Thank you for all of this information and your input. There is a lot of great stuff in here that I think will be helpful to me. Although the paycheck is good and the salary is enough to live comfortably, I'm really just interested in this career option because of my passion for flight. But just to be clear, what steps in what order would you recommend that I take after graduating from college in May and getting a 4 year degree? Should I do CTI or no? It sounds like I would learn some beneficial things, but you also stated that you didn't recommend it. Would not doing CTI severely hinder my chances in comparison to other applicants? Should I just wait for the next OTS? Sorry to bombard you with more questions that you've already addressed, I'm just still kind of confused on what I should do. It seems like there's a lot of different ways and programs that people can do before applying and it's just a ton of information to take in and figure out what my optimal education route would be. So, if you could make an ordered list of steps I need to take after I graduate in May that would be fantastic. Once again, thanks so much for your help.
Personally, I don't think CTI is necessary. Too many schools that offer it are honestly a waste of money — either it's cheaper, but you learn nothing, or it's expensive, and you learn a little. CTI spends 2-4 years teaching you what's taught at the academy in five weeks, and you're just going to go learn it again in Basics. A trained monkey could pass the Basics course. It's intended more to ease you into the academy and to take you from a point of zero knowledge to slightly more than zero. I've only heard of two people ever failing the End of Course Exam. CTI or no CTI after that point is somewhat meaningless, and it comes down more to your ability to learn and do the job.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with CTI, after all, I did it myself. I can't say that it improved my chances of being hired (it didn't), and I'm not entirely convinced I would have been any more or less successful without it. I think they've gone back to open up a CTI specific bid again, but your quickest way would be to wait for the next OTS bid. That will probably be sometime in the next 8-12 months, but you'll just have to keep checking on it. Add NATCA on Facebook, because they usually post info about announcements.
When the bid comes out, just follow the process. You'll submit everything, then a week or two after it closes, you'll have to do the Biographical Questionnaire. The BQ is by far the dumbest thing I've ever done in my life, but just be honest and hopefully it'll clear you. I'm not aware of any way to "trick" it to submit the answers they're apparently looking for. Then you'll take the ATSA (used to be the AT-SAT). I don't know anything about the new test, but with the old test, it really comes down to ability. A lot of people study for it (I never did, and I scored well), but generally it's one of those things where either you can do it or you can't.
If you pass those first two hurdles, you're basically in as long as you continue with the process. You'll need to take the MMPI, get an FAA class II medical, get a drug screen, do your security clearance, etc. For terminal, you'll only need a public trust clearance, which is pretty quick and simple. In Enroute, we require a secret clearance, which can take upwards of 6-12 months and requires a security interview, references, background check, financial check, etc. The reason for the difference is because there are a lot of sensitive activities that occur in an ARTCC.
Then you'll get your academy date. Some people try to study beforehand, but it's really not necessary. Everything is taught from a point of zero knowledge. You just need to keep up. Enjoy Basics — it's easy, so use that time to get to know classmates, go drink a little, have fun. Class cohesion makes a HUGE difference in overall success. Once you start Initial (11 weeks for Terminal, 15 weeks for Enroute), that's when you need to get serious. Some people keep partying, and it usually doesn't work out for them.
If I were you, I would be weary of trying to study or learn too much before going to the academy. It increases your chances of learning incorrect information and bad habits. Stay away from Stuck Mic, too. Most people who post there have either never been to the academy, or they failed. It's a trove of bad information.
If you don't make it on the first OTS, just keep trying. Maybe then consider CTI. It takes a lot of people multiple tries because the process has always been flawed. It took me two OTS bids and one CTI bid to get through. It wasn't any fault of my own, it just took a few tries to get lucky (don't even get me started on the BQ). Just keep at it, and don't give up.
One sneaky way to better your chances would be to apply for an RPO job with SAIC at the academy. It sucks to live in OKC, but you'd be immersed in your future training. I'm aware of two former RPOs who finished top of their class. I'm also aware of others who failed, but taking things seriously plays a big factor. RPO jobs pay decently, but it's one way to pay your dues and get a definite advantage.