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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Justifying College

Recently someone commented on Linked In about why pilots didn't need a college degree, saying it didn't make them better pilots. That comment always comes from pilots who didn't attend college. But the reasons why an airline would want a college graduate are many.

Airlines Look For College Graduates Because:

When an airline employs a pilot, they have made a huge financial investment. It's extremely expensive to lose a pilot during training because the pilot didn't have the aptitude to get through the books and pass the tests. A college degree assures a higher chance of success.

Like "Bill Jacobs" said, "You can teach a monkey how to fly, but you can't teach it how to think." A college education provides the next level of assurance that our pilots know how to think.

A college degree shows the pilot has the commitment to follow through, despite the struggles. Those of us who have gone to college know how expensive and difficult it is to go to school, and fly too. If we can handle that, we can handle the struggles of junior pilot schedules.

When there is a surplus of pilots, it creates another benchmark to help with the hiring decision.

College also teaches you how to formulate thoughts as well as communication and decision making skills. These are all important captain skills.

Are there good pilots that haven't been to college? Of course! Absolutely!

But now, more than ever, in the world of computer operated airplanes a higher level of management and communication skills are essential, especially with this increased automation.

Sadly, stick and rudder skills are going wayside because they are not needed under normal operations... When operations become non-normal we'll see AF447 all over again. But that is another issue that must be dealt with. Training of a different kind is essential.

Honestly, if you had to hire a group of strangers... wouldn't you want the best you could hire overall? Does a lot of hours mean the best individual? Does sitting with the Autopilot on across the Atlantic for 5 years mean the best communication and piloting skills? Does flying a corporate jet one leg, the same leg, an hour a day... 15,000 times make 15,000 hours of experience quality? Is it better than a 500 hour military pilot?

The 1500 hour rule may have been arbitrary and a reaction to a problem the FAA didn't know how to fix. But experience is priceless. And college... that is completely understandable for so many reasons. If I had an airline, I would hire college graduates, who could fly. Of course nobody will be hired if they can't fly. But to have a solid education behind the candidate... that is essential for both the employer and pilot.

This post was from the employer perspective. Why this is a good idea from a pilot perspective is if the job fails you... you have a backup plan. 

Can you think of any reasons that you should get a degree, or not? Tomorrow, you must read Alex's words of wisdom on this career called aviation.

Tomorrow hear what a brilliant young man thinks about education.

Enjoy the Journey!

XOX Karlene

Flight For Safety: 24050 words 


  1. University is extremely important and I think the airlines should only hire those who have at least some college background. Thank you for bringing this point up. P's, while a high IQ is important AAA great EQ (common sense) is just as..

    1. Yes... we need classes in common sense. Can you teach it?

    2. Of course! Lesson number one will be on Etiquette towards other people.

  2. I have a masters in aeronautical engineering and a commercial pilot's license. Do I think that makes me a better pilot than many who lack a college degree? In no way.

    When young people want to become pilots in larger numbers than there are slots available, the requirements go up. In the 1930's applicants to the Army Air Force were required to have perfect teeth with no fillings. What did that have to with flying ability? Nothing, but it set an arbitrarily high standard so that the training system could cope.

    I agree that a college education indicates ability to learn, to communicate and to handle complexity. For that reason, during times of abundance, aviation slots will use college as a means to control the flow. During other times, it won't be needed. But many pilots find the stress and strain of commercial flying is too much, and leave, I know several personally. Having a college degree provides another "string for your bow".

    1. Thank you for the great comment D.B.

      For flying doesn't make you a better pilot. If you're a single pilot you're golden without.

      But when we transition to multiple crew cockpits where leadership, and management and communication skills become essential... it's much more important. Moving to the computer operated planes is different.

      And know pilots always have a backup plan. Even for our careers.

      Check out tomorrow's post. Fascinating.

  3. College degree is essential and adds immense value to the individuals KSA

    This will be the order round the world soon

    1. Srinivas, I think it will too. Thank you for your comment.

  4. I think the biggest "thing" for me personally, why I want to pursue a degree, is because it will make me stand out in the crowd. It's a given that a pilot applying for a job has his or her ATPL (in JAA-land, there is almost no way you can get a job with just the CPL) Everyone has a pilot license, but I will stand out because I will have a Bachelor of Education and maybe something more (eventually)

    It's also good to have a backup-plan, like you said. Thanks for bringing it up!

    1. Yes... standing out in the crowd is going to make a difference. When a bunch of candidates have the same qualifications, she with more wins. Besides, learning is fun. I enjoy it. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Interesting... I never completed SHS, and later when I asked to do a degree, ended up teaching on a degree course... Education does not teach you to think. Most people have a degree in something that they do not use in their job. Experience is worth more than years in college... But then, I see a lot of brain dead people who claim to have degrees and a lot of very smart people who can never afford to access education.... I prefer the later...

    1. Yes. True. But I see a lot of brain dead people. I also see a lot of educated people with a ton of common sense. The right education actually can teach you to think. Problem solving, critical thinking and learning how to think outside the box, can all be learned. As can leadership.

      What we need to remember is, and education is "not" the piece of paper, but the learning that went along with it. School or not, some people drift through life and never learn. Other kids learn street smarts. Others have the opportunity to open their minds in a formal education. If you're willing to learn, all is good.

  6. So glad I went to college then!
    I like this the best
    "College also teaches you how to formulate thoughts as well as communication and decision making skills. These are all important captain skills."

    On my final year a professor told us that gone are the days where all it took to pass was rote knowledge. Anyone with time can do that. But now we must learn how to think. Critical thinking to be exact. That's what separated a college diploma to a college degree. And he said it very quickly and most people shrugged it off but it really hit me and got me inspired, even motivated.

    I chose a degree initially because I never knew the other ways to become a pilot beforehand. But even when I knew, I wanted and stayed because of those exact reasons.

    I wrote a little something called "the art of knowing" a subpart to my "professionalism" topics (that I have indefinitely postponed on writing but will pick it up haha!)

    1. Ramiel, this is an excellent comment. And your post, The Art Of Knowing, is a fantastic read.

      Your professor is so correct. When I first started flying, we all learned by rote. Then AQP came into play and we learned and were tested in real life scenarios. A far better education. Far better retention. And far better experience.

      Learning how to think is essential.


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