A huge career change!

Good morning all,
First of all I’d like to thank Chris for sending me a link to this site and look forward to the input of anyone who responds.

A little about myself, I’m 25 and am a deputy sheriff in NC (go Tar Heels) since I was four years old I’ve wanted to be a pilot. When I first moved from Puerto Rico I lived in Mississippi at an Air Force base and can remember the first time I saw a B52 up close and personal. I even got a tour of the behemoth of a plane. I knew then and there that I wanted to fly. I’ve even been in the cockpit of a 777 since I’m the 90s they still sometimes let solo flying kids up there, needless to say that only made me want to fly that much more.

Life went on Android I eventually grew up and eventually I became a cop. It’s a great job which I really do enjoy, but especially after talking to some of the older vets I hear the same thing time and again, what’s stopping you?

The answer is clear, me.

I was even given an amazing opportunity one time at a local flight strip out here and he let me fly for a couple hours. Then to my shock he looked at me and asked “you want to fly it?” Naturally I couldn’t contain myself when he asked such a question and well long story short it was the greatest moment of my life.

Fast forward to today and now I ask myself again what is stopping me? Myself.

So to get off the soap box, here are my questions:

  1. Lets get the big one out of the way, money. I know I can get a student loan but are they conventional student loans or are they personal loans?
    -edit: I spoke with atp by phone and got an answer. Just FYI.

  2. Degree? Or no Degree? I’ve been struggling with the idea of this. On the one hand I’ve always thought even if you don’t need it it makes you more marketable.

  3. If I do get one should I do it before or after ATP?

  4. The time frame:
    This is a big one too. This would require me to stop working for a few months. This is something I’ve already considered and planned for so I’m not really asking if it’s a good idea but o would like input.
    Would it be wiser to work for 4 more years and earn an online degree or wait 1-2 years and just start ATP then make it to a regional and then work on a degree?

That’s basically it at least off the top of my head for now.

Like I said it’s a heck of a career change for sure but if I don’t do this then as I was told “ chase the dream before it chases you”.


Welcome and thank you for the introduction as it helps us to better answer your questions. Let’s get to them:

  1. The loans are essentially personal loans and not educational loans. What this means is that many people find that they need a co-signer to be able to obtain financing. This is very common, I had one because of my young age when I applied.

  2. Degree, absolutely. The regional airlines do not require a degree, but the majors do. Any subject matter should be fine, as long as it is within reason.

  3. I would suggest that you get your degree while you are working for a regional airline. You will find that you have sufficient time then and many colleges will give you credit for your flight training, if you get an aeronautical degree.

  4. In the airlines, everything is based off of seniority. The two years more that you would spend working on a degree now will have a significant impact on your career. Two years can easily be the difference between being a 777 Captain or finishing up your career on a smaller airplane. It can be the difference between having Christmas off, being furloughed, having great schedules or none of the above. I would not delay one bit if this is truly what you want to do.

Let us know what other questions you have. Also, thank you for your service as a Deputy, I really respect what you guys do out there for us.



Pretty standard questions, all of which have been asked many times so here’s some short answers:

  1. The loan you’ll need is a student/education loan. These loans are unsecured which make them VERY difficult to get without excellent credit. Chances are you’ll need a co-signer. Btw there are many young people who make wise financial decisions. If you made poor ones you need to start owning them and not just chock it up to youth. When you interview at an airline they will run your credit and background and don’t expect you to blow off any bad behavior with the “I was young” excuse.

2,3) If you hope to eventually make it to a Major airline you will need a 4yr degree. If you were fresh out of high school I’d say continue you education but since you’re already out the clock is ticking. Get your training, build your time then start working on your degree. This is by far the most efficient route.

