AFROTC - Aviation Degree vs Aerospace Eng Degree


New Member
May 26, 2021
DS is interested in becoming a pilot. He realizes he does not need the engineering degree to compete for a pilot slot, but future options, such as test pilot, require that "flavor" of degree. Beyond being a degree that qualifies for a AFROTC scholarship - what are some of the compelling arguments for, or against, the engineering degree path? Equally, any arguments for/against the aviation degree?


USAFA C/O 25 Dad
Jan 29, 2021
DS is interested in becoming a pilot. He realizes he does not need the engineering degree to compete for a pilot slot, but future options, such as test pilot, require that "flavor" of degree. Beyond being a degree that qualifies for a AFROTC scholarship - what are some of the compelling arguments for, or against, the engineering degree path? Equally, any arguments for/against the aviation degree?
Argument against.....Does he love engineering? Does he have an engineering mindset? If his heart is not into that degree he will most likely struggle and have a very tough time. He should seek out a degree that he is passionate for. If that passion is engineering then great!


New Member
Feb 9, 2022
Agree with FH76, if his heart isn't in engineering, then maybe a business degree would be an option. Or go to technical school and get his A&P. Point being, all pilots lose their medical at some point. The key is to add value to yourself in the airlines. Say your son experiences a medical condition that grounds him, if he has a degree, he has still value with the airline in the business end.


5-Year Member
Mar 31, 2013
I'll speak for aviation degrees:

Pretty cool degree
Fast training
Well on the way to a civilian aviation career (most ratings complete) if flying for the USAF does not work out
Can be a benefit in UPT
Good networking/career opportunities if USAF does not work (a lot of airlines have programs just for aviation degree students)

Airline oriented (If one isn't passionate about the airlines, classes on airline operations won't be interesting)
No real applicability outside aviation (What happens when a furlough happens? Can't really do too much outside aviation with an aviation degree)
Could be a detriment in UPT if one can't adapt to the USAF way of flying


Super Moderator
10-Year Member
Jul 26, 2008
He needs to prioritize: what is most important to him? Is it flying? Is it a degree? Is it serving as an officer? The answer to each directs a different approach sometimes.

For example: if he has an engineering degree, and is on an ROTC scholarship...he is set for the AF. If he is PQ at graduation (earlier in reality) and is selected for SUPT, then he goes off the fly. If something happens in SUPT and he doesn't complete the program, the AF sees an engineer with lots of potential for all manner of career fields.

If he has a generic degree and this happens...the AF may have difficulty finding a field for him. He could be voluntold to a career field he is not at all interested in. A classmate of mine from USAFA...military history major. Went to UPT...was burning up the program until he GLOC'd in the T-38. Grounded from that point on as he was unconscious for quite some time (the IP brought the plane back). He had "that degree" so...the AF evaluated where to put him and he became a military security forces officer. For many folks, that's a great field; but for him, he considered he was 50% in hell and was waiting for the final call. He bailed the second he could and went into industry...eventually working his way up to a fine career, but it took time.

I'm all about building the most impressive package possible to make oneself valuable to all. I have a BSME...barely survived it at USAFA. However...when flying didn't work on the outside, I ended up at a computer company designing computers (no mech stuff, just computer geekery) and eventually ended up a "Staff Electrical Engineer" at Motorola. They said they hired me for my USAFA degree, the Mechie part was a bonus and they'd teach me the EE stuff I needed to know. And they did and I loved the job!!! And I was still in the AFRC was pretty good!

In my case, when I didn't get an airline slot (bad timing) I thought I was done. However, the background I had in engineering (school only) and serving as an officer, turned out to be very valued by corporate America.

He needs to think strategically and not tactically.

Just my humble opinion, which, with $1.18 will get you an XL Polar Pop in an AZ Circle K!


Nov 27, 2017
Sage guidance in posts above.

The majority of officers in the Air Force are not active, flying pilots.
Air Force does value prior flight hours when picking pilots, which you could get in or outside of a professional flight degree. After field training they’ll even provide like 4K to fund getting that experience.
All branches have pilots - if your DS wishes to fly he should check out the missions of each branch.
Not all people who want to fly as officers/ warrant officers in the military are afforded the opportunity.

How strong is the desire to be an officer and to be a pilot? If DS wants to fly and serve with equal priority he could take a professional flight Major course of study and know that, even if he ends up behind a desk in the “ChAir Force” he could still fly after his service. But trust me that path even with a rotc scholarship just ain’t cheap.
Unless you want to be an engineer that path to study is a steep hill to grind through. What does he want to do that he would love?

If he thinks he wants to fly get him up for a flight lesson in the air and a class 1 flight physical. Better to know if he has any issues that would block him from flying sooner than later.

Agree with comments about a backup plan to fly. Both after serving and to explore which branch mission he would most want to support if he’s not a pilot. Good luck to him.


5-Year Member
Feb 16, 2016
When my son was getting ready to apply to colleges, we stressed to major in something that will benefit him in the civilian world along with the Air Force. He graduated in May 2021 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. He was immediately hired right out of college as he waited for his report date. In March of 2022, he reported to base. UPT did not begin until just a few weeks ago. I think he's in week 3.
If all works out, he'd love to be a test pilot. However, this did not impact his choice of degree simply because being an AF Pilot wasn't even in his vocabulary until the end of his freshman year. Engineering is pretty rigorous.
2 friends that he commissioned with and are at the same base as he is, both do not have an engineering degree- nothing in aviation either. One of them never even solo'ed until he went to IFT-

I totally agree with the above post---- get the flight physical and have him get his 15 hours (?) in. This is what we did before my son began attempting to get a pilot slot.


Feb 7, 2022
I'm an AFROTC T-1 scholarship cadet and pursuing a mech/aero engineering degree and I also want to fly eventually, I'm even logging hours here and there when time permits, but first and foremost for me right now is obtaining my degree with the highest aptitude I can achieve.


5-Year Member
Jun 21, 2016
I read many posts from civilian commercial pilots about getting a degree in anything but aviation as it is expensive. Their main concern is what happens when you can't fly anymore. You will need some other degree to fall back on. That makes a lot of sense. My son and i had several discussions about this. Here was my concussion and maybe its right and maybe it wrong. I am a CPA so lets say my son got a degree in accounting. He does his 11-12 years in the AF as a pilot and then gets out. Do you really think an accounting firm or any other company is going to hire him for an accounting job when he probably hasn't touched accounting after so many years? I mean if you are an employer, are you going to hire the 22 year old with no experience or the 34 year old with no experience? Sure they may hire ex military with leadership experience although that isn't exactly something an accounting firm is going to care about. My son got a degree in Professional Flight from Purdue and he is very happy about it. It could bite him the butt years from now He may also get a Master Degree that has something to do with aviation but not flying. AF wants their officers to have Masters and it's basically free if you do it right. An engineering degree is great for being a test pilot. Its also one hard degree so you better like it. At Purdue which is known for engineering, its actually relatively easy to get into their engineering program. The hard part is staying. Their initial classes weed out many of the students. Ironically its probably easier to get into Purdue's engineering program than it is to get into the Professional Flight program.