How my pre-arrival expectations of ATP differ from the reality

I initially posted a thread inspired by my nerves ten days prior to my ATP start date (Now it’s my turn to be nervous), and now that I’ve started, I thought I’d share what it is really like here. This may seem like a lot, but I’ve made a list of things I wish I knew (or knew more) about before arriving.

First, almost no one takes the written tests ahead of time. This forum led me to believe that it was imperative that I take all the written tests before arriving, and since I did not do so, I was extremely nervous immediately before arriving. Potential students relax–it is not at all necessary to take any written exams prior to arriving. Instructors and students alike did not take any writtens prior to arrival. Some people say they worked full-time to save and make up for loss of income, some people had no idea they could take them ahead of time, and a few people cited ATP as the source telling them taking them early was unnecessary. Some of the instructors went through the program when it was six months, and still had plenty of time to study and take the writtens during the program. Like ATP told me when I secured enrollment, the tests, and plenty of time to study for them, are built into the program.

HAVING SAID THAT, potential students be smart: taking the first written test for private pilot is extremely easy to prepare for ahead of time. King Schools provides an awesome test prep course which is built into the cost of the program, and while John and Martha King can be a little goofy at times trying to keep you interested in the material, they certainly get the job done. ATP only requires you complete about half the software prior to arrival, but you might as well go all the way through it if you have the time because it is pretty good prep for the private written. Furthermore, available at no cost is a Sporty’s Pilot Training ( which is highly recommended to prepare for the private written. Although there is no immediate benefit, and taking the tests ahead of time DOES NOT put you ahead of schedule, but if you have the time you might as well take them. One of the instructors put it very well: studying for and taking the written tests is part of the program not because you need the knowledge right then, but because you have to check that box. Your test results are good for two years, which means you have up to two years from your test date to pass the associated check ride without having to test again. No matter when you test, you will still have to study and review that material long after you test because it will be necessary for the associated flights, other lessons, and for the rest of your career.

Second, nine months is a great goal for length of program, but tons of other factors make the program longer. For the most part, weather is the largest deterrent. One of our instructors came from the Tacoma center and said due to weather there, many of those students take almost a year to make it through. Here in Denver, weather is not as large of an obstacle, but we have many students that have failed to study or adequately prepare for check rides and repeatedly busted check rides, and they are taking longer than nine months because they failed to dedicate themselves. One student that just finished did so in eleven months. In some parts of the country, examiner availability is a deterrent, but as you’re approaching check ride readiness, your training center coordinator might be able to arrange for you to be exported to another part of the country to check ride in order to avoid falling behind.

The program is primarily self-study, but not because it has to be. First, there was the online lesson required before you can go on your intro flight. This lesson is very typical of many ATP-designed lessons that are assigned to you after enrollment, and I was very relieved to see I had not been misled there. Upon enrolling, many more lessons became on the ATP website, which coordinate with the flights and lessons throughout the program. While ATP only required about half of the King’s course prior to arrival, my instructor expected it to be complete along with all of the online modules. My instructor started the program when it was still six months, and the self-study bar was much more accelerated. The online modules I have available to me are not very much like the ones he did when he was a student, but I can see the old modules and I can do them if I would like.

Also upon securing enrollment, a much larger set of resources, study material, and program information is made available for you. The day I enrolled, every single lesson, check ride, evaluation flight, and expectation that can be tied to a date was. I know it’s a basic template for the entire duration of the program simply laid on top of my personal timeline, but it outlined expectations for progress over the next nine months. I know that if I stay on track I will complete the program on August 30, 2019, and that was incredibly relieving. I initially thought there was a great lack of information available before enrollment, and that lack of information almost made me choose another flight school entirely, but now I can see that I’m in good hands.

