Aerospace Engineering Degree | How to Become an Aerospace Engineer (2023)

Written by John O'DonovanLast updated:

From airplanes and spacecraft to missiles and satellites, aerospace engineers design and manufacture some of humanity’s most fascinating technologies. Aerospace engineers possess the unique combination of skills necessary to innovate new products that are integral to our economy and national defense. An aerospace engineer requires exceptional attention to detail, a comprehensive understanding of fundamental engineering topics, and robust creativity.

The aerospace industry is not only rapidly growing but also diversifying. Thanks to privatization, space travel is experiencing a renaissance. Space is no longer a realm reserved for a select few astronauts. In the not-so-distant future, private citizens will have a chance to escape earth’s gravity. Billionaires such as Elon Musk and Richard Branson are in the throes of a 21st-century space race, but this rivalry is not simply a PR stunt. These industry leaders want to make space travel available to a large portion of the population, seemingly blurring the lines between science fiction and reality.

Commercial air travel is also undergoing a long-overdue technological leap. Aviation startups such as Boom Technologies are creating the next generation of supersonic aircraft reminiscent of when concord jets made transatlantic journeys. But unlike concords, these startups wish to make supersonic air travel accessible to all, not just the elites.

Defense spending accounts for roughly 3.2 percent of the United State’s GDP. A sizable portion of this spending goes into designing and developing military aircraft, satellites, and missiles. There is an ongoing rivalry between the United States and other nations to get the upper hand militarily and rule the skies. As a result, new military technologies are constantly being innovated, from the next generation of fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to ballistic missiles and intelligence-gathering satellites.

Aerospace Engineering Degree

As is the case with many professional careers, the first step of becoming an aerospace engineer will be getting accepted into an undergraduate program. This discipline is a little more niche than mechanical, electrical, or civil engineering, so options might be limited for selecting your university. However, plenty of schools have excellent aerospace engineering programs to choose from.

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The curriculum will include courses covering applied math, physics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and other topics related to aerospace technology. You may have noticed that many of these courses are commonly taken by mechanical engineering students. This is no coincidence, as aerospace and mechanical engineering have a great deal of overlap. There will also be many courses specific to aerospace engineering that other disciplines do not cover.

Examples of such courses include:

  • aerospace flight mechanics
  • mechanics of aerospace structures
  • aerospace dynamical systems
  • aerospace control systems
  • aerospace propulsion

A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for most entry-level positions in this field. However, those who wish to further their education and begin their careers with a higher salary may choose to complete a master’s in aerospace engineering.

Completing one of these programs solidifies the knowledge obtained from undergraduate learning and ensures a more thorough understanding of important subjects.

Although earning a degree in aerospace engineering is the most straightforward way to work, studying mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or material science may also be options. However, there might be some knowledge gaps if studying these other subjects is chosen, which will have to be compensated for on the job.

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Learn more about what is required to get an aerospace master’s degree in our complete guide.

How to Become an Aerospace Engineer

The timeline for becoming an aerospace engineer will depend on whether one will obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree in this subject. An undergraduate program for aerospace engineering will typically take four years to complete while completing a master’s will take an additional two years to complete for a total of six years. Another option available to students is completing a bachelor’s degree, finding a job in the industry, and then completing a master’s degree while employed through online classes. With this option, the pace at which the master’s degree portion is completed will depend on the student.

Aerospace Engineering Career Paths

Once completing your education, the next step towards becoming an aerospace engineer is being hired for an entry-level position. Many organizations, both large and small, hire aerospace engineers. The most high-profile ones are NASA, SpaceX, Boeing, Airbus, Raytheon, and Lockheed – Martin.

Most entry-level aerospace engineering positions depend on the organization itself and current labor demands. You may start as an aerospace engineer right off the bat, especially if you have completed a master’s program. However, often one must complete some form of internship with the company or start as a “junior engineer.”

Internships usually take place during summer breaks for students in between school years. These work experiences are typically part-time and offer an excellent opportunity for future employees to test the waters of their new career and obtain experience in the real world. A junior engineer position takes place after graduation and involves working under the guidance of a senior engineer who will provide proper training and insights from their own experience. If your employer is a military contractor (which is likely in this career field), you may have to jump through additional hoops to complete security clearance.

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The first years of your aerospace engineering career will likely entail doing much “grunt” work. This typically includes technical writing, CAD modeling, data analysis, and running tests and simulations. Since aerospace engineers usually work on large and complex projects, collaborating with a large team of other engineers, scientists, and technicians should be expected.

Aerospace engineering is a broad field so many entry-level positions will be available. Designing individual small components for aircraft or spacecraft is one example of an aerospace engineering job. This type of position will require extensive CAD modeling and technical writing. Collaboration and teamwork skills are essential for such a position because groups and individuals will design specific components that must seamlessly fit together.

