Real Answers from Real Pilots

Getting into a major without a degree?

Hello! My name is Andrew and I’m new to this forum. Hopefully a soon to be successful ATP student. A little about me; I’m just about to turn 21 and I’ve been working construction since graduating highschool. I’ve always had a large interest in aviation but have not began to set things in motion until recently. So my concern is… I didn’t go to college.

That being said, I don’t necessarily want to. I know I’m young but hear me out. If I’m about to spend/finance $75,000 on flight school along with the “opportunity cost” of quitting my current job making 35k a year, this will already put me in the hole considerably over $100,000 over the next 2 years, just to start making 35k again for several more years. How can major airlines justify expecting and requiring their pilots to have taken on the added cost & time (and cost of that time!) of a 4 degree, especially when it “doesn’t matter what the major is.”

I want nothing more than to make it to the majors, but is a degree absolutely 100% necessary when apparently none of that knowledge is required for the job? I understand this is used to make applicants stand out and i also understand whining about it wont change that.

My questions are simply do all majors REQUIRE a degree, and will the pilot shortage change that by the time I’m even ready to advance? Hopefully if these answers aren’t in my favor I’ll manage to find the time and means somewhere down to road to work on a degree.

Thanks in advance for any insight,

Andrew

Andrew,

First off the Majors can demand a degree just like any other industry in the world when it comes to more advanced positions regardless of relevant study. Their justification is it’s evidence you can commit and accomplish a goal. The Majors expect you to go to college and get a 4yr degree, PRIOR to your pilot training the same way the legal, medical and countless other high paying professions do (I could go to college and get a degree in music THEN go to law school etc). What I’m saying is the “this ain’t right” argument isn’t going to help you. But let’s get to your question. Can I fly for a Major without a degree? the answer is sure. Can I live on Diet Coke and Twinkies and not get a heart attack? Sure. Can I drive for 1 minute with my eyes closed and not hit another car? My point is it’s about odds. I can tell you for a fact there are pilots flying for Major airlines right now but they are by far the minority. Delta, United, American and SouthWest probably won’t give you an interview without a degree unless you’ve got a MAJOR IN with someone (like your dad is in upper mgmt. or you were a war hero). Atlas and Hawaiian will give you an interview but again the competition will have degrees so you better have something else in your back pocket for them to overlook the blaring deficiency. You’ll probably going to be asked why you didn’t and “cause I didn’t wanna go” isn’t the best answer (vs I was serving my country or some other noble cause). Bottomline is while it’s definitely possible you are SEVERLY limiting your chances in what’s a VERY competitive field. You mention the pilot shortage, well we’re in it and the Majors haven’t lightened up at all (I know many qualified Regional pilots WITH degrees who are still waiting) and the industry could change in a minute and go the other way. Listen I play PowerBall twice a week BUT it’s not my retirement plan. Maybe you’re luckier than I am?

Adam

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Thank you for the speedy response Adam. I assure you I’m not just trying to take short cuts nor am I affraid to put in the effort. I’m just trying to gauge what would be most efficient financially and time wise. I just can’t imagine how I’d manage drowning in debt for years with such low starting pay. Right now im just focused on getting into a career I know I’d love, but would like to know I’m not being ridiculous by even hoping to get into a major.

Thanks again,
Andrew

Andrew,

The majors can expect and require their pilot applicants to have four year degrees because they are trusting their pilots with people’s lives and airplanes that are worth tens of millions of dollars. When an airline has pay rates that can easily put pilots over $300,000 per year they can be very picky about who they hire and expect pilots to come to the airline showing that they can be dedicated to something for more than just a few months. Pilots are brand ambassadors and interact with the public, the airlines want somebody with a little polish on them in that position.

Now, college isn’t the only way to polish an individual or to show dedication, but it is a very quick way to sort through tens of thousands of applications and it does tend to eliminate a good chuck of less desirable applicants.

There is always a possibility that you could get hired at a major without a degree, but it is a very small one. If your goal is to work for a major like American or United then you should plan on getting a degree.

The shortage is here, it is in full swing, and the major airlines are sticking to their degree requirements and I suspect that they will continue to do so.

Chris

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I’d like to reiterate something. I’m not saying its not right or unreasonable for major airlines to want a degree. I just don’t think it’s the most practical disqualifier.

