If you are interested in becoming an airline pilot or pursuing an aviation-related career, there are various types of pilot degrees that can aid you in this ambition.
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In order to obtain a commercial airline pilot’s license, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that you spend 2 months in ground training and complete at least 1,500 hours in the air.
Is a college degree necessary to become a pilot? There are actually many different routes to becoming a pilot. Some companies prefer or require pilots to have bachelor’s degrees, while others do not.
Some aspiring pilots receive their training through military service. Others choose to attend aviation school or become private pilots, eventually meeting the requirements to earn a commercial pilot’s license.
There is currently a labor shortage of qualified pilots. So, airline recruiters are primarily concerned with whether pilots simply have a license, good safety records, and no criminal history. Recruiters aren’t as concerned with the specific route the pilot took to receive their education and licensure.
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While a college degree is not always necessary to become a professional pilot in the current labor market, there could be some advantages to obtaining your degree. Major airlines are more likely to require pilots to have college degrees than regional airlines, so earning your degree could increase your job prospects.
For major airlines, a degree is often evidence of your abstract knowledge, problem-solving skills, and work ethic. Your degree does not necessarily need to be related to the field of aviation. Some aspiring pilots simply choose whatever major they find most interesting.
Of course, if you wish to become a pilot, an aviation major may well be what you would find most interesting.
Common Degrees for Becoming a Pilot
Here are some common types of aviation degrees:
- Bachelor of Aviation. This is probably the most common college degree for aspiring pilots. Some college aviation programs are Bachelor of Science degrees, and others are Bachelor of Arts degrees.
Many aviation degree programs lead you through the process of meeting all the requirements to receive full commercial licensure upon completion of the program.
This is an efficient way to ensure that you receive both a college education and flight training so that you can be qualified to work for most airlines. Your coursework can include engineering, electronics, aircraft maintenance, and airport management.
- Bachelor of Science in Aviation Technology. In addition to academic coursework, this type of degree often includes flight training and licensure programs.
This type of degree may be viewed favorably by potential employers because of its technical rigor. As part of an aviation technology degree program, you’ll likely study aircraft maintenance and aircraft systems as well as aerodynamics and how to apply physics to the process of flying an aircraft.
This type of degree program is intended to prepare you with the academic knowledge and practical training needed to become a pilot.
- Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering. Most BS in Aerospace Engineering programs do not provide flight instruction or any direct preparation to become a pilot.
This degree could provide you with solid preparation to attend flight school after you finish college, though. It can also help prepare you for a wider range of careers than a BA or BS in Aviation.
An aerospace engineering program can provide you with an advanced understanding of how different types of aircraft work. This knowledge could be relevant for subsequently pursuing a career as a pilot or engineer for the aviation industry.
You could even potentially learn about how to engineer rockets and shuttles and have the opportunity to work in the field of space exploration. In an aerospace engineering program, you’ll study advanced physics, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, space flight dynamics, and space propulsion and power.
- Bachelor of Aeronautical Science. A bachelor degree in aeronautical science does not directly prepare you to become a pilot or provide you with any actual flight training.
It does teach you relevant academic knowledge, though, which could serve as good preparation to apply to flight school after college. Subjects studied in this type of program can include aircraft maintenance, engineering, and airport management.
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This degree can also help prepare you for a wider range of careers than a bachelors in aviation. With an aeronautical science degree, graduates may pursue careers in engineering or air traffic control.
- Bachelor of Science in Air Traffic Management. A BS in Air Traffic Management is primarily intended for those wanting to become air traffic controllers.
This major does not provide a direct route to becoming a pilot, but it could certainly be useful if you choose to pursue licensure after college. It can also open up career opportunities that an aviation degree might not provide.
In air traffic management programs, you may spend extensive time studying aviation meteorology. You can learn how adverse weather conditions can affect aircraft and how to assess the threat level of meteorological phenomena.
You can also have the opportunity to study the basics of how airplanes work, how to plot new courses for aircraft and plan unexpected landings, and how to avoid air traffic congestion. All of this knowledge could be useful to both pilots and air traffic controllers. Any of these degrees could be beneficial on your path to becoming a pilot.
How to Become a Private Pilot
Here are the basic steps to becoming a private pilot:
- Find a flight school. You can take time to look at all your available options, what they cost, and what you will learn at each one.
