In an economy where it can be tough to find a job, truck driving offers the chance for a lucrative career with incredible long-term opportunities and minimal entry barriers.
But in order to become a professional truck driver, you will need to earn your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
In this guide, we will go over everything you need to know in order to earn your own CDL and launch your career as a truck driver.
Before we talk about licensing requirements and training opportunities to earn your CDL, let’s first talk about what exactly a CDL is and why you need one.
A CDL allows you to legally drive a commercial vehicle. There are three different types of CDL licenses: CDL-A, CDL-B and CDL-C.
The exact class of CDL license you need to apply for depends on the type of vehicle you want to operate.
- CDL-A: Apply for this class of license if you want to drive and tow vehicles with a gross weight combination of (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or above. This is important: If you’ll be towing a vehicle which weighs over 10,000 pounds, this is the type of license you need. With this type of license, you may be able to drive a tractor-trailer, tanker vehicle, flatbed, livestock carrier, or other vehicle that fits within these constraints.
- CDL-B: If you’ll be towing a vehicle which weighs under 10,000 pounds or you are driving a vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more without towing anything, then you must apply for a CDL-B license.
- CDL-C: You apply for this type of license if you will be hauling HAZMAT or you will be driving 16 passengers or more (you are included in the 16). The CDL-C license also is appropriate for all other combination vehicles which you do not need a CDL-A or CDL-B license to operate.
Once you earn your CDL, you may still require a special endorsement.
Such may be necessary for driving a HAZMAT or passenger vehicle, a tank truck, or a double- or triple-trailer truck. If you want to read more about the different CDL licenses, you can read our guide here.
CDL License Requirements
Just as you apply for a regular driver’s license through your state’s DMV, the state also issues commercial driver’s licenses.
In order to obtain a CDL from your state, you will need to do the following:
- Begin by downloading or getting a print version of the Commercial Driver’s Licensing (CDL) Manual for your state.
- Figure out which class of CDL is appropriate for you based on the type of vehicle you plan to drive. If you have questions about this, you can always consult your DMV to figure out the correct type of license.
- Apply for a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP). This is the equivalent of the regular driver’s permit which you had to apply for in order to practice for your regular driver’s license exam. With a CLP, you are allowed to drive while being supervised by a person in your vehicle who has a CDL.
- After 14 days with your CLP, you are eligible to take the Skills Test that you need to pass to obtain your CDL. Whether or not a formal training course is required depends on your state.
What You Need to Get Your CLP
In order to get the Commercial Learner’s Permit that you need to practice driving a commercial vehicle, you will need the following:
- Pass a DOT physical so that you can be issued a DOT medical card.
- Provide proof of your identity and residency.
- Be prepared for a 10-year history of your driving record to be checked.
- Pass the knowledge tests.
- Be able to pay the applicable fees.
Your state’s Driver’s Licensing (CDL) Manual will provide you with full details on the specifics.
Once you have the permit, you can start practicing in preparation for the necessary CDL Skills Test.
How Much Does a CDL Cost?
According to this resource, these are the CDL licensing costs for every state:
- Alabama: $23 to $53
- Alaska: $100
- Arizona: $25
- Arkansas: $42
- California: $64
- Colorado: $35
- Connecticut: $60 to $75
- Delaware: $30
- Florida: $67
- Georgia: $20
- Hawaii: $30
- Idaho: $20 to $55
- Illinois: $60
- Indiana: $30
- Iowa: $16 to $40
- Kansas: $25
- Kentucky: $30
- Louisiana: $41 to $60
- Maine: $34
- Maryland: $50
- Massachusetts: $40 to $60
- Michigan: $25
- Minnesota: $23 to $35
- Mississippi: $40 to $50
- Missouri: $22 to $45
- Montana: $8 to $10
- Nebraska: $55
- Nevada: $64
- New Hampshire: $60 to $105
- New Jersey: $42
- New Mexico: $34
- New York: $75 to $90
- North Carolina: $30
- North Dakota: $15
- Ohio: $42
- Oklahoma: $41.50
- Oregon: $74.50
- Pennsylvania: $71
- Rhode Island: $10 to $50
- South Carolina: $12.50
- South Dakota: $15
- Tennessee: $14 to $41
- Texas: $60
- Utah: $100
- Vermont: $45 to $65
- Virginia: $64
- Washington: $50
- West Virginia: $25
- Wisconsin: $25
- Wyoming: $25
As you can see, that is a pretty wide price range. If you live in one of the more expensive states, you should start saving up right away.
Also, do not forget that these prices are subject to change, and there may be additional fees that you need to be prepared for.
For example, you will pay a fee to get the required physical.
Along with these costs, there is the cost of education to consider as well.
If you attend CDL school, the cost of tuition could be around $3,000 at the lower end or around $10,000 at the upper end.
How to Get Your CDL
When it comes to preparing to pass your Skills Test to earn your license, you have two options:
- Attend CDL classes
- Enroll in paid CDL training
Be sure to check the exact requirements for your state, as formal training is not required in every state, but is required in many.
How to Get a CDL License Without Going to School
If you cannot afford to pay for CDL classes, one option you have these to sign up for paid CDL training.
If you choose to go this route, you will sign an agreement with a trucking company. The company will cover the cost of your education (typically as a reimbursement, but sometimes as a loan), and you will provide the company with a certain term of employment in return (i.e. one year).
The company itself might take care of your training directly, or might compensate you for training through a third-party CDL school.
The upside of obtaining a CDL license through paid training is obvious. It saves you money and make it easier to start a career as a trucker.
