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How to Find the Best Heating and Cooling Vocational School Near Opelika Alabama

Opelika Alabama commercial hvac contractor repairing furnacesNow that you have decided on a career as a heating and cooling technician, the next step is to find an HVAC vocational school near Opelika AL. But with so many to select from, how do you pick the right one to get the training that you need? A number of prospective students will make their decision based entirely on the cost of tuition or how close the school is to their home. Even though these are significant factors to consider, they are not the only ones to investigate. A few of the other details that you need to research are the graduation completion rates of the HVAC schools, their reputations, and if they are accredited by professional trade organizations. Those and other benchmarks will be addressed in more detail later within this article. But before we discuss how to select an HVAC trade school, let's look at what a heating and cooling specialist does to become a licensed professional tradesman.

HVAC Degree and Certificate Training Programs

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There are a variety of alternatives offered for HVAC training in a technical or vocational school. You can obtain a certificate, an Associate Degree, or a Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a certificate will take the minimum period of time, often accomplished in as little as six months, however some programs are longer. A certificate will train you for most HVAC positions, particularly if you are licensed and have certification related to the position. The degree programs might provide a competitive advantage in the job market and will furnish more comprehensive training than the certificate programs. Following is a short description of each option offered near Opelika Al.

  • Certificate. Normally requiring a high school diploma, certificate programs are very popular among beginning commercial or residential HVAC technicians. They furnish a solid foundation of skills for job opportunities within the trade.
  • Associate Degree. The Associate Degree in HVAC program supplies a more extensive knowledge of heating and cooling systems than the certificate program. Usually requiring two years to complete, some degrees feature an internship or work-study program.
  • Bachelor's Degree. The Bachelor's Degree in HVAC is suited more for a career in management as well as business ownership. Some programs require an Associate Degree, while others are a conventional four year program. In addition to mastering how to service and maintain heating and cooling systems, you will also learn how to design them.

Selecting the appropriate credential program will be dependent on what your long term career objectives are, in addition to the time and financial resources that you have to invest. One possibility is to begin with a certificate or perhaps an Associate Degree program, and after acquiring some experience in the trade in Opelika AL, later returning to earn a Bachelor's Degree. If this is your tactic, make certain to ask the HVAC tech school you are looking at about how their returning student program works.

HVAC Schools Online

Opelika Alabama forced air heat registerAttending an HVAC school online is one option to obtaining your education and earning a degree or certificate. Almost all schools will call for some attendance on campus to complete practical training. Some also sponsor internship or work-study programs in addition to or instead of practical lab work. But since the balance of the classes may be participated in on the web, this alternative may be a more practical solution for many Opelika AL students that are short on time. And some online degree programs are less expensive than other on campus alternatives. Even commuting expenses from Opelika and study materials can be minimized, helping to make education more affordable. And many online programs 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 HVAC online training program will make it easier to fit school into your active schedule.

Heating and Cooling Certification and Licensing

HVAC is an acronym that is widely used in the industry that stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning". HVAC technicians specialize in 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, though every state and local municipality has its own requirements. Attaining professional certification is not mandatory, but an alternative way for Opelika AL HVAC techs to demonstrate that they are highly skilled and knowledgeable in their area of expertise. There are a number of 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 achieved by passing a competency examination and may be earned in one or more specialties.
  • HVAC Excellence. This certification offers both a professional and a master specialist credential. Two years of professional experience in addition to passing a comprehensive examination are needed for the professional level certification. Master specialists must have 3 years of experience as well as a passing score on the professional level exam. As with NATE, certifications are offered in various specialties.
  • EPA Section 608. This certification is mandatory for techs 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 required in your location, and you may also intend to earn certification, it's imperative that you select an HVAC technical school that will prepare you for both. And since you will probably be dealing with refrigerants, make certain that the school you decide on preps you for passing the EPA Section 608 examinations.

