15 Best Aviation Colleges in 2023

April 13, 2023

best aviation colleges

If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring the world at the helm of an airplane, aviation college might be the place for you. At the best aviation colleges, you’ll learn all the ins and outs of flying aircraft and aeronautics, opening up doors to rewarding careers as private, commercial, and cargo pilots. Not the cubicle type? With perks of the job that include a front-row seat to epic views, a flexible work schedule, and the satisfaction of safely transporting passengers to their final destination, it’s clear that aviation is one of the most unique career paths out there.

Best Aviation Colleges – Education and Training

To become a commercial or airline pilot, your first step will be earning a bachelor’s degree in aviation. Because pilots need to master the mechanics and physics of flight, you’ll take rigorous classes in aeronautics, meteorology, safety, aviation law, and leadership on top of required flight training hours.

Best Aviation Colleges – Career Opportunities

Once you graduate, you can expect entry into a well-paying job in a steadily growing field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for airline and commercial pilots was $134,630 per year. Jobs for pilots are expected to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031.

Since no two flights are the same, aviation is a challenging career field that offers you opportunities for continuous hands-on learning and real-time problem-solving. According to U.S. News, pilots rank #4 in the best social services jobs out there and #10 in best-paying jobs.

The 15 Best Aviation Colleges

Ready to find the best aviation colleges for you? The good news is there are as many types of colleges with aviation programs as there are airplanes in the sky. Read on to see which of these high-quality programs will be the best fit for your own needs and goals.

Note: The criteria considered in compiling this list included peer reputation, unique programs/opportunities, and career connections/outcomes data. As with all rankings, we advise not to place too much emphasis on whether a school was listed at #4, #6, or #12. The better way to use this list would be as a launching off point to further explore each of the 15 schools that all have phenomenal aviation programs to see which best suit your unique needs. 

1) Purdue University

Consistently ranked one of the best aviation colleges, Purdue University is a public college located in West Lafayette, Indiana. With 7 different ungraduated aviation majors, Purdue offers a broad range of study for aviation enthusiasts. Become a pilot through their professional flight major. Or, if you don’t want to focus on flight, study aeronautical engineering or airport and airline management. As a Purdue student, you can count on solid industry connections and internships with airline partners such as Envoy, Frontier, and Atlas Air.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $9,992
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $28,794
  • Location: West Lafayette, Indiana

2) Auburn University

With more than 80 years of experience educating pilots, Auburn is one of the oldest colleges with aviation programs in the nation. Undergraduate students can choose between a major in professional flight and aviation management. Those with multiple academic interests can opt to add a minor in either field onto a major in another discipline. Auburn’s notable partnerships with major airlines such as Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest, and United are also a big part of what help make it one of the best aviation colleges.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $11,826
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $31,986
  • Location: Auburn, Alabama

3) Baylor University

A private Baptist Christian college in Waco, Texas, Baylor allows students to major in aviation sciences or aviation administration at a faith-based university. Future pilots will want to pursue the aviation sciences major, where they can choose whether to focus on airplane or helicopter flight. Classes are taught by faculty with real-world experience in commercial, corporate, and military aviation. Intent on setting their students on the path to becoming successful pilots, Baylor also allows their students to earn major credit through their Aviation Internship in Industry course.

  • Annual Tuition: $50,232
  • Location: Waco, Texas

4) Western Michigan University

Boasting a fleet of 28 Cirrus SR20s for pilots in training, Western Michigan University is home to the largest flight school in the Midwest. At this public university students can pursue majors in aviation flight science, aviation technical operation, and aviation management. WMU also offers helpful career development for students planning to enlist after completing their degrees. Through the ROTC program, undergraduates will qualify for leadership positions in the Air Force or Space Force post-graduation.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $13,434
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $16,768
  • Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan

5) Kansas State University

Located at their Salina campus, Kansas State University’s aviation program offers a wide array of majors and certificates that prepare students for a variety of careers. Students who have already earned their pilot’s license can earn their bachelor’s in professional aviation through a fully online program. Or, if you’re looking to receive pilot training while enrolled, you can opt for a professional pilot degree. KSU has a 98% acceptance rate and aims to make tuition and flight hours affordable for all through financial assistance and aviation-specific scholarships.

  • Annual In State Tuition (per credit hour): $292
  • Annual Out of State Tuition (per credit hour): $788
  • Location: Salina, Kansas

Best Aviation Colleges – Continued

6) Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is unique in offering separate majors for students who want to fly either fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft. Named one of the best aviation colleges by Grad Reports, Embry-Riddle has reason to brag: their Golden Eagles Flight Team has won 36 consecutive regional championships and 15 national SAFECON championships. Students at this private school are also connected to big names in aviation like United, JetBlue, and Delta.

