Monday, October 28, 2013

College Decisions for a Student Pilot - To Go or not To Go, Should You Go to an Aviation University? (Pros and Cons)

As a Junior in High School, it's about the time I really need to start thinking about college decisions, set some goals, and think about where I'd like to see myself in 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years. 

All of you know I'd like to be a Professional Pilot, hence the name of this site. If I had an ideal career path, it'd be something similar to the following: (*this is just a frame, I like to keep my options open, and let new opportunities arise)
  1. In my early 20's: Do some really interesting flying, such as flying in the Caribbean, Alaska, Africa, etc. I wouldn't plan on making much money, but would love to focus on having a laid-back lifestyle and gain some great flying and life experiences. 
  2. Move into the airlines: Begin working towards a career as an airline pilot either nationally or abroad. Over time, I'd aspire to be flying internationally with a Major Airline. 
  3. Go Corporate: After gaining airline time, search for a job with a corporate group to fly in a more relaxed, personable environment. 
  4. Who knows? 

Inspirational aviation video, "What do you desire? - A Pilot's Perspective:" (credits at the end of the video)

For a student pilot, the world can be viewed as a mountain, with becoming a professional pilot as a general goal. There are paths up to the top of the mountain; some quick, some fast, some expensive, some not. If I've learned one thing about college decisions, it's that everyone has an opinion on the best route to go. 

In my case, I have the very generalized goal of becoming a professional pilot. I've had mentors explain different routes on how to "get there." To tie college into this makes the decision even more complicated. Below are a few of the many "paths" through college which I could take to start off my career as a pilot. Some pros and cons to each are listed below. (largely, information comes from current professional pilots that have served as mentors to me) 

1.) The Aviation Universities: Many colleges in the USA have aviation and aerospace programs. Three examples of well known universities in the United States which either centralize on aviation, or have highly reputable aviation programs are: Embry Riddle (ERAU),Purdue, and the University of North Dakota (NDU). 

  • Pros: 
    • A like-minded student body, sharing the same passion
    • A structured learning environment, students working together
    • High acceptance rates
    • Reduced hiring minimums (from 1,500 hours to 1,000 hours as of August, 2013)
    • A degree in a field you're interested in 
    • Aviation-related minors (ATC, Aviation Management, etc)
    • Alumni and Student Networking 
    • Airline quick-start programs, only available to students from these schools, see this link for examples: Internships and Development
    • Instructing jobs (through the schools) offered to students and alumni 
    • Learn and fly on "top of the line" prop and jet simulators 
    • Take advantage of diverse, well maintained fleets of aircraft with glass cockpits
    • (ERAU): two locations to choose from: Prescott, Arizona and Daytona Beach, Florida 
  • Cons: 
    • Expensive, expensive, oh yeah, and expensive 
    • Low paying career (early on) -- hard to pay off school debt
    • Degree in Aeronautical Science isn't great for much else, besides being a pilot
    • Too much aviation? It's something that you'll be constantly surrounded by... If you consider this as an option, you probably shouldn't be thinking about an aviation university anyways
    • Group setting: everyone else is like you, a pilot, you're no longer unique

Example Aviation University (Embry Riddle): 

2.) The Armed Forces (ROTC, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Air National Guard): For years, people relied upon military experience in order to become airline pilots. You get the chance to travel the world, get paid for it, serve your country, fly some incredible aircraft, build flights hours quickly, and have school paid for. As of late, more and more pilots are taking a civilian route to becoming professional pilots, contrary to popular belief. 

  • Pros:
    • ROTC programs at many "normal" universities (including aviation universities) 
    • Have school paid for
    • Military member benefits 
    • Paid to travel the world
    • Opportunity to fly amazing aircraft (from F22's and C130's, to C5's)
    • Build turbine time, quickly
    • Serving your country 
    • Military networking
    • Some airlines are known for being military "hubs" (Delta for instance) 
  • Cons: 
    • Joining the military is a serious commitment 
    • Your life could be at stake
    • Military life can be extremely stressful and boring at times
    • Extremely structured environment 
    • No guarantee of a pilot slot, there are a limited number of places 
    • Low salary 
    • Separation from family 
    • Unpredictable and un-controllable schedule  
    • Committing years of your life to the military, which gives up valuable seniority years in top-paying jobs later on (before the mandatory retirement age of 65) 

