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How to Find the Right Heating and Cooling School near Huntsville Alabama

Huntsville Alabama residential A/C condensersNow that you have decided on a career as a heating and air conditioner professional, the next step is to locate an HVAC vocational school near Huntsville AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you choose the best one to get the training that you need? Many prospective students will make their selection based entirely on the cost of tuition or how close the school is to their home. While these are relevant concerns, they are not the only ones to evaluate. Some of the other details that you need to research are the graduation completion rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. These and additional benchmarks will be discussed in more detail later in this article. But before we examine how to pick an HVAC technical school, let's look at what a heating and air conditioning contractor does to become a licensed professional tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Contractor

Huntsville Alabama Heating and Cooling Contractor repairing air conditioning condenserHVAC 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, repair and maintenance of central air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and heating systems. As professional tradesmen, they are generally required to be licensed, though every state and local municipality has its own criteria. Attaining professional certification is not mandatory, but an alternative means for Huntsville AL HVAC technicians to establish that they are exceptionally proficient and accomplished in their area of expertise. There are multiple acknowledged certifications within the field that are available. Following are a few of the important 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 may be acquired in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. 2 years of field experience in addition to passing a comprehensive exam are needed for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have 3 years of experience in addition to a passing score on the professional level exam. As with NATE, certifications are made available in various specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is mandatory for specialists that work with refrigerants. There are three forms of certification available, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Because licensing could be required in your area, and you may also desire to obtain certification, it's imperative that you enroll in an HVAC vocational school that will prepare you for both. And since you will most likely be handling refrigerants, make sure that the school you select readies you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

HVAC Degree Classes

Huntsville Alabama home heat pump

There are a variety of alternatives offered for HVAC training in a trade or technical school. You can obtain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the lesser amount of time, usually achieved in just 6 months, although some courses are longer. A certificate will qualify you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification appropriate to the position. The degree programs may provide a competitive edge in the job market and will furnish more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a brief explanation of each option offered near Huntsville AL.

  • Certificate. Normally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level commercial or residential HVAC technicians. They furnish a solid foundation of skills for employment within the industry.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program delivers a more detailed knowledge of heating and cooling systems than the certificate program. Normally taking two years to finish, 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 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 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 acquiring some experience in the field in Huntsville AL, later returning to obtain 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 Online Schools

Enrolling in an HVAC program online is one possibility in obtaining your education and earning a degree or certificate. Nearly all schools will require some attendance on campus to take part in practical training. Some 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 attended on the web, this approach may be a more accessible solution for some Huntsville AL students that are pressed for time. And a number of online degree programs are less costly than other traditional alternatives. Even travelling expenses from Huntsville and study materials may be minimized, helping to make education more economical. And a large number of online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your work or family responsibilities have left you with minimal time to attend classes, perhaps an HVAC online training program will make it easier to accommodate school into your hectic lifestyle.

What to Ask HVAC Schools

Huntsville Alabama Heating and Cooling technician servicing water heater

As soon as you have picked the type of degree or certificate that you want to acquire, either online or on campus, you can start to narrow down your list of schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are numerous HVAC trade schools in the Huntsville AL area and throughout the USA to choose from. That's why it is very important 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 first 2 aspects you will look at. Following are several additional ones that you will want to explore before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  A large number of HVAC trade programs in the Huntsville AL area have attained either a regional or a national accreditation. They can acquire Institutional Accreditation, which focuses on the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which pertains to a specific program, such as HVAC technology. Verify that the school and program are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency, such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping guarantee that you acquire an excellent education, it can help in securing financial assistance or student loans, which are in many cases not available for non-accredited schools. Additionally, a number of states mandate that the HVAC training program be accredited in order 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 finish the program. A lower completion rate might suggest that students were dissatisfied with the program and quit. It may also mean that the teachers were not competent to instruct the students. It's similarly important 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 employ for their apprenticeship and job placement programs. A high job placement rate will not only validate that the school has an excellent reputation within the trade, but also that it has the network of Huntsville AL HVAC employers to assist graduates acquire apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  A large number of HVAC vocational programs are taught in conjunction with an internship or an apprenticeship program. Those participating trade and technical programs will help place you in an apprenticeship program within their network of Heating and Cooling contractors or trade unions. Find out if the schools you are considering have referring relationships with local Huntsville AL HVAC companies. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by supplying hands-on training, but it also furnishes employment opportunities and helps to establish relationships in the area HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make sure that the school facilities and the tools that you will be trained on are up-to-date and what you will be using in the field. If you are already in an internship or an apprenticeship, consult with the HVAC specialist you are working with concerning what you should be expecting. Otherwise, ask a local Huntsville AL HVAC contracting company if they can give you some pointers. Also bear in mind that unless you can move, the school must be within commuting distance of your Huntsville AL residence. Remember that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, in addition to moving costs there may be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's important that you receive as much individualized instruction as possible, which can be challenging in bigger classes. Ask if you can monitor a couple of the classes so that you can observe how big they are and experience the interaction between instructors and students. Speak to several of the students and get their opinions relating to class sizes and instruction. Finally, speak with a few of the instructors and learn what their level of expertise is and what certifications or degrees they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Confirm that the class schedules for the schools you are assessing are flexible enough to fulfill your needs. If you are only able to attend classes at night or on weekends near Huntsville AL, check that the programs you are considering offer those options. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select allows part-time enrollment. Finally, ask what the protocol is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, sickness or family responsibilities.

Learn More About Huntsville Heating and Cooling Programs In Your Area

Earn Your HVAC Degree and Certification

Finding the ideal HVAC training program is a crucial first step toward a fulfilling career in the heating & cooling trade. As we have addressed in this article, you need to pick a Heating and Cooling training program and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have exceptional reputations within the HVAC field. Other features to look for are sufficient 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 talk with both the faculty and current students. Try to get a feel for the quality of the instruction and the interaction between them. In addition, inquire about scheduling choices and if evening or weekend classes are offered if needed. And remember to inquire about financial aid and student loan options too. If you ask the right questions as we have outlined in our checklist for comparing schools, you'll be able to narrow down your choices so that you can make an educated decision. With the appropriate training, hard work and dedication, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC professional in Huntsville AL.