ATP’s entire public-facing website sounds like one big sales pitch, and this forum wasn’t much different. There are some flight instructors that don’t really endorse ATP’s approach or methods and they don’t usually abide by the dress code, even though they were students in this exact same program. While those instructors exist, getting to know someone who drinks the kool-aid and buys into the ATP approach does makes a huge difference. Christine, one of our lead instructors, very much believes in this program and is committed to making sure the students here in Denver receive what ATP promised.

I have no question, I just wanted to share a few things I’ve learned since starting, hoping my perspective might help potential students have a more accurate idea of what they might encounter.



Thanks for taking the time to offer your impressions. A few things though. First AGAIN let’s talk about the writtens. You say almost nobody takes them prior. You then say (correctly) the writtens are simply a “box to be checked” AND there are students here for over the 9mos mostly due to “fail to study or adequately prepare and repeated checkride busts”. Well that sounds like a REALLY good argument to take them prior no?

I’m sorry ATP choses to not supply their entire curriculum prior to enrollment. I don’t know any institutions that do? Glad you’re more comfy now.

As for this forum being one big sales pitch I vehemently disagree. Maybe we are all drinking the Kool Aid but that’s all. We all had a very positive experience and I for one do not believe I’d have been as successful as I am without ATP. As for the non-Kool Aid drinkers I blame the students. Someone once said the definition of character is doing the right thing when nobody is watching. The instructors in question clearly have none and those who let them skate through are no better. The good news is these are the same pilots who wear their North Face jackets, backpacks, shades and earbuds rockin’ through the terminal and then wonder why they’re not getting picked up by a Major.



Your post reads like you were misinformed about the program. I remember your first post. You felt like you were late to the party because you didn’t realize that completing the written tests ahead of time was an option and you didn’t have enough time to take any before your start date. I’m glad your nerves have been put at ease now that you’ve discovered that the majority of students don’t take advantage of this, but just to clarify, yes, we do advocate taking the writtens ahead of time. However, I’m always careful to emphasize that it’s not mandatory. People come onto this forum to receive advice about how they can get ahead. So, we tell them to take the tests. Your interpretation of that somehow lead you to believe that because you hadn’t, you were immediately behind. Not true, and I’m glad you realize that now, but you had nothing to be nervous about in the first place.

ATP is well aware of the examiner shortage. They are doing their best to adapt. They started by extending the program by three months. Then, they removed the PMEL rating from the syllabus. Their latest adjustment utilizes the new TAA approval, which allows the initial CPL to be conducted in a single engine that meets the TAA requirement instead of the complex multi engine aircraft, saving the student time and money and increases their chances of passing since they will already be very familiar with the single engine aircraft. All of the other factors that cause students to finish behind schedule are out of ATP’s control and shouldn’t be used to criticize ATP’s trusted and proven program.

As for the instructors that you mentioned that aren’t complying with ATP’s policies and procedures, their behavior should be noted to the training center supervisor or lead instructor and something should be done about it. I’m talking about disciplinary action or removal. That kind of behavior has never been tolerated.

Lastly, the program is primarily self-study and it is because it has to be. I’ve seen what happens to students that think that they don’t have to take initiative or responsibility. They’re the first to blame others as to why they were not successful.


I completed the writtens in advance (every one of them) and am thrilled that I did. I could not care less what everybody else at the training center did or did not do. Because you did not complete them, you will end up carving out time from your schedule to study…and this will be a pain and may set you back. Of course other students who didn’t complete the writtens in advance are going to argue in favor of the approach THEY used. It takes a mature person to admit there was a better way…

I have had to dedicate ZERO time to study for the written tests since I started in August and I am 40 days ahead of schedule. Another advantage, because I complete every CFI written, I have a CFI class date and I haven’t even completed my first commercial checkride yet. What does that mean? I secured a class seat at the CFI academy while my peers, who are still working on the CAX test, haven’t even started thinking about the academy and may fall behind because of it. Think about how much of an advantage that provides me.

Getting the writtens done in advance is easy if you have a couple months to study. If you don’t, not having every test done isn’t going to ruin your life or your experience but it will require more time and effort during an already compressed training timeline.