- Introductory training flight. At many schools, you have the opportunity to complete one very basic flight lesson before you enroll full-time.
- FAA medical certificate. This certificate demonstrates that you do not have any health problems that could make it unsafe for you to fly.
- FAA student pilot certificate. The student pilot certificate is not necessary to start your flying lessons, but you will need it before you fly solo for the first time in your training.
- Flight training lessons. During your lessons, you will learn how to operate an aircraft.
- Private pilot knowledge test. During your training, you will take a computer-based exam from the FAA.
- Private pilot practical exam. During this exam, you will fly with an examiner to evaluate your skills.
Once you have successfully completed these steps, you can become licensed to fly private aircraft.
How to Become a Commercial Pilot
If you want to pursue a professional career as an airline pilot, it’s necessary to obtain licensure as a commercial pilot. Here are some steps you can take toward this goal:
- Get a bachelor’s degree in any field. Some aviation degrees include flight training and licensure as part of the programming, and others teach knowledge that can be useful if you pursue flight training after college.
- Get flight experience. You can get flight experience by enrolling in degree programs or flight schools approved by the FAA, by hiring a personal instructor, or by joining the military.
- Get your commercial license. Once you have completed your flight training, you will take written and practical exams to obtain licensure.
- Get professional experience. New pilots often start their careers as co-pilots.
Once you have completed these steps, you might have opportunities for career advancement as a professional pilot.
Pilot Licensure and Certifications
Here are some different types of licenses and ratings that you can earn as a pilot, in the order you would typically earn them:
- Student Pilot Certificate. With a student pilot certificate, you can fly solo during training.
- Private Pilot License. With a private pilot license, you can fly solo, but you may not do so professionally.
- Instrument Rating. An instrument rating qualifies you to fly strictly by using radar and other instruments, which enables you to fly through clouds and in other conditions of low visibility.
- Commercial Pilot License. A basic commercial pilot license allows you to fly professionally to perform services such as crop dusting and charter flights.
- Multi-Engine Rating. The multi-engine rating qualifies you to fly as pilot-in-command of airplanes with more than one engine.
- Airline Transport Pilot Certificate. This is the highest certificate you can receive, and it qualifies you to fly for commercial airlines.
Earning any of these certificates, licenses, or ratings requires passing both written and practical examinations.
Should I Become a Pilot?
You are the only one who can decide whether becoming a pilot is the right career path for you. Potential pilots need to be able to pass a medical exam to ensure that they do not have any medical conditions that would make flying dangerous for them.
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Becoming a pilot could be a rewarding career for someone who enjoys traveling and thrives on variety. Pilots often encounter unpredictable circumstances, such as rapidly changing weather conditions.
Do You Need a College Degree to Be a Pilot?
When considering how to become a pilot, you may be wondering if pilots need to have college degrees. Obtaining a college degree is not strictly necessary to become a pilot, but some major airlines do require their pilots to hold a bachelors degree. So, having a degree might expand your potential job opportunities.
If you are considering becoming a pilot and have not yet earned a bachelors degree, you may want to weigh the benefits of going to college first.
What Should I Major in to Be a Pilot?
Major airlines that require their pilots to have degrees do not necessarily specify a major. So, if you choose to go to college, you could major in basically any subject that you find interesting.
Some majors, though, teach you knowledge that’s relevant to a career as a pilot. College majors for pilots include aviation, aviation technology, aerospace engineering, aeronautical science, and air traffic management. Colleges with aviation or aviation technology programs sometimes have flight training and licensure programs available on campus.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Pilot?
There is no definitive answer to this question due to the different paths you can take to become a pilot. It can also depend on what type of pilot license you want.
Becoming a pilot may take longer if you choose to get a bachelors degree before going to flight school. A bachelors typically takes 4 years to complete. Some aviation degree programs include flight training in their programming, though, which may allow you to qualify for licensure by graduation.
Earning a commercial pilot certificate requires logging at least 250 hours of flight time, and earning an airline transport pilot certificate requires logging at least 1500 hours, including at least 100 hours of night flights and at least 500 hours of cross-country flights.
How quickly you can log these hours depends on your schedule and how much time you are able to spend in training.
How Hard Is It to Become a Pilot?
