24 year old college graduate with debt. Is there still a way to be an airline pilot?

Good evening,

To start, I’ve wanted to be an airline pilot ever since part way through my first year of college when I happened to sit next to a 737 pilot on my flight back from Christmas break. I had told him I was interested in that career path and my conversation with him inspired me. The first thing I did when I got off the plane was apply to several flight schools. I got accepted to Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, but wasn’t able to get the financing I needed to attend. I ended up at a much cheaper school with a fledgling aviation program instead. I spent a year and a half there and only managed to rack up 23 flight hours due to issues with the program, so eventually I decided I was wasting my time and transferred to a better university in my state and finished a bachelors in psychology.

By the time I graduated in December 2018 I realized that I left my dream behind and started looking for ways to become an airline pilot again. Since I already have a considerable amount of student loan debt from obtaining my degree, the only option I was able to come up with is joining the military. So I applied to the Navy for a pilot slot. They rejected me because my depth perception didn’t measure up (which I wasn’t even aware was a requirement), but later my recruiter told me I could reapply as an NFO and use those flight hours towards a civilian career later. I just believed him until I got selected by the board, when I really started doing my research. From what I’ve been able to gather, any flight hours obtained as an NFO are virtually useless in the civilian sector, so it doesn’t seem to be a stepping stone in the right direction at all.

So now here I am, 24 years old, about to go to Navy OCS simply because I can’t see any other option, especially since a part time job isn’t even enough to keep up with my monthly student loan payments. I tried applying for the Sallie Mae student loan to see if it was possible to just go to ATP’s Airline Career Pilot Program but I got rejected, and I have nobody willing to cosign with me.

Essentially my question is, are there any options to get commercial pilot training that you guys know off that perhaps I haven’t considered? Or is spending 8-10 years as an NFO just to pay my student loan debt and try and get my civilian licenses in my free time really my only option?



Welcome to the forums.

NFO hours will no way count as flying hours and it will not doing anything to further your career as a pilot.

The best thing that I can recommend to you is to find a job that pays as much as possible and save money until you do qualify for a loan or are able to pay for your flight training outright. Many Navy and Air Force bases offer a flying club that usually has pretty discounted aircraft rental rates, so that may be an option.



I appreciate the quick response! Even if being an NFO won’t directly contribute to my career as an airline pilot, it may just be the highest paying job I can get at the moment. However, it has the potential to delay things and end up taking longer because off the long commitment time. Also, from what I can see there are only 5 of those Navy flying clubs, which makes it seem rather unlikely that I would be stationed near one. But if I think about my job prospects in other areas, there isn’t much I can do with a bachelors in psychology that would earn me the kind of money I would need to pay my current student loan payments and save for future flight training.

There is one other option I was considering, but you probably don’t know much about it. I have dual citizenship with New Zealand and am eligible to apply for Australian citizenship by descent as well. By doing some research I found out that the Australian and New Zealand air force don’t measure the depth perception of their pilots or have any minimum requirement for that, because apparently it’s somewhat debatable whether or not that’s actually even important for pilots. However, I’m not too sure about the other requirements for those respective organizations or what is involved in the application process. But I did have the thought that it might be worth forgetting about the NFO position I was selected for completely and trying my luck in another country lol.

I realize now I’m just telling you information rather than asking a question, but this is a really overwhelming decision for me so I appreciate any input to help me think things through.


Active Duty Army Officer here looking to leave active duty after more than 10 years later this year and OCS grad myself (but Army OCS of course) looking to train once I’m out. Anyways, couple of things I would like you to know as you are considering your options.

First is that being a military officer offers great pay, if you are good with money and are not a spend thrift. You can easily save up money during your commitment and pay for your training in cash. I am currently deployed and after 12 months will have saved enough to pay for all my flight training and then some from just this 1 deployment.

Secondly, and I wish I would have done this myself but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after leaving the service, you can do all your flight training while you’re still Active Duty. While doing that, you can maybe even have the VA pay for all your training, reducing or perhaps eliminating your entire training cost if spread over the many years of your commitment (except your private pilot which the VA will not pay for). I know someone who did this, just paying for his private pilot, and I am super jealous I did not do this route myself. When it’s time for you to leave the Navy, you now can skip training since you’re all done and just work on your hours. How long is your minimum initial commitment anyways? Army OCS was just a quick 3 years.

Finally, your dual citizenship. I was Cadre at Army OCS and we had several Officer Candidates who were dual citizens. As a Commissioned Officer, I can tell you that you will not pass your security clearance check and be granted a Secret Clearance unless you denounce your dual citizenship and turn over your NZ passport to be destroyed (if you have one). All Commissioned Officers in the US Military must have at minimum a Secret Clearance. Needless to say, you would not be able to apply for an Australian Citizenship if you commission.

Best of luck to you,

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Thanks for your response! The commitment for Naval Flight Officer is typically 8 years. I’ve also heard of people who have completed their civilian licenses on the side while in the service, however, it seems to require using all your free time to build hours and the right circumstances.

