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10 Best Degrees for Becoming a Pilot What to Study if you want to become an airline pilot

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B.A., M.Div.
Jeremy Alder has spent over a decade researching and writing about higher education to provided students with the information they need to achieve their goals. He has significant personal experience with career transitions, working as a freelance writer and editor, non-profit director, community organizer, preacher, teacher, retail manager, and carpenter prior to founding College Consensus. Homeschooled from the second grade, Jeremy is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., Philosophy) and Duke University Divinity School (M.Div.). He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife, five kids, and a Labradoodle named Hank.

Choosing to become a pilot is a lofty career goal that can propel your professional ambitions to new heights. The Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) does not require you to have an accredited degree to become a pilot, but employers prefer pilots who have acquired degrees in related fields. Military service is a good start, too.

The FAA does require, however, that you complete two months of ground training and log at least 1500 hours in the air before you can receive a commercial pilot’s license. The path to becoming a pilot involves a lot of work, but if it’s your dream to fly above the clouds, a solid undergraduate degree from an accredited university is a great place to start.

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There are lots of places to get the degrees in this list, and it’s even possible to study for some of these degrees online. Prospective employers will take a sharp look, however, at the higher education institution that you chose for your degree, and degrees from institutions like the United States Air Force Academy are viewed most favorably.

In this list, we’ll cover the top 10 degrees you might want to consider as you embark on your path to becoming a pilot. The degrees toward the beginning of our list are the most suited for your career choice, but all of the undergraduate degrees we’ve listed will take you one step closer to soaring through the skies. Read on for a full overview of the 10 best degrees to get for becoming a pilot and why they’re useful for your career ambitions.

1. Bachelor of Aviation

The most common type of higher education to pursue when you want to be a pilot is a bachelor’s degree in aviation. Some higher education institutions offer this degree as part of a Bachelor of Science (BS) program, and others offer aviation education as part of a Bachelor of Arts (BA) program. In either case, this type of degree covers everything you need to know to be a pilot.

The courses of study involved in getting a bachelor’s degree in aviation vary depending on the university or college that you choose. Most aviation programs, however, require that you gain general admittance to the higher education institution where classes are conducted, and it’s necessary to stay in good standing with the university to progress.

Working toward a bachelor’s degree in aviation often involves studies in engineering, electronics, and flying aircraft. Depending on the career path you choose to pursue, however, your courses of study may also involve aircraft maintenance, airport management, or any number of other aviation-related pursuits.

Bachelor of Aviation programs generally take 4-6 years to complete, and longer programs usually incorporate more flight training and other activities that are required for receiving commercial pilot certification. Accelerated programs may allow you to receive your pilot’s license earlier, but they do not prepare you as well for on-the-job challenges.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

Many Bachelor of Aviation programs award you with full commercial pilot certification upon completion. The vast majority of commercial airliners require that their pilots secure full four-year degrees prior to training, and applicants with bachelor’s degrees in aviation are generally viewed the most favorably.

If you want to find a job in aviation the moment that you graduate, shooting for a bachelor’s degree in aviation is the most direct route. During the last two years of your studies, you’ll be expected to find internship opportunities with airliners or other related companies, which makes pursuing a bachelor’s degree in aviation a very career-oriented pursuit.

For prospective pilots who want to take their time on their paths to the skies, other educational programs might be more appropriate. Keep in mind that many of the same courses taught in Bachelor of Aviation programs are also components of other degree paths, and it’s always possible to brush up on relevant course material after you’ve received a degree in another discipline.

2. Bachelor of Science in Aviation Technology

If you have experience as a military pilot or you’ve already spent time in the air in another setting, a BS in aviation technology might be the perfect way to get your wings. In addition to conferring a BS at the culmination of your coursework, this degree also provides you with a full commercial pilot certificate.

Since aviation technology programs prepare you to take to the air, they involve a significant amount of flight training. Aircraft maintenance will also comprise a significant portion of your coursework, and you’ll learn how to operate aircraft systems. Plus, you’ll also brush up on aerodynamics and other facets of physics that apply to operating aircraft.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

Like BA in aviation programs, pursuing a BS in aviation technology will most likely provide you with everything you need to become a pilot. The types of pilot certification that BS in aviation technology programs provide vary, so make sure that you choose a program that adequately prepares you for your designated career path.

Some prospective employers may view a BS in aviation technology more favorably than a BA in aviation since BS programs are often viewed as being more rigorous. You may also learn more during a BS in aviation technology program than you would throughout your studies for a BA in aviation since BS programs are usually more technically oriented.

3. Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering

While a BS in aerospace engineering doesn’t directly prepare you to be a pilot, flight training programs and prospective employers will view your applications favorably if you have a degree in this field. After securing your BS in aerospace engineering, you’ll still need to go through significant training before you can become a pilot, but a degree in this field will open up your potential career options significantly more than a BA or BS in aviation.

Receiving a BS in aerospace engineering is harder than most of the degrees in this list. There are only a handful of accredited schools that offer aerospace engineering programs, and it’s generally necessary to have impressive credentials to submit qualifying applications. Once your application has been approved, however, you gain access to comprehensive training resources that will prepare you for a variety of different careers.

Some of the courses you’ll take in an aerospace engineering program, such as aerodynamics and thermodynamics, are also important components of aviation degrees. Other courses, however, such as space flight dynamics and space propulsion and power, are more oriented toward careers at NASA and other space-oriented organizations.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

Completing a full aerospace engineering degree might be overkill if you just want to become a commercial pilot. If flying for an airline sounds like a great backup career while you shoot for the stars, however, pursuing aerospace engineering might be a great educational path.

It’s possible to get a BS in aerospace engineering that focuses predominantly on skills you’ll need as a pilot. Plus, having an aerospace engineering degree will put you at the head of the list when it comes time to apply to prospective employers in the aviation industry.

4. Bachelor of Aeronautical Science

As an undergraduate studying aeronautical science, you will learn how to construct entire aircraft along with the thousands of components that keep them airborne. Aeronautical science is not directly related to piloting aircraft, but learning exactly how airplanes work and the components they contain provides you with skill sets that other job applicants lack.

It’s most common to pursue a degree in aeronautical science when you want to maintain aircraft or engineer new airplane parts, and securing a BS in aeronautics will also prepare you to become an air traffic controller. While aeronautical science may seem like a specialized field, pursuing this educational path actually prepares you for dozens of different potential careers within the aerospace sector.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

Receiving a BS in aeronautics does not directly prepare you to become a pilot. Once you graduate, you will still need to put in hundreds of hours of training since this undergraduate program never physically puts you in the cockpit.

The courses you will attend to gain your aeronautics degree, however, will cover much of the same material that aviation students learn. At the same time, getting a BS in aeronautics opens up a variety of potential career paths that students of aviation can’t access. Even if you end up spending years as a pilot, your studies in aeronautics will pay off if you ever want to switch gears and try aviation engineering instead.

5. Bachelor of Science in Air Traffic Management

Receiving a BS in air traffic management is a necessary prerequisite if you want to be an air traffic controller. This specialized career path requires significant aptitude and experience, but most air traffic management degrees only take four years to secure.

The primary purpose of air traffic controllers is to observe the motion of aircraft in the skies above the country and ensure that aircraft congestion does not occur. As a result, prospective air traffic controllers need to learn the basics of aviation and how planes work, and air traffic management programs also focus extensively on aviation meteorology.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

If you ever decide to switch gears away from being an air traffic controller and start piloting aircraft, your background in aviation meteorology will be highly useful. Adverse weather patterns may require plotting new courses or engaging in unexpected landings, and many pilots lack the background to correctly identify the threat level of meteorological phenomena.

Job applicants with BS degrees in air traffic management, therefore, will receive preferential treatment over applicants with basic degrees in aviation. Securing a BS in air traffic management also shows that you know how to obey the rules of the skies and that you will actively avoid congestion.

Beyond piloting and controlling air traffic, graduates who have secured degrees in air traffic management can also go on to become airport administrators or even aviation engineers. Pursuing a degree in air traffic management does not directly prepare you for a career as a pilot, but this specialized course of study will set you apart from other job applicants.

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6. Bachelor of Science in Aviation Management

Aviation managers handle the on-the-ground operations that help pilots keep their planes in the air. Most aviation managers work for charter companies, but it’s possible to find a career in aviation management with major airliners as well. While aviation management courses include plenty of background on airplanes and how they work, this degree is ultimately more about business management than it is about piloting aircraft.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

Aviation management is a highly specialized skill, and most people who pursue this degree end up choosing careers as aviation managers. Being in airports and around planes, however, will provide you with plenty of connections if you decide to switch gears and become a pilot. Plus, your vast experience with airplanes and airports will be considered a plus when you apply for positions as a pilot.

