Aviation Scholarships: Tips and Tricks of the Trade
Aviation scholarships — specifically those awarded in business aviation — can often seem like “pie-in-the-sky” pursuits. That is: difficult to win, with a lot of hoops to jump through and red tape to navigate. Or aviation professionals often feel it’s too late—that they’re too far along in their careers to qualify for one.
But I’m here to tell you they’re worth the effort, and you shouldn’t abandon the idea of applying for them.
I’m a big proponent of scholarships. In fact, I often broach the subject when talking with aviation professionals. There is funding for every career development opportunity. And I wish more people would take advantage of them. Through my involvement on several scholarship committees, I see the benefits up close. The awards mean extra funds to earn a new type rating or finish a degree. Or you can earn a dispatcher certification and/or get your NBAA Certified Aviation Manager (CAM) certification. They can even help you pay for travel expenses to attend an industry conference.
The Benefits of Aviation Scholarships
Most our top candidates are what I like to call “lifelong learners.” They take a proactive approach to building a great professional repertoire. But there’s often a hefty price tag involved for training, certifications and the like.
My advice is that, instead of taking out loans, explore scholarships! Unlike applying for college loans, most applicants receive funds based on their passion. Not their financial status.
That’s why aviation scholarships are worth pursuing. They can help offset the cost of learning and add to your career. And there’s an aviation scholarship designed for nearly every aviation pro.
One rule of thumb with aviation scholarships is that you shouldn’t pin all your hopes on winning one. Instead, you can improve your chances by applying for several a year.
It’s true that there are some organizations that will limit you to earning one scholarship each year. But in many other cases, you’re invited to “double dip” to your heart’s content.
For example, an international flight attendant may want to get a CAM certification. In such a case, the applicant could apply for these seven opportunities (and more):
- NBAA Flight Attendant/Flight Technician Scholarship
- NBAA CAM Scholarship
- NBAA International Operators Conference (IOC) Scholarship
- NBAA Dale “Potsy” McBurney Aviation Scholarship
- Women in Corporate Aviation Scholarship
- Women in Aviation International Scholarship
- NBAA local or regional business aviation association scholarship (e.g., AZBAA)
If diligent about it, a flight attendant might earn up to four funded awards!
One person I know applied for a “general scholarship” and earned an award to cover the cost of dispatcher training. And what’s more, she got a second scholarship that she applied toward becoming an IS-BAO Auditor.
Don’t Forget Special Interest Awards
Once you begin searching for scholarships, I encourage you to seek out ALL opportunities. (See below for a list of several aviation-related scholarship sites). Think about how your own credentials or situation matches up with special interests. For instance, if you’re a veteran, check the Veterans Benefit Administration website. You just might qualify for education benefits. Or, if you apply to become a CAM, you may discover that you can be reimbursed for the CAM exam fee.
Likewise, consider special cultural, ethnic heritage or even military relationships in your background. You may even qualify for an obscure scholarship. It might sound crazy, but when my son and I were searching for college funds, we found a scholarship for tall people! Yes, it exists!
Persistence Pays Off!
Another tip about scholarships involves re-submitting them year after year. If you don’t happen to receive one on your first try, resubmit it the next year with your updated information. The competition and/or the award qualifications may have changed and it could be YOUR time!
Another bit of due diligence might be to seek out past award recipients. Try using LinkedIn to identify them and then connect with them to ask for advice. Ask them to give you one tip on what they feel might have helped them to be successful. You might even find that they’re willing to act as a mentor, helping to guide you in your scholarship pursuit.
Aviation Scholarship Application Tips
So, are you ready to apply for an aviation scholarship? If so, here are some tips to consider:
Read the fine print. You might have the urge to breeze through all the details, but it’s important to follow ALL instructions.
Know your deadlines and apply early. If your application is late, it won’t be accepted. For example, the closing date for fall applications is typically in October (or November). However, some organizations offer seasonal scholarships.
Request letters of recommendation (if required): It may be mandatory to include letters from industry members. Ask those who know you well enough to cite specific examples about why you’re a standout applicant. And be sure to request them from your colleagues—not a relative or friend. There’s more value getting one from someone who lives and breathes aviation.
When asking for recommendations:
- Provide a copy of your resume. Be sure to include something specific they can use to personalize their letter about you.
- Try and encourage them to say something unique or exemplary about you. Submitting generic letters of recommendation isn’t a particularly good idea. Help your recommenders help you. Instructors often will use the same basic language. That’s why it’s a good idea to give them unique information about yourself. This will result in a well-written, honest and “original” letter.
