Young People and Career Choices

By Rod Machado

I remember a time when an airplane would fly over our house during dinner and I’d run outside shirtless—in my tiny pants and bare feet—and then point skyward and yell, “Airpwane! Airpwane! Airpwane!” I remember that because it happened last week. OK, I exaggerate. But I’ve always loved airplanes. As a youngster, I intuitively knew that aviation was the career choice for me.

Our family, however, didn’t have deep pockets, so I had to find an inexpensive way to earn my pilot certificates and a college degree. That’s exactly what I did. You can do the same if you consider the following strategy.

During high school, I got something called a “job.” Our president says he has created millions of these, so they should be easy pickings for anyone interested in having one. Except for teenagers, of course. Today’s teenagers, who typically don’t have skills that merit pay at the current minimum wage, often find employment nothing more than a pipe dream. So, they frequently pursue scholarships, instead. That’s fine. If you can get one. Unfortunately, you stand a better chance of getting hit by lightning than obtaining a scholarship. At least a lightning strike pays greater dividends because you can rent yourself out as a human flashlight for a week. In any case, even if you obtained a scholarship, most pay only a small percentage of flight training costs. It seems as though jobs and scholarships are both pipe dreams, only without the pipe.

Absent a “deep pocket daddy,” most teenagers are left with little choice but to generate their own “entrepreneurial” revenue stream. Any young person with more than a handful of neurons can do a Google search on the subject and find hundreds of ways to make money for flying lessons. That’s not a throw-away line, either. I’ve known many teenagers who’ve done this and paid for their own flight training.

Of course, you’ll need a college degree for employment with a major airline. So let me disabuse you of a galactic-sized misconception about college. The airlines couldn’t care less where you went to college as long as the college doesn’t have the word “Clown” in its name. They only care that you have a four-year degree. And, all except for one airline to my knowledge (Delta), most couldn't care less if it took you more than four years to earn it. After all, you might have had to take time away from college to help your family or earn a living--sometimes life gets in the way of our plans, no? Additionally, the airlines don't care what you studied in college, even if the word “Clown” is in your degree title.

My advice is to study what interests you. Period. Your objective in choosing an area of study is to give yourself a reason to finish school. If studying aviation makes you happy, then study aviation. If you want to make bad guys unhappy, study law enforcement. What you study doesn’t matter with respect to an aviation career. Just show up for class, don’t clown around, and graduate.

Wait! How do you get a four year degree if you can’t afford to go to a big-name aviation school? Simple. Go to a community college for two years, then transfer to a local, four-year state college. Not everyone can afford the $150–200K it takes to attend a big-name aviation school. Sure, you can ride the student loan train to graduation, but there’s always a price to pay as you disembark. I’m speaking of the fact that you’ll leave school owing more money than most young adults spend purchasing their first home. Is it really wise to begin an aviation career with such debt? I think not.

You can even transfer to an accredited, four year distance-learning institution to complete your bachelors degree at home. This gives you flexibility in your schedule to continue earning flight training money. Your objective should be to earn your CFI certificate in the least expensive way possible. This involves finding a good instructor and a not-too-fancy airplane to fly. Once you become a CFI, you can build flight time and earn money while completing college.

Finally, what about plopping down $60K to attend a mega-sized flight school that promises fast-track airline training? Please, do your homework and research the company first. If it’s reputable, then sign up. But always remember Rod’s Flight Training “What Happened to My Money?” Rule #1: Don’t give anyone more money than you care to lose at any one time. Period. Better yet, deposit your money into an escrow account that’s tapped by the flight school, but only under your supervision. The fact is companies tend to treat you better when you have money they want but have not yet obtained.

Want an aviation career? Go to local two- and four-year colleges, and use good instructors in non-fancy airplanes to pursue your flight instructor certificate. Yes, there are other ways to pursue a career in aviation, but this is one way to do it on a budget.

Note: If you'd like a comprehensive overview of what it takes to learn to fly or to go from Private Pilot to Airline Pilot, begin by reading my blog titled: Nine First Steps to Becoming a Pilot.

By Rod Machado | | CFI Resource Center, Learning to Fly | 5 comments
next post → ← previous post


  • lenny strin - December 28, 2016

    Good career advice for young people it’ll help those people who are studding now.