Don’t follow the pack,



Trey, What did you mainly use to study for all the writtens before arriving? I start first thing in January with private pilot credit, and would really like to at least have my Inst. written over with.

Yes that’s exactly what I’m saying: although students are explicitly told they are not behind if they do not take the exams ahead of arrival, if you have to wait more than a month between enrolling and starting there is no good reason not to take them. When I was told they were built into the program, I thought that meant that they were strategically placed so the training and lessons would be beneficial for the exam. Now that I’m here, I’ve realized that is not the case. No one cares when you take the exams as long as you pass them before your check ride.

You’re right that hardly any flight schools publish their curriculum for the public, but when I was choosing a school for undergrad, many post-secondary educational institutions DO post their degrees, qualifications, and requirements online. Even when I taught at a post-secondary institution, we were constantly compared to what was posted online, because they tried very hard to make sure students knew what classes and options they could expect and all of the instructors were held to that standard.

I agree that the people who have come onto this forum during and after the program are the kool-aid drinkers, and I believe these kool-aid drinking graduates are exactly what can make my experience at ATP worthwhile.

Tory, you’re absolutely right, and that’s exactly why I wanted to return to the forum to clarify. I had been misled about the program and what to expect. While all of that wasn’t bad, that is a large reason I was so worried. You can see that Trey took his writtens and sees it as a huge advantage, but he also clearly says it may put me behind. This is not the case with many students here. Hardly anyone is falling behind because they are trying to study but simply aren’t ready in time; there is plenty of time to study.

Which reminds me: most students are only required to be at the training center about an hour or two each day. I know I saw this somewhere else on this forum, but I wanted to reiterate it. Many students do not stay at the training center outside of the required time, and these are the students are not on track or ready to move ahead. There may be a few students who study well at home or Starbucks, but the students who study at the training center, attend group ground lessons, and spend more time immersed in the material are the ones who are successful and on track. If you treat this like an eight-hour workday, you will do just fine.

My primary post here isn’t to address ATP’s problems, but to lay out my experience so others can have a more accurate idea than I had. Since ATP advertises and expects to get students through in nine months, it is very important that they only hire instructors that succeeded in the program and drink the kool-aid. It is quite apparent that a good amount of the students having trouble should not expect instructing jobs with ATP because they’ve barely performed well enough in the program to stay in the first place.

Just piggybacking and clarifying a bit here… and maybe doing a bit of rambling:

In your initial post above, you made a comment to potential students that they should relax (primarily in regards to writtens). I think you’ll find that the individuals operating with a sense of urgency (in general) are the ones who are finishing early and are most successful. The ones looking for excuses to relax are the ones who are behind. They also are the ones who don’t care that they’re behind.

During my 6 months in Denver, I can vividly remember no fewer than 5 instances of students being up against an impending checkride, and instead of spending that precious time studying systems, airspace, etc… they were stuck studying Sheppard Air - and freaking out because they only had (fill in the blank amount of time) left before their checkride. I also found the majority of people who struggled with this were college aged dudes who were treating ATP as a 9 month (turned 12, 14, 16+ month) college re-do. The 30 year olds with families at home who were also working 25-35 hours a week at nights and on weekends didn’t seem to have a problem. Weird how that works.

Generally speaking, I’ve found the folks in the program (students AND instructors) who complain most about ATP have tended to also be the lazy ones. Super smart (or connected) people who do just enough to get by and are happy with that, and don’t enjoy being pushed to get better. My favorites are the “My Dad/uncle/brother is a captain at (fill in the blank)” guys.

Average people don’t like high achievers, and high achievers don’t like average people. ATP isn’t for everyone.


@n567jw Preach it, brother! Your observations are precisely on point. I couldn’t have said it better.

Jordan, congratulations on starting this exciting stage in your life! I’m looking forward to seeing how and if your observations will differ 1-2 months into the program from your initial impressions.


