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For so many people, becoming a pilot is the job of their dreams, but if you want to pursue a career in the sky, the right degree can make all the difference.

Aviation is an industry that has significantly expanded in recent decades - with more pilot jobs than ever before and an overall increase in people traveling by plane. However, becoming a pilot is not as straightforward as other career paths, and having the right degree in your application is going to significantly increase your chances of getting hired.

The best degrees for becoming a pilot are Bachelor of Aviation, Bachelor of Science in Air Traffic Management, Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Aviation, and Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics.

There are a lot of perks that come with being a pilot - a high salary, travel for your career, and most importantly - you spend your hours at work in the sky. That is why so many people have their eye on a pilot's license so that they can one day work for a reputable airline. However, the path to getting there is not always clear, as there is a lot that goes into becoming a pilot. Unlike most job positions, pilots go through a series of different training programs, certifications, and exams to be granted their license and career. One of these steps often involves getting a degree - typically a bachelor's. With that being said, there are a lot of different options that you can choose for your bachelor's degree and some are going to be much more advantageous for getting your wings than others. To assist you on your path into the aviation industry, we are going to take you through the best degrees for becoming a pilot.

After extensively researching the aviation industry, I have been able to gather enough information to determine the best degrees for becoming a pilot. My research has shown me that it is best to pick a degree that focuses on the specific area of the industry that you want to work in, as not all programs are aligned with piloting an aircraft.

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Do You Need a Degree to Become a Pilot?

There is a lot of misinformation out there about the requirements of becoming a pilot. One of the biggest is that having a degree is a necessity to get into aviation. Although having a 4-year bachelor’s degree does make your resume look better, it is by no means a requirement to get your pilot’s license or even a job in the industry.

When you go out looking for work as a pilot, the most important things that you can showcase in your portfolio are going to be your flight certifications. Any airline that hires you wants to see that you attended flight school and understand how to operate an aircraft first and foremost. The requirements for you to become a pilot can seem overwhelming - especially when a 4-year degree is put on top of all of the essential certifications, which is why many airlines will be happy to employ you without a bachelor’s degree. These are the mandatory requirements to become a pilot:

  • FAA Pilot Certificate
  • FAA Medical Certificate
  • Pilot Knowledge Test Certificate
  • Flight Training Certificate
  • Private Pilot Practical Exam Completion

The truth is that there are not many degrees (if any) that are going to give you any real experience in the air as a pilot. The majority of the degrees that you pursue are going to be based on science and theory - which are all very beneficial for becoming a pilot but not essential requirements.

Many smaller airlines in particular will hire you without a bachelor’s degree, as they value flight experience more than anything. With that being said, many commercial big-name airlines will prefer that you have a bachelor’s degree and it may help you stand out amongst the competition when applying.

If you can afford to get a degree and are fully committed to becoming a pilot, then having one under your belt is going to be attractive from an employer’s perspective. Just make sure that you do not rule out becoming a pilot due to not having a degree - flight school comes first!

How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree?

The amount of time that it takes you to get your degree is not set in stone. If you are solely focused on getting a bachelor’s degree, then the timeframe is much more predictable. However, some people want to take their higher education above and beyond what is necessary, which is why they aim for a master’s degree.

The process will vary from person to person, as each student goes through the college system differently. If you are studying full-time, passing all of your classes, and have all of your credits in order, you can expect to get your degree(s) in the following timeframes:

  • Bachelor's Degree - 4 years
  • Master’s Degree - 6 years (BA + 2 years)

In addition to getting your degree, you need to factor in flight school. This is the most important form of education that you can have to become a pilot and it takes considerably less time than a degree from a university. Flight school typically takes about 7 months to complete if you are starting from zero and working at it full-time.

Are Pilots in Demand?

In recent years, there has been some speculation in regards to the demand for pilots in the aviation industry. This was largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic which put the aviation and travel industry to a complete halt.

However, despite this global event - pilots are in demand more than ever. The industry will continue to expand over the next decade, which is why we can expect there to be a considerable amount of pilot positions that will need to be filled.

We are expecting to see a rise in pilot positions by 13% from 2020 to 2030 - with a median salary of $133,000. This will amount to just under 15,000 new jobs for pilots in the aviation industry.

Cost of a Degree

If there is one thing that’s for certain it’s that college is not cheap. The education system in the United States has seen some staggering increases in tuition fees over the years - many of which make getting a degree unattainable for a lot of people.

