If you have dreams of becoming an airline pilot, you might be wondering if you need a college degree.

The good news is that, no, you generally do not need a college degree to become a pilot, as most colleges don’t provide a relevant education for becoming a pilot.

College also isn’t a requirement to take the FAA written exam, either.

Even a Bachelor of Science in Aviation, the most relevant degree for becoming a pilot, only gives you a slight advantage.

Most airlines don’t require college degrees, but many military pilot positions, especially in the Air Force, require degrees.

That being said, having a college degree could provide you with an advantage in your application.

Regional vs. Major Airlines

Regional Airlines 

Virtually no regional airlines require applicants to have a college degree to work as a pilot.

Some might prefer candidates with bachelor degrees, but most aren’t too concerned with whether you’ve graduated from college or not.

Major Airlines

Most major airlines don’t need college degrees from applicants to become a pilot, but some airlines do prefer candidates with college degrees. 

Here are the college degree requirements for the major airlines in the United States: 

  • Alaska Airlines: A college degree is unnecessary but preferred. 
  • American Airlines: A college degree is unnecessary but preferred. 
  • Delta: A college degree is unnecessary but preferred.
  • Frontier Airlines: A college degree is unnecessary. 
  • Hawaiian Airlines: A College degree is unnecessary but preferred.
  • JetBlue: A college degree is unnecessary.
  • Skywest Airlines: A college degree is necessary. 
  • Southwest: A college degree is unnecessary but preferred. 
  • Spirit Airlines: A college degree is unnecessary but preferred. 
  • United: A college degree is unnecessary but preferred. 

No College Degree Required for Airline Pilots Outside the USA

Generally, most international airlines do not require applicants to have a college degree to become a pilot.

International airlines don’t ask for college degrees for the same reason US ones don’t: college degrees mostly aren’t useful for flying.

That being said, many international airlines also prefer candidates with college degrees, so it’s better to have one than not to become a pilot outside the USA.

You’ll Probably Need a College Degree to Be a Military Pilot

Generally, you would need a college degree to become a military pilot in a majority of circumstances.

Although most military pilot positions need a college degree, there are often no requirements for you to have chosen specific majors or courses. 

You especially need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university for becoming a military pilot officer.

The military offers degree programs and tuition reimbursements for candidates that don’t meet educational requirements. 


Army aviation officers don’t need college degrees.

Instead, they need at least a high school diploma and minimum scores on flight aptitude tests.

Army aviation officers have lower educational requirements because they only help the army with coordinating aviation troops and provide aviation instruction.

They usually don’t actively fly planes.

Most army aviation officers attend flight school after high school, where they’re taught about basic flight systems, map-reading, and emergency protocols.  

There is also the possibility of becoming a Fixed Wing Aviator Warrant Officer or Rotary Wing Aviator Warrant Officer who pilot aircraft.

Air Force

You need a four-year bachelor’s degree to become an Air Force pilot. Air Force pilots also attend a minimum of nine weeks of Officer Candidate School before becoming enlisted.

Air Force pilots fly fighter jets and train flight crews, so their position has higher educational requirements. 


The U.S. Navy requires four-year bachelor degrees for both pilots and naval flight officers.

Recruits for both positions also go through advanced flight training before receiving specific training for their aircraft. 


Nearly 30% of Marine Corps Officers are pilots – and you are required to have a bachelor’s degree to become one.

Recruited pilots undergo three stages of aviation training before becoming enlisted. 

The Best College Degree If You Want to Become a Pilot

The best college degrees for becoming a pilot are all related to aviation and flight.

A BA or BS degree in aviation, aerospace engineering, and aeronautical science would be the best qualifications since they make you directly eligible for flight training programs. 

The single best degree for becoming a pilot is a BS in Aviation, since it provides you with a commercial pilot certificate and gives the most relevant education to flying. 

Enrolling in one of the best online ground schools to initially obtain a private pilot license is also important.

The Type of College Degree Doesn’t Really Matter

The type of college degree doesn’t particularly matter if you want to become a pilot.

Most commercial airlines that require bachelor’s degrees don’t specify a preference for a specific degree or major.

Most military pilot positions also don’t ask for specific degrees.

However, the best degree for being a pilot is a Bachelor of Science in Aviation, as this degree provides prospective pilots with the most relevant education and the best qualifications. 

That being said, the benefits of having this degree above others isn’t massive. Most pilot positions don’t require a degree anyway, so having a Bachelor of Science in Aviation only gives you a slight advantage. 

The Reputation of the College Doesn’t Either

Attending a more prestigious college would only provide you with a slight advantage over going to a less prestigious college.

This is because a college degree isn’t generally needed to become a pilot in the first place.

In conclusion:

  • You don’t need a college degree to become a pilot in a majority of instances.
  • Commercial airlines, in particular, don’t ask for college degrees because most colleges don’t provide a relevant education for flying.
  • Many pilots also only become pilots later on in life once the typical timeframe for going to college has passed. 
  • That being said, having a college degree is still considered preferable by most airliners.
  • In contrast, military pilots often do need college degrees because of their more specialized roles.
  • Specifically, Air Force pilots need 4-year college degrees to be eligible.
Certified Flight Instructor | Website

John is a highly skilled and dedicated Certified Flight Instructor with a passion for teaching students of all ages how to fly, and takes enormous pride and satisfaction seeing his students become licensed pilots.

After holding various roles in the aviation industry as a pilot, John decided to become a flight instructor, and for the past decade has worked at several flight schools that offer pilot training programs of all levels, due to the rewarding nature of the job.

John's teaching approach is tailored to each student's individual needs and learning style, ensuring that they receive the best possible instruction and support. He takes pride and satisfaction in seeing his students progress and become licensed pilots, and his enthusiasm for teaching is infectious.

With John as their instructor, students can rest assured that they are in good hands and on their way to becoming confident and competent pilots.

John has been quoted or mentioned in major publications, including Chron, Flying Mag, and National Review.

You can reach John at flighttraining@executiveflyers.com