What subjects should I study at school to become an airline pilot ?
What subjects should you study at school to become a pilot?
In order to become a commercial airline pilot, just about all airlines require you to have at least 5 GCSE’s that are grades A – C (or equivalent) including Maths, English and Science. At school, try and work hard in all subjects but in particular these three core areas. These are the very minimum qualifications that you should look to achieve.
Other than the core areas of Maths, Science and English, your choice of subjects at secondary education level doesn’t matter too much. Geography is likely to be a good choice for obvious reasons, but even subjects like music or art are likely to help you become well-rounded individual, something which the airlines are looking for.
Extra-Curricular Activity Ideas for Prospective Pilots
Whilst at secondary school or equivalent education, there a number of extracurricular activities that you can do which will help support development of the skills and attitude you need to become a pilot. It will also help to ensure that your CV stands out above the competition. Airline recruiters like to see someone who has actively been involved in activities above and beyond just simply turning up at school. These include:
Air Training Corps (Air Cadets) / Army / Navy Cadets – Joining your local Air Training Corps (ATC) squadron or other armed forces cadets is a big positive and you’ll find many pilots were once part of this organisation. It will help you to develop a skill set that is highly transferable to the role of commercial pilot, such as furthering your leadership, teamwork and communication skills. It will also give you the opportunity to have a go at flying for free to give you a taste of what flying a plane is really like.
Sports Teams – Get involved in a school or local sports team. This demonstrates the ability to work within a team and form social relationships, improving communication skills.
Duke of Edinburgh (DoE) Award – This covers a range of skills and attributes many of which are transferable to be successful in your flight training and flying career. Airline recruiters love it!
Scouts – a team-based organisation who take part in adventure exercises etc. You can join from a young age before transitioning to the Air Training Corps.
What should I study at A-Levels / Higher Education if I want to become a pilot?
Some airlines also require you to hold some A-Levels or a higher education equivalent. Regardless of which airline you are looking to apply to, we would recommend you complete your A-Levels, as most people who you are competing with for a position will hold such qualifications and you will be too young to apply for a cadet program on completion of your GCSEs. It also gives you the opportunity to build up some valuable life experience, such as having a part time job whilst studying.
We would suggest you choose some a couple of strong core subjects for your A-Levels / higher education, such as Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English and Geography. These subjects not only look good on paper, but will provide you with a sound theoretical foundation from which to go on and complete the theory side of your flight training, which is heavily science and maths based.
It’s fine to choose other subjects as well, airlines are seeking well rounded individuals, but a couple of core subjects is probably a good idea.
You should be looking to achieve a minimum of a grade C in all of your A-Level subjects.
During your A-Levels / higher education, try to keep involved in the extra-curricular activities as described above.
What Should I Study at University to Become a Pilot?
There are now lots of Aviation specific degree programs which incorporate commercial flight training so it is possible to obtain both a degree and commercial pilots’ licence at the same time.
However, whether to actually pursue this option is down to individual circumstances and the decision of whether or not to go to University is not an easy one. There are advantages and disadvantages to either option which are discussed on our dedicated page.
Ultimately you could start your very expensive flight training having already accrued £/€ 30,000 of debt if you live in a country where you pay to go to university. As pilots earn high salaries, you will almost certainly have to pay all of this debt back and it will be quite a chunk out of your payslip! Given you can start your flight training without a degree, is the extra debt and potential lost earnings worth it?
On the other side of the argument, if it all goes wrong, such as losing your pilot medical or get made redundant (due to something like the Covid-19 pandemic), if you’ve already got a degree at least you’ve got something to fall back on to support you getting a job outside of the aviation industry.
Our advice is that if you do choose to go to University, chose a subject that genuinely interests you as you are more likely to have a better experience and obtain a good classification. It might be beneficial to choose an aviation-based subject, but it isn’t essential. Airlines and flight training organisations would be happy to see a well recognised degree in a good subject on your CV, and perhaps consider one which gives you a fall-back career.