Should I go to University or straight into Commercial Flight Training

While holding a degree was commonplace among airline pilots in the past, it is increasingly common to see prospective pilots move straight from A-levels or high school education into commercial flight training. With the fairly recent increase in university tuition fees, it looks like this trend will likely increase further in the years to come.

There are arguments for getting and not getting a degree before embarking on your commercial flight training.

The arguments set out below are based on the fact that you live in a country where you have to pay your own tuition fees. If you live in a country where going to university is free (or you only have to pay your living expenses), we recommend going to university.

Fees and debt

A typical three-year degree can now cost upwards of £/€30,000 on tuition fees alone. Once accommodation and living expenses are added to this figure, huge student debt becomes commonplace among graduates.

With in-flight training costing around £/€100,000, with all airlines requiring you to pay for your own type rating (around £/€25,000), you could end up with over £/€150,000 in debt before you even got your first job.

Even if you had modular flight training (the cheapest way to get flight training) and your type rating was paid for by the airline (you’d be very lucky!), you would still have a debt of 100 000 £/€.

You tend to earn a good salary as a commercial pilot, so you’ll end up having to pay off all your student loans, unlike others in lower-paying jobs where the debt ends up being forgiven. Similarly, as you earn a good salary, if you have student financial debt in the UK and you work for a UK airline, a large sum will be deducted from your salary each month to pay off the debt.

Given that holding a degree is no longer a minimum requirement to join most European airlines as a pilot, it’s a perfectly fair argument to say that racking up so much avoidable debt just isn’t worth it. sadness. Spending a little more on lost income and lost medical insurance can cover your debts if the worst happens, which means you might not think having a degree as a backup plan is worth it.

Have a backup plan

There is, however, an equally compelling argument for earning a degree.

Unfortunately, one of the risks of being a pilot is that we can lose our class 1 medical at any time for a whole host of reasons that can end our pilot career. Similarly, the airline industry is also notoriously volatile and cyclical; just look at the number of pilots made redundant due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, there will always be airline failures as they inevitably contract from time to time. For example, Flybe, XL Airways, Fly Globespan, Silverjet, Spanair and BMI are just a handful of airlines that have folded over the past decade, resulting in the loss of hundreds of pilot jobs. As many find out the hard way, it can be years before you find a job as a pilot again, if at all.

If you find yourself in such a position, it is extremely important to have a backup plan. To be able to directly access a job offering a reasonable rate of pay, you generally need a diploma. it can be expensive, but a degree is a good back-up plan if your career doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. Having loss of earnings insurance can of course help, but you still have a life to lead outside of aviation.

The university experience

There is no doubt that many people rate their time in college as one of the best years of their life. It offers more than just an academic qualification, it offers life experience and an opportunity to grow as a person and build relationships. People mature at different speeds, so not everyone is ready to start flight training right after high school (high school) and might need a few more years to develop the skills and personality needed to become employable in an airline.

It should be noted that while many European airlines do not require a degree, it is still a mandatory requirement for many foreign airlines, especially in the United States, the Far East and Asia.

Which degree should I choose?

If you have decided that university is for you, choosing which degree to study and in which university is not easy.

There are many degrees offered by universities that are specific to training aviation and airline pilots (we have listed them here).

If you are serious about becoming a pilot and love aviation, obviously studying an aviation degree will be enjoyable and you tend to do well in the subjects you enjoy studying. Having an aviation degree will clearly put you in a good position to start your flight training after college.

While airlines “love” aviation degrees, they are equally impressed with other foundational degrees (science, engineering, math, etc.). From the perspective of recruiters, the final grade you got is usually more important than the subject you studied. For example a 1st A class diploma in media studies is likely to be viewed more favorably than a 2:2 in an aviation subject, as it shows that you are able to apply yourself very well and at a high level. This is an attribute you will need to demonstrate throughout your aviation career.

Another thing to consider is what kind of degree you would fall back on if the worst happened and you couldn’t fly anymore. Having a degree in a separate discipline that is unrelated to aviation can open up more job opportunities than if you had an aviation-specific degree. For example, having a degree in accounting or law is likely to open up potentially better paying opportunities than an aviation degree if you could no longer be a pilot.


There are pros and cons to both deciding whether or not to go to college and what subject you should study if you decide to go.

For most people the choice is to avoid unnecessarily racking up a lot of debt rather than gaining college experience and all of that (hopefully) implies something to fall back on if your career doesn’t take off as expected. . It’s a very subjective and ultimately very personal decision – everyone’s situation is different.