What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Become a Pilot: Steps to Take from High School

As a high school student, you’ve probably heard that your future depends in large part on your ability to get into a good school. While there’s no doubt that getting into good fit college is important (if college is right for you), failing to consider career goals now may leave you floundering when you get to college.


That’s why we at CollegeVine started this career path series, so you can learn about potential jobs early on. Do you dream of a career flying the skies? Keep reading to find out how to become a pilot.


What Does a Pilot Do?


The job of pilot probably seems pretty straightforward; pilots are the people who fly planes, right? In fact, a pilot’s duties are varied and complex. Along with operating aircraft during take-off and landing, pilots assess plane components, evaluate fuel supplies and weather conditions, and communicate with air traffic control. They may work for major airlines or operate commercial planes, where tasks include crop dusting and taking aerial photography. Additionally, many pilots are part of the U.S. military, where they fly in missions nationally and overseas. 


How Much Do Pilots Make?


While pilot salaries vary dramatically based on industry, geography, and experience, the average individual in this profession earns an impressive $140,340 annually. In general, pilots start out earning around $65,690. Individuals in the private sector can expect to make about $111,800, while military pilots earn $86,874.

How to Become a Pilot


Pilots have the opportunity to travel the world, seeing exotic places and meeting a variety of people. If you want to spend your days at 40,000 feet, you might be wondering what steps you’ll need to take to achieve this goal. For example, should you go to college or join the military? And when can you start accumulating your flight hours? Keep reading to discover the steps you can take now to increase your odds of earning your pilot’s wings down the line.


High School


At minimum, most employers require pilots to have a high school diploma or the equivalent. However, you can boost your odds of landing a job in this field by focusing on your math classes in high school. After all, airline pilots have to be able to calculate distances and measurements on the fly. 


Additionally, aspiring pilots should take steps to improve their communication skills. By studying public speaking, you show you have the ability to give directions to passengers, flight attendants, and your fellow pilots. Foreign language skills can also be important, especially if you plan to fly internationally. It’s a good idea to start gaining proficiency in foreign languages as early as possible. 


In terms of extracurriculars, high schoolers interested in an aviation career should consider joining clubs and societies that showcase their leadership skills while proving they’re team players. Some good examples are sports teams, debate, or Model UN.




If you intend to fly for a commercial airliner one day, you will likely need to earn a bachelor’s degree. While some smaller airlines accept candidates with two-year degrees, individuals who only have an associate’s may find themselves dealing with limited career options. Although there’s no one major required to be a pilot, some students opt to attend colleges and universities that offer pilot training. Typically, this instruction is just one part of a four-year aviation degree.


Regardless of the degree you pursue, it’s a good idea to take a diverse curriculum. Because pilots have to be able to think fast and deal with stressful situations, airlines prefer to hire candidates with an impressive and well-rounded education. The goal is to show you’re up for any challenge that comes your way. 


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Trade Schools and Military Programs


While many careers allow you to start working immediately after earning your degree, pilots have to pursue additional training. In order to land a job as a first officer or co-pilot for a commercial airline, you will need to meet the following criteria:


  • Be 23 or older
  • Have your commercial pilot certificate
  • Complete 1,500 hours of flying time as a pilot
  • Record 50 hours in a multi-engine plane
  • Pass various knowledge and practical tests


So, how do you attain the necessary training and experience to land a pilot job? Many students opt to attend a flight school, where they receive real and simulated training in flight. Additionally, flight schools provide instruction in Federal Aviation Regulations, including aircraft operation rules and medical requirements. Note that only some flight schools are considered Part 141 schools, meaning they are certified under the requirements outlined by FAR Part 141 and have FAA approval. Be sure to do your homework when selecting a flight school.


In another path to becoming a pilot, aviation academies train students on an abbreviated timetable. Aspiring pilots receive their certificates in one or two years after studying and undergoing hands-on training. 


Finally, some pilots receive their education courtesy of the military. While individuals who opt for this path enjoy the benefit of free training, they do have to serve their country for around 10 years. After serving, military pilots can often transition directly into civilian positions at top airlines. 


As a working airline pilot, you can anticipate spending about 75 hours a month in the air and another 150 hours working on the ground. In general, senior pilots have more say in the days and hours for which they’re scheduled to fly. Expect the airline to pay for your hotel accommodations and meals during the time you’re out of town.


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Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.