The second example of entry-level work is product testing. This would mean working on a team and conducting tests and simulations. One could expect lab tests on specific aerospace components and test material properties such as tensile strength, hardness, durability, heat resistance, and aerodynamics. Due to recent technological advances, conducting simulations using software programs has replaced a lot of real-life testing. Creating virtual models and running preprogrammed simulations is commonplace in this industry.

The manufacturing side of aerospace engineering may also be an exciting starting point for your career. Designing a new aircraft or spacecraft is one thing, but mass production is another story. Manufacturing some of the modern marvels thought up by SpaceX and Boeing will be more complex than for other products. Aircraft and Spacecraft have thousands of components that need to fit together perfectly. Creating these components is exceedingly complex as many are made from unique materials and have atypical geometry. Newer manufacturing processes such as 3D printing will likely be used. Aircraft and spacecraft manufacturers often have their proprietary equipment that requires teams of highly skilled professionals to operate, including aerospace engineers.

After a few years of work, an aerospace engineer will likely gain the title of senior engineer, which means more responsibility and a higher salary. Further down the career path, a promotion to a senior management position may also be possible. At this point in your career, you will no longer be doing the technical grunt work but instead managing others who will. One fantastic benefit of being an aerospace engineer is that the field itself is broad. This means that switching jobs will be easier than in other areas if one experiences mid-career burnout.

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Aerospace Engineer Career Outlook

As of May 2020, the median annual pay for aerospace engineers was $118,610, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job outlook for this career field is three percent which matches the cumulative national growth rate for all careers. An aerospace engineer will generally work in an office or laboratory setting and make frequent trips to manufacturing and testing facilities.

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FAQs

What qualifications do I need to become an aerospace engineer? ›

You can do a foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree in aerospace engineering, avionics, or a related subject like:
  • electrical or electronic engineering.
  • mechanical engineering.
  • manufacturing or product engineering.
  • physics or applied physics.
  • software engineering or mathematics.

How do I become a successful aerospace engineer? ›

Important Qualities
  1. Analytical skills. Aerospace engineers must be able to identify design elements that may not meet requirements and then must formulate alternatives to improve the performance of those elements.
  2. Business skills. ...
  3. Critical-thinking skills. ...
  4. Math skills. ...
  5. Problem-solving skills. ...
  6. Writing skills.
8 Sept 2022

Is a degree in aerospace engineering hard? ›

Aerospace engineering degrees are difficult, but they also offer some of the best opportunities post-university. Aerospace engineers need to be highly technical and accurate, whilst also using creativity and quick-thinking to solve problems.

Is aerospace engineering a lot of math? ›

You'll need to study a lot of math in aerospace engineering. Initially, you'll start with algebra and geometry and then advanced math such as calculus, trigonometry, linear algebra, differential geometry, complex analysis, and numerical analysis.

Do airlines hire aerospace engineers? ›

The aerospace industry, which includes companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has an insatiable demand for engineers. Commercial and freight airline companies like American Airlines and Federal Express do, too. Automobile manufacturers, like Ford and Toyota, also hire aerospace engineers.

How many years will it take to become an aerospace engineer? ›

A career in aerospace as a scientist or engineer requires four to seven years of college study following high school. A bachelor's degree requiring four years of study is the minimum necessary to enter this field.

Do you have to be smart for aerospace engineering? ›

Being good at math and science helps, but that's not all there is. You'll need to be able to get through it, but it doesn't have to be your best subject. The classes you take in college will depend upon where you go and what type of engineering you major in.

What math do aerospace engineers need? ›

For aerospace engineering students, mathematics studies should include calculus at increasingly advanced levels of study. The curriculum might also include courses in subjects like differential equations, matrix theory, linear algebra, analytical geometry and numerical analysis.

Do aerospace engineers travel a lot? ›

Do aerospace engineers travel? Typically, aerospace engineers work from their offices, but they sometimes have opportunities to travel for work. Aerospace engineers can travel to production facilities or other company locations to meet with stakeholders.

Which engineering is hardest? ›

What Is the Hardest Engineering Major?
Top 3 Hardest Engineering MajorsTop 3 Easiest Engineering Majors
1. Chemical engineering (19.66 hours)1. Industrial engineering (15.68 hours)
2. Aero and astronautical engineering (19.24 hours)2. Computer engineering and technology (16.46 hours)
1 more row

What is the hardest part of aerospace engineering? ›

High level mathematics classes tend to be some of the most difficult, such as Differential Equations or Advanced Calculus. Among classes specific to aerospace engineering, theoretical aerodynamics and structural dynamics courses are some students often have the most difficulty with.

