of any school that professes it can train you to be a truck driver in a relatively short time period. Learning to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer professionally takes time. The majority of Pennsylvania schools offer training courses that run from three weeks to as long as 2 months, based on the license class or type of vehicle.
How Experienced are the Instructors? As already stated, it’s essential that the instructors are trained to teach driving techniques and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Although several states have minimum driving time prerequisites to qualify as an instructor, the more professional driving experience an instructor has the better. It’s also crucial that the instructors stay current with industry developments or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Evaluating instructors may be a bit more intuitive than other criteria, and perhaps the ideal approach is to visit the Pennsylvania school and talk to the instructors in person. You can also speak with a few of the students going through the training and find out if they are satisfied with the quality of instruction and the teacher’s ability to train them.
Adequate Driving Time? Above all else, a great truck driver school will provide ample driving time to its students. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Driving time is the actual time spent behind the wheel operating a truck. Even though the use of ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are important training methods, they are no substitute for real driving. The more training that a student gets behind the wheel, the better driver she or he will become. Although driving time varies between schools, a good benchmark is 32 hours at a minimum. If the school is PTDI certified, it will furnish a minimum of 44 hours of driving time. Get in touch with the Pennsylvania schools you are considering and ask how much driving time they furnish.
Are they Captive or Independent ? It’s possible to get discounted or even free training from certain Pennsylvania trucking schools if you make a commitment to be a driver for a specific carrier for a defined amount of time. This is referred to as contract training, and the schools that provide it are called captives. So instead of having associations with many different trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only work with one company. The benefit is receiving less expensive or even free training by surrendering the flexibility to initially work wherever you have an opportunity. Naturally contract training has the potential to reduce your income opportunities when beginning your new career. But for many it may be the ideal way to obtain affordable training. Just be sure to inquire if the schools you are contemplating are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.
Offer CDL Testing Onsite? There are a number of states that will allow third party CDL testing onsite of trucking schools for its graduates. If onsite testing is allowed in Pennsylvania, find out if the schools you are considering are DMV certified to offer it. One advantage is that it is more accommodating than competing with graduates from other schools for test times at Pennsylvania testing facilities. It is moreover an indicator that the DMV regards the authorized schools to be of a higher quality.
Are the Class Times Accessible? As previously noted, truck driver training is only about one to two months in length. With such a brief duration, it’s essential that the Pennsylvania school you choose provides flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. As an example, if you’re having a hard time learning a certain driving maneuver, then the instructor should be willing to spend more time with you until you are proficient. And if you’re still working while going to training, then the class scheduling needs to be flexible enough to accommodate working hours or other commitments.
Is Job Placement Provided? The moment you have acquired your commercial driver’s license after graduating from trucking school, you will be keen to start your new profession in Pennsylvania. Make sure that the schools you are considering have job placement programs. Ask what their job placement ratio is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, ask which national and local trucking companies their graduates are placed with for employment. If a school has a low job placement rate or not many employers hiring their grads, it may be a sign to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Given? Truck driving schools are similar to colleges and other technical or vocational schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being available. Find out if the schools you are evaluating have a financial aid department, or at a minimum someone who can help you understand the options and forms that need to be submitted in Pennsylvania.
Select the Best Truck Driver School
Choosing the ideal truck driving school is a critical first step to launching your new profession as a local or long distance truck driver. The skills that you will learn at school will be those that forge a new career behind the wheel. There are many options available and understanding them is vital if you are going to succeed as an operator. But first and foremost, you must get the necessary training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe manner. If you are short on money or financing, you might need to look into a captive school. You will pay a lower or in some cases no tuition by agreeing to drive for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent school and have the option of driving for the trucking company of your choosing, or one of several affiliated with the school. It’s your decision. But no matter how you get your training, you will in the near future be joining a profession that helps our country move as a professional trucker in Pennsylvania.