The University of North Dakota
The University of North Dakota - Comments and Student Experiences|
-B.S. Commercial Aviation (airplane)
-$120,000 in school expenses (Excludes cost of living)
-Transfer student with little less than one year of college
-No previous flying
-In state residency
So you want to be a pilot? Me too!
Something different and something exciting. The thrill of flight is latched deep into your mind and it won't let go. Responsible for the livelihood of everyone who climbs on board YOU command the authority which determines whether passengers and crew travel safely or become the next color inset on the front page news. Responsible for the kinds of authority you can't think to find any other way. The University of North Dakota presents future students with a cliche brochure: A young pilot smiles ear to ear and welcomes you to the start of something great.
For some this may very well be the case. For many others this can quickly turn into something where escape is difficult if not impossible entirely.
From my own experience? Where you fall on the spectrum has much to do with how you arrive on the first day of class. Do you have supportive parents, a safety net, and Parent Plus Loans? Congratulations. You can dedicate yourself to the study of aviation. You can learn a singular blue collar trade, might go into tens of thousands of debt, and will be surrounded by >90% men for four glorious years. Do you lack the aforementioned requisites? Congratulations. You can dedicate yourself to the study of aviation. You can learn a singular blue collar trade, will go into tens of thousands of debt, and will be surrounded by >90% men for four glorious years. Also, you'll have almost no recourse when you graduate. Congratulations!
But I'm sure as you've read everywhere (through your meticulous research), only those who LOVE? aviation will succeed. Your grit, drive, and determination will propel your aviation career straight into airline/air force/agricultural/bush flying. This is a lie. What you read online and hear from staff at UND is survival bias. For every vocal proponent of a B.S. in commercial aviation there exists countless other students unseen, burdened by debt, and stuck with another year of school.
How this bias shows itself inside the UND aviation program is weird. You'd think it'd be most pronounced with staff and professors. Obviously, the staff and professors wouldn't speak poorly about flying as a career. But in fact some do, and many (most) refused flying for a better life teaching at UND.
Students on the other hand, no matter what year in the program, tend to be relentless in their LOVE? for aviation. You will be surrounded by borderline autistic levels of attraction towards airplanes. Be prepared. The sunk cost fallacy is strong at UND, and once most students complete AVIT 102 (the introductory private pilot course) concerns about career trajectory or the nearly exploitative levels of debt they are placed under go ignored. This of course is not UND's fault, who unsurprisingly, make stupid amounts of money with every starry eyed student pilot.
Yet despite these costs students continue to drag not only themselves but their families into debt for a one trick pony. Last I heard UND had to increase the number of class sections (and class sizes) for AVIT 102 because there was an overflow of student enrollment. The lack of forethought might be excusable if students were headed toward profitable careers. Instead what you sit next to in class is pent up frustration and existential dread obfuscated by LOVE? for aviation. At least at UND student pilots are turning into starving artists minus the healthy sex lives. If you want to be a part of this magnificent display of wasted time and resources then the University of North Dakota Commercial Aviation program is right for you.
So, that was my rant portion. The student body is kind of weird and I'm not too sure I want to fly in an airliner if I can help it. What I've seen being produced out of this Part 141 pilot mill is desperate and entitled. Give credit where credit is due however, UND commercial aviation students will usually take any work they can get since they know nothing besides flying and large amounts of debt. Future employers should keep this positive trait in mind when negotiating contracts with UND aviation alumni.
Anyway, other negative stuff to talk about:
-You will hear it a billion times, but it gets cold. We're talking -30F before windchill at its worst. You will find yourself flying during these times so make sure you bring all the clothes you'd need to survive in an empty farm field for a few hours. UND requires certain warm clothes for the flight line and they're very adamant about safety.
-The weather can suckkkk around UND, especially the winds. Anything above 25 knots will ground their C172s. Fortunately, they're moving to Pipers soon so it should get a little better. Unfortunately, the crappy fall and winter weather will still be there. I've gone a month without flying in the winter and no adjustments were made for grades or completion requirements. Remember, your LOVE? for aviation will get you through (also time and money).
-The flight schedules are sporadic. You'll be assigned a specific flight lab with specific hours which you choose based on your class schedule (first come first serve), but don't expect them to stick. This becomes helpful when you start doing cross country and night flights. This also contributes to gaps in flight training. If the weather hits your slots or planned flights just right you can be left high and dry for a long while. Get ready to wake up at 430am to get to the airport for your flights because of this. The best time to fly changes with the seasons unfortunately.
