For individuals who have an interest in working independently within the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) field, they must either complete a certain educational level before seeking employment, or complete a lengthy apprenticeship that may last 3 to 5 years. Individuals with academic degrees or certificates of course have shorter paths towards professional certification (numerous HVAC programs prepare students for sitting for certain professional certification exams), and frequently have an easier time getting a job.
However, anyone who is considering pursuing a formal HVAC education might be wondering whether it is better to go for a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree or certificate. Each of the options has pros and cons associated with it. Please keep reading our overview and hold onto the side-by-side comparison so that you can make an informed decision regarding which level of education to pursue.
All accredited HVAC programs ultimately assist students with achieving a similar objective; which is obtaining a greater level of knowledge with this particular area of study, which includes core systems and technologies, and how to tune these for reliability and performance. Numerous programs prepare their students for sitting for professional HVAC certification exams such as the EPA Section 608 certification exam to demonstrate further competency and, in some states, to enable them to qualify to work as HVAC technicians. Some of the more advanced programs might also offer business courses as well as the option for further specialization to prepare for other certifications, such as the commercial refrigeration certification.
Possibly one of the largest differences between pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree versus a certificate focusing on HVAC is how much time each of these programs takes to complete. Generally speaking, it takes less than one year to complete a certificate program, whereas it usually takes two years to complete an associate degree, and another additional two years to complete a bachelor’s degree (depending on the program’s specifics). For instance, at Redstone College, a diploma in HVAC can be earned in as few as 10 months; while its associate degree takes 17 months to finish. There are also online programs that are available, like one through Penn Foster, which provides students with the opportunity for pursuing a certificate at whatever pace they choose, as well as the amount of time they have available for their studies.
Also, just based on how much time they spend in the classroom, individuals who complete either an associate or bachelor’s degree will usually come out understanding HVAC technologies in a more comprehensive manner and be better prepare for the wide range of responsibilities that an HVAC technician might have, compared to those obtaining a certificate. The knowledge that is acquired in pursuit of an associate or bachelor’s degree also can assist a person if she or he decides to obtain industry certifications, such as via the non-profit certification organization called North American Technician Excellence, or via the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which provides technician tests.
Although numerous future HVAC employers might look favorably upon a person who has obtained a bachelor’s or associates degree in the HVAC field, it most likely won’t be the sole determining factor that leads to a job offer. Although education level is very important, many other variables are usually considered by employers, including HVAC-related jobs, internships or apprenticeships, previous HVAC experience and interpersonal skills.
It is also very important to consider industry statistics on future career growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics most likely HVAC employment opportunities will by 2024 grow by 14 percent, or 39,600 total. Although that doesn’t absolutely guarantee an HVAC technicians will be able to find a job after completing their education, it is welcome news for anybody pursuing this career path.
The following table lays out the differences and similarities between bachelor’s degree, associate degree and HVAC certificate programs, across numerous dimensions.
Not every program is exactly the same, and therefore the amount of time it will take for completing an HVAC diploma or certificate varies. In some programs a student can complete a certificate program in under a year, and in as few as 10 months in some cases.
It usually takes two years for a student to complete as associate degree that has an HVAC focus. Additional time might be required by some programs to obtain this degree, however it will depend on the institution ultimately.
An HVAC bachelor’s degree will usually take four years to fully complete, and will provide the most comprehensive form of HVAC instruction. An individual in certain situations may be able to complete a bachelor’s degree in a shorter amount of time if the person has completed some college credits already or has taken courses over the summer.
Below is a short list of subject that those who are enrolled in an HVAC diploma or certificate program can expect to take:
– HVAC system installation and design
– Light commercial and residential systems
– Electrical systems
– Refrigeration systems
The following are a list of topics that a person who is purchasing an associate degree in HVAC might be exposed to in addition to the courses that a certificate program covers:
– Technical physics
– Heat pumps
– Electricity as it relates to HVAC systems
– Metal fabrication
The following is a list of subjects that an individual who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree might be exposed to in addition to the courses that are covered in an associate degree and certificate program:
– Hydronic system design
– Contracting issues
– Commercial HVAC system design
– Energy analysis and audit
– Load analysis
– Control theory
An HVAC certificate can be obtained by a student at a community college, some career-oriented colleges, technical institutes and trade schools.
Usually an associate degree is pursued at a community college. A career college is another possibility for obtaining an associate degree.
A person might be able to obtain his or her bachelor’s degree within the HVAC field at many different accredited institutions, including career colleges and colleges.
After completing his or her certificate in HVAC, a person will qualify to work in the position of HVAC technician, assuming the person has also met all of the other industry prerequisites that state law requires.
Individuals with an HVAC associate degree, similar to those holding a certificate, will be prepared to work in the position of HVAC technician after completing their program.
A person holding a bachelor’s degree in the HVAC field will likely be fully prepared to work upon graduation as a technician, in addition to being able to complete extra competency exams, if the person so chooses.
Although the salary level will depend on what the specific job is, in addition to where the employment is located, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay in 2015 for HVAC technicians was $21,69 per hour or $45,110 per year.
According to available data there isn’t much of a difference between the starting salary of an associate-prepared and certificate-prepared HVAC technician. However, completing an associate degree does prepare the candidate better for pursuing the bachelor’s degree (to qualify for management positions) or for obtaining professional certifications as further specialization. And management and specialized increases salary potential as well.
Completing a bachelor’s degree in HVAC demonstrates commitment to the HVAC industry, and (in addition to some work experience) can qualify a candidate for supervisory or management positions. A median salary of $67,298 is earned by HVAC Supervisors compared to an entry-level HVAC Mechanic’s median salary of $41,930 (Salary.com, June 2016). In addition, HVAC technicians with an associate degree can complete their Bachelor’s degree in as few as 2 years.
There are additional competency exams that are available, for instance from the EPA, that do enable students to achieve greater responsibilities over the course of the work they do. A certificate program in general prepares students for the exams,although it might be necessary to take on some additional study before taking the exams.
Broader coverage is provided by associate degree programs on topics that relate to HVAC. They also help prepare students to take competency exams at some point in the future. For instance through the EPA or NATE. The commercial refrigeration certification is a common example.
Given the demanding nature of a majority of bachelor’s degree program, a person who completes this degree will most likely be well-prepared to take additional competency exams,and only need a minimal of extra study. A bachelor’s degree might also prepare an individual for a supervisory or managerial position.
An HVAC certificate takes the least amount of time to be able to enter the industry and start working towards becoming an HVAC technician. It might not provide the student with the same education level as a higher degree does, but it does quickly prepare an individual (in less than one year usually) for a career in the HVAC field, which allows the person to pursue additional education via on-the-job training. It is a great choice for an individual wanting to begin work as a technician as quickly as possible.
It usually takes longer to complete an associate degree than it does a certificate. However, it also provides a higher degree of knowledge also, which an individual can make use of throughout his or her career. Of course much of the education needs for working in the HVAC industry is acquired on the job. However, an associate degree does enable the student to learn about different aspects of HVAC before they enter the workforce. It is a great option for individuals who want to develop a comprehensive knowledge in the subject of HVAC, but still take two years or less to start a new career.
Usually it will take four years in order to complete a bachelor’s degree program. Therefore these programs should provide the student with the most comprehensive knowledge on HVAC-related topics out of all three options. Those students who complete a bachelor’s degree in HVAC will be completely prepare for almost every kind of job within the HVAC industry, including supervisory positions, and upon graduation will be highly competitive. It is an excellent choice for a person willing to spend as many as four years learning in the classroom to enhance her or his education, and especially makes sense for individuals wanting to move into management positions, or maybe eventually start their own business.