With a decades-long sluggish aviation industry at last hiring again due to a worldwide pilot shortage, many who want to become pilots might wonder why they should spend time and money on earning a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics. Aren’t most of the major airlines hiring without one? And doesn’t military experience or the equivalent satisfy most job applications? What’s the point?
It’s true that it’s quite possible to get hired as a pilot and enjoy a long career in aviation without a college degree. And one can certainly become a fine pilot without one; the sole reason why the legendary Chuck Yeager wasn’t recruited as an astronaut, as a matter of fact, was because he didn’t have a degree. But as you’ll see, earning your Bachelor’s in Aeronautics can be a smart investment.
Your Career Options Are Expanded
Even though college costs are rising, it’s still true that those with a college degree, over time, tend to earn more than those with only a high school diploma. This applies especially to the aviation industry. Those who struggle to find jobs after college tend to major in extremely narrow fields of non-commerce related study in the liberal arts, such as cultural and ethnic studies. An aeronautics degree is much more flexible and attractive to employers, even if you’re not looking for a full-time career as a pilot.
Those with Bachelor’s of Science in Aeronautics have the benefit of earning a useful degree which still won’t pigeonhole those who hold it. It directs students along a generally technical path while leaving many options open for further study of experience. Students who are interested in aeronautical engineering or becoming test pilots, for example, can still use this degree to enter that field, then pursue a Masters degree in aviation business administration, engineering or physics.
If a student is sure of his or her direction in the industry, however, he or she can usually select an area of specialization, such as aviation management or operations. This degree can also be useful to those who would like to enter law school to specialize in a practice relating to the industry, or press to medical school in order to conduct research or serve the aviation community.
Your Medical Clearance Is Not Guaranteed
If you are a young and healthy student pilot, you probably don’t think much about maintaining your medical clearance. In addition, taking certain drugs, even temporary prescriptions or those sold over the counter, can affect your medical. Safety is the byword of the industry, and a responsible pilot, so the FAA and a competent doctor will not hesitate to revoke a medical clearance if he or she thinks a certain condition or medication might compromise a pilot’s ability to perform competently in the cockpit.
Some jobs might offer disability pay or a pilot might have insurance to protect against such a temporary or even permanent loss of a medical clearance, but such an arrangement can hardly satisfy most aviators, nor provide a stable path to retirement. If a pilot loses a medical, what then?
Having a degree in a solid major such as aeronautics can provide a backup to a full time or even part time pilot. Since students who graduate with a BA in this field aren’t tied to the cockpit, they can enjoy a second career after a potential grounding or even after retirement. In addition, some pilots who burn out on life as on the road enjoy a temporary break in another position; others enjoy combining life in the air with a job which isn’t solely in the cockpit. Such career possibilities include airport management, air traffic control, meteorology, FAA support, airport mechanic, simulation trainers, consultants, legislative aids, aircraft design, aeronautical research, and educational course designers.
A Good School Can Make a Lot of Difference
It’s important to choose carefully when deciding where to earn your bachelors degree in aeronautics. Ensure that the campus is equipped with up-to-date technology and instructors who combine field work along with accomplishment in the classroom. In addition, attending an aeronautical university can help provide useful contacts and internships which might not be available at traditional colleges.
The best aeronautical universities tend to also house a flight school. Not only does this provide a live and convenient work area for students, it provides a real-world field study of how the aviation world works. Students will talk to actual air traffic controllers, work with certified mechanics, and interact with pilots and airplanes going about their daily business. Such experience is priceless when it comes to assuring potential employers that you are ready to put your degree to work.
You Will Become a More Well-Rounded Member of the Aviation Industry
A well-rounded pilot is a well-educated pilot. Taking compulsory courses which might not directly relate to your field of study can open new opportunities or areas of interest which you might not have otherwise considered. For example, signing up for a psychology course to fulfill a general studies requirement might lead to an interest in aviation human factors.
Studying in an aeronautics program also provides you with the opportunity to simply be with other pilots or student pilots. They can be you best support as you work through your college education. Not only do you have shared interests, your peers and classmates can sympathize about workloads or assist you with courses which you may find challenging.
Even more importantly, the sequential nature of a degree program ensures that students who have more experience are always present; this means you will have plenty of people from whom to learn. Asking questions of fellow students and professors both within and out of your program can give you a better idea of how the aviation industry operates day to day. In addition, as all of you move together through your careers, although in different directions, you might be surprised to find how grateful you are to have someone you can count on in the industry who understands your background.
Mr. Matthew A. Johnston has over 23 years of experience serving various roles in education and is currently serving as the President of California Aeronautical University. He maintains memberships and is a supporting participant with several aviation promoting and advocacy associations including University Aviation Association (UAA), Regional Airline Association (RAA), AOPA, NBAA, and EAA with the Young Eagles program. He is proud of his collaboration with airlines, aviation businesses and individual aviation professionals who are working with him to develop California Aeronautical University as a leader in educating aviation professionals.