- Mention your volunteerism, mentoring experience and/or any other community service. One example could be that you promoted aviation careers at a career fair, school or church event. If it’s aviation-related, bring it up!
Write a compelling essay. Especially if your scholarship application requests one, this is your opportunity to shine! Your scholarship essay should show your passion for what you do and where you want to go. And it ought to confirm why you’re the best applicant. But be careful not to exaggerate your accomplishments. Thanks to Google, it’s easy for review committees to fact check your background.
When writing essays:
- Keep in mind the word count requirements—you could be disqualified for submitting too much or too little content.
- Organize your thoughts and make sure you’ve addressed the essay questions or topics.
- Be original and keep it interesting. Don’t repeat yourself just to fill in the word count.
- Weave in a story about how the scholarship funds will help you achieve a specific goal.
- Be sincere, honest and express your genuine feelings about the industry. Try to avoid quoting other people.
- Read every word of your essay out loud to help proofread it. Even the best spellers and writers can have a “typo” or a grammatical flub.
- Finally, tap someone that you trust to proofread your essay before you submit it.
Update your resume. It’s very important that everything on your resume be current. Definitely include your name, phone, city/state and email. Many people include their LinkedIn URL. (And remember that your online LinkedIn profile should include a link to your resume). Don’t forget to include your name in the header or footer on every page. I recommend that you omit your street address and birth date. And no one needs your social security number on your resume! Tip on email – no silly naming conventions
In the employment section, share how your accomplishments impact the organization. Use data to measure specific examples. In the education section, list your highest level of education, school and location. Additionally, mention your licenses, certifications and ratings. – reminder not to include high school
Popular Sites for Aviation Scholarships
There are many terrific websites to explore for scholarships. Below are just a few of the more well-known aviation sites you may want to browse to get started. Don’t forget that many colleges and universities have aviation programs, too. And, this website actually has thousands!
- Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)
- Air Force Association
- Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance (AWAM)
- Aviation Education and Career EXPO Scholarship
- Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA)
- Helicopter Foundation International (HFI)
- National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)
- National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA)
- NBAA Regional Business Aviation Groups
- National Air Transportation Association (NATA)
- University Aviation Association (UAA)
- UAA Janice K. Barden Aviation Scholarship – This award for college students is in honor of our amazing founder.
- Women in Aviation International (WAI)
- Women in Corporate Aviation (WCA)
Overall, I challenge you to use YOUR imagination to advance your career and grow professionally or personally! Don’t wait to begin your search…deadlines won’t wait for you. Good luck!
Scholarship Recipients Speak From Experience
Weighing the importance of applying for aviation scholarships? Here are a few instructive comments from actual scholarship recipients:
“Receiving a scholarship through IOC was one of the proudest days of my career! As a contract flight attendant, a lot of the bigger aviation scholarships go to pilots. So, when I received the honor it increased my self-esteem tenfold. I went on to use it to further my education . . .” –Kathryn (Katie) Heckman
“Unfortunately, my story is similar to some pilots, in that I ran out of cash before I completed my degree. Lucky for me I gained many great industry connections that helped me obtain the 2020 NBAA IOC Scholarship. It’s put me back on track to finish my BAS by 2021. If there is anything I can suggest to a fellow industry professional that may be in a similar situation it is to not be afraid to ask for help; to reach out to your industry network; and realize that it’s never too late finish something you started.” –Adam Toombs
“I believe that if anyone in our industry sees a scholarship they feel they are eligible for—apply! The skills and knowledge a scholarship provides can change lives. I’m particularly thankful for Women in Corporate Aviation and their amazing partners (donors). Also, I’m thankful for the expertise and forward thinking of Debbi Laux of API who planted the seeds that inspired me to pursue these opportunities.” –Kate Johnpeer
“The AZBAA scholarship [I received] was instrumental in my professional development, as it accelerated my transition from piston aircraft to turbine aircraft. About two months after LRJET training, I was hired to fly a Citation Encore. I utilized the fundamental knowledge and experience gained at FSI Tucson during CE-500 PIC type rating training at FSI Long Beach. I was significantly more proficient with the maneuvers than I would have been without the scholarship.” –Grant Weiner
“I’m currently paying for flight school with hourly wages and savings. The NBAA IOC Scholarship I received will give me the opportunity to further my education and accelerate the pace of my graduation. It will also give me more time to focus on causes vital to the aviation community and volunteer with organizations such as EAA, the 99s, and WAI Girls in Aviation Day.” –Chelsea Montgomery