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

Birmingham Alabama home air conditioning condensersOnce you have decided on a career as a heating and air conditioner professional, the next step is to find an HVAC trade school near Birmingham AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you choose the right one to obtain the training that you require? A number of prospective students will make their choice based solely on the price of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. Even though these are necessary factors to consider, they are not the only ones to take into account. Some of the other things that you need to research are the graduation rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. Those and other criteria will be covered in more detail later in this article. But before we discuss how to select an HVAC vocational school, let's take a look at what a heating and a/c contractor does to become a licensed skilled tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Professional

Birmingham Alabama Heating and Cooling Contractor inspecting air conditioning condenserHVAC is an acronym that is frequently used in the business 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 skilled tradesmen, they are generally required to be licensed, though each state and regional municipality has its own criteria. Earning professional certification is not mandatory, but a voluntary way for Birmingham AL HVAC technicians to prove that they are exceptionally qualified and experienced in their area of specialization. There are many respected certifications within the trade that are offered. Below are some of the significant ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally acknowledged certification for HVAC techs. The certification is achieved by passing a proficiency exam and may be earned in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification makes available both a professional and a master specialist credential. Two 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 as well as a passing score on the professional level examination. Similar to NATE, certifications are offered in several specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is required for specialists that work with refrigerants. There are three types of certification obtainable, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Considering that licensing might be mandated in your area, and you may also desire to acquire certification, it's important that you pick an HVAC vocational school that will prepare you for both. And since you will more than likely be dealing with refrigerants, make certain that the school you decide on readies you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

HVAC Degree Training Programs

Birmingham Alabama home heating pump

There are several choices offered for HVAC training in a technical or vocational school. You can attain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Earning a certificate will take the lesser period of time, often completed in as little as 6 months, however some programs are longer. A certificate will train you for the majority of HVAC positions, especially if you are licensed and have certification appropriate to the position. The degree programs might provide a competitive edge in the job market and will furnish more extensive training than the certificate programs. Following is a short explanation of each credential offered near Birmingham AL.

  • Certificate. Usually requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level residential or commercial HVAC specialists. They furnish a solid foundation of skills for job opportunities within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more exhaustive knowledge of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Usually taking 2 years to finish, many degrees feature an internship or work-study program.
  • Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is geared more for a career in management as well as business ownership. Some programs require an Associate Degree, while others are a conventional four year program. In addition to mastering how to service and maintain heating and air conditioning systems, you will also study how to design them.

Choosing the ideal credential program will be based on what your long term career aspirations are, as well as 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 trade in Birmingham AL, later going back to earn a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your strategy, make sure to ask the HVAC tech school you are looking at about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Courses Online

Enrolling in an HVAC program online is one possibility to obtaining your training and receiving a degree or certificate. Most schools will require some attendance on campus to complete 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 balance of the classes may be attended on the web, this option may be a more accessible solution for some Birmingham AL students that are pressed for time. And a number of online degree programs are cheaper than other traditional choices. Even commuting expenses from Birmingham and study materials can be reduced, helping to make education more economical. And numerous online programs are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your work or family obligations have left you with little time to attend classes, maybe an HVAC online training program will make it easier to accommodate school into your active schedule.

Questions For HVAC Training Programs

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When you have selected the type of certificate or degree that you wish to acquire, either online or on campus, you can start to limit your list of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are many HVAC vocational schools in the Birmingham AL area and all over the United States to choose from. That's why it is very important to have a checklist of important qualifiers when making school evaluations. As earlier mentioned in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will most likely be the first two aspects you will consider. Following are several additional ones that you need to research before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  A large number of HVAC trade programs in the Birmingham AL area have received either a regional or a national accreditation. They can attain Institutional Accreditation, which focuses on the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which pertains to an individual program, for example HVAC technology. Verify that the school is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education approved accrediting agency, for example the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping make certain that you get a superior education, it can help in acquiring financial aid or student loans, which are frequently not available for non-accredited programs. Also, many states mandate that the HVAC training course be accredited in order to be approved for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the Heating and Air Conditioning 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 indicate that students were dissatisfied with the course and quit. It could also mean that the instructors were not competent to instruct the students. It's also imperative that the schools have higher job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a more extensive directory of alumni, which can mean more contacts for the school to utilize for their apprenticeship and job placement programs. A high job placement rate can not only affirm that the school has an excellent reputation within the field, but additionally that it has the network of Birmingham AL HVAC employers to assist graduates secure apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Many HVAC trade programs are taught in conjunction with an internship or an apprenticeship program. Those participating vocational and trade schools will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of Heating and Cooling companies or trade unions. Find out if the schools you are considering have working relationships with local Birmingham AL HVAC companies. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by furnishing practical training, but it also supplies employment opportunities and helps to form relationships in the regional HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make sure that the school facilities and the equipment that you will be trained on are up-to-date and what you will be using on the job. If you are presently in an internship or an apprenticeship, consult 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 give you some pointers. Additionally keep in mind that unless you are able to relocate, the school must be within commuting distance of your Birmingham AL residence. Take note that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, in addition to moving costs there might be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's desirable that you get as much individualized training as possible, which can be difficult in bigger classes. Ask if you can monitor a few of the classes so that you can observe how large they are and experience the interaction between students and instructors. Talk with a few of the students and get their feedback regarding class sizes and instruction. Finally, talk to some of the instructors and learn what their level of experience is and what certifications or degrees they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Make sure that the class schedules for the schools you are assessing are flexible enough to handle your needs. If you are only able to go to classes in the evening or on weekends near Birmingham AL, check that the programs you are reviewing provide those choices. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select allows part-time enrollment. Finally, ask what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, sickness or family responsibilities.

Find Out More About Birmingham Heating and Cooling Training Classes In Your Area

Earn Your Heating and Cooling Training and Certification

Enrolling in the ideal HVAC training program is a crucial beginning toward a gratifying career in the heating and air conditioning trade. 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 community. Other things to look for are plenty of hands-on training and state-of-the-art facilities. You need to go to each of the schools personally 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 teaching and the interaction between them. Also, inquire about scheduling options and whether or not evening or weekend classes are available if needed. And remember to ask about financial aid and student loan options too. If you ask the appropriate questions as we have outlined in our checklist for comparing schools, you'll be able to filter your options so that you can make an educated decision. With the proper training, hard work and commitment, you can eventually become a licensed HVAC contractor in Birmingham AL.