How to Become a Pilot After High School

Dreaming of taking flight after tossing your graduation cap? Pursuing the exhilarating journey of becoming a pilot is a dream shared by many, but for those ready to take the first step after tossing their graduation cap, the adventure begins with a carefully charted course toward the skies.

The path to becoming a pilot is thrilling and filled with myriad opportunities and challenges, each step leading closer to realizing one's aviation aspirations. From selecting the right flight school to mastering the intricacies of flight maneuvers, aspiring pilots must navigate this path with dedication, perseverance, and a commitment to excellence.

Hillsboro Aero Academy (HAA) stands out in the aviation industry with over 40 years of experience in training professional pilots, a distinction few flight schools in the United States can match. This extensive experience has provided us with invaluable insight into guiding aspiring pilots through the process of obtaining airplane pilot ratings and certificates, ultimately equipping them for successful careers in aviation. Follow along with me as we walk through the process of becoming a pilot after high school, gaining insights into the essential steps and requirements involved in pursuing a career in aviation immediately after graduating. This ensures that the journey to the cockpit is as rewarding as it is exhilarating.

Let's take off into your future as a pilot.


Steps to Take After High School

As you're preparing for graduation or recently graduated, the first step to becoming a pilot is to consider if a pilot career is right for you, research a reputable pilot school, and obtain a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical certificate before beginning flight training lessons.

Factors to Consider For a Professional Pilot Career

When considering a career as a pilot, several factors need careful consideration.

Committing to training- Enrolling as a full-time student and completing five weekly activities is highly recommended for maximizing training effectiveness. Being consistent and dedicated to the material helps you learn faster and can save money by avoiding repeating lessons.

Ability for flexibility -Flexibility is crucial in managing flight training schedules and accommodating the demands of a pilot's career. Adaptability is essential for success in this profession, from region-specific operations to the potential for extensive travel and short-notice relocations.

Positive attitude and open-mindedness - Having a positive attitude towards learning is essential for becoming a successful pilot. The aviation industry is constantly evolving, and staying up-to-date with new technologies, procedures, and regulations is important. A willingness to continuously learn and improve will make you a better pilot and increase your employability in the competitive job market.

Health requirements - Meeting medical requirements, including obtaining an FAA Medical Certificate, is necessary both for flight training and pursuing a career as a commercial pilot. Ensuring there are no medical impediments before starting training is advisable. It's worth noting that some training aircraft have weight considerations, such as the Cessna 152 and Robinson 22, which may affect training costs.

Careful consideration of these factors is vital in determining whether a career as a pilot aligns with your goals and lifestyle. Once you've decided to pursue a pilot career, it's time to start researching the right flight academy to support the journey to your dream of flight.

Research and Choose A Flight School

Pursuing the journey to become a professional pilot starts with selecting the right flight school. This choice is crucial as it lays the foundation for your aviation career.

  • Start by researching accredited flight schools that offer the type of pilot training you're interested in. Look into the available pilot programs that align with your career goals and determine if they hold Title IV certification and accreditation from a third party auditor, demonstrating that the school is held to the same high academic standards as colleges and universities.
  • Check if the schools are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ensuring you receive recognized and standardized education.
  • Take a tour of the flight school and get hands-on with a demo flight. An in-person visit can give you a sense of the learning environment and culture. A demo flight will also allow you to see if a pilot career is right for you.
  • Learn about their fleet's quality and maintenance practices; modern, well-maintained aircraft signify a reputable school that prioritizes safety.
  • Evaluate the school's location and weather conditions since these factors can impact your flight training frequency and quality. Flight schools in sunny climates often utilize simulators for instrument flight training, yet the most skilled pilots accrue flight hours by mastering diverse weather conditions, geographical features, and urban/rural settings like those found in the Pacific Northwest, which boasts stunning natural beauty.
  • Assess financial aspects, such as tuition costs, availability of  flexible payment options or financing.
  • Researching the flight school's professional partnerships, including its affiliations with airlines, helicopter operators, and other aviation industry employers, is crucial for students aiming to secure employment upon completing their training.
  • Inquire about available visa programs—very few flight schools are approved for the F-1 visa, which allows you to gain valuable experience as a pilot in the U.S., typically as a Certified Flight Instructor, upon completing your training.

Explore Your Career Options

After completing high school, aspiring pilots should also consider mapping out their career options and exploring accelerated programs or pathways to advance their training.

Map Out Your Career and Explore Different Pathway Programs

Mapping out your pilot career goals prior to flight training is essential for several reasons.

Firstly, it provides clarity and direction, allowing you to tailor your training to align with your specific aspirations within the aviation industry, whether it be airline operations, aerial firefighting, or private charter.

Additionally, having well-defined goals enables you to set realistic milestones and track your progress, ensuring that you stay motivated and focused throughout your training journey. Moreover, understanding your career objectives helps you make informed decisions regarding the type of flight school, certifications, and endorsements you pursue, ultimately maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of your training.

By mapping out your pilot career goals beforehand, you lay a solid foundation for future success and fulfillment in the aviation profession.

Consider Accelerated Programs and Pathways

As you continue exploring career options as a pilot, it is important to explore and pick the right flight training program and pathway supporting your career goal as a pilot.

