Air Conditioning Technology Degrees: Associate, Diploma & Online Info

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Associate's degrees and diplomas in air conditioning technology can lead to careers as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) technicians. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your training.
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Studying Air Conditioning Technology: Degrees at a Glance

A degree or diploma in air conditioning technology, which may sometimes include either heating or refrigeration technology as well, prepares you for a career installing, repairing and maintaining air conditioning and related systems. Programs in this area often include hands-on coursework to ensure understanding. Work may be done in a wide variety of environments.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), job prospects in this area were expected to grow much faster than average, with an increase of 34% projected between 2010 and 2020. Opportunities were expected to increase due to continued residential and commercial construction, an increase in demand for climate-control systems and the need to replace or retrofit aging systems.

Diploma Associate's
Who is this Degree for? People looking for a hands-on entry-level career Same as associate's, but with more areas of expertise
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - HVAC/R technician ($46,000)* Same as diploma
Time to Completion Three terms full time Four terms full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Coursework Same as diploma
Prerequisites - High school diploma
- Minimum 16 years of age
- College assessment tests (ACT, etc.)
Same as associate's degree, plus:
- Basic math courses
Online Availability Not at this time Not at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Air Conditioning Technology Diploma

Air conditioning technology diploma programs are focused on providing their students with the skills and knowledge necessary for entry-level positions in the air conditioning field. These programs often mix theory and practical application, providing a hands-on education. Classes may be offered both during the day and during the evening, but the programs are generally designed to be taken full-time. Aside from air conditioning technology, these programs also tend to teach both heating and refrigeration basics as well to provide a well-rounded HVAC/R education.

Pros and Cons


  • Job prospects increasing (34% projected growth from 2010-2020)*
  • Likely career pays above average salary*
  • Variety of work available (different worksites, variety of systems)*


  • May work outside in varying weather*
  • May work irregular hours during busy periods*
  • Higher than average risk of injury due to working with heavy, electrical systems*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Common Courses and Requirements

Diploma programs are designed to take three terms full time, and generally require a total of 51 credit hours. These credit hours are divided up between basic skills courses, often consisting of math, English and professional development courses, and air conditioning technology specific courses.

Some courses you may take include:

  • Refrigeration fundamentals
  • HVAC/R electrical motors
  • Heat pumps
  • Introduction to computers
  • Troubleshooting
  • Air condition systems

Courses often include hands-on portions and usually must be taken in person.

Online Course Information

Because many air conditioning technology courses and programs involve hands-on experience, at this time, no air conditioning technology diploma programs are offered online. However, you may be able to take some courses, usually the math, English and professional development courses, online or through a distance learning program. This varies by school.

Getting Ahead

Certification can be useful when applying for jobs, because certifications acknowledge your skills in your chosen field. Several organizations offer certifications in the field of air conditioning technology, including the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), HVAC Excellence, the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI), the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) and North American Technician Excellence (NATE). These organizations may offer certifications in certain specializations as well.

Other Degrees to Consider

Although a degree in air conditioning technology can lead to a career with lots of potential growth and a high salary, if you find it's not to your liking, there are some alternative degrees to consider. If you like working with piping, you might consider becoming a plumber. Plumbers earn an average salary of $52,000 a year as of May 2011, and BLS estimates job prospects will increase 26% between 2010 and 2020. Alternatively, if you prefer working with electrical systems, you could earn an electrician certificate or diploma. Electricians make $53,000 a year on average, and job prospects are expected to increase 23%.

Air Conditioning Technology Associate's Degrees

Like diploma programs, associate's degrees in air conditioning technology prepare you to enter the HVAC/R field. These programs are often hands-on, providing necessary experience, and may even include some time in the field shadowing working professionals or opportunities for internships. Most programs are designed to be completed in two years. Some programs may also provide the knowledge necessary to move on to a baccalaureate degree in a related field, such as energy systems or industrial technology.

Pros and Cons


  • Stable field with many available opportunities
  • Can work independently or for a company*
  • Job opportunities greater than completing an apprenticeship*


  • May not provide an edge in job hunting over diploma recipients
  • Some areas of the field may be less stable (new construction)*
  • May have to work night or weekend shifts*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Common Courses and Requirements

Associate's degrees in air conditioning technology are 2-year programs that usually require around 65 credit hours to complete. These are typically divided between general education courses, especially math and science ones, and air conditioning technology specific courses.

Some courses you make take include:

  • Electricity
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Environmental systems
  • Electrical theory and application
  • Heat load

Courses may vary depending on whether or not the program also focuses on heating and refrigeration.

Online Course Information

Like the diploma programs, associate's degree programs require many hands-on and laboratory courses which, at this time, cannot be offered online. Some of the general education courses or electives may, however, be offered online or through some other distance learning option. Many schools offer the ability to see which courses are offered online.

Getting Ahead

According to the BLS, some employers prefer to hire certified employees. Many different organizations offer certifications in this field, ranging from making sure you have entry-level knowledge to being a master specialist. These certifications usually require you to take and pass an examination, although the subject matter and difficulty differ from certification exam to certification exam. Organizations may have an air conditioning specific exam, or it may be on all HVAC/R systems. Additionally, familiarity with computers and electronics may help as systems become more complicated.

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