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

Opelika Alabama residential A/C condensersOnce you have decided on a career as a heating and cooling technician, the next step is to look for an HVAC vocational school near Opelika AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you pick the right one to get the training that you need? Many potential students will make their decision based solely on the cost of tuition or how near the school is to their home. Although these are necessary factors to consider, they are not the only ones to evaluate. A few of the other details that you need to investigate are the graduation rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. These and additional criteria will be addressed in more detail later within this article. But before we discuss how to select an HVAC training program, let's look at what a heating and a/c contractor does to become a licensed qualified tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Specialist

Opelika Alabama Heating and Cooling Tech fixing air conditioning condenserHVAC is an acronym that is commonly used in the trade that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC professionals specialize in the installation, repair and maintenance of air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and heating systems. As skilled tradesmen, they are commonly required to be licensed, although each state and regional municipality has its own prerequisites. Acquiring professional certification is not compulsory, but an alternative means for Opelika AL HVAC specialists to demonstrate that they are highly qualified and knowledgeable in their area of specialization. There are several respected certifications within the trade that are available. Following are some of the significant ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally acknowledged certification for HVAC technicians. The certification is attained by passing a competency exam and can be acquired in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. Two years of field experience in addition to passing a comprehensive examination are needed for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have three years of experience in addition to a passing score on the professional level examination. As with NATE, certifications are made available in multiple specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is necessary for techs that handle refrigerants. There are three forms of certification available, one for small appliances, and the additional two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Considering that licensing might be mandated in your location, and you may also desire to acquire certification, it's essential that you enroll in an HVAC technical school that will prepare you for both. And since you will most likely be handling refrigerants, make sure that the program you select prepares you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

HVAC Degree and Certificate Courses

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There are several choices available for HVAC training in a technical or trade school. You can obtain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the minimum amount of time, typically accomplished in just six months, although some courses are longer. A certificate will qualify you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification applicable to the position. The degree programs can provide a competitive edge for securing employment and will provide more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a short description of each credential offered near Opelika AL.

  • Certificate. Usually 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 supplies a more detailed background of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Usually requiring two years to complete, some 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 or even business ownership. Some programs require an Associate Degree, while others are a conventional 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.

Picking the right credential program will be based on what your long term career objectives are, in addition to the time and financial resources that you have to invest. One approach is to begin with a certificate or perhaps an Associate Degree program, and after gaining some experience in the trade in Opelika AL, eventually returning to acquire a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your strategy, make sure to ask the HVAC technician school you are looking at about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Training Online

Attending an HVAC school online is one option to getting your education and receiving a certificate or degree. Most schools will call for some attendance on campus to participate in hands on training. Many also offer internship or work-study programs in addition to or as an alternative to practical lab work. But since the remainder of the classes may be participated in on the web, this alternative may be a more convenient solution for some Opelika AL students that are short on time. And many online degree programs are more economical than other traditional alternatives. Even commuting expenses from Opelika and study supplies may be reduced, helping to make education 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 limited time to attend classes, perhaps an online HVAC degree program will make it more convenient to accommodate school into your hectic schedule.

What to Ask HVAC Trade Schools

Opelika Alabama HVAC contractor replacing water heater

After you have picked the type of certificate or degree that you want to obtain, either online or on campus, you can begin to limit your list of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are a large number of HVAC trade schools in the Opelika AL area and across the United States to choose from. That's why it is extremely important to have a checklist of key qualifications when making school evaluations. As formerly mentioned in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will most likely be the first 2 aspects you will take into consideration. Following are some additional ones that you should research before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  A large number of HVAC technical programs in the Opelika AL area have received either a regional or a national accreditation. They can earn Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to an individual program, such as HVAC technology. Verify that the program is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education approved accrediting agency, for example the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping make certain that you get a quality education, it can assist in obtaining financial aid or student loans, which are often not available for non-accredited schools. Furthermore, some states mandate that the HVAC training program be accredited for it to qualify for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the Heating and Cooling schools you are considering what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the portion or percentage of students who enroll in and finish the program. A lower completion rate could signify that students were disappointed with the course and quit. It might also suggest that the instructors were not competent 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 broader list of alumni, which can mean more contacts for the school to employ for their apprenticeship and job placement programs. A high job placement rate will not only confirm that the school has a good reputation within the field, but also that it has the network of Opelika AL HVAC employers to assist graduates secure apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Numerous HVAC vocational programs are taught along 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 trade unions. Check if the schools you are comparing have working partnerships with local Opelika AL HVAC specialists. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by furnishing practical training, but it also supplies employment opportunities and helps to form relationships in the regional HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make sure that the school facilities and the tools that you will be instructed on are state-of-the-art and what you will be using on the job. If you are already in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC technician you are working under concerning what you should be expecting. If not, 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 driving distance of your Opelika AL residence. Take note that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, in addition to moving costs there can be increased tuition fees compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's desirable that you get as much individualized instruction as possible, which can be difficult in bigger classes. Ask if you can sit in on some of the classes so that you can observe how large they are and experience the interaction between teachers and students. Speak to several of the students and get their opinions relating to class sizes and instruction. Last, speak with some of the instructors and learn what their level of experience is and what certifications or degrees they hold.

Flexible Scheduling.  Make sure that the class schedules for the programs you are evaluating are flexible enough to handle your needs. If you are only able to attend classes in the evening or on weekends near Opelika AL, verify that the schools you are reviewing offer those choices. If you can only attend part-time, make sure that the school you select permits part-time enrollment. Also, ask what the protocol is to make-up classes should you miss any due to work, illness or family responsibilities.

Find Out More About Opelika Heating and Cooling Trade Schools In Your Area

Earn Your Heating and Cooling Certificate or Degree

Picking the right HVAC school program is a crucial first step toward a gratifying career in the heating and air conditioning field. As we have discussed in this article, you should choose a Heating and Cooling training program and a certificate or degree program that are both accredited and have excellent reputations within the HVAC profession. Other factors to search for are lots of hands-on training and state-of-the-art facilities. You should go to each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to inspect the campus and talk with both the current students and faculty. Try to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. In addition, ask about scheduling options and whether evening or weekend classes are offered if needed. And don't forget to inquire about financial assistance and student loan options also. If you ask the proper questions as we have detailed in our guidelines for assessing schools, you'll be able to filter your choices so that you can make an educated decision. With the proper training, hard work and dedication, you can eventually become a licensed HVAC professional in Opelika AL.