How to Select the Right HVAC Degree Program near Vestavia Hills Alabama
Now that you have made a decision on a career as a heating and air conditioning professional, the next step is to look for an HVAC vocational school near Vestavia Hills AL. But with so many to pick from, how do you decide on the right one to get the training that you need? A number of potential students will make their decision based solely on the cost of tuition or how close the school is to their home. Even though these are relevant concerns, they are not the only ones to investigate. Just some of the other things 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. Those and other criteria will be discussed in more detail later within this article. But before we discuss how to pick an HVAC vocational school, let's look at what a heating and a/c technician does to become a licensed professional tradesman.
Becoming an HVAC Technician
HVAC is an acronym that is widely used in the business that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC techs specialize in the installation, maintenance and repair of air conditioners, furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and heating systems. As professional tradesmen, they are typically required to be licensed, though each state and local municipality has its own prerequisites. Earning professional certification is not compulsory, but an optional means for Vestavia Hills AL HVAC specialists to establish that they are highly qualified and accomplished in their area of expertise. There are multiple recognized certifications within the industry that are offered. Here are a few of the important ones.
- North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is a nationally acknowledged certification for HVAC techs. The certification is achieved 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. 2 years of field experience together with passing a comprehensive examination are required for the professional level certification. Master specialists must have 3 years of experience as well as a passing score on the professional level exam. Similar to NATE, certifications are made available in various specialties.
- EPA Section 608. This certification is mandatory for techs 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.
Because licensing may be mandated in your location, and you may also intend to obtain certification, it's important that you enroll in an HVAC trade school that will train you for both. And since you will more than likely be handling refrigerants, make certain that the program you decide on readies you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.
HVAC Degree Schools
There are a variety of choices offered for HVAC instruction in a trade or technical school. You can attain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the lesser amount of time, usually accomplished in as little as 6 months, though some programs are longer. A certificate will train you for the majority of HVAC positions, especially if you are licensed and have certification appropriate to the position. The degree programs can provide a competitive edge in the job market and will provide more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Below is a brief explanation of each option offered near Vestavia Hills AL.
- Certificate. Generally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among entry level residential or commercial HVAC specialists. They provide 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 taking two years to complete, some degrees include an internship or work-study program.
- Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is tailored more towards a career in management as well as business ownership. Some programs call for an Associate Degree, while others are a standard 4 year program. In addition to being taught how to service and maintain heating and cooling systems, you will also study how to design them.
Choosing the right credential program will be dependent on what your future career goals are, as well as 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 trade in Vestavia Hills AL, later returning to obtain a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your approach, make sure to ask the HVAC technician school you are considering about how their returning student program works.
HVAC Courses Online
Enrolling in an HVAC program online is one alternative to obtaining your training and earning a certificate or degree. Most schools will call for some attendance on campus to complete practical training. A number also sponsor internship or work-study programs in addition to or instead of practical lab work. But since the remainder of the classes can be attended via the internet, this option may be a more accessible solution for many Vestavia Hills AL students that are short on time. And some online degree programs are less expensive than other traditional choices. Even driving expenses from Vestavia Hills and study supplies can be lessened, helping to make education more budget-friendly. And a large number of online schools are fully accredited (more on this later). So if your work or family responsibilities have left you with little 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 Trade Schools
Once you have chosen the type of certificate or degree that you desire to obtain, either online or on campus, you can start to narrow down your selection of schools. As you are certainly aware, there are many HVAC trade schools in the Vestavia Hills AL area and all over the United States to choose from. That's why it is extremely important to have a checklist of key qualifiers when making school assessments. As previously stated in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will undoubtedly be the first two factors you will look at. Following are some additional ones that you will want to investigate before enrolling in your school of choice.
Accreditation. Numerous HVAC vocational programs in the Vestavia Hills AL area have attained either a regional or a national accreditation. They can acquire Institutional Accreditation, which focuses on the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which pertains to an individual program, for instance HVAC technology. Make sure that the school and program are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization, for example the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to helping guarantee that you obtain an excellent education, it may assist in obtaining financial assistance or student loans, which are often unavailable for non-accredited schools. Additionally, many states require that the HVAC training program be accredited for it to qualify for licensing.
High Completion Rates. Ask the HVAC schools you are looking at what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the percentage of students who enroll in and finish the course. A low completion rate could signify that students were disappointed with the course and dropped out. It might also suggest 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 broader directory of graduates, which may result in 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 Vestavia Hills AL HVAC employers to assist grads acquire apprenticeships or jobs.
Apprenticeship Programs. Most HVAC training programs are taught in conjunction with an apprenticeship or an internship program. Those participating trade and technical schools will help place you in an apprenticeship program within their network of HVAC businesses or trade unions. Ask if the schools you are reviewing have working partnerships with local Vestavia Hills AL HVAC companies. An apprenticeship not only offers a rewarding experience by supplying practical training, but it also supplies employment opportunities and helps to establish relationships in the local HVAC professional community.
Modern Facilities. Make sure that the campus facilities and the tools that you will be trained on are up-to-date and what you will be working with in the field. If you are currently in an internship or an apprenticeship, talk to the HVAC technician you are working with regarding what you should be looking for. Otherwise, ask a local Vestavia Hills AL HVAC contractor if they can provide some pointers. Also bear in mind that unless you are able to move, the school must be within driving distance of your Vestavia Hills AL residence. Remember that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, besides the added moving costs there may be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.
Smaller Classes. It's desirable that you get as much personalized instruction as possible, which can be difficult in bigger classes. Ask if you can monitor a few of the classes so that you can see how big they are and witness first hand the interaction between students and teachers. Speak to several of the students and get their feedback relating to class sizes and instruction. Finally, speak with some of the teachers 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 schools you are evaluating are flexible enough to meet your needs. If you are only able to go to classes in the evening or on weekends near Vestavia Hills AL, check that the schools you are reviewing offer those choices. If you can only attend part-time, 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 due to work, illness or family issues.
Earn Your HVAC Degree and Certification
Picking the ideal HVAC training program is a critical first step toward a gratifying career in the heating & cooling field. As we have covered in this article, you should choose a Heating and Cooling training program and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have excellent reputations within the HVAC trade. Other features to look for are plenty of practical training and modern facilities. You should visit each of the schools personally that you are most interested in to tour the campus and talk 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 evening or weekend classes are available if needed. And remember to ask about financial assistance and student loan options as well. If you ask the proper questions as we have laid out in our checklist for assessing schools, you'll be able to filter your choices so that you can make an informed decision. With the proper training, hard work and dedication, you can eventually become a licensed HVAC professional in Vestavia Hills AL.