The answer to this question is subjective and depends on what you personally consider hard. If you specifically choose to earn a degree in aviation, you will likely take courses in subjects such as physics, meteorology, and electronics.
Flight training involves a significant time commitment. You learn how to operate different types of aircraft, fly in adverse weather conditions, and solve problems quickly. In order to gain each level of licensure, you will take written and practical exams to demonstrate your skills.
How Much Does It Cost to Become a Pilot?
The cost of becoming a pilot can vary considerably depending on the level of licensure you wish to achieve and whether you intend to pursue a bachelors degree. Earning a college degree is the preferred route for those wanting to become airline pilots.
Earning a bachelors degree in aviation typically costs between $60,000 and $80,000. If you choose to attend a flight school, there will generally be instructional and plane rental costs. Earning a private pilot certificate can often cost around $11,000 to $14,000, and earning a commercial certificate typically costs an additional $3,000 to $5,000.
Is Being a Pilot Worth It?
Yes, being a pilot is worth it for many professionals. Commercial airline pilots often earn above average salaries, and many people enjoy flying as an end in itself.
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There is currently a good job outlook for pilots as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of commercial pilots is expected to grow 9% percent over the next ten years. Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers are expected to experience 3% job growth.
Universities Offering Online Bachelors in Aviation Degree Programs
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.
Eastern Kentucky University offers a 2 year, online program for a Bachelor of Science with concentrations in Professional Flight, Aerospace Management, or Aerospace Technology. Each concentration requires students to complete 120 credit hours to graduate. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher.
Eastern Kentucky University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics designed for students who already have work experience related to aviation. To be eligible for the program, applicants must submit an online application with copies of their official high school transcripts and ACT or SAT test scores.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Liberty University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Aviation program. Each of the classes can be taken online and is 8 weeks long. Applicants must have a high school GPA of 2.0 or higher and either have an FAA Commercial Pilot Certificate or confirm that all flight training courses will be completed while studying.
Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Lynn University offers an online Professional Pilot B.S. program. It typically takes 4 years to complete.
Students may complete all classes online, but the program also offers optional onsite flight training. Those interested in the program may apply online through the school’s website with a complete application, a personal statement, and official transcripts.
Lynn University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Polk State College offers a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Science with a concentration in Professional Pilot. To graduate, students must complete 120 credit hours with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher. Applicants must have Private Pilot, Instrument Rating, and Commercial Pilot certificates and a GPA of 2.0 or higher.
Polk State College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Purdue University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Professional Flight. To graduate, students must complete 180 credit hours. Each course is 10 weeks long. Students have the opportunity to obtain 5 different flight certifications by the time they graduate. Applicants must submit proof of a high school degree or a GED certificate.
Purdue University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Southeastern University offers a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Management with a Professional Pilot track. To graduate, students must complete 120 credit hours, including 27 hours from ground and flight training. Applicants must submit a high school transcript and be eligible for an FAA Class 2 Medical Certificate.
Southeastern University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Texas A&M University—Central Texas offers a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Science with a Professional Pilot concentration. Students must complete 120 credit hours, including a capstone project. The online classes are either 8 or 16 weeks long. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a GPA of 2.0.
Texas A&M University-Central Texas is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Nebraska—Omaha offers a Multidisciplinary Studies degree with a concentration in Aviation Studies. Students must complete 120 credit hours to graduate, with 30 of the hours focusing on the aviation concentration. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and an ACT score of 20 or the SAT equivalent.
UNO is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Utah Valley University offers an online program for a Bachelor of Science in Professional Pilot. To graduate, students must complete 120 credit hours with an overall GPA of C or higher. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.5 and an FAA medical certificate.
Utah Valley University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Getting Your Aviation Degree Online
There are several different routes you could take to pursue pilot training. For starters, you could begin looking for private flight instructors or FAA approved flight schools. If you are interested in aviation studies, your next step could be to enroll in a college degree program on campus or even online.
Completing an online bachelors in aviation degree could provide convenient scheduling options while you pursue flight training in person. A growing number of universities also offer an aviation management degree online, which combines the study of aviation and business management.
Graduating with a college degree from one of the best aviation colleges for your needs can help you qualify for a wider variety of jobs in the airline industry.
Why not start exploring your pilot degree options today?