How Do I Get a CDL License?
The first step to starting a career in trucking is obtaining a Class A commercial driver’s license by completing CDL training. There are numerous schools and training programs to choose from, it can seem a little overwhelming at first. Not to mention, the price of CDL school can add up to several thousand dollars – quite the price tag.
At Melton, we want to make the transition to trucking as simple as possible, and that starts with understanding the process that comes with earning a CDL, from choosing a school to passing the final exam.
Our Military Program Specialist, David Harper, was given the opportunity to put himself in a students’ shoes and go through the whole process of getting a Class A CDL license by attending Central Tech Truck Driver Training in Drumright, Oklahoma. Not only did he obtain a CDL license of his own, but also gained insight into what prospective students can expect during the schooling process. Below we asked David some commonly asked questions about CDL training and his overall experience.
How do you choose a CDL school?
“When deciding on a school, there are a few questions that come to mind such as: How many trucks do they have available? How much time am I actually going to be spending in a truck during training – driving, practicing, learning. How long have they been in business? Is this a business that’s been around for a long time or are they new? Their experience is usually a good indicator of the level of training that will be available.
I’m kind of a personal type of person; I recommend that everyone picks up the phone and gives the schools a call. They typically have a rep, recruiter, or some type of advisor who can answer questions and assist new students with the onboarding process. Ask for an overview of the training program, what kind of documentation is required, and how you can better prepare. The more you question and the more you talk about, the more prepared you can be, in my opinion.”
How long does it take to get a CDL?
“It took me 4 weeks to complete CDL school. However, not every CDL school is the same. Depending on the school and other playing factors, it can take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks.”
How much does CDL school cost? Can veterans use their GI Bill benefits towards their CDL?
“The cost of CDL training varies quite a bit. The tuition for the CDL school that I went to was around $5,500. However, I’ve seen plenty of CDL schools that cost upwards of $10-12,000. A lot of it depends on the reputation, the production that these schools can put out there for companies, and the amount of training. Not every CDL school has you attend 4 weeks of in-person training. There’s some training out there that will have you complete your first 2 weeks online, at home. My training was all in-person, which allowed me to get ahead a little bit by starting hands-on training a little sooner. Training varies by location and school. The cost ranges quite a bit as well. From a veteran standpoint, not every CDL school out there will allow you to use your GI Bill benefits toward tuition. Unfortunately, they’re just not set up to work with that, but there’s plenty of schools that are. There are also organizations that cater specifically to assisting veterans transitioning into trucking, like Troops into Transportation for example.
There’s plenty of companies that offer tuition reimbursement programs, to help pay back the out-of-pocket expense, whether you’re a veteran or not. Do some research and you’ll find that there’s a lot of different grants and programs out there that can help you pay for your schooling. There wasn’t a single person in my class who was paying out of pocket to go to school! On the first day, the director came through and talked to each student individually and got them set up on a grant – mind you, this was a state funded school, so they get state funding. Nowadays, whether you’re looking at a school that doesn’t offer the ability to use your GI bill benefits, start speaking with your state resources and see if the cdl schools themselves offer any type of funding or grants that can help you pay for the cost of training. Again, if you’re a veteran, there’s organizations that cater directly to you, but some of those may require you to travel to other locations to go through the training. If you’re looking to get set up with CDL training that’s more convenient or local to you, the VA is a great resource because they offer a couple of programs that could help you pay for the tuition, and potentially pay you a monthly stipend while you’re in school.”
Was flatbed trucking mentioned during your class? What types of jobs did they cover?
“That could vary quite a bit depending on the instructors/staff and the type of experience they have. Our instructor drove tankers for 20-30 years, so he mainly referenced his experience in tanker during our training. However, he still mentioned other types like flatbed, dry van, and specialized and it’s all discussed to some degree, but when it came to verbalizing and communicating, I found that the focus depended on the instructor’s experience.”
How was the final CDL exam?
