How to Select the Right Heating and Cooling Program near Birmingham Alabama
Now that you have come to a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioner specialist, the next step is to locate an HVAC vocational school near Birmingham AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you choose the right one to receive the training that you need? Some future students will make their selection based entirely on the price of tuition or how near the school is to their residence. While these are necessary concerns, they are not the only ones to take into account. A few of the other things that you need to investigate are the graduation rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. These and other benchmarks will be discussed in more detail later in this article. But before we examine how to pick an HVAC training program, let's take a look at what a heating and cooling professional does to become a licensed skilled tradesman.
How to Become an HVAC Technician
HVAC is an acronym that is widely used in the trade that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC techs provide services for the installation, maintenance and repair of central air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and heating systems. As professional tradesmen, they are typically required to be licensed, although each state and regional municipality has its own criteria. Earning professional certification is not compulsory, but an alternative way for Birmingham AL HVAC techs to establish that they are exceptionally qualified and experienced in their area of specialization. There are multiple acknowledged certifications within the industry that are offered. Below are a few of the important ones.
- North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally acknowledged certification for HVAC technicians. The certification is achieved by passing a competency examination and can be acquired in one or more specialties.
- HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. 2 years of professional experience in addition to passing a comprehensive examination are needed for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have three years of experience as well as 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 three types of certification offered, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.
Since licensing could be mandated in your area, and you may also intend to obtain certification, it's important that you enroll in an HVAC technical school that will prepare you for both. And since you will most likely be dealing with refrigerants, make sure that the school you choose prepares you for passing the EPA Section 608 exams.
HVAC Degree Training Programs
There are several options offered 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 minimum period of time, often accomplished in just six months, though some programs are longer. A certificate will qualify you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification related to the position. The degree training programs may provide a competitive edge in the job market and will furnish more extensive training than the certificate programs. Following is a brief summary of each credential offered near Birmingham AL.
- Certificate. Usually requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are preferred among beginning commercial or residential HVAC specialists. They furnish a strong foundation of skills for job opportunities within the industry.
- Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more extensive understanding of heating and cooling systems than the certificate program. Typically requiring two years to complete, many degrees incorporate an internship or work-study program.
- Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is tailored more towards a career in management or even business ownership. Some programs call for an Associate Degree, while others are a traditional 4 year program. In addition to learning how to service and maintain heating and air conditioning systems, you will also learn how to design them.
Choosing the appropriate credential program will be based on what your future career aspirations are, along with the time and financial resources that you have to invest. One option is to start with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after acquiring some experience in the field in Birmingham AL, later returning to acquire a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your approach, make sure to ask the HVAC tech school you are looking at about how their returning student program works.
HVAC Courses Online
Choosing an HVAC program online is one approach in attaining your training and earning a degree or certificate. Almost all schools will call for some attendance on campus to take part in hands on training. Many also offer internship or work-study programs in addition to or in place of practical lab work. But since the balance of the classes may be attended via the internet, this alternative may be a more convenient solution for some Birmingham AL students that are pressed for time. And many online degree programs are less expensive than other on campus alternatives. Even commuting expenses from Birmingham and study materials can be lessened, helping to make schooling more economical. And many online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your career or family responsibilities have left you with little time to attend classes, perhaps an online HVAC degree program will make it less complicated to accommodate school into your busy lifestyle.
Questions For HVAC Trade Schools
After you have picked the type of certificate or degree that you desire to obtain, either on campus or online, you can begin to decrease your list of schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are numerous HVAC trade schools in the Birmingham AL area and throughout the USA to pick from. That's why it is extremely important to have a checklist of important qualifiers when making school assessments. As formerly stated in our opening paragraph, tuition and location will probably be the initial 2 aspects you will look at. Following are some additional ones that you should research before enrolling in your school of choice.
Accreditation. A large number of HVAC vocational schools in the Birmingham AL area have received either a regional or a national accreditation. They can attain Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to a specific program, such as HVAC technology. Verify that the school and program are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization, which includes the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping ensure that you get a superior education, it can assist in obtaining financial aid or student loans, which are often not available for non-accredited schools. Additionally, some states require that the HVAC training course be accredited in order to qualify for licensing.
High Completion Rates. Ask the HVAC schools you are looking at what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the percentage or portion of students who enroll in and complete the program. A low completion rate could suggest that students were disappointed with the course and dropped out. It could also indicate that the teachers were not competent 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 alumni, which may mean more contacts for the school to use for their apprenticeship and job placement programs. A high job placement rate will not only confirm that the school has an excellent reputation within the trade, but additionally that it has the network of Birmingham AL HVAC employers to help grads acquire apprenticeships or employment.
Apprenticeship Programs. Many HVAC technical programs are taught along with an apprenticeship or an internship program. Those participating vocational and trade schools will help place you in an apprenticeship program within their network of HVAC contractors or labor unions. Find out if the schools you are comparing have working relationships with local Birmingham AL HVAC professionals. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by providing practical training, but it also furnishes employment opportunities and helps to establish relationships in the regional HVAC professional community.
Modern Facilities. Make certain that the school facilities and the equipment that you will be trained on are state-of-the-art and what you will be using on the job. If you are presently in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC tech you are working with regarding what you should be looking for. If not, ask a local Birmingham AL HVAC contracting company if they can give you some tips. Also bear in mind that unless you are able to move, the school must be within commuting distance of your Birmingham AL residence. Take note that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, besides the added relocation costs there can be higher tuition fees compared to in-state residents.
Smaller Classes. It's important that you receive as much individualized training as possible, which can be difficult in bigger classes. Ask if you can sit in on some of the classes so that you can observe how large they are and witness first hand the interaction between teachers and students. Speak with several of the students and get their opinions regarding class sizes and instruction. Last, speak with a few of the teachers and find out what their level of experience is and what degrees or certifications they hold.
Flexible Scheduling. Make sure that the class schedules for the programs you are reviewing are flexible enough to handle your needs. If you can only go to classes at night or on weekends near Birmingham AL, check that the programs you are looking at provide those options. If you can only attend part-time, be sure that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Additionally, check out what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any due to work, illness or family responsibilities.
Earn Your HVAC Degree and Certification
Picking the right HVAC training program is a crucial beginning toward a rewarding career in the heating and cooling industry. As we have discussed in this article, you need to choose a Heating and Cooling training program and a certificate or degree program that are both accredited and have outstanding reputations within the HVAC community. Other factors to look for are lots of hands-on training and modern facilities. You need to visit each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to explore the campus and speak with both the faculty and current students. Attempt to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. In addition, ask about scheduling choices and if evening or weekend classes are offered if needed. And don't forget to inquire about financial assistance and student loan options too. If you ask the proper questions as we have outlined in our guidelines for evaluating schools, you'll be able to narrow down your choices so that you can make an educated decision. With the right training, hard work and commitment, you can eventually become a licensed HVAC technician in Birmingham AL.