4 year school VS ATP

So I’m new to all this, but I’ve read several posts, and you “Pilot Mentors” say you absolutely need a degree to fly in the Major airlines, to make “really good money”. Why would I not just go to a four year school and earn my degree as well as become a Pilot at the same time? Rather than just going to ATP and only be able to fly in the regional airlines, then after all the expenses ATP is, go back to school for another few years, spend even more money earning a degree to fly in the major airlines. Why not just go to a 4 year and get it all done then and there. I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, I’m just honestly wondering.


It all comes down to time and seniority. You spend four years at a Part 141 university and get your commercial license. Ok. Now you have to spend time thereafter getting your Instructor ratings and find a school that can get you enough hours in 1-2 years. So by the time you’re applying for the regionals you’re at ~6 years.

Now take ATP. You go through the ACPP in 6-9 months. While instructing with ATP you are already in the interview process with the regionals. Most pilots who come through the program and remain a CFI meet their minimums by at least 2 years. You get picked up by the regionals and start building turbine time. By your 3-4th year (some, not all airlines) you are upgrading to Captain now building turbine PIC time. During this time you can knock out a degree as an airline pilot as your work day ends when you push up to the gate and shutdown.

With all the cards on the table you can easily lose up to 4 years of seniority and pay by going to a Part 141 4-year college. In the end the choice is yours.

Best Regards,



Fair question and one we actually address in our FAQ section as well as many threads I encourage you to read but since you’re here I’ll give you the quick and dirty. Before that though there’s absolutely no place where we say “you absolutely need a degree to fly in the Majors”. There’s is however no question it’s desirable and having one will increase your chances immeasurably.

  1. University aviation programs are notoriously VERY expensive. Often the cost by completion is close to $200k. Now recently with the pilot shortage a number have schools have created programs with more competitive rates but none of those have shown any proven results.

  2. If aviation doesn’t work out for you (whether by choice or circumstance) what are you going to do with that aviation degree. Fact is you can be a pilot with an aviation degree but you can’t be an accountant with an aviation degree.

  3. Time frame. EVERYTHING at the airlines is based on seniority. That means the sooner you get in the better off you’ll be (schedule, upgrade, bases, etc.). After going to a four year school and then taking another 1 to build the time gets you to a Regional in 5 years vs going to ATP AND building your time in 2yrs. That gets you into an airline building seniority 3 yrs sooner. You can then earn your degree in the 3-5 yrs you’ll be at a Regional again getting you to a Major faster. The only caveat is ATP requires a 2yr degree or equivalent work experience but even then you’ve got a 1 year jump.

In the end you might prefer the conventional route and perhaps the cost is not a factor. The best route is the one that works best for you.


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Good question. The primary reasons we recommend ATP and college separately are time and money. Going the university route for flight training can be incredibly expensive. Most of the schools charge astronomical rates and drag the training out over so many years that it just takes way too long. These schools take your money and have mandatory classes on things like “Air Traffic Control Methods”, which while interesting to know, is relatively useless to a pilot.

It is far better to have a degree in something that is useful outside of aviation and get to the airlines faster.

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