61 or 141?
All flight training in the United States is based on minimum standards specified in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). The basic standards including eligibility requirements to become a student and certificated pilot, and flight instruction minimums- in other words, the piloting skills and procedures that an instructor must teach a student over the course of the training - are contained in FAR part 61, "Certificate: Pilots and Flight Instructors." No special designation or certification is needed to operate a flight school.
However, a flight school can choose to be certified under FAR part 141, "Pilot Schools." In addition to specifying minimum qualifications and requirements for the school's personnel and facilities, Part 141 provides for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of the school's training curriculum. The school is subject to FAA inspection, and must meet minimum performance levels in terms of preparing students for FAA check rides. Also, a Part 141 school may be able to recommend students for the check ride with just 35 instructional hours rather than the minimum of 40 required under Part 61.
However, in practice this benefits only those students who train virtually full time. Depending on how often they train, part-time students typically log 50 to 70 or more instructional flight hours before taking their check rides.
Therefore, one of the first decisions facing an aspiring student is whether to take instruction from a Part 61 provider, or go with a Part 141 school. Certainly, Part 141 certificate can be viewed as evidence of at least a minimum standard of quality and performance. However, it does not necessarily mean that instruction at a Part 61 school will be inferior. In fact, many Part 141 schools also train students under Part 61 because it allows for greater flexibility in accommodating a part-time student's schedule and pace of learning. When evaluating a school, look at all the factors that are important to you including cost, convenience, type of aircraft, and the individual instructor with whom you will train.