7. Bachelor of Science in Aviation Maintenance

If you like the idea of becoming a pilot but want to keep your options open, a degree in aviation maintenance could be a good choice. Becoming a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Maintenance Management is an alternative degree path in the same basic discipline that involves managing aircraft maintenance operations, and this degree is more suited for people who want to get into management or operations positions.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

As part of your BS in aviation maintenance program, you’ll learn the basics of how aircraft work, and you can then apply this knowledge to a career as a pilot if you decide to switch paths. If you already know your way around airplanes and airports, it will be easier to enter flight school and earn your wings. Securing a degree in aviation maintenance will provide you with a designated career path, but working in an airport environment will allow you to expand your horizons whenever it’s time for a change.

8. Bachelor in Computer Science

Now that we’ve covered all the major aviation-related degrees you can use to become a pilot, it’s time to touch on some other degrees that will make it easier to get into your top flight school pick and find a job as a pilot. Computer science has very little to do with the science of flying a plane, but any science-related degree will help your chances of embarking on your dream career.

As an undergraduate studying computer science, you will learn how to engineer computer hardware and develop software. A degree in computer science can prepare you for a variety of different career paths, so if your dream of becoming a pilot doesn’t come to fruition, your background in computer science will provide you with plenty of backup options.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

Like any science-related degree, a BS in computer science will look favorable on applications for airline pilot positions. You will not directly use your degree in computer science during an average day as a pilot, but your background in how computer systems work may help you grasp the complex avionics equipment that planes use to stay in the air.

9. Bachelor of Science in Physics

A BS in physics may do more to prepare you for life as a pilot than any other generic science degree. Most physics programs, for instance, include courses on thermodynamics and aerodynamics, which are both included in aviation programs as well.

As an undergraduate studying physics, you will most likely take courses like quantum physics, theoretical physics, analytical mechanics, and other areas of study that will help you learn about the physical world. Even if you’re only slightly interested in being a pilot, it’s never too early to focus on aerodynamics courses and related areas of study.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

Pilots frequently have to make advanced calculations and understand how the kinetic forces that moving aircraft exert impact physical environments. As a pilot, you will probably use your knowledge of physics on the job every day even if a BS in physics doesn’t directly prepare you for piloting an aircraft. Most commercial airliners only consider applicants who have completed higher education, and a degree in physics is generally seen as being more applicable to daily life as a pilot than other science degrees.

10. Bachelor of Science in Chemistry

If you already have a degree in chemistry, your credentials will help you find a job in the aviation industry. You will not use your chemistry degree on the job as a pilot, but your background in science will put you a step ahead of applicants who have BAs and other non-scientific degrees.

As you complete the courses that are necessary to receive a BS in chemistry, you will learn how both organic and inorganic chemical systems operate. You will also learn how to handle chemicals, and you will discover how different chemical compounds interact with one another. Most undergraduate chemistry programs take four years to complete.

How does it prepare you for being a pilot?

A degree in chemistry does not directly prepare you for being a pilot. Being proficient in the fundamentals of chemistry may, however, be helpful if you choose to pursue further education in air traffic management. Understanding how meteorological systems work requires a firm grasp of chemistry, and aviation meteorology is a major component of most air traffic management programs.

Which degree is best when you want to be a pilot?

Prospective employers will prefer that you secure a degree in a discipline that is directly related to piloting aircraft. Therefore, BA and BS degrees in fields like aviation, aeronautical science, and aerospace engineering can land you directly into flight training programs that lead to rewarding careers.

If you aren’t entirely sure that you want to be a pilot, however, there are plenty of other degree paths you can choose that will still set you up for flying aircraft in the future. Institutions that train pilots commonly accept degrees in any scientific field as prerequisites, so undergrads who want to keep their options open while they dream of flight would be better off choosing BS degrees in physics, chemistry, or computer science.

It’s also entirely acceptable to choose a different career path in aviation only to switch to being a pilot later in life. Directing operations on the ground in airports or maintaining aircraft are great career paths when you know you want to be around planes but you’re not sure if you’re ready to fly. With experience around planes and airports, it will be easy to enter flight school programs when you decide you want to be a pilot.

Salaries Estimates For Pilot Careers

Commercial Airline $187k$168k-$209k
Commercial Airline Co-Pilot$151k$134k-$170k
Express Delivery $212k$239k
Federal Government (excluding postal service)$104k$116k
Test Pilot$127k$108k-$147k
Helicopter $105k$89k-$135k
Ambulance/Medical Service $88k$75k-$100k
NASA – Civilian Pilot$67k$66k-$77k
NASA – Military Pilot$113k$99k-$130k
(Sources: U.S. News and World Report, Bureau of Labor Statistics,, and

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