“When test day came around, I wasn’t really nervous because I was prepared. On the day of testing, there is no practice – You will jump right into testing. Testing is randomly selected, so you won’t know what you’re getting evaluated on until the morning of. I was tested on pre-trip, straight back, the offset, and then the parallel backing. From there we got out on the road for the test route. The test route was just driving around town basically, making sure that we knew how to drive a truck, pay attention, and read road signs. On test day, I was able to nail my road signs just because, again, repetition, and being told “Hey you’re doing it wrong!” Make sure that you maintain a good speed — not driving too fast but also not driving too slow. Also, make sure that you know how to communicate with the traffic around you and notify the other drivers on the road of what you’re going to do.
There’s a few things on CDL tests that are considered automatic failures.
1. Impeding traffic – If other vehicles have to slow down because of you whether you’re exiting a parking lot to get on the main road or doing a U-turn and traffic gets too close and has to slow down, that’s impeding traffic.
2. Grass – Your wheel cannot touch the grass. For example, your wheel hits the grass coming around a curve.
3. Failing to maintain full control of the vehicle.
Other than those 3 things, everything is basically point reduction. All you have to do is score an 80 to pass the test, so as long as you’re focused, paying attention, and hitting all the key points that you learned in training, it’s not that difficult to pass the CDL test.”
How did you prepare for the final CDL exam?
“The secret to success when preparing for the exam is repitition. I used online resources, took practice tests over and over, practiced the different stations, observed others, and did the pre-trip on my way to class every day. They are very particular about the verbiage and want you to be specific when explaining. They want to see that you know what to look for, how to fasten, and that you know how to inspect it. You will get tested on every aspect of driving, so the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be on the road.”
Did your classmates know who they wanted to work for? Did a lot of them have jobs lined up already?
“Most of the time in CDL school, there’s a ton of people who have no clue what they’re going to do or where they’re going to work, but my class a little different. There were 3 people that were sponsored who weren’t planning on beginning a truck driving career, they just needed to be able to operate the large equipment for their job. There was also someone who needed a CDL to support his career as a lineman. However, there was still a small group of students who were just looking to get into trucking but didn’t know where to begin. Luckily, they had the opportunity to learn from Field Recruiters who came out and gave presentations about their companies…Plus, the students also had me as a resource who could answer a lot of questions for them, but unfortunately, not all CDL schools will have a David in their class.”
Did you think the experience with CDL training for veterans differs from the experience a non-veteran would have had?
“In the military, you go through various types of training, at multiple different schools to learn a variety of skills. Being at a student or trainee status is pretty common for a lot of people in the military, as you’re probably actively trying to attend different schools and trainings. So, being in that student status just comes natural for a veteran, whereas some civilians seem to have difficulty following instructions. For me, it was naturally very simple for me to follow directions the first time, and it made me a star pupil in class! In my opinion, I do think a veteran’s training experience puts them in a better position to succeed in training, however, that doesn’t mean that you have to be a veteran in order to succeed in CDL school.”
Do you have any words of advice for veteran truck drivers?
1. Invest in the training – As I mentioned before, in the military you’re constantly training, if you’re not performing your job you’re training on how to become better at your job. When it comes to a brand new profession, I talked to many guys who were in such a hurry to get into the truck that they overlooked the most important part, which is investing in the training. So, I like to tell people to be a sponge – soak up as much information and knowledge as you can during the training process. Don’t rush it and work hard at it!
2. Find a mentor – If you want to become as productive and profitable as you can, then the quickest way is to find a mentor who’s had some experience. At Melton, we have veteran drivers who are veteran mentors that will connect with individuals who are transitioning out of the military or have been out of the military and are new to trucking. Find a mentor that you can trust and build a relationship with, someone you feel comfortable asking “dumb” questions that you’re too scared to ask other people. This will help cut down the time it takes to learn stuff on your own. Take those shortcuts where you can to progress your career a little bit quicker.”
CDL school can seem intimidating at first, but hopefully our CDL school Q & A with David Harper helped answer some of your questions about CDL training. If you’re looking to explore your options for CDL schooling near you, check out our CDL Schools Finder here!
Melton is one of the best trucking companies for new drivers. We welcome recent CDL school graduates and CDL A drivers that have not had any over-the-road (OTR) driving experience. Once you obtain your license, we can make your transition to a driver much easier with our Pre-Hire and Tuition Reimbursement Programs. Click here to learn more!
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