However, there are ways to meet the financial requirements for attending college as an aspiring pilot, if you do not have enough cash upfront. Student loans are options that are worthy of consideration, but you want to approach these very carefully, as they are easy to get trapped in. The last position that you want to find yourself in when graduating is a massive student debt that is $100k + - with no source of income and interest rates that are piling up.

That is why we highly advise you to sit down and carefully consider your finances before jumping the gun on getting a degree. As we mentioned, getting a college degree is advantageous to becoming a pilot but not always a necessity. When breaking down the costs of a degree, you also need to factor in the additional expenses involved in college education, which will include things like room and board, as well as out-of-state fees (if applicable).

Bachelor’s Degree ($37,000 Annually)

When most people pursue higher education to become a pilot, they go for a bachelor’s degree. This is the standard that most industries require, these days, and it will certainly help your application stand out.

It takes the average student roughly 4 to 6 years to get their bachelor’s degree in the United States. However, this process can be accelerated, if academics are approached above the full-time standard.

The current national average for a bachelor’s degree is $37,000. This includes most of the expenses that come with colleges such as room, board, and academic supplies. However, it is important to understand that this number can be significantly lower or higher.

If you want to keep the cost of your bachelor’s degree to a minimum, it is best to pursue your college education in-state at a public college - rather than an out-of-state private university.

Master’s Degree ($15,000 - $20,000 Annually)

If you are looking to become a pilot, you do not need to get a master’s degree. However, if you want to pursue aerospace engineering, aviation technology, or another advanced role - having a master’s degree may not only be an attractive characteristic in a resume but perhaps even a requirement.

You can enter a master’s program after you have completed your bachelor’s degree and it normally takes 2 years to complete. This is likely going to amount to an additional $15,000 to $20,000 on top of your education costs. Much like with a bachelor’s degree, these costs can go up or down depending on the type of college that you go to.

Best Aviation Colleges

You will find that not every college in the system is going to have degrees that specialize in aviation or piloting an aircraft. If you are fully committed to this career path, it is going to be wise to apply to a college that is aligned with your goals.

Some colleges in the United States offer great higher-education programs for pilots. However, you may want to consider a number of factors before you begin applying. Colleges are going to offer aviation programs that specialize in specific areas of the industry - not always piloting an aircraft.

If you are interested in aircraft engineering or mechanics, then it would be wise to narrow down options that focus on aerospace engineering and aeronautics. With that being said, if you want a degree that specifically targets piloting, you want to pick a college that has a good program for Bachelor of Aviation or Bachelor of Science in Aviation. These are the best colleges for aviation in the United States.

  • Purdue University
  • Ohio University
  • Western Michigan College
  • Orange Coast College
  • Sinclair Community College
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • Lewis University Illinois
  • University of Alaska Anchorage

These are all highly-regarded colleges with great aviation programs. You want to make sure that you carefully look into the degrees that each institute offers within the industry so that you are choosing the college that is going to give you the best education possible for your goals as a pilot.

Best Pilot Degrees

A lot of aspiring pilots are completely focused on their careers, which is why they tend to pursue a degree that is specifically aligned with aviation. This can be a very advantageous aspect of your background when applying for jobs, as you not only have a 4-year degree that exemplifies your higher education, but you also have credibility within the industry before even starting your career.

There are a lot of different degrees that you can pursue to become a pilot. You must keep in mind that having a degree is not necessary to get inside a cockpit, which is why you should not overthink what kind of college education you pursue in regard to aviation. We would recommend that you consider an area of aviation that matters the most to you so that you can choose a path that will be most beneficial to your future.

The truth is that there are only a handful of aviation degrees that give you knowledge about piloting an aircraft. Aerospace engineers know a lot about designing planes but not a whole lot about flying them. Any degree in aviation is going to be a huge boost for your application but it is not going to make or break your chances of getting hired as a pilot. Instead, select a degree to go after that you can excel in.

Having additional knowledge within aviation is not only going to better your chances of becoming a pilot but it also opens up other doors for you within the industry. If you decide that you have a change of heart down the line and want to get out of piloting, you have got a degree in another area of aviation to lean on so that you can easily transition to another career. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the best degrees for pilots.

Bachelor of Aviation

If you are set on becoming a pilot and want to focus all of your energy on your career, then there is really no better degree that you can have under your belt than a Bachelor of Aviation. This is a bachelor’s degree that specializes in piloting an aircraft and you will have the best background possible in your resume when applying for jobs as a pilot.

A Bachelor of Aviation degree is also going to give you the chance to get familiarized with an aircraft before making the leap to pilot one. You will gain in-depth knowledge on various components of aviation and planes that flight schools tend to brush over - giving you a serious edge over your competition.