I had already done a lot of research on dual citizenship before I applied for the Navy and to the best of my understanding, while you do have to sign a statement saying you are willing to renounce your other citizenships it is unlikely if those citizenships are with closely allied countries. And while you may destroy your passport, there’s a whole formal process you have to go through with your country of citizenship in order to properly give it up (which I’m not sure the US has any way of verifying), and this varies by country. So even if I was to verbally or in writing renounce my New Zealand citizenship in front of Navy people on US soil and destroy my New Zealand passport, I will still technically be registered as a citizen of New Zealand with the New Zealand government.

And yes of course I wouldn’t be applying for Australian citizenship unless I decided not to go into the US Navy and go to Australia instead. Also serving in the US Navy shouldn’t affect my eligibility to apply for Australian citizenship after I finish and am no longer serving. However this is something I need to look into more.


I was exactly in the same situation as you but in my case i found the cosigner. I applied for loans by myself quite a few times and every time i got rejected. What I was thinking at the time was getting a CDL driver license and drive for about 2 years and pay for the school out of my own pocket. Seem to be desperate but I really wanted to get into ATP flight school and my only option without a cosigner. You need to get a lot of money with the shortest time possible because if you wait, you won’t have time for it later on in your life… kids,wife etc…

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A couple of observations if you don’t mind:

You mention “they don’t check depth perception”. I wouldn’t hang my future on that sort of thing. You really have no way of knowing if the New Zealand/Australian AME you get will overlook deficient depth perception. Any physical or mental issue should be something you are ready to declare and work through. If I were in your situation I’d talk to an AME in that country about your situation before I made the leap. You also mention possibly skirting around the issue of truly denouncing your allegiance to your other countries of citizenship because, who’s going to know, right? I don’t know you and don’t want to offend you, but there seems to be at least a little of an attitude of, “If it’s not illegal, it must be okay.” I respect your situation and how you want to use whatever options are available to find more stability and security, but I would not hang my future on theoreticals or maybes. You’ll almost certainly need a TS clearance as a flight officer (you’ll have inside technical knowledge of aviation navigation and weapons systems). They’ll dive deep - it is no joke.

After 9/11 many military flying clubs disappeared. The Base Commanders just didn’t want the added security concerns. Additionally, all due respect to Sam, you could probably get through your PPL and even instrument rating and maintain them, but getting all your ratings might be a stretch, depending - and this is important - upon the job you get in the military. If you were to be placed in a position that was heavily deployed or required a lot of leadership responsibility, you will work longer hours with less predictable time off. I’m in a medical role, only at a couple periods in my twenty-three years would I have had regular, predictable time off where I could have gotten my PPL and perhaps other ratings, and there’d have been 9-12 month stretches where I’d have had no flight time at all. Even now, when I’m “the boss” I’ve been driving to the airfield to get a lesson in (on a Sunday) and had to cancel it, turn around and go into work because a Sailor got themselves into legal trouble that required me to be involved. I’ve paused my PPL training, and now with COVID19 I’m glad I did. I worked 12 hour days every day the last two weeks and would have had no time to study. All my chores at home are pushed into the weekend from not having time during the week. The military is a great employer, but it demands to be put first…all the time.

The eight year commitment might not be the extent of your Navy service, does that include your initial year or so of training or is that fully inclusive of all time in uniform?

I have met many Psychology B.S. degree holders over the years who echoed your concerns about what to do with that as a terminal degree and make ends meet. The military might be a place to get a decent paycheck and benefits, but maybe NFO, with an eight year hitch isn’t the best option. Have you considered a restricted line job of another type like HR, education and training, etc? Your commitment would be less, would give you four or five years of stability, benefits, perhaps even more stable hours with less regular deployment periods. You could pay down your debt a bit, maybe get your PPL, and do ATP or similar program after.

You’re college educated. You have options and I wish you the very best of luck.



Thank you so much for your reply! You might be right that I don’t have the right attitude for the NFO job. My citizenships are very important to me and going for this job is putting those at risk and my job at risk too. Also I really don’t have any desire to serve the United States, my motivation was purely from the personal standpoint of building my career. However, at this point it’s beginning to look like it might not be the best move for the career I want.

I really appreciate that you took the time to give me such great advice. It will really help me make a well informed decision as I continue to weigh my options.


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If stability, healthcare benefits, and a steady paycheck are what you need right now go to USAJOBS.com and be open-minded about the exact job. With a bachelors you should be able to get a GS-6 or 7 (US Federal Civil Service) job (opm.gov for pay table) which will not make you wealthy, but would require only a basic security background check and would make you a respectable wage and allow you some stability. Additionally, if you can get your Psychiatric Technician certification perhaps that would open up other options. I looked into that in the past for someone and it did not seem exceptionally rigid (pay them, get some basic psych experience…you’re certified). Again, this is just a means to an end, a job to get you to your preferred job.

Again, good luck!



If your motivation is not purely to serve the United States, and if your allegiance is not solely to the US, then I would recommend against joining the United States military.