Becoming a pilot can be a long yet rewarding journey, not to mention a costly one.

But do you even need to go to college to become a pilot? How many years does it take? What degree is best?

These are just a few of the most common questions aspiring pilots have as they begin their journey to becoming a pilot.

Do You Need to Go to College to Become a Pilot?

If you want to be financially compensated for flying, you do not need a college degree to become a pilot.

But if you want to become a commercial airline pilot, it is highly recommended that you have a college degree.

Do You Need to Have a 4-Year Degree to Become a Pilot?

Regional airlines expect you to have an associate’s degree at a minimum.

If you want to progress your career and work as an airline pilot for a major airline, you are expected to have at least a 4-year bachelor’s degree.

Aviation Related vs Non-Aviation Related Degrees

If you have already completed college, the good news is that your degree can be in any field – i.e. you do not need an aviation-related degree.

So if you aren’t someone who always had plans to become an airline pilot from a young age, there is no need to worry.

However, there can certainly be benefits in taking an aviation-related degree. For one, anything that can set you apart from other applicants is always recommended.

Therefore, if you are sure you want to become a pilot, taking a degree in aviation, aeronautical science, or aerospace engineering would be the logical thing to do.

Having said that, getting a non-aviation related degree can sometimes be the better choice. It can give you more options, especially as a backup plan.

If you were to quit flying for whatever reason, such as due to the development of a medical issue, your non-aviation related degree may open more doors and provide you with more opportunities.

Is the Cost of College and Flight School Worth It to Become a Pilot?

The cost of enrolling in a flight school and working towards an airline transport pilot license can cost upwards of $50,000 alone. Combine that with the cost of a 4-year college degree, and you soon start to wonder if it’s even worth becoming a pilot.

Fortunately, airline pilots are very well paid, making over six figures a year. Commercial pilots may not necessarily be financially compensated as well as airline pilots, but flying for a charter, corporate, or private operator can still pay very well. In many instances, you can earn over six figures a year too.

From a financial point of view, it is therefore worth becoming a pilot. Some airlines also participate in a tuition reimbursement program, which can help offset some of the cost of flight school too.

It is also unlikely that one day you woke up and decided, “Hey, I think I’m going to become a pilot.” It’s likely that you have always had a passion for aviation, which means that becoming a pilot, and flying day in day out can lead to a great deal of fulfillment and job satisfaction.

Am I Too Old to Go Back to College and Become an Airline Pilot?

There is no maximum age restriction to take flying lessons or fly a plane. There is also no maximum age restriction to obtain any pilot license except for an airline transport pilot license. Airline pilots are forced to retire at 65 years old and will be unable to get their ATPL renewed.

Therefore, if you haven’t got a college degree but are looking for a career change, it is entirely possible to become an airline pilot. It will be a long and hard road but is possible.

Depending on your age, though, it might not be the best idea if you have your heart set on becoming an airline pilot, considering the mandatory retirement age, and the competition you will face from similarly aged, more experienced pilots. With age comes more health worries too, which can make it harder to pass the FAA medical exam required for a first-class medical certificate.

You might be wondering what the best age to become a pilot is.

Well, if you’re in high school and know you want to become a pilot, there is no better age to tailor a plan to become a pilot.

If not, don’t worry.

If you’re 30 or 40 years old, it’s still definitely possible to become a pilot. Even at 50 years old, it’s possible if you’re happy to fly for the regionals.

How Long Does Flight School Take?

Starting from zero to getting your airline transport pilot license and becoming an airline pilot can take 4-5 years.

You can expect it to take 4-5 months to earn your private pilot license, 1 year to get your commercial pilot license, and another 3-4 years to get your airline transport pilot license.

It takes so long to get an airline transport pilot license because the FAA has something called the 1,500-hour rule. This requires all pilots to log a minimum of 1,500 hours to be eligible for an ATPL.

One good thing, however, is that once you have your commercial pilot license, you are eligible to take on paid flying roles. It takes a minimum of 190-250 hours to be eligible for a commercial pilot license and reach this position, depending on whether you enroll in a Part 61 or Part 141 school.

This means that you can get paid while at the same time accruing the necessary flight hours required for an ATPL. Becoming a flight instructor is a very common way to do this.

So, it takes 4 years of college to become a pilot, in addition to the time spent in flight school, which can take a further couple of years.

John Myers - Flight Instructor

John is a Certified Flight Instructor who teaches students of all ages how to fly and takes enormous pride and satisfaction seeing his students become licensed pilots.