The main focus of this degree will be to equip you with the in-depth knowledge that you need to pilot an aircraft. In addition, you will touch on the electronics of a plane, as well as some areas of engineering. However, depending on the college that you attend, you may also end up learning about aircraft maintenance, as well as other areas of focus.

If you want to pursue this type of degree, you should do some research on the specific college that you are considering, to ensure that the curriculum is in line with your career path. Normally, a Bachelor’s in Aviation takes about 4 years to complete but it could take as long as 6 for some students.

One of the key highlights of this degree is that your college will award you with a commercial pilot certificate when you complete your studies, which will be an essential requirement for your career. All in all, there is no better choice for a pilot degree than a Bachelor’s in Aviation.

Bachelor of Science in Aviation

This degree can sometimes have some overlap with a Bachelor of Aviation but there are some key distinctions between the two. A Bachelor of Science in Aviation is going to be more technical in some respects and it may even amount to a greater challenge, which is why you may want to consider your options carefully.

This degree is going to make your pilot’s application look great and it will give you a lot of insight into the technical side of managing an aircraft. You will gain more knowledge of aircraft aerodynamics with a Bachelor of Science in Aviation, as there will be an emphasis on physics within your curriculum. In addition, the degree will also involve technical studies of aircraft navigation systems and maintenance. All directly correlated with your path to becoming a pilot.

Most importantly, for any pilot, a Bachelor of Science in Aviation will involve flight training much like a Bachelor of Aviation degree. You will gain real insight into how to pilot an aircraft that is unmatched by virtually all other degrees. Depending on the area of aviation that you go into, you may find that this degree is even more favorable than a Bachelor of Aviation, especially if the position is going to require a more technical background. You can also expect this degree to take you anywhere from 4 to 6 years.

Bachelor of Science in Air Traffic Management

A lot of aspiring pilots choose to pursue a degree in Air Traffic Management, as it gives a lot of insight into the workings of pilot communications. This is a very critical side of flying an airplane and having a degree that specializes in Air Traffic Management is going to be highly attractive for your application.

Through this program, you will learn a considerable amount about aviation management and aviation meteorology. You will gain expert knowledge of air traffic communications that surpasses even most veteran pilots in the sky. As a degree holder in Air Traffic Management, you will also be trained in a wide variety of different conditions and situations that deal with emergency scenarios.

This is also a fantastic educational path to consider given that you will have aviation knowledge that is outside of piloting an aircraft. Although your main goal may be to become a pilot, your degree and insight into Air Traffic Control can give you an alternative job opportunity later down the line. It is quite common for pilots to change up their careers after years in the sky and a position as an Air Traffic Controller is a great fallback option. Depending on how in-depth you go with your studies, this degree will usually take anywhere from 4 to 6 years for a bachelor’s and upwards of 6 to 8 for a master’s.

Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering

If you want to get into the very technical field of aviation, pursuing a degree in Aerospace Engineering is going to be your best option. This is a challenging degree to go after and it will equip you with the knowledge that surpasses any standard flight program.

With that being said, it is also important to understand that Aerospace Engineering is going to bring you further away from piloting an aircraft compared to the other degrees that we mentioned.

You will get into technical aspects of aviation such as physics, advanced vector algebra, as well as orbital and supersonic flight. In addition, this kind of degree will also dive into aircraft maintenance, as you will cover an expansive side of electrical and mechanical engineering of planes.

This can be a great degree to consider for a pilot that enjoys engineering and mathematics. However, a pilot that has a degree in Aerospace Engineering could also find themselves in an advantageous position to change their career down the line. With this kind of degree, you can transition into aircraft design and logistics, if you ever wanted to move away from piloting an aircraft. To obtain a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, you can expect to put in 4 years into your academics at the very least. However, advanced studies in this kind of program can easily take upwards of 6 to 8 years.

Bachelor of Aeronautical Science

If you want to get under the hood of an aircraft, a degree in Aeronautical Science is going to be the best way to learn about plane mechanics. This kind of degree will enable you to get familiarized with exactly how an airplane works, which is something that is taught very sparingly in most flight schools.

As a Bachelor of Aeronautical Science, you will spend less time learning how to fly a plane and a lot more about taking it apart and putting it back together. A mechanical and technical mind will be required for this kind of degree for a position within the aviation industry.

With that being said, this is a great degree to have under your belt if you want to pursue a career in airplane mechanics and repairs later, as you will have in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of an aircraft that surpasses virtually every standard pilot. This kind of bachelor’s degree will usually require a minimum of 4 years of studying - whereas a master’s is going to take at least 6 years.