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How to Choose the Right HVAC Program near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama home air conditioning condensersNow that you have made a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioning professional, the next action is to look for 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 need? A number of future students will make their selection based exclusively on the cost of tuition or how near the school is to their residence. Although these are important concerns, they are not the only ones to evaluate. Some of the other factors that you need to look into are the graduation completion rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. These and other criteria will be discussed in more detail later within this article. But before we explore how to choose an HVAC vocational school, let's take a look at what a heating and a/c professional does to become a licensed qualified tradesman.

Becoming an HVAC Pro

Birmingham Alabama HVAC Contractor servicing air conditioning condenserHVAC is an acronym that is extensively used in the business that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC technicians provide services for the installation, repair and maintenance of central air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and heating systems. As skilled tradesmen, they are commonly required to be licensed, though every state and local municipality has its own prerequisites. Attaining professional certification is not compulsory, but a voluntary way for Birmingham AL HVAC specialists to establish that they are exceptionally skilled and experienced in their area of expertise. There are multiple acknowledged certifications within the trade that are offered. 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 can be acquired in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification makes available 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 as well as a passing score on the professional level exam. Similar to NATE, certifications are provided in several specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is necessary for technicians that work with refrigerants. There are three types of certification offered, one for small appliances, and the additional two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Since licensing could be mandated in your location, and you may also intend to obtain certification, it's important that you select an HVAC technical school that will train you for both. And since you will more than likely be handling refrigerants, make certain that the program you select prepares you for passing the EPA Section 608 exams.

HVAC Degree and Certificate Training Programs

Birmingham Alabama home heating pump

There are a variety of options offered for HVAC instruction in a vocational or trade school. You can obtain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the lesser amount of time, typically completed in as little as six months, although some programs are longer. A certificate will train you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification relevant to the position. The degree programs might provide a competitive advantage for securing employment and will provide more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a short summary of each option offered near Birmingham AL.

  • Certificate. Generally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among beginning commercial or residential HVAC technicians. They furnish a strong foundation of skills for job opportunities within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more extensive knowledge of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Usually requiring 2 years to complete, many degrees incorporate 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 standard 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 appropriate credential program will be dependent on what your future career goals are, along with the time and money that you have to invest. One possibility is to begin with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after getting some experience in the field in Birmingham AL, subsequently going back to earn a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, be sure to ask the HVAC tech school you are looking at about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Online Courses

Attending an HVAC school online is one approach in getting your training and earning a certificate or degree. Most schools will call for some attendance on campus to take part in practical training. Some also offer internship or work-study programs in addition to or in place of practical lab work. But since the remainder of the classes can be attended via the internet, this alternative may be a more convenient solution for some Birmingham AL students that are short on time. And many online degree programs are less expensive than other on campus alternatives. Even driving expenses from Birmingham and study supplies may be reduced, helping to make education more affordable. And numerous online programs are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your job or family responsibilities have left you with little time to attend classes, maybe an HVAC online training program will make it less complicated to fit school into your busy schedule.

Questions to Ask HVAC Schools

Birmingham Alabama HVAC tech servicing water heater

Once you have decided on the type of certificate or degree that you want to attain, either online or on campus, you can start to decrease your selection of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are numerous HVAC trade schools in the Birmingham AL area and across the USA to pick from. That's why it is essential to have a list of relevant qualifiers when making school evaluations. As formerly stated in our opening paragraph, tuition and location will most likely be the initial 2 variables you will look at. Following are several additional ones that you should research before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  A large number of HVAC technical schools in the Birmingham AL area have attained either a regional or a national accreditation. They may earn Institutional Accreditation, which focuses on the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to an individual program, such as HVAC technology. Make certain that the program is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting agency, which includes the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping ensure that you acquire an excellent education, it can assist in acquiring financial aid or student loans, which are in many cases unavailable for non-accredited programs. Additionally, some states require that the HVAC training course be accredited in order to qualify for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the Heating and Cooling schools you are reviewing what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the portion or percentage of students who enroll in and complete the course. A low completion rate could indicate that students were dissatisfied with the course and quit. It may also signify that the teachers were not competent to instruct the students. It's similarly imperative that the schools have higher job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a broader directory of alumni, which can produce 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 a good reputation within the industry, but additionally that it has the network of Birmingham AL HVAC employers to help grads secure apprenticeships or employment.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Many HVAC trade programs are taught together with an internship or an apprenticeship program. Those participating trade and vocational programs will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of Heating and Cooling businesses or labor unions. Check if the schools you are considering have referring partnerships with local Birmingham AL HVAC professionals. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by furnishing practical training, but it also supplies job opportunities and helps to establish relationships in the area HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make certain that the campus facilities and the equipment that you will be trained on are state-of-the-art and what you will be working with in the field. If you are presently in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC specialist you are working with regarding what you should be expecting. Otherwise, ask a local Birmingham AL HVAC contractor if they can provide some tips. Additionally keep in mind that unless you are willing to relocate, 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 moving costs there might be higher tuition fees compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's important that you get as much individualized instruction as possible, which can be difficult in bigger classes. Ask if you can monitor a few of the classes so that you can see how large they are and experience the interaction between teachers and students. Speak to several of the students and get their feedback relating to class sizes and instruction. Last, talk to a few of the teachers and learn what their level of expertise is and what degrees or certifications they have earned.

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 attend classes in the evening or on weekends near Birmingham AL, verify that the schools you are comparing provide those options. If you can only attend part-time, make sure that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Finally, check out what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, sickness or family responsibilities.

Find Out More About Birmingham HVAC Training Classes Near You

Earn Your Heating and Cooling Degree and Certification

Picking the right HVAC training course is an important first step toward a fulfilling career in the heating and cooling trade. As we have covered 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 profession. Other factors to look for are plenty of practical training and modern facilities. You should visit each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to tour 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. Additionally, ask about scheduling choices and whether evening or weekend classes are offered if needed. And don't forget to ask about financial aid and student loan options also. If you ask the right questions as we have outlined in our guidelines for evaluating schools, you'll be able to filter your choices so that you can make an informed decision. With the right training, hard work and dedication, you can eventually become a licensed HVAC specialist in Birmingham AL.