Chris,

Thank you for the insight. I guess I’ll need to get creative and find a way to make this work. And while we’re at it, any idea how a flow through program like Envoys would play without a degree?

Andrew

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Andrew,

With all due respect, you clearly are looking for a short cut. The fact that you ask the question “can I get to a Major without a degree?” shows you’re aware that it’s a significant consideration that you’re trying to work around. From what I understand Envoy will hire you without a degree and does have a “no interview” flow-thru to AA so there’s your potential “loop hole” (Endeavor says you MUST meet Delta’s hiring reqs). Problem is right now the actual flow-thru numbers are low and take longer than those transitioning from other Regionals (from what I’ve been hearing), flow-thrus can (and do get cancelled) and finally you’re putting all your eggs in a relatively small basket. You talk about “opportunity cost”. How about the opportunity cost of spending an extra 3-5yrs at a Regional in lieu of the getting to a Major faster (on your own merits) and forgoing 3-5yrs of top Major Capt pay of over $300k? Bottomline is this, you’re a grown man and can do as you like. Is it possible? Yes it is and you could find yourself at a Major and then you can come back on here and say “Ha!” those guys were wrong! BUT the reality is you’re working against the odds and if it doesn’t happen and you find yourself “stuck” at a Regional years from now please don’t be one of the hundreds who complain about how crappy and unfair this job is.

Adam

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Andrew,

It is a practical qualifier, keep in mind that tens of thousands of pilots before you have all obtained their degrees before applying to the majors. Obviously for some people this is harder to accomplish than for others as everybody’s circumstances are different. The bottom line though is that you should plan on getting a degree. What many people chose to do is work on a degree online after they have been hired at a regional.

Chris

So I get it majors require a degree and I am currently enrolled earning my bba. The question that a I have is at my job, progression to management also requires a degree but as long as you are “actively pursuing” and taking a set amount of credit hours a year, that also qualifies you too. So at the Majors, does actively pursuing qualifies or do you have to have it completed before you get hired or even called for an interview?

Gaurav,

When you apply to a Major there’s a little box that says “4 YEAR DEGREE”, if you have one you can check the little box. If you don’t you cannot. There is no "pursuing, almost, kinda, maybe in the future, I plan to after you give me this job I promise…"etc. Hence the term “REQUIREMENT”.

Adam

Gaurav,

You will have to have the degree 100% completed and hanging on your wall before a major airline will call you. The airlines know darn well that if they counted “actively pursuing” the same as having a degree that everybody would just sign up for a few classes and then stop attending as soon as they were offered a job.

Chris

I see this is an old thread, but for anyone who happens to read it… Andrew says he’s hoping to be an ATP student, and he’s wondering about also obtaining a 4-year degree. Least time/money consuming to combine the two by attending a 4-year aviation program at an accredited college? (Just a guess. I had a 4-year degree in the arts when I was hired by the majors – but also a lot of flying and aviation business time.)

Maureen,

I respectfully disagree. If time is the biggest consideration, the best route would be 2yr degree, ATP, build time instructing, get hired by a Regional then finish your BA online while working at a Regional. That would have you AT a Regional building seniority in about 4yrs vs going to a 4yr university and then taking another 2 yrs to build the required time to get hired.

Adam

Hi Adam,

I am a New Zealander, 29 years old, married to a US Citizen. We live in NZ and are looking to relocate ASAP (green card will take between 6 and 18 months according to local and US immigration lawyers).

I have an established career working in Engineering (10 years on Super Yachts and now in Oil & Gas Production for an Operator) , however I do not have a degree. This makes me hit a glass ceiling wherever I go. My #1 goal is to fly jets for an airline. From my research, my potential pathway is as follows:

  1. Once green card is approved, transfer my NZ CAA PPL to FAA (check ride etc)
  2. Enter ATP 6 month airline pilot fast track, complete
  3. Work for ATP as an instructor
  4. Enrol to Embry Riddle in Bachelor of Science Majoring in Aviation and complete part time
  5. Complete the degree whilst (hopefully) working for a regional
  6. (Hopefully) enter a major airline

Is this combination, in your opinion my best way to go? The Spartan college 33month course doesnt seem to me like it would meet the major airlines minimum 4 year degree requirement.

Any help would be appreciate, my wife and I are dedicated to making this dream happen.

