Many people dream of piloting planes, helicopters, and other aircraft, a goal that is achievable through attending aviation school. Along with flying planes, pilots are responsible for the overall condition of the aircraft from checking fuel to preparing flight plans. They often work a variable schedule and travel all over the globe.
In order to become a commercial or airline pilot, it is necessary to obtain a bachelor’s degree, license, and certificate. Aviation schools are one of the first steps to achieve this goal. Through specialized courses, aviation students are well-trained in subjects such as advanced flight operations, aerodynamics, air navigation, jet engines, and meteorology. In addition, they learn from qualified aviation experts and are trained on state-of-the-art equipment.
While in aviation school, aspiring pilots are surrounded by people who understand flying and are passionate about the subject. This immersive environment is good for networking and can lead to a career in the airline industry. Due to partnerships with airlines, many aviation schools provide internship and career opportunities that are otherwise challenging to find. In addition, the hands-on training and work experience help develop many necessary qualities such as communication, problem-solving, and a quick reaction time.
As a result of the high responsibility involved with piloting a plane, airline pilots earn an average salary of $160,000. However, this value varies based on the education and level of training, making it essential to go to a top university.
Here are the ten best aviation schools in the United States, based on each program’s greater university ranking in the US News National Universities list.
10. Louisiana Tech University (Ruston, LA)
Since 1967, Louisiana Tech University has had a national reputation for outstanding graduates. The Professional Aviation and Aviation Management programs emphasize the knowledge, skills, and experience to create leaders in the aviation industry. In addition, there is a solid network of graduates, including airport planners, commercial pilots, flight school instructors, and transportation and development specialists.
Students have the opportunity to learn from ground, simulator, and flight training year-round. In 2017, the university obtained a new fleet of 12 Cessna Skyhawk and Piper Arrow aircraft. In addition, LTU has aviation management cooperative agreements with many Fixed Based Operators in the region, including the Louisiana Airport Managers Association and Ruston Regional Airport. Thanks to the links with industry, LTU aviation students enjoy many internship programs with major air carriers, regional airlines, corporate aviation, and government organizations.
9. South Dakota State University (Brookings, SD)
South Dakota State University provides high-quality aviation training at competitive rates. On campus, aviation students learn from 28 full and part-time flight instructors and 14 airplanes. The senior capstone course helps to bridge the gap between education and practice as students are evaluated to ensure competency.
Aviation students can choose between two specializations to further their education. Aviation Education is for students who wish to become Certified Flight Instructors and professional pilots in industry.
Bringing on top students and alumni as SDSU flight instructors allows aviation graduates to improve the program they were once a part of. The aviation maintenance management specialization teaches students to repair and maintain aircraft.
As a result of the in-depth aviation programs, 100% of the Class of 2019 were placed into professional flight positions. The majority were employed as flight instructors, while others went on to airlines such as United, SkyWest, and Republic Airways.
8. University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, ND)
The University of North Dakota provides a liberal arts core curriculum combined with professional aviation education. The specialized undergraduate programs include air traffic management, airport management, aviation management, aviation safety & operations, aviation studies, commercial aviation, and unmanned aircraft systems operations.
Including the largest collegiate training fleet in the world, students in any aviation program are trained in state-of-the-art facilities. This includes over 100 aircraft and simulators, VR training devices, and a hypobaric chamber to experience the physiological effects of high-altitude flight.
Through immersive hands-on flight control hardware and simulation software, students have access to many training opportunities.
The University of North Dakota focuses on a hands-on curriculum without sacrificing safety. The school has the first and only collegiate program to achieve the highest level of Safety Management System compliance.
7. Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI)
With over 1,100 undergraduates, Western Michigan University has one of the most extensive aviation programs in the nation. In addition, it is the only comprehensive aviation program at a public university in Michigan. These achievements show how WMU is a powerful force in the future of aviation training.
The next leaders in aviation are trained on a fleet of 50 aircraft. By constantly evaluating the planes, the department is able to make upgrades and ensure that students have access to the latest equipment. These aircraft are used for everything from aviation maintenance to flight school.
WMU’s Aviate program, a pilot career development initiative, shows how the school’s graduates are highly trained and sought-after.
