Hey! I am looking into getting into the industry. My question is do you suggest getting a university degree these days on top of everything else? My mom works for Air Canada so she knows many pilots and many have told me that having a university degree makes you a lot likelier of landing a job with a major airline.
Getting a university degree en route to becoming a pilot is a tough decision. I don't think that there's an overwhelming right or wrong answer and what will work best for a person depends on a number of factors.
Major Airlines, specifically Air Canada, use a 'points' system when determining who they will interview. Points will be awarded based on education, flying experience (both hours flown and type of aircraft those hours were acquired on), language proficiency, work experience, leadership qualities etc. I do not know how many points get awarded for each category.
About 8 years ago now when I was just finishing my training, I was able to meet the pilot hiring coordinator for Air Canada. When I asked if she had any tips, her response was "get a degree." What I have heard however, is that a university degree is granted the same number of points as a diploma from a recognized Aviation College such as Confederation, Sault College or Mount Royal. This is not confirmed though.
Even for Air Canada, having a degree will not automatically get you a job at an airline. It is also imperative to have a lot of flight experience. Depending on about a million different factors, when you're done your training, it will generally be 5 to 10 years before you have the experience to be hired by Air Canada. Even though their stated minimum hour requirements are 1000 hours, most successful candidates have at least 2000 hours, with most having more.
Having a degree will also not really help you in getting your first flying job. Operators that hire low time pilots generally don't care if you have a college diploma or a degree, rather, they want to see that you have a good attitude and can work hard. Having some work experience, being in the right place at the right time and making good connections will all help in finding the first flying job.
I am a proponent of getting a degree. I think that having a degree (or two) will open a lot of doors in life when combined with experience. It not only opens up options outside of aviation if you lose your medical or get laid off, it allows you to possibly move into management roles within an airline later on. I also think that taking some time to go to school and enjoy the 'university experience' is a benefit to every one. It gives people a couple years to grow up and learn responsibility. Obviously, not everyone needs this though. Though I personally have really enjoyed my university experience.
On the other hand, there are people who don't really think it is worth getting a degree if you want to be a pilot. Their point of view makes sense and I do believe that getting a degree isn't right for everyone.
Getting a degree, whether it is in conjunction with your flight training at schools such as University of Western Ontario, Waterloo, Seneca College or University College of the Fraser Valley or separately, usually takes 4 years and can be quite expensive. During this time, you generally don't do much flying. If however, you did you flight training independently through a local flight school or through a shorter, 2 year college program, you would be finished your training a lot quicker and out flying sooner. Once flying, most pilots building experience can get anywhere between 500 and 1000 hours a year and be earning money at the same time. Most airlines hire pilots with between 2000 and 4000 hours of experience and the quicker you're out flying, the sooner you'll have that experience.
Of the pilots that I know that are working at Air Canada, some have degrees and some do not. I know pilots who have been hired on at Air Canada Jazz both with and without a degree or Aviation College Diploma. I know pilots working for WestJet, some of whom have a degree and some don't. I know a pilot with an Economics Degree, lots of turbo-prop and jet Captain experience who was turned down by Air Canada but is working at WestJet. I also know a pilot who has two degrees that was turned down by Jazz.
So, as you can tell by the somewhat rambling response, there is no right or wrong answer.
Things to consider:
- Are you the type of person that likes education?
- What is your financial situation like?
- Are you ready to jump into the work force, or will a couple of years at university or college be good for you?
- What are the options of flight schools, colleges or Universities near where you live?
The main thing to know though is that getting a degree from a particular school will not guarantee you a job at an airline or let you skip the generally low paying, not glamorous first few years of flying.