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How to Select the Right Heating and Cooling Certificate Program near Opelika Alabama

Opelika Alabama home air conditioning condensersNow that you have decided on a career as a heating and air conditioner technician, the next step is to look for an HVAC vocational school near Opelika AL. But with so many to pick from, how do you decide on the right one to obtain the training that you require? A number of potential students will make their choice based exclusively on the price of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. Although these are significant considerations, they are not the only ones to take into account. Just some of the other factors that you need to research are the graduation rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. These and additional benchmarks will be addressed in more detail later within this article. But before we examine how to pick an HVAC trade school, let's look at what a heating and air conditioning professional does to become a licensed skilled tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Contractor

Opelika Alabama Heating and Cooling Tech repairing A/C condenserHVAC is an acronym that is extensively used in the industry that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC techs provide services for the installation, maintenance and repair of air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and heating systems. As professional tradesmen, they are typically mandated to be licensed, although each state and regional municipality has its own requirements. Earning professional certification is not required, but an optional way for Opelika AL HVAC technicians to prove that they are exceptionally proficient and knowledgeable in their area of expertise. There are many recognized certifications within the field that are offered. Here are a few 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 professional experience in addition to passing a comprehensive examination are required for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have three years of experience as well as a passing score on the professional level examination. As with NATE, certifications are provided in various specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is required for techs that handle refrigerants. There are three forms of certification obtainable, one for small appliances, and the additional two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Considering that licensing could be required in your location, and you may also wish to earn certification, it's important that you enroll in an HVAC technical school that will prepare you for both. And since you will more than likely be dealing with refrigerants, make sure that the program you pick prepares you for passing the EPA Section 608 exams.

HVAC Certificate and Degree Courses

Opelika Alabama residential heat pump

There are a variety of options available for HVAC instruction in a technical or trade school. You can attain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the lesser period of time, often achieved in as little as six months, however some courses are longer. A certificate will qualify you for the majority of HVAC positions, especially if you are licensed and have certification appropriate to the position. The degree training programs may provide a competitive edge for securing employment and will deliver more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a brief explanation of each option offered near Opelika 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 job opportunities within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program supplies a more extensive background of heating & cooling systems than the certificate program. Typically requiring 2 years to finish, a number of 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 or even 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 cooling systems, you will also learn how to design them.

Choosing the right credential program will be dependent on what your long term career objectives are, as well as 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 getting some experience in the trade in Opelika AL, later going back to earn a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, make certain to ask the HVAC technician school you are considering about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Classes Online

Enrolling in an HVAC program online is one alternative to getting your education and receiving a certificate or degree. Nearly all schools will require some attendance on campus to participate in hands on training. Some also sponsor internship or work-study programs in addition to or instead of practical lab work. But since the balance of the classes can be attended on the web, this alternative may be a more practical solution for many Opelika AL students that are short on time. And many online degree programs are cheaper than other on campus alternatives. Even driving expenses from Opelika and study supplies may be minimized, helping to make education more budget-friendly. And many online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your career or family responsibilities have left you with minimal time to attend classes, maybe an online HVAC degree program will make it less complicated to accommodate school into your active schedule.

Questions For HVAC Schools

Opelika Alabama Heating and Cooling technician installing water heater

As soon as you have picked the type of certificate or degree that you wish to obtain, either on campus or online, you can start to decrease your list of schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are a large number of HVAC trade schools in the Opelika AL area and across the USA to select from. That's why it is extremely important to have a list of important qualifiers when making school evaluations. As earlier stated in our opening paragraph, tuition and location will undoubtedly be the first 2 aspects you will look at. Following are some additional ones that you will want to explore before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  Many HVAC vocational schools in the Opelika AL area have acquired either a regional or a national accreditation. They may earn Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which pertains to an individual program, for example HVAC technology. Confirm that the program and school are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting organization, such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping guarantee that you get a superior education, it can help in securing financial assistance or student loans, which are in many cases unavailable for non-accredited programs. Also, a number of states require that the HVAC training program be accredited for it to qualify for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the HVAC 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 could suggest that students were disappointed with the program and quit. It could also signify that the instructors were not competent to train the students. It's also important that the schools have higher job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a broader 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 confirm that the school has a good reputation within the industry, but also that it has the network of Opelika AL HVAC employers to help students obtain apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  A large number of HVAC technical programs are taught together with an internship or an apprenticeship program. Those participating vocational and trade schools will help place you in an apprenticeship program within their network of Heating and Cooling contractors or labor unions. Ask if the schools you are reviewing have working relationships with local Opelika AL HVAC professionals. An apprenticeship not only provides a rewarding experience by supplying practical training, but it also supplies job opportunities and helps to build relationships in the area HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Confirm that the school facilities and the tools that you will be instructed on are up-to-date and what you will be using in the field. If you are already in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC specialist you are working with regarding what you should be looking for. Otherwise, ask a local Opelika AL HVAC contracting company if they can give you some pointers. Also bear in mind that unless you are able to relocate, the school needs to be within commuting distance of your Opelika AL residence. Remember that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, besides the added relocation costs there may be increased tuition fees compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's important that you get as much individualized training as possible, which can be challenging in bigger classes. Ask if you can sit in on a few of the classes so that you can observe how large they are and witness first hand the interaction between instructors and students. Talk with several of the students and get their feedback regarding class sizes and instruction. Finally, speak to some of the teachers and learn what their level of expertise is and what degrees or certifications they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Confirm that the class schedules for the programs you are reviewing are flexible enough to handle your needs. If you are only able to attend classes in the evening or on weekends near Opelika AL, confirm that the programs you are considering provide those choices. If you can only attend part-time, make sure that the school you select permits part-time enrollment. Also, find out what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any due to work, sickness or family responsibilities.

Learn More About Opelika Heating and Cooling Training Classes Near You

Earn Your HVAC Certificate or Degree

Selecting the right HVAC training course is an important first step toward a gratifying career in the heating and cooling field. As we have covered in this article, you should 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 things to search for are sufficient hands-on training and state-of-the-art facilities. You need to go to each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to inspect 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 choices and if evening or weekend classes are available if needed. And don't forget to ask about financial aid and student loan options too. If you ask the proper questions as we have laid out in our checklist for assessing schools, you'll be able to filter your options so that you can make an educated decision. With the right training, hard work and commitment, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC specialist in Opelika AL.