-Contract flying. China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and a few others I know I'm forgetting. Despite the record number of commercial aviation students enrolled at UND they are also admitting what I think to be larger numbers of foreign contract students. Your instructor is desperate for hours to leave UND and these contract students are perfect to reach that goal. Be careful your instructor doesn't place them before your own flight training. In many cases they fly 6 days a week. You will usually get 3 days unless you push for more. UND claims the contract students help subsidize flight training costs for American students. However, when you're waiting in line for takeoff behind 6 other planes you wonder how much help you really need with subsidized costs.
-Also, don't be surprised if your instructor is holding on to 10+ students at a time. Remember, the LOVE? for aviation means getting out of UND as fast as possible. Be sure to ask your instructor why they look so tired if they follow the UND rest requirements.
-If you drive to the airport expect at least 15 minutes one way. Doesn't seem like much but it adds up over time. When you take the UND shuttle van to the airport from Ryan hall you can add another 15 minute buffer while waiting for that.
-Your instructor is usually a recent UND graduate who was hired immediately after completing their CFI or CFII. This means your mentorship is going to be driven by them desperately needing flight hours and that whole LOVE? for aviation thing. They hate it when you question anything about flying as a career and will hold the amount of debt you're going into as reason enough to be a good student. After all, it'd be a shame if you had to drop out of the program with no other skills and all that debt. The staff and management (who I saw) support this mentality.
-Consequently, who you fly with can be hit or miss. Many of the instructors are accomplishing a life milestone: their first job. Don't be afraid to ask "why" they are doing something or even switching instructors if needed. This can push back your training though, so be careful how you time an instructor switch.
-A previous commenter on here mentioned failing ground school classes when you didn't finish flight lessons by the end of a semester. When I went through this was mostly not true. Most of my classes were allowed to become "incomplete" if I didn't finish flying by semester's end, and finished later in the following semesters. However, pending the needs of UND this can change between classes. My CFII class for example made finishing your flight lessons nearly 30% of the ground school grade. Luck of the draw, but in my experience UND tries to be consistent. Flight lessons are usually around 8% of your total ground school grade.
-You will inevitably have to get an incomplete for one of your flight courses. That means you will not be allowed to take the next required flight course until you finish the incomplete one first. This ruins the best laid plans of hundreds of students who think they'll power through their training in 4 years. Plan for the gaps. In my situation I had 3 flight courses that rolled over into the next semester. You are absolutely not allowed to take two flight courses in the same semester. This sucks big time and UND will not budge 99.99% of the time.
-Your final commercial aviation "flight" course will most likely be AVIT 480. This is not your capstone class. This course has no less than 3 prerequisite: AVIT 415, AVIT 421, and AVIT 428. Like every other UND flight course you can't take another flight course simultaneously. Funnily enough, it's only 1/3 semester long and offered twice per term. It's completed in a CRJ 200 Flight Training Device (FTD) and could be a great asset to UND's commercial aviation curriculum if it didn't need so many prerequisites. Instead, it's used as a catch-all for well-intentioned aviation students who start flight instructing but go part-time with school. Suddenly graduation becomes one more semester away several times over. Whoever in management thought that up deserves a raise for the extra tuition and fees brought in over the years.
-The grading system for required aviation classes will be based on 92% or higher for an A. Don't beat yourself up if you miss some flying and get stuck with a B or C despite your best efforts. You will need a C or better to pass the required aviation classes due to FAA mandate. A C will require 76% or more.
-Mandatory participation for required aviation classes. Once again brought to you by the almighty FAA. You miss a class you have to make it up with your instructor (Put that LOVE? for aviation to use!).
-If you miss a scheduled training flight UND will understandably charge you for the plane. If your instructor dropped the ball but thinks he didn't do anything wrong you can still be charged. Be sure to fight back if you have to.
-It's a dry campus. A lot of people are alcoholics. Finding your LOVE? for aviation in the bottom of a bottle will create conflict with the mandatory 12 hour bottle-to-throttle rule (yes 12, not 8). You can risk it, but random urinalysis is also a thing you'll have to agree to. Besides that, prepare to lose 6 months of flight time if you get caught drinking under age or on campus.
-This is a town of 60,000 people and 15,000 are UND students. Don't be surprised if someone says this is the biggest city they have been to in their life. If you like the consistency of white paint you'll love the demographics here as well.
-The views when flying get boring about half way through your first flight. Eastern North Dakota is flat. Few trees and few landmarks. Be sure to look at the kids posting pics to twitter and instagram for a good idea about how identical everything is.
