Flight training will offer you plenty of challenges; understanding how to enroll in a flight training school shouldn’t be one of them. The goal of this blog series is to dispel some of the common confusion In an industry full of complex options, competing claims, and lots and lots of jargon. One of the most frequent areas of confusion we encounter among future pilots can be distilled down to the question: “Do I need a college degree to become a commercial airline pilot?”
The short answer is “no,” but of course the short answers are never enough. There are multiple paths to flight school, each with their own advantages, and you do need to understand the tradeoffs. So let’s take a look at the four main paths to flight training school:
This is the path that most flight schools promote, and that most students choose, for good reason. It’s the fastest and, well, most direct path to a career in aviation. It does not require or provide a degree; rather, it’s entirely focused on earning the certificates and ratings, through a combination of flight hours and ground school, needed to become a commercial pilot. As I discussed last week, students on this path do typically earn their Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) ratings as well, in order to be able to work as a fight instructor and build hours toward the airline minimums.
Students on this path typically complete their training in about 16 months, depending on whether they choose to earn all of their CFI ratings, but it is possible for committed students to finish in as little as 10-12 months. This path has obvious advantages in allowing graduates to begin earning a living more quickly as they pursue their ultimate goal.
Two-Year Degree Program
In this path, students earn an Associates degree, typically in Aviation Science, while simultaneously completing their pilot certificates and ratings. For HAA, our partnership with Portland Community College provides the best of both worlds: learning to fly at one of the top flight training schools while enjoying a true college experience at a well-respected institution.
Why go this route? The combination of classroom theory and hands-on application has proven to be a powerful way to learn, and many students find that it makes them a better pilot. And if you know you want an Associates degree, this option saves you time vs completely your flight training separately.
Four-Year Degree Program
So the slightly longer answer to “Do I need a college degree?” is “No, but you can get one.” Students on this path typically earn a Bachelors of Science In Aeronautics, often by transferring to a four-year program after their Associates. We offer this option through Embry-Riddle, the world-renowned aeronautics university whose Portland campus is at Portland International Airport (PDX).
Why go this route? Some students are seeking a further competitive edge with future airline employers, but that is by no means the only reason. A four-year program offers more sub-paths — different electives and minors that can help you craft a more specialized career.
We’re proud of the fact that we’ve helped hundreds of veterans start their careers in commercial aviation through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We currently offer veterans the option to use their benefits for Vocational Flight Training directly with us rather than through a collegiate partner.
These benefits don’t cover the Private Pilot License, so students on the GI Bill must complete their PPL first — either through us or another flight school — before enrolling. Of course, many veterans come to us with significant flight experience from their time in the military, making commercial flight a great career path for those who discovered their love of flying while serving their country. In fact, about one-third of all commercial aviators today have a military background.
As you can see, the options outlined above mainly involve tradeoffs of speed and depth, i.e., how quickly do you want to start building hours vs. how deeply do you want to delve into your aviation studies? Each student is different, which is why we take pride in being able to meet each student on their personal journey to flight and help them discover the option that’s right for them.