There are a few factors that play into the "best" course for any particular pilot, however objectively speaking, there is no "one single path" that has any significant monetary and quality-of-life benefits over another.
Let's Start with the Financials
Vocational flight training is less expensive than college degree programs.
Vocational training requires less time until you start earning an income off of your training.
Additionally, vocational training tends to provide students with a deeper pool of training opportunities that will result in licenses or ratings by taking advantage of the time not being spent in classrooms for college credit hours.
Addressing Changes in Postsecondary Education
College tuition continues to soar with a staggering number of graduates leaving school with
Online degrees are no longer a second class option. Most schools with online programs make no differentiation between traditional campus-based degrees and online degrees, and neither do employers.
Online degree programs cost significantly less and offer schedule flexibility unheard of when attending classes.
The high student debt has prompted employers who seek the best talent to offer tuition reimbursement programs to employees who wish to enroll in degree programs after they are employed.
Looking at an An Ideal Career Trajectory
The factors outlined above can come together in a strategic way to maximize your lifetime earning
potential and your work/life balance.
Enroll in a Vocational Flight School offering comprehensive training, including Certified Flight Instructor, Instrument Instructor and Multi-Engine Instructor training. Becoming a flight instructor at a reputable flight school should take no longer than a year, and will provide you with your first opportunity to start being paid to fly.
As a flight instructor, you will continue to build hours of flight experience, and once you have reached 1500 hours of flight time - which should take about a year - you will be ready to get your first airline job with a regional carrier.
This means that two years after starting flight training, you are a commercial airline pilot.
You've Become a Pilot. What Now?
You have successfully trained to become a pilot, you are making a living flying and you have decided that you would like to also have a college degree or another kind of learned and professional skill. Is this something that's possible to achieve and how can this be done without taking time away from your new career-- and why would you want to do this anyway?
We talk about "Work/Life Balance" being a major part of what we think a person's career-based success should include. Becoming a pilot and flying an airplane started as a childhood dream for many of you. During the course of fulfilling that dream, having the dream become a goal, the goal become a reality and the reality become your career, you may find, just like with anything wonderful, that you also want and need something more. Not a replacement, not an "instead", but something more.
The mandatory retirement age for a professional pilot is 65. The average amount of time a pilot has off per month is 12-15 days. Motivation can come from anywhere, and many pilots have decided that their free time is well spent studying something other than their flying -- psychology, science, cooking, electronics, mechanical engineering -- really anything that can exercise the mind in addition to the wonders of flight.
Taking your time in choosing to educate yourself in something that really interests you - other than flying - and then having the free time to study, learn, and embrace another hobby-career because of the work/life balance aspect of a career pilot, you can essentially design your life to continue as meaningfully as your pilot career well past that mandatory 65. People are living longer and healthier than ever before, and the idea of retirement has become boring.
An online education that you can take your time deciding on, devoting free time and personal attention to and paying for with your pilot's salary can essentially become the second half of your life, and can result in a post-pilot career meaningfulness that you can continue with well into "old age." We believe that the flight school model of earning money flying in the shortest time possible, becoming a successful and earning individual and climbing that ladder to captain, while circumventing the notion of stopping your life to incur a ton of debt and a four-year degree before you're qualified for an entry level job is an ideal career trajectory.
In fact, that four-year committal of on-site college education is proving to be outdated. Jason Tyszko, the executive director of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, says employers have “less and less confidence” in traditional degrees. They want narrow credentials... or in a pilot's case, certifications, as earned through your flight training education.
And in the case of the antiquity of the retirement idea, Susann Rohwedder and Robert J. Willis, in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (2010; 24:119-138), states:
Many workers benefit significantly from continuing to work into old age. Work is “medicine” – even better than medicine for many. In addition to providing economic security and often wider access to healthcare options, work enhances well-being, promotes social interaction, increases the variety and quality of life, and provides many people with a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Although some older individuals work out of necessity, many report that they continue to work to contribute, or to “make a difference.” Almost all jobs help older people sustain and extend their physical activity level and support increased social engagement and larger support networks. Work provides accountability for many; an absence from work may serve as the first sign to warn distant family that something is wrong with a loved one. Emerging evidence also suggests that work may improve brain health, sustain healthy cognition, and protect memory.