-Originality and critical thinking are not going to be your best friend here. The school is incredibly limited with what students can do so as to maintain their insurance coverage. This is compounded by a stringent safety management system (a very good one honestly). Unfortunately, what results is unimaginative and technology dependent commercial aviation graduates. The flatness, the standard operating procedures, the instructors, and the drive for revenue flights makes for an incredibly sterile training environment. What does that mean of your LOVE? for aviation? It means you'll listen to the school and take what you can get. Your real world flying experience might be a little underwhelming.
Now how about positive things to discuss:
-You will learn a ton about flying. I would argue much more than you might receive in a Part 61 environment. Will you apply all of it? Definitely not. Still good stuff to know in my opinion.
-The aircraft are relatively new and well maintained. G1000 in most cockpits and little if any worry about mechanical problems. The UND safety program is fantastic across the board and does a great job.
-Professors are extremely knowledgeable and usually supportive of students. Many are at UND to better their career prospects and time with family which works to your advantage.
-Costs outside flight training are cheap! Tuition and fees are relatively low. It's too bad the flight training is such a black hole.
-The cafeteria food isn't bad, it's a clean and nice looking campus, and the dorms are pretty good. I'd recommend getting an apartment as soon as you can in order to save on costs.
-Yes, the aviation department is skewed but girls are literally down the street. I had no idea there was Scandinavian ancestry around the area. Although the aviation side of campus is pretty sparse UND is actually a pretty normal liberal arts college with a healthy Greek life. Make some friends with non-aviation majors because that will help your social life immensely while you're there.
-The roads are perfectly aligned with the cardinal directions and they're separated into perfect squares roughly 1 mile apart. This helps with all sorts of flight maneuvers when you're in the local area.
-UND has examining authority for every flight rating they offer except for MEI (I might be missing one). Makes scheduling your final checkrides a really simple process.
-Do you like french fries? So does Grand Forks once a year.
-Lots of open space if you're claustrophobic.
-Plenty of seasonal farm work around the area if you end up alcoholic and homeless.
Some parting advice:
-As of this writing several regional airlines have instituted attractive bonuses to bring in new pilots. Keep in mind that the bonuses are used in lieu of actual salary increases so they can be removed at a moment's notice. Great for everyone that gets one, but don't predicate your decision to get a commercial aviation degree on an income that includes temporary incentives.
-Don't trust too much of the commercial aviation program statistics UND management might throw your way. Things like average flight course completion times, debt levels, and job placement. UND management likes to tout their successful program, but how they define success is oftentimes left to the imagination. In a classroom full of LOVE? for aviation the numbers make perfect sense. For example, >90% job placement is great. Just ignore the fact UND hires most of their students as instructors after graduation. Not technically wrong, but mildly misleading.
-Good chance your advisor has no idea what you need in order to graduate. Ever. Know how to schedule your own classes and figure out which one's you need. Assume he doesn't know anything.
-Like all schools your individual experience with professors will be hit or miss. Absolutely use ratemyprofessor or similar sites to shop around before you decide on scheduling.
-Show up face to face at student account services if you have financial problems. They are much more helpful in person and if you're friendly. Same with financial aid.
-Get in-state residency after living in grand forks for a year! It pays off in the long run. You might even qualify for back pay.
-IMPORTANT. Take another major in addition to commercial aviation. UND has plenty of degree programs to pursue while you get your flight training. At least a minor in my experience.
-Have a life outside aviation! Don't become someone who has a LOVE? for aviation but can't consider alternative ways to succeed in life. Aluminum tubes are exciting, but not everything.
-I could not afford the flight costs at UND so I went into debt. I saved up before transferring but it was far from enough. I worked between classes. I became extremely exhausted. I had to repeat a couple flights and incomplete some courses. The kids you fly with will most often not be able to relate since their first and only job is flight instructing at UND. The amount of money I made part time helped, but if I could do it again I'd try to dedicate myself to studying 100% of the time. Probably not applicable to everyone's situation considering the costs involved.
I wouldn't recommend UND and their commercial aviation program given my experience. You'll read it on popular forums and some websites I'm sure, but try to start your flying career somewhere cheaper in the part 61 world. Don't be the guy who shows up to UND with a LOVE? for aviation without having actually flown (aka, me). Remember, failure is always an option.Should probably wrap this up. When I first started looking at commercial aviation programs I was excited by the idea of being a pilot. I felt that if I immersed myself in aviation and chased that LOVE? I'd be what the industry wants. More importantly I'd find success my own way on my own terms. Now that I've graduated from UND I've quickly learned that every interview begins not with what you do, but who you are. Find a good source of balance in life and through the ups and downs you'll be better off. Ultimately, being a pilot has little to do with it. Best of luck!