Real Answers from Real Pilots

Do you really need a 4 year degree to work for a major airline?

Hi all. New to the forum but looking forward to talking to you all! I began private pilot training earlier this year. At first I wanted to do it as a hobby because for some reason I was under the impression that it was difficult to make a living as a pilot. That being said, flying has been a life altering experience for me. I am currently working in sales earning a 6 figure income. I have recently been seriously considering starting to more aggressively work to a career change as a pilot. After doing a little more research I came across someone saying that it is a requirement to have a 4 year to degree to work for a major airline? Is this true? Anyone of you folks make it without that? Thanks!

Mike,

If you look on the majority of the Major airline websites you will not see a 4yr degree listed as a required but as “preferred” or “competitive”. The fact is you would be hard pressed to find a pilot at a Major without one. Are there some? Sure but you’d need to have something very significant on the plus side to balance the minus. Think of it this way, the Majors get hundreds of applications. Just to get past the application gate you have to meet all the mins so you have to know that everyone has the required experience. The next thing they’re going to look at is education. Right or wrong having a 4yr degree demonstrates to the airline that a person has some discipline, some education and can handle some structure. Does that mean they’d be a better pilot? No but that they won’t know until they start training. So let’s say you got an interview and they ask “we have hundreds of applicants with the same licenses, ratings and time as you do BUT they have degrees, why should we consider you?”. Again you need to have a very good answer to cover what they consider to be a large deficiency. Is it possible? Sure but you’d be severely limiting your options.

Adam

Mike,

You will absolutely need a four year degree to work for a major airline. The good news is that you can work on one online whilst you are working for a regional airline. Many before you have done this and it is an approach that works well.

Chris

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Thanks for the input guys. Disappointing to say the least. Not necessarily a deterrent however. Guess I’ll just have to work a little harder.

Mike,

Why disappointing? Flying for a Major airline is considered by many to be the pinnacle of our profession. Most high paid professions require a degree. There are of course exceptions but why should aviation be any different. For a legacy carrier to hand over the keys to a $250mil Boeing they’re entitled to set some requirements. If it’s something you truly aspire to do continuing your education (which is never a bad thing) is a small price to pay.

Adam

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I’m certainly not trying to downplay the importance of anyone’s profession. I said it was disappointing. Not surprising or unreasonable. The fact of the matter is that my income is comparable to that of a tenured pilot. My job doesn’t afford me extra time to go back to school and get my degree. At the moment it’s just something that would be very impractical for me to try and do. That is why, to me, it is disappointing.

Mike,

I have no idea what you make, but airline Captains can easily make $300,000 per year and as such the airlines want to see a college degree. I understand your disappointment, but the good news is that you can work on your degree online while flying for the regionals. Many before you have done this and it is a proven path.

Chris

American Airlines has a flow through program with their regionals that does not require a degree. It may take you longer to flow than to apply after meeting hour goals, but it is a way to do it.

Joseph,

That’s all well and good, unless of course they cancel the flow thru, change the requirements or simply further limit the percentage they take vs the street. Again it’s about restricting your options.

Adam

Thanks for all the great info gentleman. I just have some considering to do. I’m going to keep flying no matter what.

Good Day Chris,

Does an online degree acquired during the FO phase look like a sort of work around to Legacy airlines? I am 41 and revisiting and considering going all in my dream (seems as though this is more common than i thought) I have assumed that with no degree and being 41 I am too late. Pilot friends sell me on the “no degree needed” so its nice to see some more bigger picture facts from you all.

Ryan,

In the eyes of any airline, any degree from any credible college, on campus or online, will suffice.

Tory

Ryan,

Your friends are right in that no degree is required for the regionals. However, most majors will require one. I do not see any issues with getting an online degree, as long as it is from a reputable college. I would stay away from the degree mills like the University of Phoenix and ECPI.

Chris

Ryan,

An online 4yr degree from a reputable online school is fine for the the Majors a 2 yr is not.

Adam

Adam,
My question for you is, do the majors require Degrees in Aviation solely or would I be able to get a 4 year degree in Business management? I am in the Air Force and deploy a lot so I’m trying to find the perfect school online that I will be able to work with me. Though I first need an Assosciates, I thought I would ask this question.
Thank you for any answers you can give!
-Terrill

Terrill,

The Majors want a 4yr degree but they really don’t care about the field of study. In fact I advise against aviation degrees because you’re essentially putting all your eggs in the aviation basket. Should have a change of heart, medical out or simply want a second career it’s always a good idea to have a Plan B.

Adam

Adam,

Thank you for you quick reply. This is a huge sigh of relief for me knowing this.

-Terrill

Glad to help.

Adam

Thank you for the reply Tory.

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Thanks Chris, makes sense re: the mills.