Thanks - these forums are very helpful

Steve

Steven,

I like your plan, the only exception would be you really wouldn’t be able to work on your degree while instructing for ATP. ATP instructors work full time and hopefully you’ll be too busy to really make a dent. The good news is Riddle will give you a fair amount of credits for your licenses and rating so you should be able to complete your degree while at a Regional with no problem.

Btw, I’m headed to AKL next week, good times :slight_smile:

Adam

Steve,

That sounds like the absolutely perfect route to me and one that will lead you to the majors far faster than anything else. You have obviously been paying attention to what we say on here, thank you for that.

My only tweak would be that I would not start Embry Riddle online until after being hired at a regional airline, I think you will find that instructing and college work are both too demanding to do at the same time.

Let us know what other questions you have.

Chris

Adam and Chris,

Thank you so much for getting back - and so quickly. Adam, its winter here unfortunately, but if you get a chance, head to Tauranga in the summer or if you have one day off try heading north to Matakana - the Saturday markets are awesome. I am located in New Plymouth on the North Island West Coast.

Ok, this is great advice. No problem to start the Riddle degree once working. From what I can see of your respective schedules, this lifestyle is near tailor made for vocational study. A question I do have is, how long do you think it would take me to complete the degree part time once I start? I cant find any indication of this online but suspect 5-6 years.

Also, what is the percentage of graduates that get hired by a regional at or around the 20 months, are we talking 80%, 90%?

Also, as I am a NZ PPL, i think my best course of proactive action right now, until I can actually apply for the ATP course is to:

  1. Watch all the sporty’s PPL training videos to familiarize myself with the subtle differences in the FAA system I am not used to

  2. Buy the Sheppard study material for the CPL & IR and the other 3 required exams so when I can get to the US and be physically present, I am ready straight away to sit those exams, or at least a couple of them and then just have to re-familiarize myself with what ever exams I cannot retain a constant knowledge base for

As this process may take up to 18 months I don’t want to sit idle, this seems to be my best time spent.

One last question (sorry). I do not have a high school diploma, however the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has sent me confirmation that my raining post high school meets or exceeds university entry equivalency n New Zealand (I studied Electrical and hold licences as an Electrician). Once the ATP course is complete, would I have any issue applying for Embry Riddle?

Thanks again

Steve,

Yes I know it’s getting chilly down there. I was in BNE last week and froze.

As for your how long and what will Riddle accept I honestly couldn’t give you an answer and recommend you contact them. That said with the credit they’ll give you for your licenses and rating I don’t believe it’ll take that long.

If you want to do something to keep you engaged and begin to understand the differences I recommend you checkout this page https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aviation/ (scroll down the page. I’d start with the Airplane Flying Handbook). These are ALL the official FAA manuals and they’re all free. While you could study the Sporty’s and the SheppardAir, those are more just test prep and while helpful in preparing for the writtens, they’re not great for learning the info.

Adam

Thanks Adam,

I’ll take a look and get back to you if there are any other questions - this is really helpful.

Hi Adam and Chris,

I have another question, I hope your don’t mind answering.

If I hold a green card (it takes 4 years thereafter to obtain a US passport, best case), am I eligible for the majority of the regionals?

The following is from the Skywest recruitment site, and it states that you must be a permanent resident or be permitted to work in the US (green card) and then it goes on to state that you must hold a US passport. This seems to contradict itself. Would I actually need to hold a US passport or is a green card sufficient? If I would need to, is this the standard across the board?

“To be considered for a pilot position, you must:
Be at least 21 years of age
Hold a Commercial License
Possess a current first-class medical (verified at interview)
Be a U.S. citizen or able to show proof of right to work in the U.S.
Hold an FCC Radio License
English Proficiency Endorsement (EPE)
Have a current U.S. Passport
Be willing to rescind seniority with current carrier
Be at least instrument current
Be within three months of the minimum hour requirements detailed below”

Thanks in advance!

Steve

Hi Steve,

I’m not an expert but I don’t see a contradiction here. It doesn’t say “either” or “OR” it clearly says you need “Proof of right to work in the US” AND it also says you need a US Passport. This is because SkyWest flies to Mexico and Canada. I’d contact them directly if that’s the Regional of your choice. There may be other Regionals who don’t fly Internationally that would not so I’d check them as well.

Adam