What Can You Do With an Aviation Degree?

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An aviation degree is an excellent fit for students interested in aircraft, engineering, physics, and aeronautics. Attending aviation school prepares graduates for work in a variety of roles and sectors that include flying as a commercial pilot, designing engines and aircraft, or working in a public or private aeronautics lab. In an aviation degree program, you’ll study subjects like flight training, meteorology, aircraft maintenance, aerodynamics, aviation law, and safety.

An aviation degree prepares graduates for work in the field of aviation and aeronautics. It focuses on the safety, maintenance, law, weather, and engineering of aircraft. If you’re planning to pursue an aviation degree, this educational pathway can prepare you for several high–paying and exciting careers. With an aviation degree, you can begin a career as an engineer, air traffic controller, aircraft mechanic, or pilot.

A bachelor’s degree in aviation will qualify you for work as an airline or commercial pilot. A master’s degree in the field will prepare you for roles in management, manufacturing, engineering, and safety. A Ph.D. is the terminal degree in aviation, and is largely reserved for those seeking to lead aviation research or teach at the university level.

What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?

Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.

For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?

What is Regional Accreditation?
Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies

To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What Is National Accreditation?
National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
 
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.

To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.

For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.

What is Programmatic Accreditation?
Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
 
When it comes to aviation degree programs, the main programmatic accreditation organization is the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI). Programs that maintain accreditation through AABI have to report that they are maintaining certain levels of performance, integrity, and quality. As a student, you can be confident that your AABI–accredited aviation degree will be respected and valued as you enter your career.

The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.

Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?

What Kinds of Aviation and Aeronautics Degrees Are There?

Associate Degree in Aviation

As with many industries, an associate degree in aviation will give you a strong foundation in the subject matter, but you will likely need to earn additional degrees to pursue several jobs in the field. An associate–level aviation program is typically a 60–credit degree, requiring a minimum of two years to complete. Some associate degrees in aviation include pilot licensure as part of the curriculum requirements. This means that you could qualify to work as a commercial or airline pilot upon completion of your degree. However, many candidates for these roles will hold at least a bachelor’s degree in aviation. While this is not technically required, a bachelor’s degree is likely to make you a far more competitive candidate in the job market. The good news is that many of your credits will likely transfer to a four–year degree program, which will ultimately save you time and money.

What Courses Will I Take?

  • Applied Calculus for Aviation
  • Commercial Pilot
  • Introduction to Aeronautical Science
  • Introduction to Weather
  • Physics
  • Statistics with Aviation Applications

What’s the Difference Between an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Science in Aviation?

Most associate programs in aviation are associate of science (AS) degree programs. The main difference between an associate of science and associate of arts (AA) degree program is the core curriculum. An AS in aviation will include more STEM courses, while an AA in aviation will include general courses in the humanities and arts in addition to your aviation courses.

Bachelor of Aviation

A bachelor’s degree in aviation will prepare you for several careers in the field. Bachelor’s programs are typically 120 credit hours and take around four years to complete. Earning a bachelor’s degree in aviation will qualify you for work as a commercial or airline pilot, as well as several other jobs in the industry like air traffic controller, aircraft mechanic, or technician. Many bachelor’s degree programs offer specializations, including aviation safety, aviation security, and airport maintenance management. You may also be required to complete a capstone project as part of your bachelor’s degree in aviation.

What Courses Will I Take?

  • Aerodynamics
  • Airline Operations
  • Aviation Legislation
  • Aviation Management
  • Aviation Safety
  • Business Ethics

What’s the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Aviation?

The bachelor of science (BS) is the most common aviation degree. A bachelor of science in aviation will focus on science and math–related courses alongside your aviation studies, whereas a bachelor of arts (BA) program will include courses in humanities, arts, and interdisciplinary studies.

Master of Aviation

A master’s degree in aviation or aeronautics can help take your career to the next level. While a bachelor’s degree qualifies you for many positions in the field, a master’s degree can help you pursue advanced career opportunities in organizational leadership, engineering, and safety oversight. Most master’s programs in aviation consist of around 30 credit hours and take two years to complete. You will likely complete a thesis or capstone project as part of your master’s degree program. It’s also important to note that some master’s programs are specific to aviation and aeronautics, while others may house the aviation specialization in a broader program such as engineering.

What Courses Will I Take?

  • Aviation Fuels and Emissions
  • Aviation Leadership
  • Human Factors in Aviation
  • International Aviation Regulatory Systems
  • Project Management for Aviation
  • Statistical Analysis for Aviation

What’s the Difference Between a Master of Arts and a Master of Science in Aviation?

Most candidates will pursue a master of science (MS) in aviation and aeronautics. The key difference between these degree types is that MS degree programs will focus on math and science subjects alongside your aviation studies, while MA programs will include a wider range of arts and humanities courses.

Doctorate in Aviation

A doctorate in aviation is the most advanced degree available in the field. This degree is intended to prepare those who wish to work as aviation and aeronautics experts in teaching and research, whether at a university or through a think tank, research foundation, or private firm. Often a 60–90 credit degree program, a doctorate in education takes three to six years to complete. You can choose a concentration like safety, human factors, airport development and management, education and training, or operations. Completing a doctorate in aviation or aeronautics will set you apart as a leader in this field and qualify you for many high–paying positions.

What Courses Will I Take?

  • Aviation Statistics
  • Current Practices and Future Trends in Aviation
  • Ethics in Aerospace
  • Foundations of Aviation
  • Instructional Design in Aviation
  • Quantitative Research Designs in Aviation Research

What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?

Depending on what you want to do with your aviation degree, you may or may not need to be certified or receive a license. If you plan to be a pilot, you will need various licenses. The license will depend on the kind of organization for which you plan to fly. There are different certifications for private, commercial, and airline pilots, all administered by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Many degree programs include opportunities for certification as part of their curriculum. If you want to be a pilot of any kind, it’s a good idea to choose a program that includes certification.

You don’t necessarily need certification for every job in the field of aviation and aeronautics, but in many cases, these added credentials may help to advance your career. For example, the FAA also offers certification for aircraft mechanics. This certificate isn’t required to work as a mechanic, but if you aren’t certified, you’ll only be able to work under a mechanic who is.

Licensing and Certifying Organizations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
As the lone entity certifying pilots in the U.S., The FAA offers a variety of licenses, including a private pilot license, commercial pilot license, airline transport pilot license, and more.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA)
The IATA offers a variety of training courses and certificates for those in the aviation field. With courses on subjects such as air navigation, ground services, and civil aviation authority, this organization can provide critical knowledge and valuable certificates as you advance in your career.

What Can You Do With an Aviation Degree?

If you’re wondering, “what can I do with an aviation degree?” there are plenty of options. Your aviation or aeronautics degree can be the key to entering many challenging and exciting Aviation Careers. For more detail, check out a few of these top aviation degree jobs:

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With an Aviation Degree?

Your aviation degree could open the door to a variety of careers in aviation or aeronautics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides median annual salary information as of 2018 for some of the top aviation degree jobs:

Career Median Salary
Airfield Operations Specialists $52,360
Flight Attendants $56,000
Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians $62,920
Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians $63,060
Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians $67,010
Airline and Commercial Pilots $115,670
Air Traffic Controllers $124,540

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are There Professional Aviation Associations or Societies I Should Join?

Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for aviation and aeronautics associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.

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