  • Annual Tuition: $42,204
  • Location: Prescott, Arizona

7) Florida Institute of Technology

Florida Tech is home to one of the country’s more robust aviation colleges. With 7 associate’s degree programs and 9 bachelor’s degrees programs, this university’s range of majors include aeronautical science, aviation meteorology, and aviation management. Students who plan to become pilots can pursue an aeronautical science degree that specializes in flight. While studying, students can choose an ROTC pathway or join the career pathway program that leads to jobs with ExpressJet or Delta. Florida Tech students can also apply for a master’s degree in aviation or an accelerated MBA program.

  • Annual Tuition: $43,246
  • Location: Melbourne, Florida

8) University of Oklahoma

Flying Magazine lists University of Oklahoma as one of the best aviation colleges in the nation. At UO, you can choose to apply to their aviation management or professional pilot track. Paid and volunteer opportunities at Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and UPS are sure to give you great connections that will jump-start your career. Lower tuition rates compared to other colleges with aviation programs keep this university affordable.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $4,655
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $12,939
  • Location: Norman, Oklahoma

9) Ohio University

With both two-year and four-year pathways to becoming a pilot, Ohio University lets you choose whether to pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in aviation. In the associate’s program, you will earn a private pilot certificate, instrument rating, and a commercial pilot certificate. Students pursuing the bachelor’s degree will take additional coursework in business management, meteorology, plus advanced flight training courses in flight crew operations and corporate flight operations.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $12,840
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $22,810
  • Location: Athens, Ohio

10) University of North Dakota

Lauded as one of the most comprehensive aviation programs, the University of North Dakota has majors in commercial aviation, aviation studies, aviation safety and operations, in addition to majors in aviation management. Not all colleges with aviation programs offer training in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), but UND was the first in the nation to do so. UND’s strong UAS program gives students opportunities to interact with companies like Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, and SkySkopes.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $12,897
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $30,752
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Best Aviation Colleges – Continued

11) Bowling Green State University

While all of the best colleges with aviation programs have airport access, Bowling Green State University is one of the few colleges that can claim to have a regional airport right on campus, just a short walk from the residence halls. BGSU has majors in both flight technology and operations and aviation management and operations. They also offer an Army ROTC elective course for students planning to enlist. In 2021, BGSU invested $5 million into modernizing their fleet, expanding their flight operations, and bringing in state-of-the-art simulation training devices.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $13,061
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $21,049
  • Location: Bowling Green, Ohio

12) Utah State University

At Utah State University, students can choose to focus in on fixed-wing, rotary-wing, or unmanned aerial systems. USU students learn to fly at the foot of the beautiful Wellsville Mountains while studying a comprehensive aviation program. USU also gives students a leg up as they start their careers with internships and cadet programs with SkyWest, Envoy, and American Airlines.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $8,960
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $24,080
  • Location: Logan, Utah

13) South Dakota State University

South Dakota State University offers an aviation degree with two specializations: aviation education or aviation maintenance management. In the education specialization, top students are often hired to work as flight instructors during their last two years. Maintenance management majors get hands-on experience working on planes in the hangar. This program is smaller in size and offers affordable out of state tuition rates compared to other colleges with aviation programs.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $9,299
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $12,809
  • Location: Brookings, South Dakota

14) Saint Louis University

Saint Louis University offers a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics with concentrations in aviation management and flight science, which prepares students for careers as professional pilots. SLU students have held internships with airlines such as Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, and United. A private Catholic, Jesuit university, SLU offers smaller class sizes and individual flight instruction. Its student-centered approach makes this university one of the best aviation colleges nationwide.

  • Annual Tuition: $49,800
  • Location: St. Louis, Missouri

15) San José State University

San José State University offers four majors to aviation enthusiasts: aviation management, flight operations, professional flight and maintenance management. For students who want to become pilots, the professional flight major offers a solid grounding in fundamental principles and advanced courses in aeronautics and avionics. SJSU also offers a for-credit internship course that offers students hands-on work experience.

  • Annual In State Tuition: $7,852
  • Annual Out of State Tuition: $19,732
  • Location: San Jose, California

How to Choose the Best Aviation College for You

Unlike majors in broader fields like communications or sociology, aviation degrees are highly specialized degrees with lots of hands-on career training. When selecting which colleges with aviation programs to apply to, consider what kind of aviation you want to specialize in. Do you aspire to pilot for one of the world’s most popular airlines? Do you plan to enlist in the military? Are you interested in operating unmanned aircraft systems? Many of the colleges with aviation programs listed above allow you to pick a specialization right away, but plenty also let you explore career options as you study.

In addition to specialization, consider other important factors like location, cost of attendance, campus culture, and internship and career opportunities so that you can make sure you get the most out of your college years.

Best Aviation Colleges – Related Majors

And if you have a love of aircraft but you’re not sure if becoming a pilot is the right path for you, consider applying to colleges for aerospace engineering or colleges for mechanical engineering or explore College Transition’s Dataverse to learn more about other great college and career options.