Best Pilot Schools in the US

A career in the aviation industry comes with many benefits, such as traveling while earning, earning a competitive income, and meeting different people. Some companies also offer excellent healthcare benefits and travel perks for you and your family members.

Whether you want to become a commercial, military, or private pilot, you’ll find several universities or colleges in America offering aeronautics and aviation programs. Most of them also offer degrees for pilots who want to operate or fly unmanned vehicle systems (UVS) or unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV).

Not only is it because of technological advancement, but the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International also predicts that thousands of jobs will be created within three years after the U.S. airspace system gets integrated with unmanned aircraft.

Below is a list of 10 of the best pilot schools in the US offering quality programs for future pilots. These institutions meet the following criteria:

  • An average annual cost of no more than $40,000
  • Accredited by recognized and authorized bodies
  • A median starting salary not lower than $45,000 after graduation

Note that these colleges were ranked from lowest to highest average cost. Data and other information have been pulled out from the specific college and U.S. Department of Education websites.

10 Best Pilot Schools in the US

1. Farmingdale State College

4 Year; Farmingdale, NY

Average Annual Cost: $8,638

Included in the Forbes lists of Top Colleges 2021 and America’s Best Value Colleges 2019, it’s no surprise that Farmingdale State College is one of the best pilot schools in the US. In fact, its Aeronautical Science program has an AABI or Aviation Accreditation Board International accreditation valid until 2023.

Graduates of this bachelor’s degree qualify for entry-level professional pilot positions in private and commercial air transportation companies. If that’s not your goal, you can also find opportunities in the U.S. military and state and federal government agencies.

Do note that Farmingdale State College has quite a stringent retention policy. For instance, one would need to get the chairperson’s permission to stay in the program if the student needs to retake an AVN course for the third time.

2. Purdue University – Main Campus

4 Year; West Lafayette, IN

Average Annual Cost: $13,986

This large public university ranks second when it comes to the best colleges in Indiana. It boasts an acceptance rate of 60% and a graduation rate of 73%. Unlike other universities, its School of Aviation and Transportation Technology has three different programs for those wanting to become professional pilots.

The Professional Flight Degree is ideal not just for those who want to become pilots but also for future airline captains and flight instructors. Usually, you would be able to gain a commercial and private or executive pilot certification after five years.

That said, Purdue University – Main Campus has a program for qualified first-year students that will allow them to finish the degree within three years.

If applying for an unmanned-aircraft flying job at NASA is the career you want, you would need to become a Certified UAV Operator or CAAP. Finishing Purdue University’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Degree will ensure you qualify for the certification.

With this degree in your name, you can also apply for a job at Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, Google, Apple, and more if you get tired of flying drones and other UAVs or want to change careers.

The last option for those aiming to become pilots and completing any program in Purdue’s School of Aviation and Transportation Technology is the combined BS-MS Degree Program. Aptly named, this special program allows qualified students to gain both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in no less than five years.

3. University of North Dakota

4 Year; Grand Forks, ND

Average Annual Cost: $15,738

Established in 1883, the University of North Dakota or UND is among the well-regarded research and academic institutions in the American Northern Plains or the northern Midwest region. It is also included in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of top 100 public universities in the country.

One of the most famous offerings of UND is the Transportation and Materials Moving program. Those who want to gain a commercial pilot certificate to fly fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters can enroll in the university’s two- to three-year minor in professional flight.

If you want to gain more knowledge and skills in flying an aircraft and obtain a commercial aviation degree for better opportunities, UND also offers a B.S. in Aero. This on-campus major requires you to complete 120 credit hours, which usually takes around four to five years.

This medium-sized university is most well-known for its John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences majors and minors. These programs are ideal for those who prefer to fly UVS meant for disaster relief, firefighting, surveillance, law enforcement, military, and more.

Once you attain any bachelor’s degree in air transportation that the University of North Dakota offers, you can get your master’s in aviation. However, keep in mind that it will take around two to three years to complete the required 30 credit hours for this online aviation program.

4. Lewis University

4 Year; Romeoville, IL

Average Annual Cost: $18,664

Lewis University is a medium-sized non-profit private Lasallian and Roman Catholic values-centered university. Students have plenty of options, considering it has over 80 undergraduate majors, 22 graduate programs, and accelerated curricula for working students. What’s more, it boasts an on-campus airport for better flight training and skills development.

The university’s Department of Aviation has a Federal Aviation Administration approval, ensuring its legitimacy. Future private and commercial pilots can enroll in its Aviation Flight Technology bachelor’s degree program. It has a Federal Aviation Regulations certification, so students can complete training with less money and less time. That’s why it’s part of the Best Value Schools list.

Students may also enroll in Lewis University’s highly recognized Unmanned Aircraft Systems program. Unlike the first one, it is designed to provide hands-on training and cutting-edge computer simulation. Furthermore, graduates will gain knowledge and skills in designing, building, and operating multirotor, fixed-wing platforms, and unmanned marine vehicles.

If you want to further your studies and career, you can obtain your master’s degree in aviation and technology at Lewis University. It is a two-year in-person or online course, allowing you to choose between three concentrations: Operations, Management, or Safety.

5. Walla Walla University

4 Year; College Place, WA

Average Annual Cost: $20,571

As a Seventh-Day Adventist Church-affiliated institution, WWU is a small, non-profit private school with an open-admission policy. It took the number 42 spot in the 2016 U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 best regional universities in the Western USA.

