Real Answers from Real Pilots

21 years old, 0 flight time

A little background:
I am a 21 year old and have aspired to work in aviation as long as I can remember. I am currently in an A&P maintenance school and finish in less than a month. I will have an associates degree from my current school when I finish. While being a mechanic is certainly a steady career, I’m not quite sure it’s exactly what I want to do.

I see my journey to becoming a major airline pilot starting one of three ways, all of which begin after a year of work as a mechanic to build up some necessary money.

1- go to a 4 year university and graduate with a bachelors as well as all the required liscense

2- purchase a plane and get all my hours and ratings through a local flight school

3- go to a school such as ATP, and get all my ratings.

My fear with option 1 is not only the cost, but the time. A 4 year school would put me at 26 years old when graduating in 2027, and I would miss a big part of the horing wave in the next 10 years

My fear with option 2 is that I will not have a bachelors degree, which seems to basically mandatory for a major airline, and I will have the financial responsibility of owning an airplane.

My fear with option 3 is that I will still not have a bachelors degree

If necessary I can obtain a bachelors degree in aviation maintenance managment in 2 more years of school 100% online. This however will add more debt and I’m not sure this degree will transfer over to being a pilot.

If any current pilot could help steer me in the right direction or give me some advice that would be very much appreciated. Thank you


Here the quick and dirty:

  1. Aviation degrees are expensive and take a long time. That means alot of debt and alot of wasted time.

  2. There are reason NO ONE goes out and buys a plane to learn to fly. It simply doesn’t work. Planes are expensive to maintain (even if you are an A&P). Expensive to purchase if your want anything with decent avionics that will carry you through all your ratings (particularly your multi). You’ll need to find an instructor who’s willing to train you in your own airplane who’ll also be available when you want to. Further training part-time is very inefficient and most people never complete it. And you still would need a Bachelors degree.

  3. Full disclosure this is ATPs forum and all the mentors are former students. We’re not salesmen. We were all where you were and decided on ATP and are now successful airline pilots in various stages of our careers. The program works and has for over 35yrs. As to your concern, you are correct, you would not have a Bachelors degree. However, with your Associates and credit for your licenses and ratings you could get your Bachelors in min time with much less debt than you would any other route.

I’m sure others will chime in but those are my thoughts.



I am not a fan of aviation degree programs that incorporate the flight training into them. They are expensive, take way too long, and the education level can be questionable at some places. I think buying an airplane is the single worst idea and will be much more expensive than you think it will be. Yes, if you go to ATP you will not have a degree, but you will have your licenses and half of a four year degree. Once you get to the regionals, you will have plenty of time where you can finish up an online degree. The field of study will not matter, the majors just want to see a four year degree.


You’re really not in a bad place at all. So in a month you’ll have 2 years of college completed and only 21 years old. Your best route is taking out a loan, doing the fast track program at atp and in 7 months have all your ratings. You can try to finish the last two years online while time building but most use their time at the regionals to do that. As long as you have that bachelors degree by the time you submit your application for the majors, you’re good. Also, it doesn’t matter what it’s in. If you’re already halfway through with your degree in aviation maintenance management take the path of least resistance and finish with it! It’s something you already know well and enjoy. With this plan you could be at a regional by 23 and still well younger than most. I didn’t start ATP until I was 25 and didn’t make it to the regional until 28 (with one lost year to the pandemic).