Should I go to University before flight training?
A few weeks ago, I got asked the question, “Should I go to university before flight training?” This is a very common question among aspiring pilots, and it’s not the easiest question to answer.
It’s an important life question for many, and for good reason! A standard university degree takes a long time – longer than flight training. It also costs a lot of money – usually not as much as flight training though.
Before you can answer the question of going to university before going to flight school, you need to ask yourself a different question. This question seems to be more and more applicable in aviation nowadays.
“Should I have a back-up or Plan B to fall back on?”
Short answer – YES! But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go to university. Let’s talk about that for a moment.
I’ve spoken about my journey to becoming a pilot before in this post here.
But just in case you haven’t read that, let’s briefly go through what my story is.
From Humble Beginnings
As you may know, my name is Jean-Paul and I have wanted to fly buses with wings since the age of 9 years old.
During my secondary school days, I tailored all of my chosen subjects towards flying (except maybe drama – I just wanted to do drama because it looked easy…) This was important to me as I felt that doing subjects that were linked to aviation would give me a boost in the future.
The question of should I go to university before my flight training was always on my mind.
In college I continued following this idea of thinking. I studied Mathematics, Physics and Information Technology. These were the years where I really started to consider whether or not I needed to go to university.
For me, I chose to head down the path of getting straight into flight school. I knew what I wanted to do, and I wanted to do it as quickly as possible. University, at the time, was unnecessary and unneeded.
I started my flight training, doing a modular course, and was done within a few years. Within 6 months of that, I had my first job flying Twin Otters in the Seychelles.
So to reiterate, University wasn’t something that I found I needed or wanted to do. But that was for me. The question of, “Should I go to university before flight training”, was an easy answer, for me. It was expensive and would take too long for me to get to where I really wanted to be. Was I right in making that choice? Maybe, maybe not. But that was the choice that I made.
What about you?
How long can I expect to be in University?
Quite often, a standard degree from university usually takes 3 years. If you decide to go on to do postgraduate courses, such as a masters or PhD, the years can really add on.
Nowadays in the UK, you have to be in some type of formal education until the age of 18. This means that after your GCSE’s you will spend another two years learning! During this two year period, you have lots of time to think about what you may want to study at university, or if you even want to go at all.
If you do decide to go to uni, as mentioned, you can expect to be there for at least three years. Continuing on to do a Masters or PhD might not be the best choice if flying is your ultimate goal though. This is because it can take a lot longer to finish than if you were to do a standard degree.
That being said, if you do want to go on to do a Masters or PhD, it’s perfectly feasible to do it later on in life. This would give you the flexibility to get your pilot training done quickly, then do your postgraduate when you’re working.
So the bottom answer is, it usually takes three years to get a degree. That means that if you start university straight after college, you can have your degree by the age of 21. You’re then ready to do your flight training!
What about the cost of University?
Long gone are the days when university was paid for by the tax payer. Nowadays the burden of the fees are placed upon the student, and they can be quite hefty! This alone may help you decide on the answer to “Should I go to university before flight training?”
University fees can be broken down into three main categories:
Let’s look at these individually and break down the costs.
Tuition fees are the main bulk of the cost of university (if you choose to live at home). The amount you will need to pay depends on where you normally reside and where in the UK you plan to do your degree. The costs can vary from anywhere between absolutely free to up to £9250 per year.
See the table below to see how much you would pay if you decided to go to university in 2020.
As you can see, for example, if you live in Scotland and choose to go to university in Scotland, you won’t pay a penny in tuition fees. On the flip side, if you live in England and go to university anywhere in the UK, you will have to pay between £9000-£9250 per year.
Another interesting fact that you can see on this table, is that if you live in an EU member state and choose to go to university in Scotland, there’s no fee payable.
This portion of the cost of uni is where the tuition fee loans come in. These loans are provided to you by the government and have a degree of flexibility attached to them.