What to Ask Heating and Cooling Trade Schools

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After you have selected the type of degree or certificate that you want to obtain, either on campus or online, you can begin to limit your selection of schools. As you are no doubt aware, there are numerous HVAC trade schools in the Opelika AL area and across the United States to select from. That's why it is imperative to have a checklist of key qualifications when making school assessments. As formerly stated in our opening paragraph, location and tuition will undoubtedly be the first 2 factors you will look at. Following are several additional ones that you will want to research before enrolling in your school of choice.

Accreditation.  A large number of HVAC trade schools in the Opelika AL area have acquired either a regional or a national accreditation. They may acquire Institutional Accreditation, which involves the school's programs overall, or Programmatic Accreditation, which pertains to an individual program, for example HVAC technology. Make sure that the school is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency, which includes the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Along with helping guarantee that you receive a superior education, it may assist in acquiring financial aid or student loans, which are frequently not available for non-accredited programs. Additionally, many states require that the HVAC training course be accredited in order to be approved for licensing.

High Completion Rates.  Ask the Heating and Air Conditioning schools you are looking at what their completion rates are. The completion rate is the portion or percentage of students who enroll in and complete the course. A lower completion rate could signify that students were disappointed with the course and dropped out. It might also signify that the teachers were not qualified to instruct the students. It's similarly essential that the schools have high job placement rates. Older and/or more reputable schools may have a more extensive list of alumni, which can 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 a good reputation within the industry, but also that it has the network of Opelika AL HVAC employers to help grads obtain apprenticeships or jobs.

Apprenticeship Programs.  A large number of HVAC technical programs are taught together with an internship or an apprenticeship program. Those participating trade and vocational programs will help place you in an apprenticeship program inside their network of HVAC contractors or trade unions. Find out if the schools you are considering have working relationships with local Opelika AL HVAC professionals. An apprenticeship not only provides a valuable experience by furnishing practical training, but it also provides employment opportunities and helps to form relationships in the regional HVAC professional community.

Modern Facilities.  Make certain that the school facilities and the equipment that you will be trained on are up-to-date and what you will be using on the job. If you are presently in an internship or an apprenticeship, talk to the HVAC technician you are working with concerning what you should be looking for. If not, ask a local Opelika AL HVAC contractor if they can give you some pointers. Additionally keep in mind that unless you are willing to relocate, the school needs to be within driving distance of your Opelika AL home. Remember that if you decide to enroll in an out-of-state school, besides the added moving costs there can be higher tuition charges compared to in-state residents.

Smaller Classes.   It's important 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 see how big they are and witness first hand the interaction between students and instructors. Speak to some of the students and get their feedback relating to class sizes and instruction. Finally, talk with some of the instructors and find out what their level of experience is and what degrees or certifications they have earned.

Flexible Scheduling.  Verify that the class schedules for the programs you are reviewing are flexible enough to meet your needs. If you are only able to attend classes in the evening or on weekends near Opelika AL, verify that the schools you are considering provide those options. If you can only attend part-time, make sure that the school you select offers part-time enrollment. Also, ask what the protocol is to make-up classes should you miss any because of work, sickness or family issues.

Learn More About Opelika HVAC Trade Schools

Get Your HVAC Certificate or Degree

Selecting the ideal HVAC school program is an important first step toward a rewarding career in the heating and air conditioning industry. As we have discussed in this article, you need to select an HVAC school and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have exceptional reputations within the HVAC profession. Other things to look for are plenty of hands-on training and modern facilities. You need to visit each of the schools personally that you are most interested in to explore the campus and talk with both the current students and faculty. Try to get a feel for the quality of the instruction and the interaction between them. Additionally, inquire about scheduling choices and if evening or weekend classes are offered if needed. And remember to ask about financial assistance and student loan options as well. If you ask the right questions as we have outlined in our guidelines for evaluating schools, you'll be able to filter 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 technician in Opelika AL.


 

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