  1. If you’re talking about ATP you’re talking about not working for more than a few months. The training alone will take 9 mos and then you’ll need to work as an instructor to build the required 1500hrs (usually about 1.5-2yrs). This can require a huge financial sacrifice. Obviously we have no idea regarding your finances but you should do the math on not having any income for 6 mos and then be in the mid-$20’s for another 2yrs. If this is not fiscally feasible you may want to postpone things and build a little nest egg. Many people however just take out additional funds as part of their loan to cover living expenses.


Thanks for the responses, both of you. I spoke with ATP directly regarding finances after I saw a similar question on another post. I appreciate the honest and straightforward input, really I do. You both have answered key questions for me and have made my planning that much easier.

I see now that pursuing a degree when I make it to regional is the most efficient way to achieve my goal. That was really my biggest hurdle in the planning.

As for financing just to clarify a bit, my wife would become sole breadwinner as soon as I start the program, I don’t mean to sound like i’d be going to zero income. Believe me when I say we have planned this out. (minus when to pursue a degree) You have both helped to clear that part up.

Also just to clear this up, my inclusion of youth was an attempt at light humor and I meant no offense. For that I apologize. I did not intend to imply that all young people make financially irresponsible decisions and I would take exception to the thought of having anyone believe I am making an excuse for the sake of not owning it. I have owned up to the mistakes I made and have rectified them. (I edited that bit out to not offend) Finally, and I do not mean to drone on, a lot of jobs check credit and background, being in law enforcement that was absolutely the case. Everywhere and everyone is different but during my interview when asked, they empathized when used the “I was young excuse”.

Again I appreciate the input you both have been a tremendous help to me. And Chris seriously thank you, that’s not something we hear a lot especially now a days.



Anytime, let us know how else we can help you.


Gabriel, I am in a very similar place in life at a very similar age to you so it was intriguing to read this post!

I have a question about the loans aquired through Wells Fargo and Sallie Mae that ATP advertises, as well as some general financing questions:

  1. What are the average interest rates and terms (based on history) for someone with very good credit?

  2. I have very good credit and own a home; has anyone here ever borrowed against their home equity to fund their training?

  3. Has anyone had experience with borrowing against their 401k for flight training?

I Have very good (and diverse) credit and am not interested in paying high interest rates or compunded interest (from a deferred period) if the loans that ATP offers are anything like conventional student loans.

Additionally, I fully realize that I could answer my own questions with about 15 minutes of research, but I am mostly curious to hear about other people’s experiences with financing.

Thank you!


When it comes to finance their are people better equipped to answer your questions but here’s a little bit:

  1. Both Wells and SM offer fairly conventional unsecured student loans. You’d have to call ATP Admin for the current rates BUT being as they’re unsecured student loans (regardless of your credit) yes the rates are going to be MUCH higher than a secured equity loan or borrowing from your 401K.

  2. I do know people who have taken out an equity loan to pay for their flight training. Many young people don’t have this option since most don’t own homes but I believe it’s a great way to save a ton of interest if you have the option.

  3. I know as a rule of thumb the “experts say” you should never borrow against your 401K. While the interest rates are low (and you’re in fact paying yourself back the interest) it will definitely impact your retirement (you’d need to talk to your accountant (or 401K manager) as to how great the effect will be?). Also keep in mind that many 401K’s have clauses which demand immediate or accelerated repayment if you leave your employer.


I’ve been a municipal police officer in Texas for twelve years now. The route I took is no longer available at ATP (self-paced) but I did my training while continuing to work full time as an officer. After a year I resigned my full time position and a accepted a part-time position while finishing up my training. I finished all my ratings in March 2017 and began flying full time while also working part time as an officer and couldn’t be happier. I get to “have my cake and eat it too”. Get creative man, there are many ways to skin a cat and you could just find yourself like me getting to enjoy both careers without taking too much of a financial hit while you get your flying career going.

Thats awesome!

Also that just reasures my current thinking. I thought of switching to the reserve platoon to start the training to keep my certification (and as a back up plan). I’m glad to see that it is a successful route. I love being a Deputy and hearing your story has given alot of reassurance to pursue this dream.

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Rock on man