Do I Need A College Degree To Be A Pilot?

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Nowadays it seems as though every job requires a degree. But do you need a college degree to be a pilot?

It is normal for many to go to a 4–5-year educational program to be even eligible to be hired by major companies or industries. 

Many college graduates even have issues locating jobs or getting hired in their field of study because they don’t have the proper experience. A little backwards if you ask us.

Is it any different to be a pilot? Does it require a degree to throw on aviators and get behind the controls of a flying machine?

 If so, what degree will be the most helpful? Is it different for the military? 

If you are looking for answers of any of these questions, we aim to provide you with those in this article.

Let’s dive in.

Do You Need a College Degree To Be a Pilot?

No, you do not need a college degree to be a pilot. If you are attempting to be a career pilot though, a college degree could raise your chances of getting hired by a mainline airline, and in some cases may be required by some carriers.

For the vast majority of flying an undergraduate degree is not needed and would be overkill. 

If you are considering a private pilot license (certificate) you do not need a degree. This is why there are plenty of recreational/general aviation pilots who are under the age of 20.

Where education starts to become a factor is for those who are pursuing a professional pilot position such as an airline pilot. 

In today’s world most airlines do not require a degree but having one may give you an advantage over another pilot.

 This does not mean that if you do not have one that there is no hope, in fact, the industry is starting to get away from this requirement. 

Which Major Airlines Require Degrees?

Major Airlines That Require Degrees

We did some research on the Major/Mainline Airlines and Cargo Carriers based in the United States. 

We wanted to see which ones require college degrees for their applications to be accepted and were surprised by the results.

Often we hear that it is an absolute necessity to have a degree to be an airline pilot but that is obviously not true.

Of the 14 companies that were researched only two required a degree. 7 preferred their applicants to have it, while 5 did not even mention it for their hiring requirements.

From left to right lists the companies that require, prefer, and do not mention.

Delta AirlinesUnited AirlinesAmerican Airlines
Fed ExUPSAllegiant Air
 Alaskan AirlinesFrontier Airlines
 Hawaiian AirlinesKalitta Air
 JetBlue AirlinesAtlas Air
 Southwest Airlines 
 Spirit Airlines 

For the companies that mentioned they preferred applicants with a degree, it was clear that having a degree would be an advantage over those who do not have one. 

Why is that?

Having an undergraduate degree shows a level of determination and commitment which are good characteristics that airlines are looking for in their applicants.

Can I Be Hired By Regional Airlines Without A Degree?

Yes, regional airlines typically do not list a college degree as a requirement for applying. 

Regional airlines are normally seen as a steppingstone to get to the major airlines and have lower minimum requirements to get hired.

This is not to say that have a 4-year degree will not help. Like any position with any company, the more accolades you have the higher your chance of being hired is.

It could be item that puts you above another applicant and could be the difference between a call back or not.

Will Airlines Require Degrees In The Future?

At this time airlines have been trending towards the dropping of the degree requirement. 

Does this mean they will drop it entirely including the preference towards those who have it? 

The answer is that it depends. 

A lot of the airline industry depends on the health of the industry. If the airlines are full of pilots, they will look for any reason to disqualify someone since it is much more competitive and vice versa.

The United States is only country that has requirements of a college degree to pilot an aircraft. 

This has shifted the stance of many of the major airlines in recent years to be more like the international flying community. The international flying community has emphasized experience and flight time.

Do Military Pilots Require A College Degree?

Yes, to become a military pilot you must also be an officer which requires an undergraduate degree from a 4-year accredited institution. 

The exception to this rule would be Warrant Officers that require a high school diploma.

Interested in becoming an Air Force pilot? Check our article here!

What Degrees Are Best To Become A Military Pilot?

To make yourself more competitive having a STEM or technical degree tends to be stronger on an application for pilot slots but are not necessarily required.

This also depends on the current situation of the branch you are joining. 

For example, if the Air Force needs pilots, it will be less competitive to get a slot, but if they have too many, they could make it a requirement to have a technical degree to even be considered. It comes down to luck and timing.

The exception to this rule would be if you are trying to become a test pilot. 

There are minimum education requirements since you will be not only be a pilot but also a “scientist” who conducts experiments with aircraft.

What Type of Degree Do You Need To Be A Test Pilot?

Since test pilots will conduct flying experiments on new aircraft, equipment, and recently fixed aircraft a degree in engineering, math, physics is required.

What Type Of Degree Is The Most Useful For Pilots?

The most useful degrees would be those that pertain to aviation and technical degrees. Piloting an aircraft can require a great deal of math and physics. Having an educational background in these can provide utility to any pilot. Being able to quickly think and compute/crunch numbers on the fly can be a huge asset in the cockpit.

The answer also depends on what you are pursuing since there are certain requirements for different areas in the aviation world.

We mentioned test pilots previously in this article and that is one example of a specific degree to obtain.

If it is for the military for an airline job, the degree is not specified, it can be in anything as long as it is from an accredited institution. 

It is recommended to pursue a degree that would be useful for you and one that could be used as a backup should you be unable to pursue a professional pilot career due to unforeseen circumstances.

Should I Get My Degree To Become A Pilot?

We established earlier that a degree is often times a necessity for a professional career. Pursuing a degree is never a bad idea considering it provides a fall back if flying does not work out.

Currently, it also provides an advantage when applying for professional flying spots. Education will only open doors, so it is never a bad idea to receive one if given the chance.

The caveat is, if your circumstance deems it too difficult due to family, time, and money constraints, etc. it has been proven that it is not required, so choose based on your situation.



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