I want to thank the OP for their candidness - thank you for sharing your experience. I’ll add one more thing that I found going through the ATP program (I already had my private when I arrived). I completed my instrument and commercial writtens well in advance of when they were needed (IRA and CFII before I arrived, CAX immediately after I arrived). I got through the instrument phase well ahead of schedule (I believe 3 weeks ahead or something like that).

The instrument material was fresh enough in my head that I did not have to re-learn any of it as I was going through that portion of the program. The commercial, however, was a different animal. For me, enough time had passed that I had to re-learn some material. It came back quicker than if I was relearning it from scratch, of course. But I had to spend time re-learning it. In my particular case, I found that I had plenty of down-time to have completed the CAX closer to when it was actually needed. That would have saved me time re-learning material.

Taking what happened with my CAX written, I completed my CFI writtens (IRA and FOI) closer to my CFI academy. For me - that helped tremendously. The material was fresh, no-relearning required.

Just another way to think about it…As with everything — your mileage may vary!!

I wish the best to everyone in your flying careers! Safe flying!


I get that this approach worked for you, but the vast majority of students benefit from completing the writtens ahead of time.


Thanks, Chris. I’m just offering an alternative way to think about it. Not saying any particular way is right or wrong. I can only speak for my location where the vast majority of the students there during my time did not have the written exams complete before they arrived. As you (and I) both learned in the CFI FOI course, everyone learns and retains in different ways.

Just wanted to share what worked for me as others consider the approach that will work best for them.

Out of curiosity, does ATP have data on the percentage of students that are arriving/have arrived with all writtens complete? They used to reimburse students for their Foreflight subscription if they had up through CAX done so I would think that data would be available somewhere. That would be a very interesting piece of data for potential students to look at and consider if it’s available.

Best wishes to everyone! Safe flying!


While I feel we’ve beaten this subject to death, you’re literally the first person in over a decade I’ve ever heard wish they hadn’t completed a written. While I have no idea how many students do or not AND we’ve clearly established that it’s not required, I can tell you with great confidence that those who have overwhelmingly are glad they did.


I do not believe that ATP tracks who completes their writtens ahead of time and who does not.


One month in, I thought I’d follow up again.

I’ve observed many other students and instructors, and after a short chat with our lead instructors, I’ve realized my experience so far has had a few irregularities. For the written exams, I had anticipated the subject material to coordinate with the check ride, or even with the flight lessons, but the truth that I’m having a hard time swallowing is that no one cares if you master the material. Not just ATP, but students from other flight schools and DPEs say the same thing: you can simply memorize the test. While the private exam requires a better understanding of flight and the systems and calculations required, the other exams can be passed by memorizing the answers. I have a formal background of secondary and post-secondary instruction, so this was very different than what I had experienced in the past. Point: Of course I agree that you should take the writtens ahead of arrival because no one cares if you know the material or not.

A few other students had recommended purchasing the $9.99 sporty’s test prep app ( Although I initially didn’t want to spend money when I was being provided with similar materials for free, I found the $9.99 very worth the money and would highly recommend it for preparing for the private written. Once you take the private written, ATP includes Sheppard Air test prep in your tuition, and that software is very helpful for the other written exams. Again, go ahead and take the exams ahead because no one cares if you actually master the material. However, when you get to your check rides, your DPE knows what you did not get correct on the written and will absolutely ask you about them. Study up, because as much as no one wants to bust any check ride, it really sucks hard if you bust during the oral for not re-studying what you got wrong.

