Real Answers from Real Pilots

Delta dropping 4 year degree requirement

Interesting news coming out of Delta:

“After a comprehensive review of our pilot hiring requirements, Delta has decided to make a four-year college degree “preferred” rather than “required” for first officer candidates, effective immediately.

While we feel as strongly as ever about the importance of education, there are highly qualified candidates – people who we would want to welcome to our Delta family – who have gained more than the equivalent of a college education through years of life and leadership experience. Making the four-year degree requirement preferred removes unintentional barriers to our Delta flight decks.

There are no other changes to our requirements, or to our continued commitment to hiring the world’s best pilots.

We’re excited about our future at Delta and we’re proud of the many things we are doing to make the dream of becoming a Delta pilot a reality for talented, hard-working and committed people who love this industry.

If you have questions, please send us a direct message here on our Facebook page.”

I think what’s important to note is the above statement. They’re not saying “forget college, show up with your HS diploma and you’re in”. They’re saying if you’ve got something that might balance the lack of a degree (ie, military experience) we’ll take a look.




Yes I agree. There is not much difference between “required” and “preferred” in my professional experience. I’m sure this gives them some wiggle room for the exceptional candidates who don’t have the degree box ticked but for the average candidate I’d imagine a degree is still very important to them.

Regardless, can only serve as further evidence the shortage is real.




As a point of reference, United does not require a degree, though they state it is preferred. I just asked a class of new hires about degrees. Of 60 new pilots at UAL, only one lacked a four year degree in that class.


I think it’s more to encourage more applications through. If it’s a hard requirement, they don’t know how many potential candidates aren’t submitting. Now they can see a greater range of applicants and still chose how selective they want to be.

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Delta uses a point system when evaluating applications, resumes, psych evals, and how well you do in the interview. As Chris pointed out, most pilots have a degree. So regardless of the adjustment, everyone that applies is still competing against one another. I remain hesitant to suggest that a change like this implies a major attitude adjustment towards the degree debate.


One thing to note about this is if you weren’t to get a degree, and for some reason lost your medical, you’d have zero backup plan.

Food for thought.


This is exciting for me - I have over 20 years of executive level business leadership experience and I hope they will consider that. I was able to move up quickly in a company out of high school and make an amazing salary that made me think I’d never want to obtain a degree. I have 70 credits through Embry Riddle and will go back and finish if need be, but if I can without spending the extra money I certainly will try!

Person specific and not 100% true, I can always go back to my prior career, I would prefer not to however :smile:

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I believe Ben intended that statement more for the 18 year old that is deciding how to proceed.



I’d be more excited about the fact you’ve got 70 credits with Riddle and they’ll give you approx another 30 for your licenses and ratings. One more semester and you’ve got the degree.

Remember changed it from “required” to “preferred”. You’ll still take a back seat to those with if you don’t.


Understandable and I agree - on the off chance there are any other old people on here like me I wanted to share my take

It’s difficult for me to understand why a degree is such a big box to check. How is a person with just any degree, like gender studies or even something along the lines of a bio degree so much more qualified in aviation? If they are looking for commitment, why is excelling and holding a job within a company or corporation like the person above less valuable? Work experience should also be very important.


I cannot speak for the airlines, but my opinion on the matter is as follows:

The major airlines in particular are looking for people that they can trust with a $250 million dollar airplane and several hundred million more in potential liabilities. They also want somebody who is well rounded and can represent their airline well. Like it or not, history has shown the airlines that those who have degrees know how to be good students, study and master a vast array of topics. These are traits that are also important as a pilot as we are constantly learning and applying new techniques.

Of course work experience is important, but one must remember that pilots with degrees also have work experience. A degree is an easy way for a major airline to cut through thousands of applications and see those who are proven learners. One must ask when looking at a candidate without a degree why they do not have one. Of course there are always financial reasons, but in this world of FAFSA subsidized and unsubsidized loans, those arguments began to fall by the wayside.

I for one hope that the degree requirement, whether explicitly stated or not, continues to remain in place for the legacy, major airlines. One of the reasons that we are able to push for the compensation that we do get (easily over $300,000 for a Captain) is that we are a professional, college educated workforce. If the industry were to embrace not having a degree requirement, this would in many ways turn us into a blue collar trade and I suspect that the compensation would fall accordingly.

While it might seem like an unnecessary barrier for those on the other end of this discussion, in reality having a degree requirement helps protect the professionalism and stature of the work force, which in turn protects compensation.


Vinny the short answer is it doesn’t. Gen Chuck Yeager, arguably one of the greatest pilots in history never went to college and had no degree.

That said Chris laid out the rationale the airlines use very well and I agree with all he said. Further the difference between higher education and long term employment is the fact that education is voluntary and actually costs you money, where employment pays you. Well holding down a steady job most definitely requires commitment, you’re being compensated for that commitment which makes it different.

Finally the subject has and will continue to be debated but the reality is an employer or industry can set a level of standards and that’s well within their rights. Right or wrong, for now at least, that’s the price of admission and maybe that’s the point. Maybe they simply want to see how bad you want it and how hard you’re willing to work to get there.