6. Utah State University (Logan, UT)
At Utah State University, aviation students learn from skilled professors from a variety of backgrounds. The staff of Certified Flight Instructors help students get the necessary hands-on training they need to pass their check-ride and prepare them for their future careers. Due to the smaller class sizes, students have an individual learning experience.
The school’s restricted ATP program means that pilots can enter the industry at a lower minimum hour requirement than other programs. In addition, the fast track to flying with an airline allows aviation students to get a jump start on their careers through thorough and efficient training.
Utah State organizations allow students to network with peers of similar interests and backgrounds. The NIFA Flight Team, created for aviation enthusiasts, hosts social gatherings and professional development trips. Students interested in unmanned aerial systems can participate in DroneWorx.
5. Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS)
Kansas State University is home to more Master Certified Aviation Instructors than any other school nationwide. This staff of accomplished and practiced flight instructors provides aviation students with a top-tier education. Meteorology, aerodynamics, advanced aircraft systems, and flight labs are just some of the courses that they teach. Outside of aviation classes, Kansas State students study additional subjects from management to business ethics.
Salina Regional Airport, right next door to Kansas State, provides both education and experience. It houses a 12,300-foot runway along with crosswind and parallel runways to provide training above and beyond the minimum requirements. Kansas State graduates are confident to fly in all conditions and exceed industry expectations.
With a 98% program placement rate, aviation graduates are highly successful, whether they choose to be flight instructors or airline captains. Kansas State alumni go on to be airline, cargo, charter, corporate, and military pilots.
4. Valparaiso University (Valparaiso, IN)
Valparaiso University was the pilot training site for the Civilian Aeronautics Authority in the early 1940s. Today, the aviation program aims to serve the community, region, and nation with the mission of preparing students to learn, fly, and serve.
At Valparaiso University, students develop an understanding of aeronautical and flight principles and an appreciation of liberal arts through general education coursework. Although the program has been around for less than a decade, it shows the innovative culture of the university and growth across academic offerings. Graduates have the opportunity to join flight crews, aviation management, and airport management.
Tom Cedel, a distinguished visiting professor and retired Air Force pilot, assisted in the creation of the program. In addition, the greater Valparaiso community is home to many aviation professionals. The aviation program is supported by an Advisory Council of flight crews from all major air carriers.
3. Auburn University (Auburn, AL)
Auburn University aviation students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience at the school’s regional airport and the Delta Air Lines Aviation Education Building. The state-of-the-art facilities include classrooms, debriefing rooms, and flight simulators. Spread across over 420 acres, the airport consists of aircraft fleet, simulator fleet, and professional flight practice areas.
Aviation students can earn up to six credit hours for an internship or cooperative education, combining education with practical work experience. Whether in industry or government, Auburn students are connected to a hub of world-class aviation organizations. This includes multiple accelerated career paths with airlines such as Delta and JetBlue.
Auburn graduates join a network of over 4,000 aviation alumni who are leaders in their field. In addition, the university has been actively involved with aviation education for over 80 years, meaning that graduates are well-known for their contributions to the industry.
2. Baylor University (Waco, TX)
Baylor is known for balancing aeronautical theory and application. This includes hands-on experience through ground school and flight school training courses. As a result, aviation students will graduate with flying qualifications to the Commercial Pilot level and a Certified Flight Instructor certificate.
Outside of aviation training, the well-rounded education at Baylor includes political science, english, communication, and computer science. Students can choose from a variety of advanced elective courses in anything from aviation law to meteorology to pursue their passions.
Outside of aviation, Baylor is a nationally-recognized research institution. The Space Weather Research Laboratory supports studies of the space environment and solar-terrestrial interaction. In order to further their education, students participate in research projects alongside faculty.
1. Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)
Purdue is known for industry connections, working together with airlines and other companies to build a strong future in aviation and aerospace. By taking industry needs into account, the aviation curriculum prepares students for a successful career. In addition, the Aviation Career Fair presents employers with aviation-focused students.
In addition, Purdue is a leader in aviation research. The Grand Challenges in Aviation and Transportation inspire faculty and students alike to make new discoveries in many research areas. In particular, the university focuses on sustainability, safety, and quality and their ties to aviation.
The Transportation Research Board’s annual University Design Competition for Addressing Airport Needs invites teams to collaborate and find practical solutions. In 2020, three teams from Purdue won first place in three airport challenges.