Some Universities and colleges offer Aviation programs which you use to become qualified as a commercial pilot. They specialise in the delivery of both academic and vocational education, and work with industry partners and flight schools to provide the practical flight training. This offers many benefits but also has a few drawbacks, so its worth carefully considering whether a university with an aviation program is right for your path to becoming a pilot.
This article is written for prospective future pilots. This is my unbiased review, and genuine advice intended to help guide and mentor you. As someone who has three University aeronautics degrees under their belt, as well as an ATPL with thousands of hours of international cargo operations and extensive General Aviation instructing experience, I have a heap of great experience to pass on and no vested interests.
Why choose a University for your aviation program
University aviation programs are a great choice for new pilots, especially if you are new to the industry and don’t have a guide, mentor, trusted friend or family member who can help you understand the training process and give you a ‘heads-up’ about how the aviation industry works. There are several reasons why you might choose a university with an aviation program for your flight training, including;
- They allow you to defer the high cost of your flight training through student loans
- They have established systems of operations and well a defined training syllabus
- Universities generally have access to lots of funding to ensure flight training runs smoothly
- The University will typically have access to a large fleet of aircraft which ensures availability for students and continuity of training
- There is good potential for networking with other university students in aviation programs, this well help you later in your career
- Universities have a good reputation for providing quality training, which will look good on your resume
- You will receive a diploma or bachelors qualification in addition to your pilots licence
- The universities often have connections to industry to help you land your first flying job
- As a university aviation program graduate, there is a potential to return as a flying instructor to that university aviation school
- The university academic study portion will set you up well to pass the written / theory component of the pilot licence examinations
Why avoid a University for flight training
Universities aren’t the only option to complete your flight training, and there might be reasons to avoid choosing a university with an aviation program and instead go for a pay as you go flight school.
- The University program may take longer to complete than a standard vocational pilots licence as you must complete additional academic components
- You are usually paying a higher rate on aircraft, instructor and examiner hire than if you went to a pay-as-you-go flight school; usually this means you are paying a premium of well over 30%!
- You may have already maxed out your student loans on previous education or degrees, and thus a pay-as-you-go program is your only option
- You can not meet academic requirements for entry into the Universities aviation program
- You can not pass the academic subjects within the University Aviation program
- You do not believe that the industry connections or prestige of the University is worth paying the premium or additional study period
The dangers of Universities with aviation programs
I personally think this can be a dangerous way to go about getting your licence, and can feed into the ‘credit card’ instant gratification culture of modern society – the additional premium you will pay for the convenience will hurt your future finances and this debt may prove stressful for many pilots. Compounded with this, many companies may bond you or even require you to cover the cost of conversions, leaving you in a significant debt position before you have even been checked to line operations or gained a command – do you even know how much commercial pilots even earn, and how you will pay off this debt?
Furthermore, there have been a number of lawsuits recently regarding fraudulent practices of universities and colleges with aviation programs; many schools are happy to sign up as many students as possible – even if it might not be in the students best interests, in order to secure funding through their student loans. The high failure and drop-out rate actually financially benefits these institutions, who then no longer need to actually follow through with the highly expensive flight training component. Universities also love to tell you about how in demand pilots are and how they can guarantee you employment, when in actual fact it is a much more complex topic than just ‘supply and demand’ to figure out if their is actually a pilot shortage.
Many people like the idea of being a pilot – it sounds great right – a high salary, respect and admiration, travelling the world with attractive flight attendants? If this is one of the reasons you want to become a pilot and are thinking of doing so through an aviation university program and taking significant student loans, I would advise you to have a long, hard think about your career aspirations and goals (and potentially even consider aviation scholarships). Because without a significant drive and motivation, its likely you will fail or give up, and end up with a heap of student loans for nothing. If your still wondering if its for you, check out whether being a pilot is worth it.
Am I saying you should avoid Universities with aviation programs? Absolutely not. They are a fantastic option for the right person, for the right student. If you are disciplined, motivated, intelligent and willing to stick with it, these programs are exceptionally useful in getting a ‘step-up’ into the industry. An example might be someone from a financially disadvantaged family who may still work purely to support their household, and can not afford a pay-as-you-go flight school. A degree or qualification from a University through an aviation program and student loan may be a great way to get their foot in the door to the aviation industry and help them to network and make the leap into the exceptionally difficult first low hour pilot job.
Ultimately, it is my opinion that most students choose universities with aviation programs for their flight training because they either cannot afford, or are not willing to work to afford to cash flow a pay-as-you-go flight school. They simply use the university or college program to ‘bank-roll’ their training, assuming they will easily get a job and be able to pay off the student loans in the future.
For the right student, a university aviation program is a great idea, but for many students it is my (unpopular but correct) opinion that a pay-as-you-go flight school is the best option. I would suggest in order to minimize risk and maximize your chance at success, the old fashioned way that countless generations of pilots have done it is probably the best option for those that can do it. This means working incredibly hard, living frugally and spending all of your dough on flight training for 12-18 months. This has the benefit of getting you into the industry a good 18-24 months ealier than your university peers, giving you a competitive advantage in experience,