Should I go to University or not?
Straight into flight training or get a degree first?
Should I complete a degree if I want to become a commercial pilot?
Whilst holding a degree was common place amongst airline pilots in the past, it is becoming more and more common to see cadets going straight from A-Levels into flight training. With the recent increase in tuition fees it seems this trend will further increase in the coming years.
There are arguments for both obtaining and not obtaining a degree before embarking on flight training. The case for not going to University has been strengthen by the recent rise in tuition fees. A typical three year degree may now cost over £50,000 on fees alone. Once accommodation and living costs are added onto this figure, very large debts are becoming common place among graduates. When the cheapest method of modular flight training is added to this, cadets will find themselves in around £150,000 of debt before they have even been issued with a licence, and all this of course is with no guarantee of a job. As a degree is no longer a requirement for most European airlines, for many people it would seem pointless to accumulate so much debt for something that is not necessarily going to increase their chances of getting that first flying job, why not save money and go straight into commercial flight training?
There is however, an equally compelling argument for obtaining a degree. Unfortunately one of the risks of being a pilot is that we can lose our class one medical and therefore licence privileges at anytime. The airline industry is also notoriously volatile and cyclic. Unfortunately there are always casualties with economic hardship, for example, XL Airways, Fly Globespan, Silverjet and more recently Spanair, Malev and BMI, resulting in the loss of hundreds of pilot jobs, saturating an already slow pilot employment market. It can be years until one finds employment on the flight deck again. If you find yourself in such a position, like so many colleagues in the past have, it is vitally important to have a backup plan. To be able to go directly into employment that has reasonably comparable levels of remuneration to that of airline pilots, you more often than not need to hold a degree.
Choosing which degree is not easy. There are now a number of degrees being offered by universities specific to aviation and airline pilot training. A number of people in the industry have graduated from the first of now many degree courses in the UK to offer such program.
Most say they thoroughly enjoyed the course and believe it was also looked upon favorably by the airlines with whom they have attended selection; however there is a counter argument to enrolling on one of these programs. If you are unlucky enough to be made redundant, or even worse loose your medical permanently, it is desirable to have a backup plan that is completely unrelated to the aviation industry, by holding a respected degree in a core academic subject. This will provide the foundations to build a career in another field should the worst happen. Holding a degree specific to aviation is somewhat limiting when job hunting!
It is worth noting that while many European airlines do not require a degree, it is still a mandatory requirement for many foreign airlines, particularly in the United States, the Far East and Asia.
The choice is a difficult one, and there is no right or wrong decision, it is completely dependent on individual circumstances.