But the downside is clear as well.
You will have to work for the company that covers the cost of your education for a set amount of time.
If things go south, and you decide that you are not comfortable continuing with that company, you will need to pay back the cost of your education.
Our Top CDL Training Schools
If you do not want to commit to a particular trucking company, your other option is to attend a training school and pay your own way.
We have researched to find the CDL schools which are most affordable, flexible and convenient, and which offer the highest caliber of training.
Below, you can view detailed overviews of the training programs we recommend.
Roadmaster CDL School
One of the biggest names in the CDL training world is Roadmaster, a company that has been around for 25 years now. Over 100,000 professionals graduated from this CDL training school.
- Flexible scheduling is offered, and classes run just 3-4 weeks.
- The trucks you will be driving are in excellent condition and are also similar to what you will probably be driving professionally. The average age of Roadmaster’s trucks is just 2.5 years old.
- There is a Career Services center you can visit right at the location, and recruiters come by who you can talk to in person.
- You will have a combination of classroom and hands-on training, learning skills like the visual pre-trip inspection, straightline backing, drop and hook procedure, and more.
- Locations are available in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and California. There are also three locations in the state of Florida.
- Need financial assistance? Roadmaster can help set up reimbursement for anywhere from 80-100% of your tuition if necessary.
- Want to train on automatic shifting trucks? Roadmaster has them in their fleet.
Any drawbacks? There are some complaints from drivers who felt they were treated “like a number.” But most report a positive experience.
If you want to start getting paid right away while you are training to become a professional trucker, Roehl may be the opportunity you are looking for. Like Roadmaster, Roehl has been around for a long time—longer, actually. The company launched way back in 1962.
- During training, you receive $500 weekly. That means that you can keep paying your rent and your bills while you are learning.
- It takes four weeks of training to earn your CDL. Training continues for three additional weeks after that.
- This company receives high marks for the quality of their equipment, their attention to safety, and their recruiting process.
- Roehl has locations in Wisconsin, Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Indiana.
Roehl gets excellent reviews from most drivers, with a few mentioning that they do sometimes have some issues involving communication.
CDL Career Now
Can’t travel to attend trucking school in another city or state? The ultimate local option is CDL Career Now.
The company claims to be the “nation’s largest trucking school network,” and says that through them, you can find “CDL training in any city in America.”
CDL Career Now Benefits
- While CDL Career Now can’t get you trained in every US city, they do have an incredible reach. No matter your location, chances are good that they can connect you with training near you.
- To offer quality training in numerous locations, CDL Career Now partners with reputable schools like Smith & Solomon, the Midwest Technical Institute, NETTTS, Roadmaster, HDS Truck Driving Institute and All State Career School. The company is always growing its network to open new doors of opportunity.
- CDL Career Now also offers resources to help you find a job once you have completed your training and received your license.
- Find exactly what you need. If you contact CDL Career Now and let them know what you are looking for in terms of a training program, they can connect you with the options that offer the most ideal fit for your individual requirements.
It is hard to think of any drawbacks for CDL Career Now, aside from the fact that they are not in every single city across the country. There are a few states (Oregon, for example) that seem to have a dearth of training programs for truck drivers.
But for would-be truckers in these states, this resource is arguably even more indispensable, since you can use CDL Career Now to locate the very closest training program to your location.
Like CDL Career Now, Schneider is not actually a trucking school itself. In fact, it is a trucking company. But just as CDL Career Now can connect you with a school in your area that fits your needs, Schneider can do the same.
Benefits of Schneider
- Schneider is willing to take the time to give you personalized recommendations for training schools based on your location and career goals.
- Once you complete a training program, Schneider may be willing to hire you (in fact, you will be “pre-hired” before you even apply for financing for trucking school). The company is willing to reimburse up to $7,000 in training expenses. You would receive $200 a month toward paying off the cost of your education after you start working with the company.
- You don’t have to make a decision without talking to someone face-to-face if you don’t want to. The company regularly hosts local recruiting events throughout the US. Attend one of these events to find out more, and you might even get be offered a job before you leave.
- Are you a military veteran? 22% of Schneider’s drivers are vets. Whether you drove in the military or not, the company is willing to pay you a higher salary when you are starting out if you have veteran status (or are still active in the Reserves or Guard). Note that you can only take advantage of the higher pay offer if you were discharged within the most recent 12 months. After that, the offer expires.
- Schneider hires internally from among its drivers to other positions on staff. So, if a time comes when you want to get off the road, you might find a job at the warehouse or office.
While some drivers may have mixed experiences, on the whole, Schneider seems to really go above and beyond to offer more to its workers.
If you are interested in a job with a trucking company that provides its own CDL training program internally, TMC Trans is worth considering.
Benefits of TMC Trans
- The program takes only three weeks to complete.
- You do not need to pay anything upfront for this training program. The company will cover lodging and transportation and even some meals.
- If you complete the training program successfully, a job is guaranteed. It includes full benefits. You can return to your home state, and the company will get your class A license transferred back to that state.
The biggest drawback is that there are only two locations for training: Columbia, South Carolina and Des Moines, Iowa.
Earn Your CDL and You Will Be On Your Way to Launching a Successful Career as a Truck Driver
You know now how to get your CDL and have discovered that there are a number of pathways you can take for training and recruitment.
Wherever you are located and whatever trucking role you envision yourself in, earning your CDL is one of the first steps on the path to success.
The open road awaits. You could be just a few short weeks away from embarking on a new highly-paid job with an incredible career outlook!