The university’s Aviation Department offers an Aviation Minor program for students already taking a bachelor’s degree. Students may also take a major in Aviation Technology and Aviation Management.

These courses are modeled from Part 61 Federal Aviation Administration training program’s outline. They aim to help students develop sound judgment, maintain or improve a good moral character, be aware of and practice safety, and demonstrate learning proficiency.

Thus, the Technology Department’s chair and aviation professors can dismiss aviation class students for valid reasons. They include safety protocol violations, reckless operations, and excessive cancellations.

6. LeTourneau University

4 Year; Longview, TX

Average Annual Cost: $23,196

LETU aims to equip students with the right knowledge, practical skills, and real-world experience to ensure success in their chosen fields. In fact, 97% of their College of Aviation and Aeronautical Science alumni land a job after graduation, based on the university’s three-year data.

With regards to pilot-related programs, this small, non-profit private interdenominational Christian school offers a B.S. in Professional Flight. It prepares students to work in multi-crew flight decks of aircraft categorized as complex transport.

Students can choose between two concentrations. One is the maintenance major, which allows graduates to fly and maintain commercial, corporate, and mission aircraft. Students will gain about 220 flight hours and A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) maintenance certification.

If your goal is to become a U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy pilot, the military aviation major is ideal. Whatever concentration you choose, graduates won’t just be able to land a pilot job but may also choose to become aircraft sales professionals and aviation advertisers.

7. Jacksonville University

4 Year; Jacksonville, FL

Average Annual Cost: $24,084

This medium-sized non-profit private school has an Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida membership. It also has AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) and SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditations.

Its School of Aviation has been producing aviation executives and professional pilots for more than three decades. Students will also appreciate that it has partnerships with Delta Propel, JetBlue Gateway, and L3 Airline Academy.

Also, it has gained several recognitions, such as receiving the 2008 Loening Trophy award, winning the 2011 Air Race Classic, and being rewarded as the second collegiate team and fifth overall winners of the 2019 Air Race Classic.

Future pilots can choose from four AABI-accredited Aviation Management and Flight Operations programs: Commercial Pilot, Military Marine, Military Navy, and Management and Flight Operations. The university also offers online, in-person, and hybrid M.S. in Aviation Leadership for those who want to further their studies and career.

8. Auburn University

4 Year; Auburn, AL

Average Annual Cost: $24,104

Auburn University is the Southern USA’s first land-grant college, offering over 150 majors, including Professional flight. This program ensures students gain enough aeronautical knowledge and effective flying skills that most aviation agencies and organizations seek.

In fact, the school has its own airport, Auburn University Regional Airport (KAUO), where flight operations get conducted. With this degree, you’ll be able to attain several certifications and ratings, including:

  • Commercial Pilot Certification
  • Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) With Airplane Single-Engine Rating
  • CFI With MEI (Multi-Engine) Rating
  • CFII or CFI With Instrument-Airplane Rating
  • FAA Restricted Airline Transport Pilot (R-ATP)
  • Instrument-Airplane Rating
  • Multi-Engine Rating
  • Private Pilot Certification

As a pilot school with an FAA Part 141 approval, completing this degree offered by Auburn will qualify you to attain an R-ATP (FAA Restricted Airline Transport Pilot) certification. That is after completing at least one flight instructor or advanced pilot rating or certification and flight and ground training for the Commercial Pilot Certificate and Instrument-Airplane Rating.

9. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott

4 Year; Prescott, AZ

Average Annual Cost: $35,396

The U.S. News and World Report rank Embry-Riddle Prescott as second of the Best Regional Colleges in the West, the number one Best Colleges for Veterans, and 13th Best Value Schools for 2022. It has the largest professional pilot program worldwide and a non-combatant flight training fleet in the United States.

As one of the best small colleges in America, enrollees can choose from three different minors or specialties. The four-year B.S. in Aeronautical Science allows students to learn how to fly aircraft, gain research, critical thinking and leadership skills, and insight into the aviation industry’s business aspects.

Meanwhile, the B.S. in Aeronautics is ideal for two types of students. One of the program’s curricula is designed to build on a student’s existing aviation-related skills and knowledge. The other course, created for inexperienced students, helps enrollees gain essential aviation-related knowledge.

The program for future professional UVS pilots offered by Embry-Riddle is the bachelor’s degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

10. Baylor University

4 Year; Waco, TX

Average Annual Cost: $36,039

BU is a medium-sized, non-profit, private Christian university recognized as a Research 1 institution. Its Institute for Air Science (BSA) was established in 1991 and currently has AABI, University Aviation Association, and Women in Aviation International memberships.

The first bachelor’s degree offered is the four-year Aviation Sciences program with two available majors: Aviation Administration and Aviation Sciences. The latter is designed for future professional pilots who can choose between two concentrations: airplane or helicopter flying.

Whichever concentration an enrollee chooses, BU aims to ensure its BSA graduates complete the ratings and certifications required for corporate or airline pilots.

Students will gain sufficient aeronautical knowledge and receive advanced pilot training. They will also get exposure to passionate and experienced aviation industry professionals to encourage and motivate them further to finish the degree. 

If you already have your private pilot license or are about to get one, enroll in the university’s Secondary Major in Aviation Sciences for additional experience, skills development, and supplemental knowledge. On the other hand, students taking a different major interested in acquiring aviation knowledge can enroll in Baylor University’s Aviation Science Minor.