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How to Choose the Right HVAC School near Prichard Alabama

Prichard Alabama residential air conditioning condensersNow that you have made a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioning specialist, the next action is to locate an HVAC vocational school near Prichard AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you select the best one to receive the training that you need? Some future students will make their decision based entirely on the cost of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. Even though these are significant considerations, they are not the only ones to take into account. A few of the other factors 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 other benchmarks will be discussed in more detail later in this article. But before we tackle how to select an HVAC technical school, let's take a look at what a heating and cooling specialist does to become a licensed skilled tradesman.

How to Become an HVAC Tech

Prichard Alabama Heating and Cooling Contractor inspecting air conditioning condenserHVAC is an acronym that is extensively used in the trade 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 skilled tradesmen, they are generally required to be licensed, although every state and local municipality has its own criteria. Acquiring professional certification is not compulsory, but an alternative way for Prichard AL HVAC techs to establish that they are highly skilled and experienced in their area of specialization. There are a number of respected certifications within the trade that are offered. Below are a few of the significant ones.

  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally acknowledged certification for HVAC technicians. The certification is achieved by passing a competency exam and may be earned in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification makes available both a professional and a master specialist credential. Two years of field experience in addition to passing a comprehensive examination are required for the professional level certification. Master specialists must have three years of experience along with a passing result on the professional level examination. Similar to NATE, certifications are offered in several specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is necessary for technicians that handle refrigerants. There are three types of certification available, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.

Since licensing may be mandated in your area, and you may also intend to earn certification, it's important that you pick an HVAC vocational school that will prepare you for both. And since you will more than likely be dealing with refrigerants, make sure that the program you choose prepares you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

HVAC Degree Classes

Prichard Alabama residential heating pump

There are a number of alternatives offered for HVAC training in a technical or trade school. You can attain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Acquiring a certificate will take the lesser amount of time, typically achieved in just 6 months, although some programs are longer. A certificate will train you for most HVAC positions, especially if you are licensed and have certification applicable to the position. The degree training programs may provide a competitive advantage in the job market and will deliver more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Following is a brief explanation of each option offered near Prichard AL.

  • Certificate. Normally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are preferred among entry level commercial or residential HVAC specialists. They provide a strong foundation of skills for job opportunities within the industry.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more comprehensive knowledge of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Generally requiring two years to finish, many degrees incorporate an internship or work-study program.
  • Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is geared 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 being taught how to service and maintain heating and air conditioning systems, you will also learn how to design them.

Picking the ideal credential program will be dependent on what your future career objectives are, along with the time and financial resources that you have to invest. One approach is to start with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after gaining some experience in the trade in Prichard AL, subsequently returning to earn a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your approach, be sure to ask the HVAC technician school you are considering about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Courses Online

Attending an HVAC school online is one option to obtaining your education and receiving a degree or certificate. 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 instead of practical lab work. But since the remainder of the classes can be attended online, this approach may be a more convenient solution for some Prichard AL students that are pressed for time. And a number of online degree programs are cheaper than other on campus options. Even commuting expenses from Prichard and study supplies can be reduced, helping to make education more affordable. And many online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your career or family responsibilities have left you with little time to attend classes, maybe an HVAC online training program will make it less complicated to fit school into your active lifestyle.

What to Ask HVAC Certification Classes

Prichard Alabama Heating and Cooling contractor servicing water heater

As soon as you have picked the type of degree or certificate that you wish to acquire, either online or on campus, you can start to narrow down your selection of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are a large number of HVAC technical schools in the Prichard AL area and throughout the Country to choose from. That's why it is imperative to have a checklist of key qualifiers when making school assessments. As previously stated in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will probably be the first two aspects you will look at. Following are several additional ones that you need to explore before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  Many HVAC trade programs in the Prichard AL area have attained either a regional or a national accreditation. They may acquire Institutional Accreditation, which focuses on the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to a specific program, for example HVAC technology. Make sure that the school 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 ensure that you obtain a quality education, it can help in acquiring financial aid or student loans, which are in many cases not available for non-accredited schools. Additionally, many states require that the HVAC training program be accredited in order to be approved for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the HVAC schools you are reviewing 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 might suggest that students were disappointed with the program and quit. It could also mean that the teachers were not qualified 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 more extensive directory of graduates, which may produce 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 industry, but also that it has the network of Prichard AL HVAC employers to assist graduates obtain apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  Most HVAC technical programs are taught together with an apprenticeship or an internship program. Those participating vocational and trade programs will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of HVAC companies or labor unions. Check if the schools you are considering have referring partnerships with local Prichard AL HVAC professionals. An apprenticeship not only offers a valuable experience by providing practical training, but it also provides job opportunities and helps to establish relationships in the regional HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Confirm that the school facilities and the equipment that you will be trained on are state-of-the-art and what you will be working with in the field. If you are already in an internship or an apprenticeship, talk to the HVAC tech you are working with regarding what you should be looking for. Otherwise, ask a local Prichard AL HVAC company if they can provide some tips. Additionally bear in mind that unless you are able to relocate, the school must be within commuting distance of your Prichard AL residence. Remember that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there might 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 some of the classes so that you can see how large they are and experience the interaction between instructors and students. Speak to several of the students and get their feedback relating to class sizes and instruction. Finally, talk to some of the instructors and learn what their level of experience is and what degrees or certifications they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Make sure that the class schedules for the schools you are reviewing are flexible enough to meet your needs. If you are only able to go to classes at night or on weekends near Prichard AL, confirm that the schools you are reviewing offer those options. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select allows part-time enrollment. Also, ask what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, illness or family emergencies.

Learn More About Prichard Heating and Cooling Training Programs Near You

Earn Your HVAC Training and Certification

Enrolling in the right HVAC school program is a critical first step toward a fulfilling career in the heating & cooling trade. As we have discussed 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 trade. Other things to search for are sufficient hands-on training and state-of-the-art facilities. You need to visit each of the schools personally that you are most interested in to explore the campus and speak with both the faculty and current students. Attempt to get a feel for the quality of the teaching and the interaction between them. In addition, inquire 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 as well. If you ask the proper questions as we have detailed in our guidelines for evaluating schools, you'll be able to narrow down your options so that you can make an informed decision. With the appropriate training, hard work and dedication, you can eventually become a licensed HVAC specialist in Prichard AL.