Pilots are typically seen as both talented and well-educated simply because of the position that they hold. But do pilots really need to have a degree?

Under Federal Aviation Regulations, pilots do not need to have a degree to be certified and licensed to fly aircraft. That said, some airlines do require their pilots to have a degree, it’s just employer-specific. All told, a pilot will have a better chance of getting a job if they have a degree.

The question of whether or not a pilot has to have a degree comes up often whenever someone is considering pursuing their pilot’s license. After all, getting a college degree typically takes four years, which increases the amount of time it takes to get hired as a pilot. In this article, you’ll learn that pilots don’t need a degree, whether or not having one will increase your chances of getting higher, and what the best degrees to pursue are for a pilot.

To make sure we are providing you with the most accurate information that we possibly can, we’ve combined our own knowledge with other experts in the field to discuss whether or not pilots need to have a degree. After talking with multiple pilots that don’t have a college degree of any kind — and the fact that it isn’t required under federal law — you can rest assured knowing that everything you read below is as accurate as possible!

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Do Pilots Have To Graduate From College?

Being a pilot is typically regarded as a highly-respected career choice, and for good reason. Pilots are seen as intelligent and well-educated because they seamlessly operate massive, expensive, and complex pieces of machinery. But contrary to common belief that many people seem to have, pilots don’t actually need to have a degree. In fact, they don’t need to have any college experience whatsoever.

This might come as a surprise to many, since college degrees are usually correlated with the most well-respected jobs in the world. But if you sit back and think about it, degrees aren’t actually required in many of the top positions across the globe.

The President of the United States doesn’t need to have a degree. Members of Congress don’t need to have a college degree. Chief Executive Officers of the biggest corporations in the world don’t need to have a degree. With all that in mind, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched anymore for pilots not to be required to have a degree.

One of the main reasons that pilots do not require a college degree is that the vast majority of skill and knowledge needed to become a pilot is not taught in school during a normal field of the study’s curriculum. Instead, pilots are required to have a pilot’s license, such as a Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL). This license, like a degree, certifies that a person has successfully completed the necessary training to become a pilot.

All that said, if you were to take a random survey of pilots across the United States, you would find that most of them do, in fact, have a college degree. So if it’s not necessary, why do most pilots have one after all?

Do Airlines Require Their Pilots To Have Degrees?

Everything we said above about pilots not needing a degree is true in general. There is no law of federal regulation that requires pilots, commercial or private, to possess a college degree. However, airlines are businesses of their own and have the ability to create their own rules and standards. And some of the world’s top airlines do require their pilots to have a degree.

And when we say that they require a degree, oftentimes it’s more that an application will almost immediately get rejected if the applicant does not have a college degree, regardless of if it’s an actual listed requirement or not. But for some employers, both major airlines and much smaller regional employers, do actually require their pilots to have a college degree.

So if you’re wanting to become a pilot but you’re afraid of your chances because you didn’t get a college degree, don’t lose all hope. Just spend some time doing the research on the specific employer you’re wanting to work for and find out if they require you to have a college degree or not. You may be just fine without one!

Should You Go To College If You Want To Be A Pilot?

While you certainly can become a pilot without going to school and getting a degree, we mentioned above that many employers will automatically reject an application if the prospective pilot does not have a degree. Even if they have the proper training and are licensed and certified to fly the right aircraft, a pilot can be rejected for not having a college degree.

This is because, for the most part, pilot jobs are almost always in high demand. This means that for every position that an airline opens up, chances are high that they are going to receive a massive surplus of applicants. And since the majority of airline pilots do have degrees, many of the applications will show that the applicant has successfully graduated from college.

Even if the degree is barely related to flying an aircraft at all, it’s a quick way to show the airline or employer that they’ve spent years dedicating themselves to something and successfully completing what they set out to do. It’s just a quick way for an employer to narrow down the number of applicants without digging too deep, just like in any other job.

So while it’s not necessarily required at all airlines or for all employers, we recommend going to college or university if you’re able to and getting a degree. It will open up way more opportunities throughout your flying career.

What Should Pilots Study In School?

The easiest thing would be if a college or university just offered pilot training as a major that you could get a degree in. But let’s be honest, that’s more or less what pilot training school is for and that’s what you’ll be doing when you’re eventually earning your pilot’s license! So if you’re heading to college with the idea that you want to be a pilot one day in the future, what should you study?

If it just matters that you have a degree, does it really matter what subject it’s in? Based on what we said above, having a degree in anything is better than having no degree at all. That remains true, sure. But as you get to the next level of the application and/or hiring process, the degree itself becomes more and more meaningful.

If you were hiring a pilot, would you prefer that their degree is in a STEM related field or culinary arts? We’re pretty sure that you’d choose the applicant with the STEM degree, we know we would! So then that begs the question, what is the best thing to study in college if you’re hoping to become a pilot?

As hinted at here, any sort of STEM degree will typically be preferred over any other degree. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Which are, of course, all fields that are related to flying an aircraft in one way or another. Inside the broad category of STEM, a couple of the best fields to get a degree in to become a pilot include aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, mathematics, and fluid dynamics.


Joe Haygood

Joe Haygood

After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.

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