Inspirational Military Flying: 

3.) Go to a "Normal Univeristy:" Get a "normal degree" and do training at a flight school on the side. Your options are endless within this category. You can, in theory, money and academics permitting, go to any university in the country and do flight training on the side at an airport nearby. 
  • Pros:
    • Free-form training, how you train is up to you
    • Choose where and when you'll train 
    • Flight training is generally cheaper at a flight school vs. at a university
    • Choose a college that you'd like to go to, that might not have a great aviation program 
    • Major in something other than aviation, as a backup, in case flying doesn't work out
    • Have more relationships outside of aviation 
    • Not aviation all the time
  • Cons:
    • Majoring in something you might not care about 
    • Spending too much time away at the airport, training, thus not being able to maintain great relationships with friends that might not understand your passion
    • Not as structured 
    • No quick start programs, not wasting valuable early years 
    • Networking comes from your own connections, no aviation alumni network 
    • Smaller fleet choice, less of a student to student support network 
    • Training in addition to college work is a lot to have on one plate
Example Flight School (ATP): 

So what should you gain from all of this? -- There are so many paths you can take towards being a professional pilot, many more than I could even hope to list here. One is not necessarily "better" than another, it's just a matter of personal preference and finances. However I end up "getting there" will be written about in the future right here, on the blog. 

This week, I'm headed down to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona), and will be writing in detail about my experiences there. I'm hoping to bring you what visiting the campus would be like, and what I find out about ERAU, from my first ever college visit. 

The inspirational quote of the day is posted below, this one is one of my favorites: 

Thanks for reading and watching, stay tuned for many more posts soon!
-Swayne Martin
Twitter: @MartinsAviation
Youtube: MartinsAviation1

So what do you think about this post, do you have any different opinions? Share what you think below. The more information you give, the better, for student pilots! Thanks again for visiting!


  1. This is good stuff Swayne. I spend a lot of time explaining the many possible paths to young men and women like I'll just send them here!

    1. That sounds great, and is the main goal of this article. It essentially summarizes a few of the most common options available.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. If you're already going to be in Daytona, take a drive a few hours south of Melbourne. The Florida Institute of Technology has a great aviation program and many other degree programs... Therefore, not all propheads on campus.

    1. I'll look into some details. Not sure if it'll work out with our busy schedule... but it'll sure be on my radar!


  3. Swayne, you are SO much like Donald in that you've analyzed and articulated well the pros and cons you are aware of thus far. I like option 3 because you need to continue to learn how to think by going to a liberal arts university. You can major in Business Administration while continuing your passion in flying. The BA major will give you the skills for whatever you'll be doing AND with those skills, you may OWN an airline some day!! For selfish reasons, I don't want you to go for option 2 because that makes me nervous; what would Pop think about that one?!?!? LOVE reading this. You're only a junior, so you've got time!

    1. Thanks for the comment! It'll be interesting to see in a few days what Embry Riddle is like, to get a better sense of it all. I'm personally shooting for option #1 or #3.

      Thanks again,

  4. That's a good analysis you've posted here. Tough call always and some tough choices to be made. All the best with things and when you make a decision, stick with it and never look back. Except for the Military option, I'm a fan of everything else :)

    1. Thanks for the comment! It is a pretty tough decision to make. The visit to ERAU this week will definitely narrow down some options. I'm personally not shooting for the military option.. I lean towards #1.

  5. Hey Swayne! I love this post too it's awesome! Really good pics and a great breakdown! I myself am actually pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Pyschology which isn't aviation related but I do think it's a great field and really applicable to being a pilot! I would love to have a aviation degree but I don't think it's useful to fall back on! Happy flying! Brandon

    1. Thanks for the comment Brandon! I'm sure you'll be just fine without an aviation degree, it's not valuable for much else besides being a pilot.

