Ok, I'll try and run you through a few things. I am not familiar with the system in the USA, so I can't offer you that sort of specific information. In no particular order of importance:
- Make sure the school has the proper paperwork, licences, Air Operators Certificates etc. If they don't, then obviously go elsewhere.
- Choose carefully. Wherever you are going, you will be making a large financial investment to gain a professional qualification. Being the cheapest school on the block doesn't make it the best - in many cases it is the opposite. You should go to the best school you can afford. In my opinion, saving a couple of thousand dollars on a qualification that costs tens of thousands of dollars is not worth going to an inferior school.
- Avoid any school which is asking for the entire course fee up front. This *can* be a sign that the school is in financial trouble. If the school goes bankrupt, you could be left as an unsecured creditor, and lose all the money you have paid.
- Check what you are being quoted in costs. Are they all inclusive? Is it a fixed course cost, or based on the amount of flying? Are you being given a quote, or just an estimate. Does the quote/estimate include landing fees, airways charges, fuel differentials, insurance charges etc? Make sure you know what the overall costs are going to be, so you don't get any nasty surprises when the first bill arrives.
- Take time to speak to the staff and students. Get a feel of the school, and the standards they expect. If it is offered, take a trial flight. You should be able to get a good impression of the level of professionalism.
- Find out how many of the school's students have moved on into employment in the industry. If their students are sought after, then that is a good sign. If few of their students are being employed, then it isn't such a good sign.
- Don't necessarily be swung by high tech gizmos and new planes. While they are certainly nice to have, and if a school has enough money to invest in them, it must be doing something right, all the glass cockpits in the world won't make up for poor quality instruction. The quality of instruction should be your primary concern. If they have quality instruction, and all the mod cons, then good, but if they have quality instruction in slightly older aircraft, that isn't a bad thing either.
- Some people say that a smaller school is better because you have a more intimate experience. My personal view is that bigger is better. If a school is large, then clearly it is doing something right. If the school has a larger number of instructors and aircraft, then theoretically you will have less trouble being scheduled in for lessons (although even a school with a lot of staff and aircraft can be under-equipped...). A larger school will also offer your a greater diversity of experience to draw on from the staff. Like I say though, there is no hard and fast view on this - it really is just a personal opinion thing.
- If a school owns its aircraft rather than leases them, this can be a sign of greater stability, both financially and operationally. I have friends who have been left in the lurch because the aircraft they fly have been taken back by the lessor, leaving the school without the aircraft type they did their training on. It's probably not a big deal - I wouldn't make a decision based just on this - but if you're trying to compare two otherwise identical schools, it is something to consider.
- If a school runs a charter operation in conjunction with the school, this will expose you to commercial operations other than flight training. I don't know how many schools run charter operations in the USA, but a fair number do here in Australia.
I hope these are helpful. Like I said, some are just my personal opinion, but I hope it least gives you some food for thought...
"So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth." - Bahá'u'lláh