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How to Select the Right HVAC Degree Program near Opelika Alabama

Opelika Alabama residential A/C condensersOnce you have made a decision on a career as a heating and cooling professional, the next step is to locate an HVAC trade school near Opelika AL. But with so many to pick from, how do you decide on the best one to receive the training that you need? A number of future students will make their selection based entirely on the price of tuition or how near the school is to their residence. Even though these are necessary considerations, they are not the only ones to take into account. 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 other benchmarks will be addressed 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 air conditioning specialist does to become a licensed professional tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Contractor

Opelika Alabama HVAC Tech servicing A/C condenserHVAC is an acronym that is frequently used in the trade that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC professionals 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 typically required to be licensed, however each state and regional municipality has its own criteria. Acquiring professional certification is not required, but an optional way for Opelika AL HVAC technicians to establish that they are exceptionally proficient and knowledgeable in their area of expertise. There are many respected certifications within the industry that are offered. Below are a few of the important 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 may 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 in addition to passing a comprehensive exam are needed for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have 3 years of experience together with a passing score on the professional level examination. As with NATE, certifications are made available in several specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is required for techs that work with refrigerants. There are three types of certification available, one for small appliances, and the additional two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Since licensing might be required in your location, and you may also desire to acquire certification, it's important that you select an HVAC trade school that will train you for both. And since you will most likely be dealing with refrigerants, make sure that the school you decide on readies you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

HVAC Degree and Certificate Training Programs

Opelika Alabama residential heater

There are a number of options available for HVAC instruction in a trade or technical school. You can obtain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Acquiring a certificate will take the lesser period of time, usually achieved in just six months, although some programs are longer. A certificate will train you for the majority of HVAC positions, especially if you are licensed and have certification applicable to the position. The degree programs may provide a competitive advantage in the job market and will furnish more extensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a brief description of each credential offered near Opelika AL.

  • Certificate. Generally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are preferred among entry level commercial or residential HVAC professionals. They furnish a solid foundation of skills for employment within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more detailed background of heating & cooling systems than the certificate program. Usually requiring 2 years to finish, a number of 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 require an Associate Degree, while others are a traditional 4 year program. In addition to mastering how to service and maintain heating and air conditioning systems, you will also study how to design them.

Selecting the right credential program will be dependent on what your future career goals are, together with the time and financial resources that you have to commit. One option is to begin with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after acquiring some experience in the field in Opelika AL, eventually returning to earn a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, make sure to ask the HVAC technician school you are considering about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Classes Online

Choosing an HVAC school online is one alternative in getting your education and receiving a degree or certificate. Almost all schools will call for some attendance on campus to participate in hands on training. A number also provide internship or work-study programs in addition to or instead of practical lab work. But since the remainder of the classes can be attended on the web, this option may be a more practical solution for some Opelika AL students that are pressed for time. And some online degree programs are more economical than other on campus options. Even commuting expenses from Opelika and study supplies may be lessened, helping to make schooling more budget-friendly. And a large number of online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your career or family responsibilities have left you with limited time to attend classes, perhaps an HVAC online training program will make it less complicated to fit school into your hectic lifestyle.

Questions For HVAC Training Programs

Opelika Alabama HVAC technician repairing water heater

When you have selected the type of certificate or degree that you want to obtain, either on campus or online, you can start to narrow down your list of schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are a large number of HVAC technical schools in the Opelika AL area and across the Country to select from. That's why it is very important to have a list of important qualifications when making school assessments. As formerly stated in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will undoubtedly be the initial two aspects you will take into consideration. Following are some additional ones that you should explore before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  Many HVAC vocational programs in the Opelika AL area have acquired either a regional or a national accreditation. They may acquire Institutional Accreditation, which focuses on the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which pertains to a specific program, for instance HVAC technology. Verify that the school and program are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency, which includes the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping make certain that you get a superior education, it can assist in obtaining financial aid or student loans, which are in many cases unavailable for non-accredited programs. Additionally, a number of states require that the HVAC training program 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 percentage of students who enroll in and finish the program. A lower completion rate might signify that students were unhappy with the program and quit. It might also indicate that the teachers were not qualified to train the students. It's similarly imperative that the schools have high job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a more extensive directory of graduates, 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 trade, but also that it has the network of Opelika AL HVAC employers to help graduates acquire apprenticeships or employment.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Many HVAC technical programs are taught in conjunction 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 trade unions. Ask if the schools you are reviewing have working partnerships with local Opelika AL HVAC companies. An apprenticeship not only offers a rewarding experience by providing hands-on training, but it also provides job opportunities and helps to build relationships in the local HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make certain that the school facilities and the tools that you will be instructed on are state-of-the-art and what you will be using in the field. If you are currently in an internship or an apprenticeship, talk to the HVAC specialist you are working with concerning what you should be looking for. Otherwise, ask a local Opelika AL HVAC contractor if they can provide some pointers. Additionally bear in mind that unless you are able to relocate, the school must be within commuting distance of your Opelika AL residence. Remember that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there may be increased tuition charges compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's important that you get as much one-on-one instruction as possible, which can be challenging in larger classes. Ask if you can sit in on a few of the classes so that you can observe how big they are and experience the interaction between teachers and students. Talk with some of the students and get their opinions concerning class sizes and instruction. Last, speak to a few of the teachers and find out what their level of expertise is and what degrees or certifications they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Verify that the class schedules for the schools you are reviewing are flexible enough to fulfill your needs. If you can only go to classes in the evening or on weekends near Opelika AL, check that the programs you are considering provide those options. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Finally, find out what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, illness or family emergencies.

Learn More About Opelika Heating and Cooling Schools In Your Area

Get Your Heating and Cooling Degree and Certification

Finding the ideal HVAC school program is a critical beginning toward a fulfilling career in the heating and air conditioning industry. As we have addressed in this article, you should pick a Heating and Cooling training program and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have outstanding reputations within the HVAC community. Other things to search for are lots of practical training and state-of-the-art facilities. You should check out each of the schools personally that you are most interested in to explore the campus and speak with both the faculty and current students. Try to get a feel for the quality of the instruction and the interaction between them. Also, ask about scheduling choices and whether evening or weekend classes are available if needed. And don't forget to inquire about financial assistance and student loan options too. If you ask the right questions as we have laid out in our checklist for assessing schools, you'll be able to narrow down your choices so that you can make an informed decision. With the right training, hard work and commitment, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC specialist in Opelika AL.