The number of hours and level of dedication for air traffic controllers seems to be directly proportional to the air traffic controller's education. Air traffic controllers, or potential air traffic controller candidates, often come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some candidates are former military, while others have attended an aviation school. Still others have never been in the service, nor have taken classes in an aviation school. However, there are certain core and basic educational requirements that all must meet, one way or the other, in order to move into the testing and training phases.

There are three paths that a potential candidate can follow, educationally. These tracks concern those who already have prior experience, such as in the military, those who have graduated, or will soon graduate, from an approved air traffic controller school (AT-CTI), and for those who have no background or experience in aviation at all, but have a college degree.

Prior Experience and Education in Air Traffic Control

Those with prior experience in air traffic control, such as those who have been air traffic controllers in the military, or for those who were pilots or navigators, are often hired directly with minimal training at the Oklahoma City FAA training facility. What will assist the candidate with prior experience would be additional courses in civilian air control, ground control, instrumentation and protocols relating to international travel. These courses and education can be obtained from any accredited aviation school, or online through any school (accredited or not) in order to provide a solid foundation upon which to begin the civilian career.

Graduates from Air Traffic Control School

Candidates who have completed their education (2-4 years) in an approved air traffic controller school are often provided with the educational requirements necessary to take them to the next phase: the 8 hour FAA Academy exam. This exam winnows out those with the aptitude versus those who lack the necessary skills to adequately handle the situations they will encounter as air traffic controllers. Candidates who have gone through these types of programs often are offered waivers and are not required to take the pre-application exam, which puts these candidates one step ahead of someone who has no educational background in aviation at all.

Applicants with Non-Traditional Education

The FAA does not discriminate against candidates based on the basic degree that they possess. For example, if a student has a degree in psychology, the FAA will not deny this candidate the opportunity to apply. Educationally, this applicant will be facing a more difficult journey in that the classes taken in an aviation school, or the experience gained via the military, will come into play when the applicant is asked to take the 8 hour FAA Academy exam. The applicant in this situation would do well to take courses relating to instrumentation, scenario simulations, SCANS, and logical reasoning. The education required just to take the exam can make the difference between a passing and failing score. Those who do not pass the exam are required to wait 12 months before applying again.

Educational requirements for air traffic controllers, as posed above, can be met in many ways. Those who have not come from a military background will find it to their benefit to enroll at the nearest aviation school, or to take courses from an approved program online in order to improve their scores on the FAA Academy exam. Various manuals and tutorials abound online and via In combination, both educational classes and study guides have proven to be effective ways in which the potential candidate can make a passing grade on the exam. With a passing exam score, the applicant is well on his way toward a brilliant career as an air traffic controller.