Aviation is a tough industry to break into. Schooling is expensive, and the field is tight with professional pilots picking up prime positions at top aviation companies. But if the desire for flying for a living is strong, students can propel themselves into lucrative positions and call the skies their office.

There are many opportunities within the aviation field, from management to mechanics. The right aviation school can open doors in lucrative aviation-related fields, from research to practical design applications.

Pros and Cons of Pilot Colleges

Prospective pilots often wonder if attending an expensive school to get an aviation-related degree is worth the time and money. A top aviation school provides extensive pilot training as well as a four-year degree to the student. They can then propel their career into many directions with that degree in hand.

Students don’t necessarily have to attend aviation school to become a professional pilot. Taking classes and putting in hours flying at a local community airport can also help a student enter the aviation field. It’s less expensive than attending a school. However, an accredited aviation school can present job and networking possibilities as the student navigates an environment thick with air travel enthusiasts.

Cost of Aviation University

Aviation is an expensive hobby. Attending a quality program at an aviation school is an expensive endeavor. The tuition at flight schools and pilot colleges around the country range from $30,000 a year to well over $100,000.

The annual tuition doesn’t always include the cost of flying. Students can rack up bills in rental equipment, fuel purchases and other incidentals as they traverse this tough school plan.

Commercial pilots tend to make approximately $30,000 in their first year after graduation. Pilots who are prepared through college courses to jump into private flight instruction or piloting can make much more.

Top Aviation Colleges

What makes a college one of the best for aviation? Aside from access to airplanes and air time, an aviation school offers:

  • Top-notch instructors 
  • High standards that they are required to keep their accreditation
  • State-of-the art equipment
  • Easy access to air time and airplanes for students to gain needed hours in the sky

Colleges with aviation programs are plentiful. Choosing one of the top aviation colleges can prepare a pilot for flying different types of commercial and private machines.

Types of Aviation Schools

There are many different types of aviation programs. Professional flight management can prepare a student to walk into a lucrative professional pilot position with an international aircraft carrier. The classes focus on the business of being a pilot, flight instruments, difficult and dangerous weather conditions as well as how to fly small and large air craft.

An airframe and power plant technology degree focuses on the mechanics of the aircraft industry. For this type of degree, the mechanic isn’t always necessarily required to know how to fly that particular plane. However, a good aviation mechanic will understand how the plane handles under any situation high above the tarmac.

Other degree programs include avionics engineering, air traffic management, aeronautical technology, flight dispatch and scheduling, aerospace administration and aviation computer science.

Purdue Polytechnic School of Aviation and Transportation and Technology

If the sky isn’t the limit but the moon may be, a degree from this university may launch you into a stellar space career. Called the “Cradle of Astronauts,” Purdue University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs. This creates a strong community of educated aviators in pursuit of the same goals.

The Purdue School of Aviation offers degrees in cutting edge areas, from biofuels testing to confronting gender issues in aviation. Other aviation degrees include crew management, professional flight and high-performance turbine operating. The College of Technology has the following aviation-related majors:

  • Aeronautical Engineering Technology
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Aviation Management
  • Professional Flight Technology

It also offers a master of science in aviation and aerospace management. Tuition can range from as little as $10,000 for residents of Indiana to higher than $30,000 for out-of-state undergraduates. The aviation school tuition is considerably higher when flight fees and lab costs are rolled into the tuition.

University of North Dakota

No matter what you plan to major in, this aviation institution has you covered. The John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences in Grand Forks, North Dakota, has a wide variety of aerospace-related programs. From the politics of international flight to managing airports, this highly-regarded aviation school has top flight instructors and faculty that teach a host of courses, including:

  • Commercial Aviation of fixed wing and rotorcraft
  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Airport Management
  • Computer Science
  • Space Studies
  • Atmospheric Sciences
  • Earth System Science and Policy

Students are offered a comprehensive teaching model with practical training combined with real-world experience.

Ohio State University Center for Aviation Studies

Since 1917, Ohio State University has prepared pilots for the skies. The program is strong on hands-on experiences and networking with aviation experts through internships and research projects. It consistently ranks as one of the top three flight schools in the country. The school’s focus is on teaching and sciences.

The college offers bachelor’s degrees in Aviation and Airway Management and Operations and in General Aeronautics, Aviation, Aerospace Science and Technology.

The OSU aviation school is expensive, with the annual tuition for the basic program costing around $30,000. Tuition is about $50,000 annually to complete the professional pilot program with the multi-engine option. This includes flight training and laboratory costs.

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University

Easily one of the more diverse and specialized aviation schools, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University offers a wealth of opportunities for future aviation experts. Employers from a wide variety of industries seek out graduates from this top-tier flight school.

Located in sunny Daytona Beach, potential pilots can submerse themselves in all aspects of aviation from experienced faculty, including:

  • Intelligence Operations
  • Pre-med Courses
  • Aviation Engineering
  • Business and Management

Students learn through classwork and simulations. There are more than 500 aviation course options, which can be demanding, and the classes and labs are challenging. Embry has a graduation rate of approximately 55 percent.

Hampton University Aviation School

This historic school offers a bachelor of science in aviation management and airport administration. The 122-credit aviation program combines liberal arts with aviation classes. The courses include:

  • Aviation Foundations
  • Airport Systems
  • Weather and Climate
  • Flight Safety
  • Airport Operations
  • Aviation History
  • Homeland Security

Entering students must complete a one-credit, pass-or-fail aviation seminar each semester for the first six semesters. During their final semester, aviation students must complete a three-credit practicum.

San Jose State University

This is consistently rated as one of the best pilot colleges in the United States. It offers an abundance of research opportunities. The College of Engineering at San Jose State offers a Department of Aviation and Technology degree with a solid reputation for producing the best in aviation business, technical and piloting. It offers two bachelor’s programs: a bachelor of science in industrial technology and a bachelor of science in aviation.

Flight program students are given the freedom to select their own flight school to earn three FAA pilot ratings.

LeTourneau University

If you prefer to get a degree in aviation online, LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, is heralded for its precise and thorough online degree program.

The school offers degrees in aviation science and aviation management. The accelerated aviation programs offered at this esteemed college require 120 credit hours with 42 to 48 of those hours in the area of the student’s chosen major.

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About the Author

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.