Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady
Typically, prospective students who are considering careers in the aviation industry tend to contemplate becoming pilots through aviation colleges which offer five essential pilot ratings as follows: private single engine, instrument rating, private multi-engine, commercial single and multi-engine, and certified flight instructor (CFI). In addition, the best aviation colleges usually offer courses in both fixed wing and rotary (helicopter) endorsements. This provides their students with a greater range of career opportunities.
Since prospective aviation students can anticipate a considerable investment in time and money, it is wise to investigate what financial assistance or funding is available when embarking on a lucrative flying career. Student loans, PELL grant funding, and scholarships are just a few of the types of financial assistance that are offered to qualified students by federal sources, public and private entities that can be found on the college websites and/or on individual scholarship websites.
When conducting a review of the best aviation colleges in the US, there are several criteria to take into consideration before making the commitment to enter their aviation program:
- The location of the college.
- The dynamics of the learning environment.
- The learning objectives and practical application of the degree program(s).
- The state of the training facility.
- The job opportunities offered or guaranteed before or after successful graduation from the program.
In addition, here are some questions to consider when entertaining prospective aviation colleges:
- Do you want to attend an aviation college that is local to your permanent home residence to avoid living on or off campus, away from home, which will incur additional room and board expenses?
- What is the instructor to student ratio? Is it relatively small to avoid becoming lost in a cavernous lecture hall with little or no interaction with your instructor?
- Specifically, what are the learning objectives of the degree program that is of interest to you? And what can you do with it (practical application) once you have graduated?
- Are the training facilities state-of-the-art with access to the most updated flight simulators, aircraft, and avionics for example?
- Does the college-of-interest guarantee job placement either during enrollment in their degree program and/or following graduation?
Each college publishes their general policies applying to all degrees as well as the minimum requirements for each degree program, such as a minimum of 120-semester credit hours numbered from 1000 to 4999 for all bachelor degrees; the minimum GPA requirements for all coursework for the major as well as for all work taken at the college; and whether a major, composite major or dual major are required with a completion of the specific requirements for one of the bachelor degrees offered by the college. Many universities have extended their programs beyond the traditional on-campus classes to include online courses and/or hybrid courses. Generally, however, there are limitations for the number of courses that can be completed online as well as which courses (major versus non-major/elective) as well as the number of the level (lower division, 1000 to 2999 versus upper division 3000 to 4999) of the courses that must be completed. Coursework and degree program questions, as well as financial aid, can be directed to the academic advising office, the registrar’s office, and/or the financial aid office via telephone, email, or website link.
Researching the anticipated investment in time and money required to enter and to remain in an aviation degree program and the financial assistance that is available to qualified students is important. Investigating the salaries and career potential to recoup that payout is also of vital importance. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for commercial pilots is expected to increase by approximately nine percent through 2022. The median/average salary for commercial pilots is estimated to be $75,000.00. In some cases, this may be only part-time in nature which leaves other income opportunities, such as serving as flight instructors, military pilots, corporate pilots, aerial photography, news or traffic reporting, fire-fighting, and tourism. Another career consideration is to create a niche for yourself if such a niche does not yet exist, like opening and operating an aviation-related business such as a flight school or your own service ferrying aircraft for clients. This allows you to utilize the skills learned when completing a multiple-disciplinary bachelor’s degree.
The Internet provides access to a myriad of aviation-oriented websites. These sites give a significant amount of data and information regarding the business projections for aircraft manufacturers, aviation careers, commercial and private pilots, and so forth. And the FAA website offers information pertaining to certificates, licenses, regulations, policies, aircraft, pilots, and unmanned aircraft systems. Although the Internet allows prospective students a tremendous amount of latitude regarding a virtual tour of aviation colleges, at times it is more advantageous to schedule an in-person tour of the college(s) that have been “short-listed.” This can help you gain a better sense of the learning environment and facilities to ensure the most successful student experience.