How to Select the Right Heating and Cooling Degree Program near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Once you have made a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioning professional, the next action is to locate an HVAC trade school near Tuscaloosa AL. But with so many to choose from, how do you pick the right one to get the training that you require? Some prospective students will make their choice based exclusively on the price of tuition or how close the school is to their residence. Although these are relevant considerations, they are not the only ones to investigate. A few of the other details that you need to investigate are the graduation completion rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. These and other criteria will be addressed in more detail later within this article. But before we discuss how to select an HVAC technical school, let's look at what a heating and cooling contractor does to become a licensed qualified tradesman.
Becoming an HVAC Contractor
HVAC is an acronym that is commonly used in the trade that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC techs specialize in the installation, maintenance and repair of air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and heating systems. As professional tradesmen, they are generally mandated to be licensed, though each state and regional municipality has its own prerequisites. Attaining professional certification is not compulsory, but a voluntary way for Tuscaloosa AL HVAC specialists to establish that they are exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable in their area of specialization. There are a number of respected certifications within the industry that are offered. Here are some 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 exam and can be received in one or more specialties.
- HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. Two years of professional experience together with passing a comprehensive examination are required for the professional level certification. Master specialists need to have 3 years of experience along with a passing result on the professional level examination. Similar to NATE, certifications are made available in various specialties.
- EPA Section 608. This certification is required for specialists that work with refrigerants. There are 3 types of certification offered, one for small appliances, and the additional two for low and high pressure refrigerants.
Since licensing could be mandated in your location, and you may also intend to earn certification, it's essential that you pick an HVAC vocational school that will train you for both. And since you will more than likely be handling refrigerants, make sure that the program you select readies you for passing the EPA Section 608 exams.
HVAC Certificate and Degree Training Programs
There are a variety of choices offered for HVAC training in a technical or trade school. You can earn a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Earning a certificate will take the minimum period of time, usually accomplished in just 6 months, although some courses are longer. A certificate will train you for most HVAC positions, especially if you are licensed and have certification relevant to the position. The degree training programs may provide a competitive edge for securing employment and will provide more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Following is a short description of each credential offered near Tuscaloosa AL.
- Certificate. Usually requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are preferred among entry level residential or commercial HVAC technicians. They provide a solid foundation of skills for job opportunities within the trade.
- Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program delivers a more detailed background of heating and a/c systems than the certificate program. Normally taking two years to finish, a number of 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 require an Associate Degree, while others are a traditional four year program. In addition to mastering how to service and maintain heating and cooling systems, you will also study how to design them.
Selecting the appropriate credential program will be dependent on what your long term career aspirations are, in addition to the time and financial resources that you have to commit. One approach is to begin with a certificate or perhaps an Associate Degree program, and after getting some experience in the field in Tuscaloosa AL, later going back to acquire a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your strategy, make sure to ask the HVAC tech school you are considering about how their returning student program works.
HVAC Online Schools
Enrolling in an HVAC program online is one option to obtaining your training and receiving a degree or certificate. Almost all schools will require some attendance on campus to complete practical training. Many also provide internship or work-study programs in addition to or instead of practical lab work. But since the remainder of the classes can be participated in on the web, this approach may be a more convenient solution for some Tuscaloosa AL students that are short on time. And a number of online degree programs are less expensive than other traditional alternatives. Even travelling expenses from Tuscaloosa and study supplies can be minimized, helping to make schooling more budget-friendly. 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 busy schedule.
What to Ask HVAC Schools
Once you have chosen the type of certificate or degree that you wish to earn, either on campus or online, you can start to narrow down your list of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are many HVAC trade schools in the Tuscaloosa AL area and across the United States to pick from. That's why it is very important to have a checklist of key qualifications when making school evaluations. As earlier stated in our opening paragraph, tuition and location will most likely be the initial two factors you will look at. Following are several additional ones that you should research before enrolling in your school of choice.
Accreditation. Many HVAC trade programs in the Tuscaloosa AL area have received either a regional or a national accreditation. They may earn Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which relates to an individual program, for example HVAC technology. Verify that the program is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization, which includes the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping make certain that you acquire a quality education, it can help in acquiring financial assistance or student loans, which are frequently not available for non-accredited schools. Additionally, many states mandate that the HVAC training course 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 portion or percentage of students who enroll in and finish the program. A low completion rate may signify that students were dissatisfied with the course and dropped out. It may also signify that the teachers 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 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 validate that the school has an excellent reputation within the field, but also that it has the network of Tuscaloosa AL HVAC employers to help students acquire apprenticeships or employment.
Apprenticeship Programs. Many HVAC training 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 within their network of HVAC businesses or labor unions. Check if the schools you are reviewing have working partnerships with local Tuscaloosa AL HVAC professionals. 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 local HVAC professional community.
Modern Facilities. Make sure that the campus facilities and the equipment that you will be trained on are up-to-date and what you will be working with in the field. If you are presently 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 company if they can give you some suggestions. Additionally keep in mind that unless you can relocate, the school must be within commuting distance of your Tuscaloosa AL residence. Remember that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, besides the added moving costs there might be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.
Smaller Classes. It's important that you get as much individualized instruction as possible, which can be challenging in larger classes. Ask if you can sit in on a couple of the classes so that you can see how big they are and witness first hand the interaction between students and instructors. Talk to a few of the students and get their opinions relating to class sizes and instruction. Last, speak to some of the instructors and learn what their level of expertise is and what certifications or degrees they have earned.
Flexible Scheduling. Confirm that the class schedules for the programs you are reviewing are flexible enough to fulfill your needs. If you can only go to classes in the evening or on weekends near Tuscaloosa AL, verify that the programs you are considering offer those options. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select permits part-time enrollment. Also, ask what the protocol is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, sickness or family responsibilities.
Get Your HVAC Certificate or Degree
Enrolling in the ideal HVAC school program is an important first step toward a fulfilling career in the heating and air conditioning industry. As we have discussed in this article, you need to select a Heating and Cooling training program and a certificate or degree program that are both accredited and have excellent reputations within the HVAC community. Other factors to look for are ample hands-on training and modern facilities. You should visit each of the schools personally that you are most interested in to inspect the campus and talk with both the faculty and current students. Try to get a feel for the quality of the teaching and the interaction between them. Also, inquire about scheduling options and whether or not evening or weekend classes are available if needed. And remember to inquire about financial assistance and student loan options also. If you ask the appropriate questions as we have laid out in our guidelines for comparing schools, you'll be able to narrow down your choices so that you can make an informed decision. With the proper training, hard work and commitment, you can ultimately become a licensed HVAC specialist in Tuscaloosa AL.