Real Answers from Real Pilots

Major airline without degree?

Is there a way to get into a major airline without the four year degree in college? Thank you.

Welcome back, Yair!

While it is possible, the consensus among my peers and colleagues in the industry is that by foregoing a four-year degree you are really limiting your options.

The four-year degree requirement is a dynamic hiring minimum. When the demand for pilots goes up, the four year degree requirement becomes more relaxed. When the demand for pilots goes down, the requirement comes back.

The other reality to consider is that most pilots have a four year degree. So regardless of whether or not an airline requires a degree you will be most likely competing against other applicants that have a degree. And if an airline has to make a decision between you and one other candidate, if the other candidate has a degree then they may choose that candidate over you even if both of you have the exact same flight experience.

All that aside, every regional airline does not require a degree. Nor do most smaller major airlines and LCC airlines.

So, the safest and smartest thing to do is to earn your four year degree. It’s one of those things that may come in handy. You need to ask yourself would you rather have one and not need it? Or not have one and wish you did? Aviation is a very expensive career. It would really be a shame if the one thing that stands in your way of reaching your highest potential in this career is a four year degree.

Tory

Yair,

Sure it is! It’s also possible to spend a dollar on a lottery ticket and be set for life. Work as a receptionist at Motown, get called in to sing on a demo and become a star. Throw a basketball from half court and get it in the hoop, etc etc etc. There are many things that are possible but I sure wouldn’t want to bet my career on what’s possible.

What you do want is to be as competitive as possible, be as good a candidate as possible, and increase your odds of getting hired as much as possible. And that without question means getting a degree.

While yes I play the lottery whenever I can, it’s not my retirement plan.

Adam

Yair,

Your chances of getting to a major without a four year degree are incredibly slim. In fact, I do not know a single pilot that has done it. The big exception right now is to partake in one of the flow throughs to American Airlines, but that is putting your career 100% in the future of AA and very much limiting your career options.

Chris

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Yair,
I don’t think I need to go in to great detail here but simply to add to the point. Possible? Yes. Do we recommend you banking on that, absolutely not. All four mentors here telling you it’s not wise, is a pretty accurate representation if you asked the same question to any airline pilot you know. Or worse, any airline recruiter, you will get the same answer. I’d sure hate to spent a ton of money and time getting my flight training completed and on to a regional airline just to find out that’s the end of the road for my career…
-Hannah

Hi everybody and thank you for your helpful answers. I see that Tory mention that the smaller and regional airlines do not require a degree. If I have enough hours, but the other candidate is fresh out of school, yet has a degree, who has the better chance?

Yair,

At the regional level you would both have the same chance, all else being equal.

Getting hired at a major is a whole different story. This is where your interview skills really come into play. At the major level you will be competing against other experienced pilots. It’s safe to say that if you get invited for an interview, the airline wants to hire you, but it’s on you to prove to them that you truly deserve the job. There are several airline-specific interview prep companies that can help you prepare for what to expect. It’s a good idea to invest in the interview prep class to maximize your chances of success.

Tory

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Thank you, but I think you misunderstood. I mean, let’s say I am trying to get hired by a major airline. Let’s say I have 3000 flight hours from flying regional, but no degree. Let’s say that there is another pilot trying to get hired by a major airline, and he has the minimum 1500 hours, with a degree. Who has the better chance of getting hired?

Yair,

This is really simple. One of the questions on the application is “do you have a 4yr degree?”. The answer is either yes or no. If it’s no you application goes into the no pile which may not ever see the light of day.

In your scenario you could have 10,000hrs, the pilot with the degree will get the job before you do every time which is why you’re still at a Regional with 10,000hrs.

Adam

I understood your question. We were talking about smaller major airlines and LCC airlines. Neither require degrees at the moment. So you’d both have the same chance, but you need to realize that a lot more goes into account when selecting an applicant for a position. If an airline requires a degree you either have one or you don’t.

If you try to get hired by one of the big 3 (American, United or Delta) this is a different ballgame. These airlines are much more competitive. If you didn’t have a degree your chances become less likely.

Tory

Hello everyone, its clear the consensus is that its better to have the four year degree. I would like to hear everyone’s opinion on its necessity if you have a non aviation military background. I retired from the marines 2 years ago and im just turning 27 and I’m looking to get into aviation as soon as possible to start building seniority so my question is, Is it better to add an additional two years and get my degree or will my military background get around the degree requirements in this age of pilot shortages.

Tom,

While the regionals have a pilot shortage, the majors have no issues hiring pilots. Military experience is great and is certainly a nice thing to have on a resume, but it is not a substitute for college. Keep in mind that when applying to the majors, you will be competing not just against civilians with college degrees, but prior military officers, many who were aircraft commanders.

The good news is that you will have plenty of time to work on a degree while at the regionals and there are many colleges that will give you credit for both flight training and military experience.

Chris

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Thanks you very much for the insight it was very helpful. So you would recommend getting into the regionals and then getting my degree while in the regionals as opposed to getting it now and pushing back my training by two years?

Tom,

At 27 and already being out of school, provided you have the discipline to return to school later and finish up. I’d start flight training ASAP.

Also just to second Chris, while we all appreciate and respect your service, the question on the application is simple, “do you have a 4 year COLLEGE degree?”. If the answer is no there’s no years of service that will get your application out of the “no degree” pile.

Adam

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Thank you for all the information its a lot to think about and plan out what will work best for me. I appreciate the quick responses and your insight

What do you guys think of a masters degree? I already have a bachelors so maybe getting the masters will bump me up in the major airlines.

Jacob,

This question comes up daily and it really isn’t that complicated. The Majors want well trained experienced pilots who meet their requirements and have a 4YR BACHELORS DEGREE. Period. They don’t care about the field of study. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Not a Masters
Not a PHD
Not 2, 2yr Associate Degrees
Not 4yr Military Service
Not 2yrs Military Service and an Associates Degree
Not “I went to college for 5yrs but never got a degree”
Not a Nobel Prize
Not “I was the Valedictorian at my HS and could’ve went to any college I wanted but didn’t”
Not “I promise to get my degree after I’m hired by the Major so that’s ok right?”
Not “I was homeschooled and my mom said I’ve got more knowledge than most college students”
Not “you know Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg never graduated so why should I?”

Make sense? :wink:

Adam

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Tom,
I agree, you should get started on training ASAP granted you have the ability to return to school once at a regional. That would provide you the best possible seniority number while also giving you time to get the degree completed. If you wait and complete your degree, your missing out on hundreds of seniority numbers which can make a huge difference for the success of your career.
-Hannah

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Jacob,
I think @Adam hammered the point haha… the airlines only care to see a 4 year college degree. No less… no more. It would be wasted time and money for them to literally skim over it.
-Hannah

If it saves me time and money im all for it haha. I guess that one less thing to worry about.

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