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How to Enroll In the Right Heating and Cooling College near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama home air conditioning condensersNow that you have made a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioner professional, the next action is to choose an HVAC trade school near Birmingham AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you pick the best one to receive the training that you require? Some prospective students will make their choice based exclusively on the price of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. Although these are necessary considerations, they are not the only ones to investigate. Just some of the other details that you need to research are the graduation rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. These and other criteria will be addressed in more detail later in this article. But before we explore how to pick an HVAC technical school, let's look at what a heating and a/c technician does to become a licensed qualified tradesman.

Becoming an HVAC Professional

Birmingham Alabama HVAC Tech repairing A/C condenserHVAC is an acronym that is extensively used in the industry that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC professionals provide services for the installation, repair and maintenance of central air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and heating systems. As professional tradesmen, they are typically required to be licensed, although each state and regional municipality has its own requirements. Acquiring professional certification is not mandatory, but an alternative means for Birmingham AL HVAC technicians to demonstrate that they are highly skilled and accomplished in their area of specialization. There are multiple recognized certifications within the industry that are available. Here are some of the significant ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally recognized certification for HVAC technicians. The certification is attained by passing a competency examination and may be earned in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. 2 years of field experience as well as passing a comprehensive examination are required for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have 3 years of experience along with a passing result on the professional level exam. As with NATE, certifications are made available in various specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is mandatory for techs that handle refrigerants. There are 3 forms of certification available, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Because licensing could be mandated in your area, and you may also intend to earn certification, it's important that you select an HVAC trade school that will train you for both. And since you will probably be handling refrigerants, make certain that the school you choose prepares you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

HVAC Certificate and Degree Schools

Birmingham Alabama residential heating pump

There are several options available for HVAC training in a technical or vocational school. You can obtain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Earning a certificate will take the least amount of time, usually completed in just six months, although some courses are longer. A certificate will train you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification applicable to the position. The degree programs may provide a competitive advantage in the job market and will furnish more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Following is a brief summary of each credential offered near Birmingham AL.

  • Certificate. Normally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level residential or commercial HVAC technicians. They provide a strong foundation of skills for job opportunities within the industry.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program supplies a more extensive understanding of heating & cooling systems than the certificate program. Typically requiring 2 years to complete, many 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 as well as business ownership. Some programs call for an Associate Degree, while others are a traditional four 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 dependent on what your long term career objectives are, along with the time and financial resources that you have to commit. One option is to begin with a certificate or perhaps an Associate Degree program, and after getting some experience in the trade in Birmingham AL, eventually returning to acquire a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, make sure to ask the HVAC technician school you are considering about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Schools Online

Enrolling in an HVAC school online is one option in attaining your education and receiving a degree or certificate. Most schools will call for some attendance on campus to take part in practical training. A number also sponsor internship or work-study programs in addition to or as an alternative to practical lab work. But since the rest of the classes can be participated in on the web, this option may be a more accessible solution for some Birmingham AL students that are short on time. And many online degree programs are less expensive than other on campus choices. Even commuting expenses from Birmingham and study materials can be lessened, helping to make education more affordable. And many online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your work or family responsibilities have left you with limited time to attend classes, maybe an HVAC online training program will make it easier to accommodate school into your active lifestyle.

Questions For HVAC Trade Schools

Birmingham Alabama Heating and Cooling technician installing water heater

As soon as you have chosen the type of certificate or degree that you want to obtain, either on campus or online, you can start to limit your selection of schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are a large number of HVAC vocational schools in the Birmingham AL area and throughout the United States to select from. That's why it is extremely important to have a checklist of important qualifications when making school evaluations. As previously mentioned in our opening paragraph, tuition and location will probably be the first two factors you will take into consideration. Following are some additional ones that you should research before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  Many HVAC vocational programs in the Birmingham AL area have earned either a regional or a national accreditation. They may acquire Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to an individual program, for example HVAC technology. Make sure that the program is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency, for example the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping ensure that you acquire a superior education, it may help in securing financial assistance or student loans, which are in many cases not available for non-accredited programs. Additionally, many states mandate that the HVAC training program be accredited for it to qualify for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the Heating and Cooling schools you are looking at what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the percentage of students who enroll in and complete the program. A lower completion rate may signify that students were disappointed with the course and quit. It could also mean that the teachers were not qualified to train the students. It's similarly important that the schools have higher job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a more extensive list of graduates, which can mean more contacts for the school to utilize for their apprenticeship and job placement programs. A high job placement rate will not only affirm that the school has an excellent reputation within the field, but also that it has the network of Birmingham AL HVAC employers to assist students obtain apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Most HVAC technical programs are taught in conjunction with an internship or an apprenticeship program. Those participating trade and technical schools will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of HVAC businesses or labor unions. Check if the schools you are reviewing have working partnerships with local Birmingham AL HVAC specialists. An apprenticeship not only provides a rewarding experience by supplying hands-on training, but it also supplies employment opportunities and helps to build relationships in the area HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make certain that the school facilities and the tools that you will be instructed on are state-of-the-art and what you will be working with on the job. If you are currently in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC technician you are working with regarding what you should be looking for. Otherwise, ask a local Birmingham AL HVAC contractor if they can provide some tips. Additionally bear in mind that unless you are willing to relocate, the school must be within driving distance of your Birmingham AL residence. Take note that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, besides the added relocation costs there may be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's desirable that you receive as much one-on-one instruction as possible, which can be difficult in larger classes. Ask if you can monitor some of the classes so that you can observe how large they are and witness first hand the interaction between teachers and students. Talk with a few of the students and get their comments relating to class sizes and instruction. Finally, speak with a few of the teachers and find out what their level of expertise is and what degrees or certifications they hold.

Flexible Scheduling.  Make sure that the class schedules for the schools you are reviewing are flexible enough to meet your needs. If you can only go to classes at night or on weekends near Birmingham AL, confirm that the schools you are considering provide those options. If you can only attend part-time, make sure that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Also, check out what the protocol is to make-up classes should you miss any due to work, illness or family responsibilities.

Find Out More About Birmingham HVAC Schools In Your Area

Earn Your HVAC Training and Certification

Selecting the right HVAC school program is a critical first step toward a gratifying career in the heating & cooling trade. As we have discussed in this article, you need to select a Heating and Cooling training program and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have exceptional reputations within the HVAC trade. Other features to look for are plenty of hands-on training and modern facilities. You should check out each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to explore the campus and speak with both the current students and faculty. Try to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. Additionally, inquire about scheduling options and whether night or weekend classes are available if needed. And don't forget to ask about financial aid and student loan options also. If you ask the appropriate questions as we have detailed in our checklist for evaluating schools, you'll be able to narrow down your choices so that you can make an informed decision. With the appropriate training, hard work and commitment, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC professional in Birmingham AL.