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How to Pick the Right Heating and Cooling Certificate Program near Athens Alabama

Athens Alabama home A/C condensersOnce you have come to a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioning technician, the next action is to choose an HVAC trade school near Athens AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you decide on the ideal one to obtain the training that you need? A number of prospective students will make their decision based entirely on the cost of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. While these are necessary considerations, they are not the only ones to evaluate. Just some of the other things that you need to investigate are the graduation completion rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. Those and additional criteria will be discussed in more detail later in this article. But before we discuss how to pick an HVAC technical school, let's take a look at what a heating and cooling technician does to become a licensed qualified tradesman.

Becoming an HVAC Professional

Athens Alabama HVAC Contractor repairing air conditioning condenserHVAC is an acronym that is widely used in the trade that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC professionals specialize in the installation, repair and maintenance of air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and heating systems. As skilled tradesmen, they are generally mandated to be licensed, though every state and regional municipality has its own criteria. Earning professional certification is not mandatory, but an optional means for Athens AL HVAC techs to demonstrate that they are exceptionally proficient and knowledgeable in their area of expertise. There are a number of recognized certifications within the field that are offered. Here are a few of the significant ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally acknowledged certification for HVAC technicians. The certification is achieved by passing a proficiency examination and can be earned in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification makes available both a professional and a master specialist credential. Two years of professional experience in addition to passing a comprehensive examination are required for the professional level certification. Master specialists must have 3 years of experience in addition to a passing score on the professional level examination. Similar to NATE, certifications are offered in multiple specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is necessary for specialists that work with refrigerants. There are 3 forms of certification available, one for small appliances, and the additional two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Since licensing might be required in your area, and you may also desire to acquire certification, it's important that you pick an HVAC trade school that will prepare you for both. And since you will probably be handling refrigerants, make sure that the program you select readies you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

HVAC Certificate and Degree Courses

Athens Alabama residential heater

There are several options available for HVAC instruction in a trade or technical school. You can attain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the least period of time, typically accomplished in as little as 6 months, however some courses are longer. A certificate will qualify you for most HVAC positions, especially if you are licensed and have certification relevant to the position. The degree programs can provide a competitive advantage in the job market and will provide more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a brief description of each credential offered near Athens AL.

  • Certificate. Usually requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level commercial or residential HVAC professionals. They furnish a solid foundation of skills for job opportunities within the industry.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more detailed background of heating & cooling systems than the certificate program. Normally taking 2 years to complete, a number of degrees feature an internship or work-study program.
  • Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is suited more towards a career in management or even business ownership. Some programs require an Associate Degree, while others are a conventional 4 year program. In addition to being taught how to service and maintain heating and cooling systems, you will also learn how to design them.

Choosing the ideal credential program will be based on what your long term career objectives are, together with the time and money that you have to commit. One option is to begin with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after getting some experience in the trade in Athens AL, later returning to obtain a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, make certain to ask the HVAC tech school you are considering about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Schools Online

Choosing an HVAC school online is one alternative to getting your training and receiving a degree or certificate. Nearly all schools will require some attendance on campus to complete hands on training. A number also offer internship or work-study programs in addition to or instead of practical lab work. But since the balance of the classes can be participated in on the web, this option may be a more practical solution for many Athens AL students that are short on time. And some online degree programs are cheaper than other on campus options. Even commuting expenses from Athens and study materials can be lessened, helping to make schooling more affordable. And many online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your work or family responsibilities have left you with minimal time to attend classes, perhaps an HVAC online training program will make it easier to accommodate school into your hectic schedule.

What to Ask HVAC Trade Schools

Athens Alabama Heating and Cooling tech replacing water heater

After you have picked the type of certificate or degree that you want to earn, either online or on campus, you can start to narrow down your selection of schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are a large number of HVAC vocational schools in the Athens AL area and across the USA to choose from. That's why it is very important to have a checklist of important qualifiers when making school assessments. As earlier mentioned in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will undoubtedly be the first two factors you will take into consideration. Following are some additional ones that you need to research before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  A large number of HVAC technical programs in the Athens AL area have earned either a regional or a national accreditation. They can earn Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to a specific program, for example HVAC technology. Confirm that the school and program are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education approved accrediting agency, for example the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping guarantee that you obtain an excellent education, it can assist in acquiring financial assistance or student loans, which are in many cases unavailable for non-accredited schools. Also, many states mandate that the HVAC training course be accredited for it to qualify for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the Heating and Air Conditioning schools you are reviewing what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the percentage or portion of students who enroll in and finish the course. A lower completion rate might signify that students were disappointed with the course and dropped out. It could also mean that the teachers were not qualified to instruct the students. It's similarly essential that the schools have higher job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a broader list of alumni, which can result in more contacts for the school to use for their apprenticeship and job placement programs. A high job placement rate can not only confirm that the school has an excellent reputation within the field, but also that it has the network of Athens AL HVAC employers to help graduates secure apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Most HVAC technical programs are taught along with an apprenticeship or an internship program. Those participating trade and vocational programs will help place you in an apprenticeship program within their network of HVAC contractors or trade unions. Find out if the schools you are reviewing have referring partnerships with local Athens AL HVAC specialists. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by providing practical training, but it also furnishes employment opportunities and helps to build relationships in the local HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make certain that the campus facilities and the tools that you will be trained on are state-of-the-art and what you will be working with on the job. If you are presently in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC tech you are working under regarding what you should be looking for. If not, ask a local Athens AL HVAC contracting company if they can provide some pointers. Additionally bear in mind that unless you can relocate, the school needs to be within commuting distance of your Athens AL home. Remember that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there can be increased tuition fees compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's important that you get as much one-on-one instruction as possible, which can be difficult in larger classes. Ask if you can sit in on a couple of the classes so that you can observe how big they are and experience the interaction between students and instructors. Speak to some of the students and get their comments relating to class sizes and instruction. Last, speak with a few of the teachers and find out what their level of experience is and what certifications or degrees they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Verify that the class schedules for the programs you are assessing are flexible enough to fulfill your needs. If you are only able to attend classes in the evening or on weekends near Athens AL, check that the schools you are comparing provide those options. If you can only attend part-time, be sure that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Also, find out what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, sickness or family responsibilities.

Learn More About Athens Heating and Cooling Schools In Your Area

Earn Your HVAC Certificate or Degree

Choosing the ideal HVAC training course is a critical first step toward a fulfilling career in the heating & cooling field. As we have addressed in this article, you need to select a Heating and Cooling training program and a certificate or degree program that are both accredited and have outstanding reputations within the HVAC trade. Other factors to look for are plenty of hands-on training and state-of-the-art facilities. You need to check out each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to inspect the campus and talk with both the current students and faculty. Try to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. Also, inquire about scheduling options and whether evening or weekend classes are offered if needed. And remember to inquire about financial aid and student loan options too. If you ask the right questions as we have laid out in our checklist for evaluating schools, you'll be able to filter your options so that you can make an informed decision. With the appropriate training, hard work and commitment, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC contractor in Athens AL.