While we already have a comprehensive list of US drone schools, we have received many requests to rank the best drone training colleges that offer degrees specific to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). While this is no easy task, we have made our best effort to establish ranking criteria based on reputation, accreditation, extent of hands-on instruction, variety of courses and programs offered, as well as job placement numbers (where available) and general feedback from students who have completed these programs. We then balance this with what we hear from our visitors regarding what they are looking for in a drone school.
It is our hope that these rankings will be a valuable resource to anyone seeking a UAV education and a career in the drone industry. However, please remember that selecting the right school starts with knowing what kind of job you’re after. For example, the best college for a drone operator might not be your best choice if your goal is to be a UAV engineer. Please check out our UAV Jobs page for more career ideas.
So without further adieu, here is our list of the Best Drone Training Colleges in the United States…
1. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach, FL)
Embry-Riddle offers both UAV bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Whether your career goals include designing and building drones or just flying them, this university has a program for you…
- Bachelor of Science in Unmanned Systems Science : Select either a “pilot” track or “operator” track (for sensor operators, mission planners, and others not flying the aircraft).
- Bachelor of Science in Unmanned Systems Applications : Not just limited to the aerial domain, this program “focuses on the growth, innovative development, and effective use of unmanned system technology.”
- Master of Science in Unmanned Systems : A non-engineering degree that addresses “topics including policy design, ethics, and systems management.”
- Master of Science in Unmanned and Autonomous Systems Engineering : Provides “a hands-on engineering experience in unmanned systems including a UAS Engineering area of concentration”.
Classes are offered at the university’s Daytona Beach, Florida and Prescott, Arizona campuses as well as online. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranked Embry-Riddle #1 out of almost 300 Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2016. It also doesn’t hurt that 93 % of Embry-Riddle graduates are employed or are in graduate school within a year of graduation (the two largest employers being the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army).
2. Kansas State University Polytechnic (Salina, KS)
Kansas State University has a reputation as one of the best aviation universities in the country. Its hands-on Bachelor of Science in Unmanned Aircraft Systems program is likewise earning an impressive reputation. Some colleges have difficulty procuring available airspace for UAV training. Not Kansas State. The University has agreements with the Kansas National Guard and the U.S. Army to conduct research and training flights. This, combined with a hands-on emphasis, makes for a very unique learning experience. The curriculum includes courses in both aviation flight and maintenance necessary for UAS operation, and is designed to prepare students “for technical and/or entry-level managerial positions” in the UAV industry. The Polytechnic campus at Salina boasts an “approximate 97 percent placement rate of its students in either employment or higher education after graduation.”
3. University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, ND)
The state of North Dakota intends to be the Silicon Valley of drones. The state’s UAV testing site was the first of 6 planned FAA sites to become operational, and the state government does not generally pass anti-drone legislation. As far as drone training colleges go, the University of North Dakota was a trailblazer. It was the first college in the country to offer a four year UAV piloting degree, so it could make the argument it has more experience training drone operators than anyone. Its Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics with a Major in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations is “aimed at students whose career objectives are aimed at the civil unmanned aircraft systems industry.” With North Dakota’s relatively low population density, UND and the state government are working to provide more than 13,000 square miles of airspace suitable for UAS operations.
4. Indiana State University (Terre Haute, IN)
Although Indiana State’s Bachelors of Science in Unmanned Systems program has only been around since 2015, they have offered a minor in Unmanned Systems since 2011. And during that time ISU has not been idle. Its professors have presented at drone industry conferences, forged partnerships in both the public and private sector and are involved in shaping national molding drone curriculum. Its program has won grants both to purchase drones and to fund commercial application research. Add small class sizes and multi-million dollar facilities with well-equipped classrooms to the mix, and ISU presents itself as a very enticing option among drone training colleges.
5. Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, OK)
Oklahoma State offers an impressive UAS program tailored specifically to those individuals who are seeking an advanced degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems. In fact, OSU offers the first unmanned systems focus in engineering at the graduate level. Basically, this UAS specialization is a multi-disciplinary research and education program in OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology. Both Masters of Science and PhD degrees are offered. The goal is to offer students hands-on analysis, design, construction, and flight testing of UAS platforms. The university also has its Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station which is a dedicated UAS test facility outside of Stillwater, featuring a one square mile flight area of unpopulated land. It is also worth noting that students at OSU have won 7 international UAV design/build/fly competitions.
6. Lewis University (Romeoville, IL)
Lewis was founded in 1932 as a private Catholic university, and aviation technology courses were part of its curriculum almost from the beginning. The University has been continually recognized as one of the top colleges in its regions by both The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. Lewis offers a Bachelor of Science in Unmanned Aircraft Systems. This program promises an “Operations-focused curriculum” that combines aviation and Computer Science. The goal of the program is it to teach students how to “design, develop and operate individually-tailored UAS to meet mission objectives through an interdisciplinary curriculum” and prepare them for a career as a professional UAS/UAV pilot and operator. In the final semester of the program, students will develop their own UAS application, and will design, build and test an Unmanned Aircraft System to execute it. During the course of the program Lewis graduates will have earned: a Private Pilot Certificate (Single Engine Land), Instrument Rating, and Commercial Pilot Certificate (Single Engine Land). Lewis also has an on-site airport for hands-on training.
7. LeTourneau University (Longview, TX)
While LeTourneau University’s UAV program only began last year, its College of Aviation & Aeronautical Science has been training aviation professionals since 1956, and many alumni of this non-denominational Christian university are already working in the drone industry. It currently offers a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, B.S. where students will learn to design, program, test, and use drones for multiple applications. This program is available in three concentrations depending on career interest: pilot, technician, and electronics. As the university is also committed to teaching its students to be mindful of safety and privacy concerns, LETU unmanned flights are conducted over land with restricted access – in most cases, private land with written permission from the owner.
8. Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA)
Liberty University is a private, non-profit Christian university with a very extensive online learning program. So it makes sense that its Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics, Unmanned Aerial Systems Cognate program would be a mix online and hands-on courses. And while the university’s School of Aeronautics is relatively new (founded in 2005), it is well-funded and is committed to its growing UAS program. Students receive hands-on training that includes flight time and certification on small UAS, as well as the opportunity to be fully trained and certified on the Aerosonde UAS platform, which is currently used by the U.S Department of Defense, as well as for various scientific and environmental applications.
9. University of Nevada, Reno (Reno, NV)
If you are more interested in designing and building drones than flying them, the University of Nevada, Reno is worth checking out. Since 2014, they have established an Unmanned Autonomous Systems Minor that is offered to all students in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, and Electrical and Biomedical Engineering. What is interesting about this minor (minimum 18 units), is that students are given the freedom to design their own plan of study (to be approved by an advisor). As only 1 of 6 states in the union to be awarded an FAA UAS test site designation, Nevada has something of a head start when it comes to drones. UNR is home to the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center (NAASIC) an organization dedicated to collaborating with industry partners to commercialize autonomous systems technologies.
10. Kent State University (Kent, OH)
Kent State University’s College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology first offered a minor in Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the Fall of 2014. This is a 16-credit hour program available to students enrolled in any of KSU’s five aeronautics degree concentrations. Student will learn to build and fly small drones. Courses include Sensing and Sensor Systems, Flight Operations Theory, and Command, Control and Communications for UAVs.
11. University of Louisiana at Monroe (Monroe, LA)
In a widely-cited UAV report, The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts that commercial drones will provide an economic impact (revenue, job creation) of over $80 billion between 2015 and 2025, and that the lion’s share of that boon will come from the field of precision agriculture. This is worth noting because in addition to offering a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation with a concentration in Unmanned Aircraft Systems, the University of Louisiana Monroe has founded its own Precision Agriculture and Research Center (PARC). The university is positioning itself to play a key role in this new specialization by educating local farmers its benefits. If you are interested in the agricultural applications of UAVs, ULM is certainly worth checking out.
12. Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, TN)
Since the drone industry is still in its infancy, many UAV education programs are still relatively new. MTSU’s is no exception. Unmanned aircraft courses have been offered at the school since Spring 2014, originally as electives. In the Fall of 2015, a Bachelor’s of Science in Aerospace with a concentration in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations became available. The program is aimed at students who are interested in flying UAVs, providing support services, or in managerial roles at a company operating UAVs. It combines traditional aerospace classes with five courses specific to unmanned aircraft. As a result, students who complete this concentration will have received both manned flight training to the Private Pilot certificate level, as well as preparation for the FAA UAS knowledge test to earn a UAS Operator certificate.
13. Unmanned Vehicle University (Phoenix, AZ)
Unmanned Vehicle University is a dedicated UAS college, and offers everything from training certificates for piloting through Doctoral degrees in Unmanned Systems Engineering, and Unmanned Systems Project Management. For the most part, UVU classes are not centered around a textbook. Most of its instructors have PhDs in Engineering and courses are developed from scratch based on their extensive experience. The school is licensed by the State of Arizona Board of Education, and is currently pursuing accreditation.
14. Troy University (Troy, AL)
Troy University has recently added an Unmanned Aerial Systems minor as part of its Bachelor of Applied Science in Resource and Technology Management – Aviation Ops program. This minor is aimed at students who wish to pursue a career managing UAS technology, so it’s probably not be the best choice for those who want to fly drones. On the plus side however, all of Troy’s classes for this program are conveniently offered online, which sets it apart from most drone training colleges. Troy does offer hands-on pilot training for conventional aircraft (both fixed-wing and rotary) through its Aviation Operations program, but not for UAVs.
15. Central Oregon Community College (Bend, OR)
16. Sinclair Community College (Dayton, OH)
Sinclair Community College in Dayton, OH offers an Associate of Applied Science in Unmanned Aerial Systems. This is 62-credit hour program designed to prepare students for UAS industry applications in the fields of Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), precision agriculture, and first responders. Sinclair’s courses focus on UAS mission planning, maintenance, regulations, and data management, using hands-on operations, classroom instruction, and advanced simulation.
17. Community College of Beaver County (Monaca, PA)
The Community College of Beaver County has a top-notch aviation program and has been training students to become commercial pilots and air traffic controllers since the late 1960s. But recently, they added a 65-credit Associate in Applied Science, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program to meet the increasing demand for qualified pilots and sensor operators in this rapidly growing field.
18. Green River College (Auburn, WA)
Green River College offers an Associate in Applied Science in Unmanned Aerial Systems. This is a 90-credit program that not only introduces students the world of unmanned aerial vehicles, but also enables upon completion, direct transfer to the University of North Dakota (see #3 above) to become an UAS operator under their program guidelines.
19. Northwestern Michigan College (Traverse City, MI)
Northwestern Michigan College offers UAS training as part of its Associate in Applied Science in Aviation degree. NMC’s currently offers three 3 UAS classes aimed at giving students the skills to operate small (under 55 lbs) UAVs for various kinds of commercial uses. These courses focus on future civilian UAS applications such as inspections, aerial mapping, and aerial photography, as well as how to be marketable in the industry.
20. Northland Community and Technical College (Thief River Falls, MN)
Last, but certainly not least among drone training colleges… If you want to get a job repairing and maintaining drones without pursuing a four-year degree, then you really need to take a look at Northland Community and Technical College’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Maintenance Technician certificate program. This program was the first of its kind in the nation and almost 100% of those who have completed it have found a job in the field. The courses are designed to create a skilled UAV technician with broad knowledge of UAS platforms at the functional level. This is a 30-credit program, but students are required to have an FAA Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) Certification prior to enrolling into the program.