How to Find the Right Heating and Cooling School near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Now that you have made a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioning technician, the next action is to look for an HVAC trade school near Tuscaloosa AL. But with so many to select from, how do you choose the best one to obtain the training that you need? Many prospective students will make their decision based entirely on the price of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. Although these are important factors to consider, they are not the only ones to investigate. A few of the other things 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 covered in more detail later within this article. But before we examine how to choose an HVAC technical school, let's look at what a heating and a/c technician does to become a licensed qualified tradesman.
Becoming an HVAC Contractor
HVAC is an acronym that is extensively used in the trade that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC technicians specialize in the installation, repair and maintenance of central air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and heating systems. As professional tradesmen, they are commonly mandated to be licensed, however every state and local municipality has its own prerequisites. Earning professional certification is not mandatory, but a voluntary way for Tuscaloosa AL HVAC techs to establish that they are highly proficient and knowledgeable in their area of specialization. There are several acknowledged certifications within the industry that are available. Below are a few of the important ones.
- North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally acknowledged certification for HVAC techs. The certification is earned by passing a competency examination and may be received 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 exam. Similar to NATE, certifications are provided in several specialties.
- EPA Section 608. This certification is mandatory for techs that handle refrigerants. There are 3 forms of certification available, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.
Because licensing could be mandated in your area, and you may also wish to acquire certification, it's essential that you select an HVAC trade school that will train you for both. And since you will most likely be handling refrigerants, make sure that the school you pick prepares you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.
HVAC Degree Courses
There are a number of alternatives 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 least period of time, typically completed in just 6 months, however some courses are longer. A certificate will qualify you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification relevant to the position. The degree programs can provide a competitive advantage in the job market and will deliver more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a short explanation of each option offered near Tuscaloosa AL.
- Certificate. Usually requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level commercial or residential HVAC professionals. They provide a strong foundation of skills for job opportunities within the industry.
- Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program provides a more extensive knowledge of heating & cooling systems than the certificate program. Generally requiring 2 years to complete, some 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 require an Associate Degree, while others are a traditional four year program. In addition to learning how to service and maintain heating and air conditioning systems, you will also learn how to design them.
Selecting the appropriate credential program will be dependent on what your future career goals are, in addition to the time and money that you have to commit. One possibility is to begin with a certificate or even an Associate Degree program, and after gaining some experience in the trade in Tuscaloosa AL, subsequently returning to obtain a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your approach, make certain to ask the HVAC technician school you are considering about how their returning student program works.
HVAC Online Courses
Attending an HVAC program online is one possibility in attaining your education and earning a degree or certificate. Nearly all schools will require some attendance on campus to participate in hands on training. A number also sponsor internship or work-study programs in addition to or in place of practical lab work. But since the rest of the classes can be attended online, this approach may be a more accessible solution for many Tuscaloosa AL students that are short on time. And many online degree programs are more economical than other on campus alternatives. Even driving expenses from Tuscaloosa and study supplies can be lessened, helping to make education more budget-friendly. And a large number of online programs are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your job or family obligations have left you with limited time to attend classes, maybe an HVAC online training program will make it less complicated to accommodate school into your active schedule.
Questions For HVAC Training Programs
After you have selected the type of degree or certificate that you desire to acquire, either online or on campus, you can start to narrow down your selection of schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are many HVAC trade schools in the Tuscaloosa AL area and throughout the USA to choose from. That's why it is essential to have a list of important qualifiers when making school comparisons. As formerly mentioned in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will undoubtedly be the initial two factors you will look at. Following are some additional ones that you need to explore before enrolling in your school of choice.
Accreditation. A large number of HVAC vocational schools in the Tuscaloosa AL area have acquired either a regional or a national accreditation. They may receive Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs as a whole, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to a specific program, for instance HVAC technology. Confirm that the program is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization, for example the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping make certain that you acquire an excellent education, it may help in securing financial aid or student loans, which are frequently not available for non-accredited programs. Also, some states require that the HVAC training course be accredited in order 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 low completion rate could indicate that students were unhappy with the program and dropped out. It could also indicate that the teachers were not qualified to instruct the students. It's also 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 result in more contacts for the school to use 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 additionally that it has the network of Tuscaloosa AL HVAC employers to help graduates secure apprenticeships or jobs.
Apprenticeship Programs. Many HVAC technical programs are taught together with an internship or an apprenticeship program. Those participating vocational and technical programs will help place you in an apprenticeship program within their network of HVAC contractors or labor unions. Find out if the schools you are comparing have referring relationships with local Tuscaloosa AL HVAC specialists. An apprenticeship not only provides a rewarding experience by supplying practical training, but it also furnishes employment opportunities and helps to establish relationships in the regional HVAC professional community.
Modern Facilities. Make certain that the school facilities and the tools that you will be instructed on are up-to-date and what you will be working with on the job. If you are already in an internship or an apprenticeship, check with the HVAC technician you are working with concerning what you should be expecting. Otherwise, ask a local Tuscaloosa AL HVAC contracting company if they can provide some tips. Also keep in mind that unless you can relocate, the school needs to be within commuting distance of your Tuscaloosa AL residence. Take note that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there may be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.
Smaller Classes. It's desirable that you receive as much one-on-one instruction as possible, which can be difficult 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 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 instructors and find out what their level of experience is and what certifications or degrees they hold.
Flexible Scheduling. Verify that the class schedules for the programs you are evaluating are flexible enough to meet your needs. If you are only able to go to classes at night or on weekends near Tuscaloosa AL, verify that the schools you are reviewing provide those options. If you can only attend part-time, be sure that the school you select allows part-time enrollment. Additionally, ask what the policy is to make-up classes should you miss any due to work, illness or family issues.
Earn Your HVAC Training and Certification
Choosing the ideal HVAC school program is a critical beginning toward a fulfilling career in the heating & cooling trade. As we have covered in this article, you need to choose a Heating and Cooling training program and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have excellent reputations within the HVAC profession. Other features to search for are plenty of practical training and modern 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. Attempt to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. Additionally, ask about scheduling options and whether or not evening or weekend classes are offered if needed. And remember to inquire about financial aid and student loan options also. If you ask the right questions as we have outlined in our checklist for evaluating schools, you'll be able to filter your options so that you can make an educated decision. With the appropriate training, hard work and dedication, you can eventually become a licensed HVAC technician in Tuscaloosa AL.