  • lenny strin - November 29, 2016

    Career in aviation is very big thing and it’s reputed job.

  • Chris Christensen - October 29, 2016

    Seems I remember you way back in my Amelia R days.
    There might have even had a few mentions of you in a few of
    Paul Berg’s very short stories. ?
    I have saved several years of his from – I believe the Pacific Flyer. Used to always be section 2 page 2
    Kept a log book from my J-5 because it has Cecil Reids signature in it. Bought plane out of Perch’s Flying Lady and flew it to AK.
    Too far back to keep going on. Best to ya.

  • Rob Mixon - October 29, 2016

    My message said "get a yearbook of college….lets do that again with “a year of college”

  • Rob Mixon - October 29, 2016

    Excellent as always! Another idea for knocking out a yearbook college is by taking the C.L.E.P. Exams…no GPA just pass or fail. They are not difficult and you will get credit for classes you never have to take with a very minimal cost to simply take the test….got to run outside I hear a pwane! (Old people regress…)

Leave a comment

Stay in Touch

Physical Product Ordering Only (800) 437-7080

If you'd like to order a PHYSICAL product by phone, please call the number above. Digital (downloadable) products can't be ordered by phone.

Latest Posts

  • The Games Young People Play

    By Rod Machado Lucky me. Lucky, because at a recent aviation event, I met and chatted with Sally Melvill, wife of Mike Melvill (SpaceShipOne). She’s a delightful and insightful lady who earned her chops teaching kindergarten. She knows how the... read more

  • Private Pilot Checkrides: The Good Old Days

    My friend, DPE and highly experienced pilot, Mr. Frank Phillips was kind enough to provide me with much of the following documentation in this blog piece. I am grateful that he loves flight training--including its history and development--as much as... read more

  • Reduce Stalls and Spins with Right-Hand Traffic Patterns

    By Rod Machado NOTE: I post these articles, in particular this one, in hopes of receiving some well reasoned input. This article presents an hypothesis that needs testing. Nearly every response so far suggests that pilots should be taught to fly coordinated... read more

  • The Limited Flight Instructor Certificate

    A recent Polish immigrant visited his local flight surgeon to take a third-class medical exam. The doctor had him stand in a specific spot, then pulled down a chart showing the letters: CVOKPTNXZYKV. The doc said to the Polish immigrant,... read more

  • The FAA's New "Not-So-Slow" Slow Flight Procedure

    As most flight instructors know the FAA recently changed the requirements for slow flight in the private pilot ACS. Slow flight must now be accomplished at a speed higher than MCA or Minimum Controllable Airspeed (a speed at which the stall... read more

  • Your Airline Career

    By Rod Machado  Now that you've acquired all the necessary flight instructor ratings, you're ready to think about becoming qualified for that airline job. Normally, you should think about getting hired with a regional airline first. This allows you to... read more

  • Obtaining Your Advanced Pilot Ratings

     By Rod Machado     Once you've acquired the private pilot certificate, you're ready to fly, have fun and, perhaps, pursue that airline career. If so, here's what you should think about doing.   First, you'll need to obtain the following certificates... read more

  • How to Become a Private Pilot

    By Rod Machado What Does it Take? What does it take for you to become a private pilot? If you’re like most people, once you get the thought of flying airplanes in your noggin, it continues to play like a musical... read more


    By Rod Machado    Here is the sequence of steps you should consider in pursuing your private pilot license (it's technically called a "certificate" but we'll call it a license). As you'll see, the most important steps listed below deal... read more

  • Young People and Career Choices

    By Rod Machado I remember a time when an airplane would fly over our house during dinner and I’d run outside shirtless—in my tiny pants and bare feet—and then point skyward and yell, “Airpwane! Airpwane! Airpwane!” I remember that because... read more

  • The FORBIDDEN Question

    By Rod Machado During my high school years, it was known as the forbidden dance—the Lambada. Do it on the dance floor in front of the principal and you’d be “dancing with the scars” resulting from that encounter. Some things... read more

  • Rod's Letter to the FAA and ACS Committee Members

    Yes, really! The Private Pilot ACS adds 363 Risk Management items to the PPL practical exam testing requirements. Students are responsible for knowing the answers to each and every one of these items, all of which require highly subjective answers (according... read more