How to Pick the Right Heating and Cooling Certification Class near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Now that you have made a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioner technician, the next step is to look for an HVAC trade school near Tuscaloosa AL. But with so many to select from, how do you decide on the best one to receive the training that you need? Many potential students will make their decision based exclusively on the price of tuition or how close the school is to their home. While these are relevant factors to consider, they are not the only ones to take into account. Just some of the other factors that you need to look into 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 within this article. But before we discuss how to select an HVAC vocational school, let's take a look at what a heating and cooling contractor does to become a licensed skilled tradesman.
Becoming an HVAC Contractor
HVAC is an acronym that is frequently used in the industry that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC professionals provide services for the installation, maintenance and repair of air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and heating systems. As skilled tradesmen, they are typically required to be licensed, though every state and local municipality has its own prerequisites. Acquiring professional certification is not compulsory, but an optional means for Tuscaloosa AL HVAC technicians to demonstrate that they are highly skilled and knowledgeable in their area of expertise. There are many acknowledged certifications within the field that are offered. 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 attained 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. 2 years of field experience together with passing a comprehensive exam are required for the professional level certification. Master specialists must have 3 years of experience together with a passing score on the professional level exam. Similar to NATE, certifications are offered in various specialties.
- EPA Section 608. This certification is required for specialists that handle refrigerants. There are 3 forms of certification offered, one for small appliances, and the other two for low and high pressure refrigerants.
Because licensing may be required in your location, and you may also wish to obtain certification, it's essential that you enroll in an HVAC trade school that will prepare you for both. And since you will most likely be handling refrigerants, make sure that the school you decide on prepares you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.
HVAC Degree Schools
There are several options available for HVAC training in a technical or vocational school. You can earn a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Acquiring a certificate will take the minimum amount of time, usually accomplished in as little as 6 months, however some courses are longer. A certificate will train 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 in the job market and will provide more extensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a short summary of each credential offered near Tuscaloosa AL.
- Certificate. Usually requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are preferred among beginning commercial or residential HVAC technicians. They furnish a solid foundation of skills for employment within the industry.
- Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program supplies a more extensive knowledge of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Typically requiring 2 years to complete, a number of degrees include 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 require an Associate Degree, while others are a conventional four year program. In addition to learning how to service and maintain heating and air conditioning systems, you will also study how to design them.
Choosing the ideal credential program will be based on what your long term career objectives are, as well as the time and financial resources that you have to commit. One possibility is to start with a certificate or perhaps an Associate Degree program, and after getting some experience in the field in Tuscaloosa AL, later returning to earn a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your strategy, be sure to ask the HVAC tech school you are considering about how their returning student program works.
HVAC Courses Online
Choosing an HVAC program online is one option in attaining your training and receiving a certificate or degree. Nearly all schools will require some attendance on campus to take part in hands on training. Some also provide internship or work-study programs in addition to or as an alternative to practical lab work. But since the remainder of the classes can be attended online, this alternative 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 commuting expenses from Tuscaloosa and study materials may be lessened, helping to make schooling more affordable. 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 active lifestyle.
Questions to Ask HVAC Schools
Once you have selected the type of degree or certificate that you want to acquire, either on campus or online, you can begin to narrow down your list of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are many HVAC technical schools in the Tuscaloosa AL area and throughout the USA to select from. That's why it is extremely important to have a checklist of key qualifications when making school evaluations. As previously stated in our opening paragraph, tuition and location will most likely be the first two aspects you will look at. Following are some additional ones that you will want to investigate before enrolling in your school of choice.
Accreditation. A large number of HVAC vocational programs in the Tuscaloosa AL area have acquired either a regional or a national accreditation. They can 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. Verify that the school and program are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency, for instance the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping guarantee that you acquire an excellent education, it may assist in obtaining financial assistance or student loans, which are in many cases unavailable for non-accredited schools. Also, many states mandate that the HVAC training program be accredited for it to qualify for licensing.
High Completion Rates. Ask the HVAC schools you are considering what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the percentage or portion of students who enroll in and finish the course. A lower completion rate could suggest that students were dissatisfied with the course and dropped out. It could also suggest that the teachers were not qualified to train the students. It's similarly essential that the schools have high job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a broader list of alumni, which may mean more contacts for the school to employ 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 field, but additionally that it has the network of Tuscaloosa AL HVAC employers to assist students obtain apprenticeships or jobs.
Apprenticeship Programs. Most HVAC training programs are taught in conjunction with an apprenticeship or an internship program. Those participating vocational and technical schools will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of Heating and Cooling contractors or labor unions. Check if the schools you are reviewing have referring partnerships with local Tuscaloosa AL HVAC specialists. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by providing hands-on training, but it also furnishes job opportunities and helps to establish relationships in the area HVAC professional community.
Modern Facilities. Confirm that the school facilities and the tools that you will be instructed on are state-of-the-art and what you will be working with in the field. If you are presently in an internship or an apprenticeship, talk to the HVAC specialist you are working with concerning what you should be expecting. Otherwise, ask a local Tuscaloosa AL HVAC company if they can provide some pointers. Additionally keep in mind that unless you are willing to relocate, the school must be within driving distance of your Tuscaloosa AL residence. Take note that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there can be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.
Smaller Classes. It's important that you get as much personalized training as possible, which can be difficult in bigger classes. Ask if you can sit in on a couple of the classes so that you can see how large they are and experience the interaction between instructors and students. Speak with a few of the students and get their feedback regarding class sizes and instruction. Finally, speak with some of the instructors and find out what their level of expertise is and what degrees or certifications they have earned.
Flexible Scheduling. Make sure that the class schedules for the programs you are evaluating are flexible enough to fulfill your needs. If you are only able to go to classes at night or on weekends near Tuscaloosa AL, verify that the programs you are comparing offer those choices. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select allows part-time enrollment. Finally, check out what the protocol is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, illness or family responsibilities.
Earn Your Heating and Cooling Certificate or Degree
Picking the right HVAC school program is a crucial beginning toward a gratifying career in the heating and air conditioning industry. As we have covered in this article, you should pick a Heating and Cooling training program and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have exceptional reputations within the HVAC profession. Other factors to search for are ample practical training and state-of-the-art facilities. You need to visit each of the schools in person that you are most interested in to tour the campus and speak with both the faculty and current students. Try to get a feel for the quality of the training and the interaction between them. Additionally, ask about scheduling choices and if evening or weekend classes are offered if needed. And remember to ask about financial aid and student loan options also. If you ask the proper questions as we have detailed 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 eventually become a licensed HVAC contractor in Tuscaloosa AL.