  6. Amazing Swayne its really a good blog for motivate a student.
    PPL student

    1. Thanks Suchan! Make sure to stop back by soon, more posts coming!

  7. Hey Swayne,

    I stumbled onto your blog through AAFO4ever's page. Just want to add my own two cents if I can. I'm a regional FO for one of the United Express Carriers and I attended an Aviation College and have an Aviation management degree. I spent my first two years of college flying with the university program earning my instrument and commercial pilots licenses (I had my private in high school), and it was very good training, but very expensive and not exactly the most fun flying. I decided after my commercial license to transfer to a state run aviation program closer to home, finish my Aviation management degree, and fly on the side with a local flight school. This decision saved me in the neighborhood of $40,000. That is about 2 years’ worth of pay as a regional airline first officer.
    When I was in your position I had a lot of the same thoughts about what to do, and I started off saying do not worry about the money it will figure itself out later. As the bills began to pile up though I saw that this wasn’t the right approach for me to have.
    Most of the people I fly with at my airline are in a significant amount of debt, including myself. The people who have the most debt seem to be those who went to the pilot factory type flight schools like ATP, the second most seem to be those who graduated from Embry Riddle, UND etc., and the bottom of the debt pile seem to be those who did their flying on the side and figured out a way to pay as they flew (very difficult to do). I sit right in between the second and third groups as I did a half and half type deal, and at this point I’m relatively thankful I did what I did because my loan payments are not insurmountable.
    If I had to go back and do it again, I think I may have chosen to go to a school that provides you with a good quality education for a good value (you don’t need to go to Harvard to fly planes), and major in something other than aviation to give yourself more of a well-rounded background. Many Engineering degrees can be very valuable to a Pilot without being as specific. This approach does however put more pressure on you as a flight student, to continue to immerse yourself in aviation, and find a good flight school and instructor to get yourself through your CFI ratings (yes you should become a CFI it makes you a much better pilot).
    There will be plenty of jobs for you when you are ready. The regionals are already hurting for pilots, so I doubt you will have much trouble at all finding employment. Coming out and having as little debt as possible will help you enjoy this career so much more than many of us who are struggling to make it financially possible at the start. Feel free to contact me at anytime with questions.
    Twitter and Instragram: Newyorkpilot

    1. Hey Zachary,

      I really appreciate that thoughtful comment. It's always good to hear from someone who's been through it, and currently working in the industry.

      My decision hasn't been made yet, there are so many good options out there! I'll make sure to connect with you, and save your contact information.

      Appreciate it,
      -Swayne Martin

  8. I really enjoyed reading this article. I am very impressed at the accurate portrayal you provided for each path, "pros & cons." Excellent work and honestly, spot on with each one.

    I attended ERAU Prescott campus for 2 years. Through ERAU I made some great friends I still to this day keep in contact with. However, ERAU was extremely expensive! To this day I have 3yrs to pay off my debt which started at $70k. I am extremely diligent on paying principle making 2 payments a month to keep the interest at bay. And yes, you will have to sacrifice something as always. Had I finished? It would've been in the neighborhood of $120K. Loans will hurt you in the long run, especially with starting pay. Debt is debt. In my opinion there is no such thing as good debt. It will become a hindrance when searching for rent, car, etc. Being debt free and able to move about the country (or outside) is the ticket.

    Best of luck you in your endeavors! I suggest obtaining scholarships as many as you can and to keep the education cost(s) down to a bare minimum. Attend a state school and pay for training as you go while working. If your goal is to get to the major airlines then yes get the degree. However, there are good jobs in aviation that don't require it. This could allow you to fly professionally, while possibly taking online courses to obtain your degree. Assess your goals and plan accordingly! Looks like you are already in that process, best wishes to you!

  9. I chose to go to ATP(90 day program, had PPL before hand) because i didnt know what I wanted to do for college yet. So far Im getting my CPL in a few days. For the record: I dont have a drivers license yet and im 18.

  10. Has been inspirational to read your blog Swayne. I Myself have got an interesting story of going from PPL to Proffessional Pilot.. Its a long road, lots and lots of ups and downs, Hurdles and Challenges.. But all worth it in the end. Keep at it :)

  11. Hey Swayne. Have been reading your blog and that of Ben Halls. Really inspiring to see other people enjoying the passion of working from that very first flight to sitting at the controls of a large Airliner. Im Sitting in Asia on the Airbus a320 after going thru diplomas in aviation and bush flying... good luck and happy Landings :)


Thanks for your comment; I really appreciate it! Glad you are here with me on the blog. If your comment does not appear right away, it will after verification.

Many Thanks, Happy Flying,
Swayne Martin