If you aim to pursue a career as a pilot, exploring and considering different pilot training programs and pathways is crucial. Here at HAA, we offer airplane training courses, such as our Professional Pilot Program and Joint EASA/FAA Pilot Program and helicopter training courses, such as our Professional Pilot Program and Joint EASA/FAA Pilot Program. Both training paths encompass all the necessary ratings and certificates for a successful aviation career. No prior flying experience is necessary, making it an accessible option for high school graduates who are eager to kick-start their journey toward an aviation career.

Our courses are comprehensive, focusing not only on flight training but also providing essential insights into factors such as aviation regulations and safety protocols, equipping aspiring pilots with the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a career in aviation and ensuring thorough preparation for the challenges of this dynamic industry.

Pilot Career Pathways are also important to explore when considering job placement after completing a professional pilot program. HAA has established partnerships with prominent national and local operators to facilitate pilot job placement for our program graduates. These connections provide dedicated students with opportunities to advance in their careers. We collaborate with top operators to encourage our students to pursue exciting career paths in the commercial pilot industry. These career opportunities feature training tailored to align with the airline's pilot recruitment efforts.


Next Steps Once You Decide This Career is for You

Once you've made the decision to pursue a career as a pilot, it's time to take the next steps toward turning your dream into reality. Let's look at the next steps to help you navigate the application process and get started on your journey towards becoming a pilot.

  1. Speak with our admissions team - To begin your path toward a pilot career, please contact our admissions department. You can reach out to our admissions team by calling 503.726.3000 or sending an email to
  2. Apply - Once you've contacted our admissions team and are ready to enroll, you will need to apply to Hillsboro Aero Academy via our online application, which can be found on our website at
  3. Pay student fees - After you submit your application, our team will carefully evaluate it and inform you of the acceptance or rejection by sending a letter. If accepted, you will be given a program start date and will be required to pay a registration fee of $100 USD. International students are also responsible for a $300 USD application processing fee, which covers the additional work to verify their documents and fulfill their requirements.
  4. Obtain an FAA Medical Certificate -It is important to schedule a medical exam with a licensed Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) and obtain a 1st or 2nd-class medical certificate before beginning the new student orientation. If you have not done so already, doing it at this stage is recommended.
  5. Attend new student orientation - New student orientation takes place on the third Monday of each month. It is crucial to attend this event as it serves as your initial introduction to the school, our procedures, our safety measures, and your classmates.
  6. Start flying! - During the week of orientation, you will meet with your Certified Flight Instructor and make a plan to reach your goals by a certain time. Then, you can begin flying and gaining hours towards becoming a pilot. Check out our complete guide on How To Become An Airplane Pilot for those interested in airplane training and Fly with Confidence: Helicopter Pilot Training 101 for those interested in helicopter training to learn about required course training, duration, training location, and the typical career path of a professional pilot.

Becoming an Airline Pilot with Alaska Airlines Ascend Pilot Academy

If you're interested in a direct, accelerated-paced pathway to the airlines upon graduating high school, Ascend Pilot Academy may be for you. In the spring of 2022, HAA introduced an exclusive partnership with Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air to deliver an industry-leading career path under the title of the Ascend Pilot Academy (APA).

Ascend Pilot Academy offers a more financially accessible route to becoming a commercial pilot, providing enrolled cadet pilots with enticing incentives such as low-interest financial aid and a stipend upon signing on to work for Horizon Air and later Alaska Airlines. Additionally, HAA will cover the cost of the Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII) rating for eligible cadets. From the program overview webpage, Alaska Air Group states its mission with this opportunistic partnership program:

"We know the path to becoming a commercial pilot can seem long and challenging. Ascend Pilot Academy aims to support aspiring pilots through their journey by providing support and easing the cost burden of flight training. Once training is completed and employment at Horizon Air begins, the opportunity to join the Pathways program to be a First Officer at Alaska Airlines is available."

To learn more or apply to Ascend Pilot Academy, we invite you to visit the program overview page on Alaska's career site and complete the application form which is open for one week at the beginning of each quarter.

The path to becoming a pilot after high school requires careful planning and consideration, depending on your pilot career goals. However, taking the first step towards becoming a pilot is simple; begin by getting in touch with our admissions team at or call us at 503.726.3000. Our team is always ready to have a conversation with you to help you take the proper steps to meet your aviation goals today.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. What should I do to become a pilot after high school?

You can start by researching flight schools or aviation programs and contacting our admissions team to map out your path to a professional pilot career.

2. Do I need a college education to become a pilot?

While only sometimes necessary, many pilots pursue college degrees in aviation or related fields to enhance their knowledge and job prospects. You can earn a two- or four-year college degree at one of our partner colleges in tandem with your airplane flight training at Hillsboro Aero Academy.

3. How long does learning to fly and become a certified pilot take?

The time it takes can vary, but the standard track for our Airplane Professional Pilot program is designed to take 16-18 months and the Helicopter Professional Pilot Program takes 14 months for students with availability five days per week and 4-5 scheduled training activities per week.

Our accelerated airplane track requires student availability for seven days per week and at least six scheduled training activities per week. Detailed information on our airplane training tracks can be found here.

4. Are there exams I have to pass before becoming a licensed pilot?

Yes, you'll need to pass written exams and flight tests and acquire enough flight hours as required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). All stage checks, written exams, practical tests (check rides), and building flight hours are completed at one location through your chosen pilot program.

Parents, we know you’ve got questions too. Visit our Parent FAQ to learn more.