With the tuition fee loans, you don’t have to worry about any repayments during your degree, and for some time after. The only time you will need to start paying back this loan is when you have a job and are earning over a certain salary threshold. This threshold currently stands at £26,575 a year, £2,214 a month or £511 a week. The moment you start earning over those figures, you will need to start repaying the student loan.
One thing to keep in mind with student loans though, is that the interest rates are free to increase every year in line with RPI (Retail Price Index). This year alone, from September, the interest rate for student loans is 5.6% if you’re studying, or if you’re earning over £47,835. So really, the sooner you can repay these loans, the less you’ll have to repay in the long run.
The next thing you’ll need to think about in terms of cost is your maintenance loan. This loan is different from the student loan you get for your tuition fees. The maintenance loan is provided to give you, the student, funds for day to day expenses, which is paid directly into your bank account. These expenses cover things such as food, drink, FUN and accommodation.
The amount of maintenance loan you will receive depends on a few factors. These are, but are not limited to, your parents’ combined household income, if you have a disability or a long term health condition, if you qualify for housing benefits or if you have any financial dependents. At the time of writing, the maximum that you can receive is £11,354 per year.
Just like the student loan, the maintenance loan doesn’t need to be paid back until the moment you reach that pay threshold. If you fall on bad times or lose your job, then the repayments of your student loan is paused. After 30 years, the loan is completely wiped out.
Supplies and Extras
Now supplies and extras are kind of linked to the maintenance loan. The maintenance loan should really cover everything you will need in terms of expenses, but quite often, the loan can be blown on unneeded luxuries, or the odd night out. It’s very easy to let spending get out of control.
Things you need to be aware of, is that you won’t only need to cover things like accommodation, food, utilities etc. You will need to fork out for things such as:
- Printing or photocopying at libraries or learning resource centres
- Non-compulsory field trips
- text books and other course materials, e.g. art supplies or dance wear
- personal technology e.g. tablets, laptops, cameras, specialist software etc.
- Travel costs to work placements
- professional body memberships
- graduate attire and guest tickets
- Among others…
The main thing here is to just be aware of how much of your maintenance loan you are using, as once it’s gone, it’s gone. At that point you’d need to find alternative funds to cover the costs of things that the tuition fee loan doesn’t cover.
What about flight training? How long does that take?
Now let’s get into the fun part!
Pilot training is a bit different when it comes to how long it takes to complete. It depends on a few different things, the main thing being what kind of training you undertake (traditional fATPL or MPL), whether you need to take any resits, or whether you go down the integrated or modular route.
Generally speaking, if you go down the “quickest” route, you can have your lovely frozen ATPL licence within 18 months. That means you can have it by the time you’re 19 years old! This is because you can actually start training for your PPL at 14 years old. That being said, you can’t do your first solo until the age of 16, and can’t hold your Private Pilots Licence until you’re 17.
There are a few age restrictions though. As mentioned in the paragraph above, you need to be 17 years old to hold your PPL (Private Pilots Licence). After this you can jump straight into your ATPL ground school studies, but you won’t be able to hold your frozen ATPL until you are 18. Even then, many airlines prefer their pilots to be at least 21 years old. That being said, if you think about it, that’s the same age that you would have finished university and thinking of just starting to learn to fly.
So how old would I be?
So let’s look at that for a moment. If you were to go to university straight out of college, you’d be finished by the age of 21. Then you could begin your flight training, which you’d be able to complete by the age of about 23.
If you didn’t go to university, and decided instead to go straight into flight school, you’d have your pilots licence by the age of about 19. But, and this is a big but, you may find it difficult to get into an airline until you’re 21.
Either way, starting your flying life at the age of 21 or 23 is about as different as a banana and a banana. It really makes no difference in a lifelong career. So don’t ever feel that going to university would be a “waste of time” just because you want to get your pilots licence quicker. Sit back, think about what else you may want in life, and take it form there. The question of should I go to university before flight training is an important one, and the age at which your flight training will be complete shouldn’t matter too much.
If you were to take the modular route, it might take a bit longer to complete the training. This is because each module is often done in different training centres and often the trainee doesn’t do the next segment straight after completing the previous segment. This adds a bit more flexibility to the training and gives time for the student to access the funds necessary to continue.
