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How to Select the Right Heating and Cooling College near Florence Alabama

Florence Alabama residential A/C condensersNow that you have made a decision on a career as a heating and cooling technician, the next step is to find an HVAC trade school near Florence AL. But with so many to pick from, how do you decide on the ideal one to receive the training that you need? Some prospective students will make their decision based entirely on the price of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. Even though these are significant considerations, they are not the only ones to evaluate. 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. Those and other criteria will be addressed in more detail later within this article. But before we tackle how to select an HVAC trade school, let's take a look at what a heating and a/c contractor does to become a licensed skilled tradesman.

Becoming an HVAC Tech

Florence Alabama HVAC Technician fixing A/C condenserHVAC is an acronym that is frequently used in the industry 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 commonly required to be licensed, although each state and local municipality has its own requirements. Earning professional certification is not compulsory, but an optional means for Florence AL HVAC techs to demonstrate that they are exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable in their area of specialization. There are multiple acknowledged certifications within the trade that are offered. Following are a few of the significant ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally recognized certification for HVAC techs. The certification is attained by passing a proficiency exam and can be earned in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. 2 years of professional experience together with passing a comprehensive examination are needed for the professional level certification. Master specialists must have 3 years of experience as well as a passing score on the professional level exam. As with NATE, certifications are offered in various specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is required for techs that work with refrigerants. There are three forms of certification obtainable, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Since licensing could be required in your area, and you may also intend to acquire certification, it's imperative that you enroll in an HVAC vocational school that will train 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 exams.

HVAC Certificate and Degree Classes

Florence Alabama home heater

There are a variety of choices available for HVAC instruction in a trade or technical school. You can earn a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Earning a certificate will take the minimum amount of time, often achieved in just 6 months, though some programs are longer. A certificate will train you for the majority of HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification related to the position. The degree programs might provide a competitive advantage for securing employment and will deliver more extensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a brief summary of each credential offered near Florence AL.

  • Certificate. Generally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level commercial or residential HVAC specialists. They provide a solid foundation of skills for job opportunities within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program delivers a more exhaustive background of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Usually requiring two years to complete, a number of degrees include 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 standard 4 year program. In addition to learning how to service and maintain heating and air conditioning systems, you will also study how to design them.

Choosing the right credential program will be dependent on what your long term career goals are, as well as the time and financial resources that you have to invest. One approach is to begin with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after gaining some experience in the trade in Florence AL, subsequently going back to obtain a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, be sure to ask the HVAC technician school you are considering about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Online Classes

Enrolling in an HVAC school online is one approach in obtaining your education and receiving a degree or certificate. Nearly all schools will require some attendance on campus to participate in hands on training. Many 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 participated in via the internet, this alternative may be a more practical solution for many Florence AL students that are short on time. And many online degree programs are less costly than other traditional alternatives. Even commuting expenses from Florence and study materials may be minimized, helping to make schooling more economical. And a large number of online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your job or family responsibilities have left you with minimal time to attend classes, perhaps an online HVAC degree program will make it easier to accommodate school into your busy lifestyle.

Questions to Ask HVAC Trade Schools

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Once you have picked the type of degree or certificate that you desire to earn, either online or on campus, you can begin to decrease your selection of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are a large number of HVAC technical schools in the Florence AL area and all over the United States to choose from. That's why it is imperative to have a list of relevant qualifiers when making school comparisons. As previously stated in our opening paragraph, tuition and location will probably be the initial two aspects you will look at. Following are some additional ones that you will want to explore before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  A large number of HVAC vocational schools in the Florence AL area have earned either a regional or a national accreditation. They can receive Institutional Accreditation, which focuses on the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which pertains to a specific program, for instance HVAC technology. Make sure that the program is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting organization, for instance the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping ensure that you receive a superior education, it may assist in obtaining financial assistance or student loans, which are frequently unavailable for non-accredited programs. Additionally, a number of states require that the HVAC training course 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 portion or percentage of students who enroll in and complete the program. A low completion rate might signify that students were disappointed with the course and dropped out. It could also signify that the instructors were not competent to instruct the students. It's similarly imperative that the schools have high job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a broader directory 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 validate that the school has a good reputation within the trade, but additionally that it has the network of Florence AL HVAC employers to assist students obtain apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Most HVAC vocational programs are taught along 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 Heating and Cooling contractors or labor unions. Ask if the schools you are reviewing have working relationships with local Florence AL HVAC specialists. An apprenticeship not only provides a rewarding experience by furnishing hands-on training, but it also provides employment opportunities and helps to build relationships in the regional HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make certain that the campus facilities and the equipment that you will be instructed on are up-to-date and what you will be working with on the job. If you are already in an internship or an apprenticeship, consult with the HVAC specialist you are working with regarding what you should be expecting. If not, ask a local Florence AL HVAC company if they can give you some pointers. Additionally bear in mind that unless you are willing to relocate, the school must be within driving distance of your Florence AL home. Take note that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there can be higher tuition fees compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's desirable that you get as much individualized training as possible, which can be difficult in larger classes. Ask if you can monitor a couple of the classes so that you can observe how large they are and experience the interaction between instructors and students. Speak to a few of the students and get their opinions concerning class sizes and instruction. Last, speak to some of the teachers and find out 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 fulfill your needs. If you can only go to classes at night or on weekends near Florence AL, verify that the schools you are considering offer those choices. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select allows part-time enrollment. Also, find out what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any due to work, illness or family issues.

Learn More About Florence HVAC Programs In Your Area

Get Your HVAC Certificate or Degree

Enrolling in the ideal HVAC training course is a crucial beginning toward a fulfilling career in the heating and air conditioning trade. 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 exceptional reputations within the HVAC trade. Other features to search for are sufficient practical training and state-of-the-art facilities. You need to check out each of the schools personally that you are most interested in to explore the campus and speak with both the current students and faculty. Attempt to get a feel for the quality of the teaching and the interaction between them. Also, ask about scheduling options and if night or weekend classes are offered if needed. And remember to ask about financial assistance and student loan options as well. If you ask the proper questions as we have laid out in our guidelines for comparing schools, you'll be able to narrow down your options so that you can make an informed decision. With the proper training, hard work and commitment, you can eventually become a licensed HVAC specialist in Florence AL.