Value of a pilot's license for aerospace engineering or Air Force Academy?

I’m a junior, working on my private pilot license (FAA PPL-ASEL). I soloed last month and will get my license before the summer ends.

One worry I have is that colleges, especially the selective ones, will look upon it poorly.

For one, it just reeks of privilege (e.g. this is just some rich kid who spent a bit of time doing rich kid things). But in reality, it’s a huge effort to get a license—nothing at all like getting a driver’s license. And even though my family is fairly well off, I’ve still had to come up with the money to pay for half of the license myself, and so I do a bunch of yard work and house repair for neighbors (house painting, tree care, helping them with projects, etc.). But I don’t have records of employment and I don’t have an official employer—will colleges take my word for it that I work for neighbors for payment? Will they care?

For another, flying planes (and paying for it) has been the most time consuming thing I’ve done this year apart from school and sleep, and as much as I love it, it has prevented me from other activities. I know schools, especially the Air Force Academy, really value leadership… and I have minimal experience there. I have a leadership-ish position in a community service group I participate in regularly, and I’m in the process of starting an effort to introduce a math tutoring program for a local middle school with my school’s math club. That’s it. And I’m really worried about it. Being a pilot, it seems, doesn’t demonstrate leadership—I’m in the cockpit alone!

The one thing I hope this does for me is demonstrate to colleges that I already have a demonstrated passion for, and maybe even a level of expertise in, the industry in which I want to pursue a career. Maybe it’s not a research/intern position, and maybe it’s not a national science competition, but would colleges still think of it in a similar light? Would they value it for that?

Also, how the heck do I put it on an application? I can talk about it like an EC but having the actual license, I assume, would count as some sort of accomplishment/award instead. Can I list it as such?

Thanks in advance, from a worried junior!

There used to be a place on the ROTC app at least for a PP rating. It definitely had value in the application way back when. As you have noted, it takes a substantial effort. It’s a quantifiable EC - the BS is low in this one.

I’ll go a little further and say that it does show leadership. Your airman’s certificate allows you to play in the same airspace as much bigger hardware - I once landed at ABQ between some F-18s and a 737, for example. It also attests to your judgement, ability to stick to a goal, and ability to handle pressure without getting rattled. Your first solo, first crosswind landing, first unusual attitude recovery, these don’t really have parallels in most team sports.

The military doesn’t reward or penalize privilege as much as it cares what you do with it.

For engineering, I found it to have value too. Knowing what a phugoid oscillation feels like in the pit of your stomach goes a long way to a practical understanding of control theory. To be perfectly candid, soaring may have a slight edge here, but you absorb a lot of theory just through the training process for any PP rating.

It was a thing I did for the simple love of the sport, but it paid dividends I wouldn’t have guessed. Your experience may be be different, but I can’t imagine you’ll regret it.

Thank you - that’s incredibly reassuring, actually. And damn, I’ve yet to land next an F-18… that sounds awesome. I did get to watch a B-17 landing while holding short at HWD though. Flew about a mile away from one of those Goodyear blimps, and thought that was cool.
I do plan on hopefully getting some glider time actually, haha. I was recently on a flight on a 777 and asked to visit the cockpit after landing. That was the advice the pilots gave me.


Lol, I was parked in a thermal once at about 14000 feet over Sandia Peak while the Thunderbirds were flying at Albuquerque - maybe 10-15 miles away. I was impressed when a loop that started at about field elevation came up through my altitude in about the time it takes to read this post. Cool stuff.