Top Aviation Schools in the United States for Aspiring Pilots
This article was updated on November 21, 2019
For many, becoming a pilot is living the dream. Whether you’re looking to fly your own private plane or go career by joining a top airline as a commercial jet pilot, there is no shortage of flight instruction schools all over the country.
Choosing a suitable flight school might be as simple as picking one from nearby. After all, there are some learning centers available on-site at most airports, and there are many others that are off-site managed by private training companies.
But it might be worth keeping in mind that, if you’re after a more rewarding career in commercial aviation, getting an education from a top learning institution might actually be a more prudent course of action.
In fact, many consider admission into these top aviation schools as an investment of sorts, giving you so much more beyond what you might be expected to shell out in terms of tuition. A high-caliber flight school certainly opens doors for you, thanks to a network of classmates, colleagues, and instructors, as well as career and advancement opportunities you might not get otherwise.
That said, here are some notable schools for pilot training you may want to check out.
The 5 Top Aviation Schools in the United States
These are considered to be the very best educational institutions in the country, offering not just degree programs in aviation or aeronautics, but also graduate programs for those who would want to further their careers in the industry.
These courses are taught by leading experts in the aviation field with real-world experience and equipped with sizeable fleets of instructional aircraft, as well as the latest in flight simulation technology.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (or ERAU) is considered the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, with an impressive 96% success rate of employment.
A private institution established in 1926, Embry-Riddle is, without a doubt, a leader in the aviation industry.
Offering all sorts of courses related to aviation and aeronautics, as well as further studies, the institute promises that its students will not only learn how to fly, but will also acquire many sought-after skills like leadership, critical thinking, and conducting research.
- Campuses: The main campuses are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, and in Prescott, Arizona. Undergraduate enrollment (2016-2017) is about 9,877 students enrolled in the ERAU system, including within the ERAU Worldwide and Worldwide Online programs.
- Degree Programs: Other than ERAU’s flight program (Aeronautical Science), the university has more than 60 degree programs available, including aeronautical and aerospace engineering, global security & intelligence, air traffic control, and business administration, to name a few. ERAU also offers master’s degrees and is one of the very few universities to offer a doctorate in aviation.
- Fleet: ERAU has a fleet of more than 90 airplanes (many of which are ADS-B equipped) and 40 simulators, including at least one full flight Level D simulator.
- Tuition: The average annual cost for first-time, full-time undergraduate students receiving federal aid is $19,000.
- Website: Have a look at the courses on aeronautics on the official ERAU website.
2. Ohio State University
Ohio State is the highest-ranked public university in Ohio, and just so happens to have one of the top aviation schools in the entire United States.
Found within the College of Ohio OSU’s Engineering’s Center for Aviation Studies, these top-notch aeronautical programs also provide valuable student opportunities such as internships, research, and employment opportunities via partnerships between OSU and prominent agencies in the industry.
Boasting a talented pool of faculty members, the Center for Aviation Studies is geared towards advancing the aviation industry, committed to providing high-quality flight training for students. The training takes place at the Ohio State University Airport, the third busiest airport in Ohio. This gives students real-life experience by practicing in a busy airspace.
Campus: in Columbus, Ohio. There are an estimated 44,762 undergraduate students enrolled at Ohio State University (for the academic year 2016–17).
- Degree Programs: OSU offers both undergraduate and graduate aviation degree programs. Students can take the undergraduate bachelor of science degree in aviation (via the College of Engineering), and then work towards a commercial pilot’s certificate with the advantage of an instrument rating.
- Fleet: A fleet of 19 aircraft, including 10 Cessna 172s used for all sorts of instructional purposes, including private pilot training, instrument pilot training, and commercial pilot training, as well as currency training and introductory flights.
- Tuition: The average annual cost for first-time, full-time undergraduate students receiving federal aid is $17,000.
- Website: More about Ohio State’s Aviation program on the official university website.
3. Purdue University
Purdue has the unique distinction of being the university from which Neil Armstrong had graduated, thus earning the nickname “Cradle of Astronauts”.
Students can get their master’s degree in aviation and aerospace along with their bachelor’s degree in 5 years.
Providing its students with a larger perspective of the aviation industry, Purdue not only has state-of-the-art flight simulators, but it also has one of the best fleets of aircraft of any university, allowing every flight student in the flight program to fly a jet.
