A common question that people who want to become pilots have is: Is a college degree required in order to be an airline pilot?
Many people would love to be a pilot and are willing to go through flight school/training but do not want to spend 4 years earning a college degree.
So, is it a requirement of the job?
A college degree is not required to be an airline pilot. Some airlines do still choose to require it while others give preference to applicants that have it. A bachelor’s degree may not be required but it can help you get hired and give you other career options in the aviation industry should you want to choose a different career path.
Let’s take a deep dive into some of the specifics of the topic.
Regional vs National Airlines
One of the biggest differences on this topic is the type of airline you plan to work for. Most of the regional airlines do not require a college degree, while the large national airlines do.
One of the reasons for this is that there is currently a shortage of qualified airlines pilots. Smaller regional airlines need to stay competitive and keep costs low. Thus, they are willing to take qualified candidates that don’t have a degree.
Pilot jobs at the larger carriers are much more competitive, pay more, and have better benefits. The competition for these jobs is much more fierce making it harder for someone without a degree to land one of these positions.
Which Airlines Require a College Degree for Pilots?
The airlines that require a college degree are typically the large national carriers. Here is a list of the airlines that do require a college degree:
- Delta Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Alaskan Airlines
- American Airlines (technically not required, but virtually all pilots hired do)
Which Airlines DO NOT require a College Degree for Pilots?
Here is a list of airlines that currently do not require prospective airline pilots to have a college degree:
- Allegiant Air
- Hawaiian Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Spirit Airways
- Frontier Airlines
“Preferred” vs Required
Although many airlines list having a bachelor’s degree as being “preferred” instead of required, it’s no secret in the industry that the larger national (and international) airlines all but require it. Getting hired without it is always possible, but much more difficult.
It would require you to have much more experience, the airlines to have fewer other applicants, and other factors all working out in your favor.
The general rules tends to be that small low cost airlines and regional airlines are much more open to hiring a pilot without a degree while the larger airlines won’t.
Why Should You Get a College Degree
There are many good reasons why you should plan on earning a college degree if you want to become an airlines pilot.
One of these reasons is that you will have many more options on who you fly for. As mentioned elsewhere in this article, most of the best paying jobs at large airlines require a college degree. If you don’t have one, you’ll find it harder to compete on the job market and might be stuck working at an airline you would rather not be at.
There are a lot of pilots working for these smaller airlines that love their jobs, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but having that bachelor’s degree opens a lot of doors in the long term.
Many pilots find out later in their careers that due to medical conditions outside their control they can no longer work as pilots. The requirements to be an airlines pilot require great health and vision. Sometimes a pilot will find themselves in a position where they can no longer fly.
In situations like these, it pays to have an education that lets you pivot to a different job in the aviation field that you enjoy and pays well. As a former pilot, you’ll likely already have great connections and incredible experience. Being able to use these skills to move into a different job will depend greatly on your education.
Many people find themselves wanting a career change sometime in life. There is a multitude of reasons why this happens.
For some people they get bored and want to try something new. For others, they might want to let go of the non-traditional schedule of a pilot and have a more traditional 9-5 job. Some pilots even determine that they would love to work in management for the airline.
Many of these positions will require a college degree and simply having your pilot’s license will not be enough. This is another great reason to earn your degree as you earn your pilot’s license.
Why Do People Not Want a College Degree
There are 2 main reasons people would prefer to not work through the process of earning a college degree.
- The Cost: Earning a bachelor’s degree can cost as little as $40,000 or as much as $200,000. Even on the low end, this is a major financial investment. It’s understandable that people would prefer to go straight to the training that applies to the job they want to have.
- The Time Investment: Earning a college degree takes a lot of time and hard work. As a full time student most bachelor’s programs take 4 or more years to complete. Couple this with the fact that many of the classes for a bachelor’s degree don’t involve flying at all, you can see why people try to avoid it.
If you aren’t sure what the right option is for you – here are a few alternatives to consider.
Earn a degree while in flight school: There are accredited universities with degrees in aviation that also let you go to flight school. This allows you to earn your college degree in an aviation related field while also going through pilot training.
Upon completion of a program like this, you’ll be ready to be a pilot AND have a bachelors degree. For a young person just starting their career, this can be a great option.
Get your degree later: If you want to jump straight into your career as a pilot, there’s no reason why you can’t do that and then work on your bachelor’s degree once you are working full time. This does add some stress to your life since you’ll be taking classes while having a job, but with the popularity of online classes these days, it’s never been more convenient.
This also gives you the advantage of having a better idea of what you would like to study once you have some more career experience. This makes it less likely you work hard to earn a degree and find out in 5 years it was a waste of time since you have no interest in that field of study.
What Should Prospective Pilots Study?
It’s a common misconception that in order to become an airline pilot you need to have a bachelor’s degree in a specific field (like aviation). While you are welcome to do so if you find it interesting and would love to someday use the information learned from studying aviation, it’s not required.
Airlines want applicants with college degrees because it shows you are well rounded and responsible. It also shows you had the dedication to stick to something and complete a degree.
You are welcome to study any topic/field you prefer. If you want to have the ability to fall back on a career in accounting for example, you are free to study accounting. Having a pilot’s license and any bachelor’s degree will qualify you to be a pilot at any major airline.
While having a bachelor’s degree is not required to be a pilot, there are both advantages and disadvantages to earning one. The best option really does depend on what your career objectives, long-term goals, and interests.
It is absolutely possible to have a long and fulfilling career as a pilot and never earn that college degree. You should consider what’s important to you and speak with a few people in the industry to gain their perspective as well before making a decision.