Is aviation stable enough to not need a backup plan?
Now that’s the big question!
Short answer… unfortunately, no it’s not. Aviation is one of the most sensitive sectors to outside influences. In almost every calamity that has hit us in the last few decades, aviation has been one of the hardest hit sectors.
If you look at the 9/11, the recession in 2008, or even the pandemic we’re facing now, aviation has suffered. But it always bounces back.
The pure fact is that travel and tourism is a luxury and non-necessary item.
When times are hard, people tend to have less money to spend, so that money is spent on the necessities, not the luxuries. Now for example, during this CoVID-19 crisis, so many people have lost their jobs or been furloughed. People don’t know when they’re going to get back to work, or if they’re going to have a job to go back to at all. So it’s safe to assume that they won’t buy an airline ticket to go on holiday.
What casualties have there been from CoVID-19?
Unfortunately, there have been a number of carriers that have collapsed due to the current situation, and this could get worse.
The question of, “Do I need a backup or a Plan B?” is answered with this list of airlines. And just remember, with every airline, comes hundreds, if not thousands of jobs that have been lost.
Below is a short list of just some of the more well known airlines that have either filed for bankruptcy or gone into voluntary administration.
So with this in mind, I just want to reiterate…
So the answer to “should I go to university before flight training”, is yes, right? Hold on there. Because having that backup doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go to university. You could set up a home business, develop software applications, learn new skills online that could pave the way to a secondary career. The options nowadays are limitless.
That being said, if you decide that the backup you want to pursue is highly specialised, it may need a degree. So there’s that to think about.
What about going to university after my flight training. Is that possible?
Absolutely! With the wonder of the internet, distance learning has become more and more popular and extremely feasible.
There’s no fixed time period when you MUST study for a degree. Some people actually end up studying degree their whole lives in the search of knowledge.
The quintessential time to go to university is just after college. But if you decide that you want to do it later in life, there are plenty of universities that offer online distance learning. The most popular online university is The Open University, and they offer an abundance of degrees!
In fact, I actually flew with a first officer several months ago that was doing a law degree in her spare time with The Open University. Good on her!
So after reading all this, what should I do?
What you should do now, is talk to the people who have your best interests at heart. Ask them the question, “Should I go to university before flight training?” Talk about your options, the pros and cons, and whether you think it would be better to do a university course before your flight training or later on. Or if you even need to go to university at all! The choice really is up to you.
There are many blogs out there and educational websites that you can read to help you to come up with your own decision. Have a quick google search and you’ll see a never ending list of choices to choose from. But don’t let others persuade you into a decision. The decision is yours and yours alone. If it works for you, then do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
Whatever you decide to do, just remember that flying is an amazing career to have, but it is smart to have a backup due to the industries cyclic tendencies.
Right now, CoVID-19 has put aviation in one of the worst places it’s been in decades, and it will be a while before it’s fully restored. It will turn around and demand will pick up again. In fact, it already has! The industry is recovering much faster than airlines expected, as you can see by the infographic below from EuroControl.
So do some research, as I said, ask some questions, not only to others, but to yourselves. Social media has tonnes of pilots (including myself) who are more than happy to help aspiring pilots with answers to their questions. If there’s anything you want to ask me, then you’re welcome to leave a questions in the comments section below. Otherwise you can find me and ask anything over at my Instagram or Facebook.
Just remember, it’s not all about getting that pilots licence as young as possible. There really is no rush. The retirement age for pilots is currently 65 years old, so ask yourself, whats a few years if it means getting a university degree (if you decide you need one). At the end of the day, you’re just as likely to be employed by an airline at 22-23 years old, than you are at 21.
Well there you have it
Hopefully, I’ve managed to give you some insight into what you need to the think about and the questions you need to ask yourself before deciding what course to take.
If you want some excellent information about student loans and some myth busting, then I strongly advise to check out Martin Lewis’ website here.
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See you in the next one.
The Humble Pilot