- Campus: the West Lafayette, Indiana campus is the flagship campus of the Purdue University system. There are an estimated 30,849 undergraduate students enrolled for the academic year 2016–17.
- Degree Programs: Purdue’s College of Technology offers degree programs allowing students to major in aeronautical engineering technology, air traffic control, aviation management, or professional flight technology. Purdue also offers a master of science in aviation & aerospace management.
- Fleet: the Aviation Department operates a good number of aircraft, including 16 Cirrus SR20s, two Piper Seminoles, a Super Decathlon, a Beechjet, and a Phenom 300.
- Tuition: The average annual cost for first-time, full-time undergraduate students receiving federal aid is $14,000.
- Website: More about Purdue’s professional flight program here on the official university website.
4. University of North Dakota
Located in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the University of North Dakota (UND) is a public research university, known not just for its superior liberal arts programs, but also for its role in furthering many fields of scientific research.
UND’s very own John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences is also one of the best aviation schools in the country, with seven aviation degree programs, the largest collegiate fleet in the United States, and some of the world’s most advanced flight simulators.
- Campus: the main campus is located in Grand Forks, North Dakota. There are an estimated 10,598 undergraduate students enrolled at UND (for the academic year 2016–17).
- Degree Programs: Through the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, students can earn a degree in one of the following majors: airport management, aviation management, air traffic control, aviation technology management, commercial aviation, flight education or UAS operations. UND also offers a master of science in aviation and a doctorate in aerospace sciences.
- Fleet: UND operates a sizeable collegiate fleet, with over 120 aircraft consisting of airplanes, helicopters, and unmanned aerial systems.
- Tuition: The average annual cost for first-time, full-time undergraduate students receiving federal aid is $15,000.
- Website: Have a look at the various available courses on aerospace and aviation on the official UND website.
5. Western Michigan University
One of the top 100 public universities in the United States, Western Michigan University (WMU) has a superior aviation program, ranking as one of the top 5 aviation programs offered in the country.
WMU’s well-regarded College of Aviation has been in existence for almost 80 years now, with top-notch aviation-related instructional facilities and a sophisticated fleet of training aircraft.
The College of Aviation offers the only comprehensive aviation program at a public university in Michigan, with degree programs utilizing an outcomes-based assessment process with feedback loops to ensure the continuous improvement of students.
- Campuses: the main WMU campus is located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but the flight department is located at W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek, Michigan. There are an estimated 17,984 undergraduate students enrolled for the academic year 2016–17.
- Degree Programs: WMU’s College of Aviation has three programs available: aviation flight science, aviation management and operations, and aviation maintenance technician.
- Fleet: The WMU College of Aviation has 26 Cirrus SR20 aircraft, two Piper Arrows, six Piper Seminoles, an American Champion Super Decathlon, two Cessna 150 aircraft, and a Piper Super Cub.
- Tuition: The average annual cost for first-time, full-time undergraduate students receiving federal aid is $17,000.
- Website: More about WMU’s programs from its College of Aviation here on the official university website.
Other Top Aviation Schools in the United States
There are a lot of other aviation schools across the country for aspiring pilots of all ages and skill levels, offering all kinds of courses in response to the growing need for highly skilled professionals in the aviation industry.
With high-quality curriculums, industry-experienced faculty instructors, and career development assistance, these schools prepare students with the skills and knowledge necessary to become successful aviation professionals in their chose fields of expertise.
6. Academy College
Based in Bloomington, MN, Academy College is a private institution offering an array of professional career-focused degree programs, including courses in commercial aviation, aviation business, commercial pilot, and aircraft dispatcher.
Students are offered flexible schedule options tailored to meet their needs. Courses are taught by instructors who are specialists with industry-relevant experience, providing students with a suitably challenging curriculum to prepare them for complex and dynamic careers in the aviation industry.
Academy College maintains associations with well-regarded professional organizations, giving students valuable access to lifetime placement assistance, career and resume counseling, and employer panel discussions.
7. CAE Oxford Aviation Academy
Equipped with the world’s largest civil aviation training network, CAE Oxford Aviation Academy’s Cadet Pilot Training Program provides courses that cater to dedicated individuals who desire to become pilots.
CAE has a global network of 250+ full-flight simulators in 50+ training locations in some of the world’s most desirable destinations. In the United States, CAE’s flight school is located in Phoenix, Arizona at the Phoenix Goodyear Airport.