I fully anticipate completing the program in nine months, but primarily because my instructor flies with each of his students every day. While that means I’m flying on time, that also means none of his students are getting the expected ground lessons. This is where I will double-down on something I said earlier: this program does not need to be self-study, and ATP knows that. Every single ATP-provided module lesson plan says it can be instructor-led or self-study. ATP also pays instructors a ground-guarantee because they are expected to give one hour of ground instruction for every hour of flight. Almost every instructor has four or more students, and if they’re flying or sim-ing every student once a day, they’re already putting in a long 10+ hour day and don’t have much other time for ground instruction. Many students do just fine with this, but it doesn’t work for every student. Some students ask for more ground instruction, and get exactly what they ask for, but their flight time suffers. Lesson I learned: you have to study a lot and study groups help, but that doesn’t mean your instructor doesn’t have to do their job. Some students go through the entire program with less than ten hours of ground instruction, and that means their instructor isn’t performing. ATP simply expects too much work from their instructors and pays them very very little (they have no incentive to do better).

The program has changed a ton since most of our mentors have gone through the program, and has even confined to change the past two years since most of the current instructors were students. It will continue to evolve, and right now many students are in an awkward transition because we are all on different programs. I believe this caused 1) the misconceptions I had about the program ahead of time, and 2) the inconsistency I’ve experienced from my instructor. I try to conjure a solution when I encounter a problem, so I think more current instructors and students contributing to this forum would produce a more accurate picture (and probably help increase enrollment shrug emoji). I took Tory’s advice and spoke with my lead instructors and got wonderful feedback (they didn’t get that job on accident), and I immediately received better instruction because of it. There is no such thing as too much constructive feedback.

I’ve also continued to work weekends, and could probably work nights too, but it is not ideal. The most successful and well-prepared students and the best instructors are the ones who treat this as an eight to ten hour workday six days a week, and stay here even when not necessary. My nights/weekend gig works for me because I am serving and bartending and have amazing flexibility at work, but for most people I’d suggest quitting your day job–you’ll appreciate relaxing when you’re not at ATP.

Overall, I think I’ve settled in and I’m very glad I chose ATP. I’ve started meeting people and have gotten into a groove when to study where (the Denver center is pretty spread out and people can be all over). Everything is continuing to get better, and that’s a large part of why I’m happy now.


Glad you’re settling in and are happy. I completely agree the instructors should be doing their share of ground and if YOUR instructor simply wants to fly, build his time fast and get out, he’s not doing his job. Period. As for no incentive to do better I couldn’t disagree more. We’re supposed to be professionals. They signed up for the job and all that comes with it. When they were offered the position did they say “well the pay is lousy so I’m not doing any ground?”. If the owner of ATP flew in and asked do you think he’d say “you’re not paying me enough so I’m not doing ground”. I’m thinking not. If they can do better elsewhere than they should go elsewhere but you don’t do half a job. Airline pilots only get paid when the door is closed on the plane but there’s a ton of work that needs to be done prior to the flight. Will they ignore that as well? In truth they probably will and that again is why Regional busts and firings are on the climb. As for you working weekends you know our feelings. While I appreciate you’re settling in the training doesn’t get easier, it gets harder and I believe? you’ll find working to be a greater challenge as you progress.

Keep up the good work and thanks for the update. I won’t say I told you so about the writtens but… :wink:



I’m glad to hear that you are now receiving an appropriate level of instruction. CFIs are in no way exempt from giving their students ground. Thank you for sharing your experience.



Thank you for posting your experience. If you have problems along the way with the quality of instruction you are receiving, continue to speak up.

Working weekends might work for you now, but the program will only get harder. I recommend re-considering that decision.


FWIW our location is a bit different in that they offer students to give ground school lessons on systems, weather, etc, which gives the student the learning opportunity of teaching the material and understanding it. The instructors chime in on things that weren’t explained thoroughly, but it’s mainly the student giving the ground. This is especially helpful since we will have a lot of teaching moments on our MEI, and CFI/I rides. They also give opportunities for CFI graduate students awaiting checkrides to give ground school lessons as well. Yes, there have been instructor-given grounds, but you are there to become a CFI. I’m awaiting my CFI school start date in January and still believe that taking a DIY/student teaching student approach will be helpful. I came in with my PPC so I have a different view.

I really like that; it sounds really interesting. I bet it helps students get comfortable and/or better prepared for CFI.