8. FlightSafety Academy
FlightSafety Academy serves as the ab initio training center for FlightSafety International, a company that provides professional state-of-the-art proficiency training through its flight simulators, visual systems, and displays to various commercial, government, and military organizations.
FlightSafety Academy has provided thousands of high-caliber graduates to the world’s airlines. Established in 1966, FlightSafety Academy operates out of Florida’s Vero Beach Municipal Airport, with a sizeable fleet of more than 85 planes, including single and multi-engine aircraft.
9. Hallmark College of Aeronautics
A private university in San Antonio, Texas, Hallmark University is dedicated to providing industry-relevant programs to motivated aspiring aviation professionals. As a career school known for its superior Aeronautics program, Hallmark also has academic programs in Healthcare, Business and Information Technology.
Providing rigorous and challenging programs that remain abreast of advancement and regulatory changes within the aviation industry, Hallmark has a pool of highly experienced instructors who ensure students attain a high level of competency as well as a highly-developed code of ethical conduct.
10. Kansas State Polytechnic
The Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus is the home of the University’s College of Technology and Aviation, which not only has an award-winning pilot-training program but also has courses which allow students to pursue careers focusing on airport management, aviation maintenance management, unmanned aircraft systems, design and integration of unmanned aircraft, and more.
The professional pilot program offers a diverse fleet of more than 30+ aircraft, including Beechcraft Barons and new Cessna 172s. Kansas State Polytechnic’s professional pilot courses is one of the few programs in the country that offers students the opportunity to fly a Canadair Regional Jet, or CRJ700 simulator.
11. L3 Harris Flight Academy
L3Harris Flight Academy is L3Harris’ own premier institute for aspiring aviation career professionals. With headquarters in Sanford, Florida at the Orlando Sanford International Airport, L3Harris has other campuses around the United States.
L3Harris Flight Academy provides students with advanced industry-relevant curriculum and training, preparing them for careers in top airlines nationally and internationally.
Considered a leading institute for pilot training, the L3Harris Flight Academy is recognized for the quality of its graduates. The school works with 14 affiliate airlines, providing students with pathways to some of the industry’s leading operators, including United, American, and Delta.
12. MIAT College of Technology
Since 1969, MIAT College of Technology has helped thousands of individuals get the industry-relevant skills, experience and connections it takes to pursue rewarding careers in aviation and aircraft technology.
The institute has built a solid reputation and a strong working relationship with the country’s top employers. With that in mind, MIAT students get relevant, up-to-date skills employers look for.
The training and education students receive is applicable to an array of professional and technical fields in various industries. Students of MIAT also receive support services including one-on-one instruction additional laboratory training and student employment assistance.
13. San José State University
San José State University (SJSU) is the oldest public university on the West Coast and is the founding campus of the California State University System.
The SJSU Department of Aviation and Technology is one of the country’s top flight schools; in addition to its aviation programs, it also has courses that prepare students for careers in airport operations and management, maintenance management, airline operations, and air traffic control management.
14. Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology
Providing high-quality aviation training all the way back to 1928, Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology has always been known as a pioneering leader in aviation education and training and has produced graduates who have continued on to make remarkable contributions within the aviation industry.
In 2015, Spartan had welcomed Crimson Technical College into its fold as well, allowing students to now study on campuses in either Los Angeles, CA or Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Offering programs that encompass the areas of aviation, aerospace manufacturing, and technology, the Spartan College curriculum incorporates the latest advances in the most current information in the continuously evolving aviation industry.
Spartan College offers ongoing career services to their graduates which include resume creation recruiting visits and interview training. In addition, the institution also provides contract training to employees of national and international government agencies, as well as various commercial organizations within the industry.
A Final Word About The Country’s Top Aviation Schools
Note that this is by no means a complete list of aviation schools in the United States, but a compilation of some of the top-of-mind recommendations based on what employers are looking for.
Indeed, there are a number of lists of top flight schools that can be online, each one with a different list, but some of the very best learning institutions in aviation and aeronautics do appear consistently in many of those lists.
Of course, it goes without saying that we’ll endeavor to keep this list as updated and as current as possible. Even as some flight schools cease operations, new brands emerge in response to the growing (and ever-changing) need of the aviation industry.