Which degree is best for aerospace engineering? ›

To become an aerospace engineer, one needs to pursue a B. Tech as a first step and can head to a Master's in a specialization. As an aerospace engineer, you would work in the various fields including research, testing and production and maintenance.

What kind of writing do aerospace engineers use? ›

IEEE citation style, commonly used in engineering: IEEE Editorial Style Manual and IEEE Reference Guide.

Does NASA use math? ›

Math is important to astronauts because it impacts how they can safely perform their jobs. Astronauts must rely on their math knowledge to ensure a successful takeoff from Earth, expertly direct their spacecraft, and to ensure a safe landing, often without the luxury of a calculator!

Does NASA do math? ›

NASA's Math and Science @ Work project provides challenging supplemental problems based on space exploration topics.

Which country is best for aerospace engineering jobs? ›

Aerospace Engineering
World RankInstitution¹Country
1Beihang UniversityChina
2Georgia Institute of TechnologyUnited States
3Harbin Institute of TechnologyChina
49 more rows
30 Aug 2019

Do aerospace engineers fix planes? ›

An aerospace engineer specializes in designing, maintaining, and repairing aircraft and spacecraft.

Who pays more aerospace engineers? ›

The Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman Corporation, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are the top companies that hire Aerospace Engineers in the US. The highest-paid salary is at Maxar, where the average pay is $102,500 (per February 2022 data).

How old are most aerospace engineers? ›

The average age of an employed aerospace engineer is 45 years old.

Is it hard to get aerospace engineer job? ›

Aerospace engineering is very demanding, so you may not earn employment immediately. However, a related job such as that of an aerospace technician can help you build your experience and contacts in the industry. After a few years of valuable experience, you may qualify for an aerospace engineering position.

What should I study before aerospace engineering? ›

In order to study aerospace engineering and pursue a career in this field, it's important to have skills that include:
  • Math.
  • Science.
  • Physics.
  • Design.
  • Analytical thinking.
  • Knowledge of computer systems.
  • Familiarity with hardware and software.
  • Attention to detail.
15 Jun 2022

What is the IQ of an aerospace engineer? ›

Most engineers have a 90th percentile, which equates to and IQ of 121, or above.

Can I do aerospace engineering without maths? ›

Students need to have Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics in class 12 to become aerospace engineer.

What problems do aerospace engineers solve? ›

Aerospace Engineers design and test missiles, aircraft, satellites, and spacecraft . They also create propulsion systems and evaluate the aerodynamic performance of aircrafts and assure all blueprints, prototypes, and products meet required engineering standards, environmental issues, and customer requirements.

What subjects do you need for aerospace? ›

Common modules for aerospace engineering include:
  • Aerodynamics and/or flight dynamics.
  • Aircraft systems and performance.
  • Design (engineering, aircraft, aerospace vehicles)
  • Mathematics and engineering mathematics.
  • Fluid mechanics.
  • Structures and materials.
  • Solid mechanics.
3 Nov 2022

What are some dangers of being a aerospace engineer? ›

Physical Risks

Extreme hazards such as falling parts and malfunctioning equipment couple with more common risks like falling from height (as many engineers work on scaffolding or on top of aircraft) and muscular strain from difficult or unnatural postures, such as crouching in cockpits to install instruments.

Would I be a good aerospace engineer? ›

Aerospace engineers are expected to have critical, strategic, technical and policy orientated thinking skills. They may need strong communication, public presentation, persuasive writing skills. Aerospace engineers must be effective at providing direction, training, and coaching to others.

Is aerospace engineering safe? ›

They also may work up in the air on scaffolding or ladders so they can reach the aircraft. Because many people in aerospace engineering jobs regularly work non-typical hours, their risk of physical and psychological impairments (or disease) is greater than any normal risk assumed by a typical day worker.

What is the coolest type of engineering? ›

Here are five exciting engineering fields of study, which will lead to excellent careers you won't want to miss.
  • Structural engineering. ...
  • Robotics engineering. ...
  • Environmental engineer. ...
  • Petroleum engineer. ...
  • Aerospace engineer.
23 Jun 2019

How much math do engineers use? ›

Physics equations typically use a combination of algebra, calculus and trigonometry. Math is a really important part of a civil engineer's job. At places like ADOT, the planning phase of the project (design) and the budget (how much it will cost) are all based upon mathematical calculations by the engineers.

What skills do aerospace engineers need? ›

Key skills for aerospace engineers

strong mathematical, analytical and problem-solving skills. technical expertise, including computer-aided design skills. creativity and innovative thinking. attention to detail.

Does NASA take aerospace engineers? ›

To tackle our diverse missions, NASA hires 20 different types of engineers; the most common fields are aerospace, general, and computer engineers.

How much math do aerospace engineers use? ›

Aerospace engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work. Aerospace engineers must have a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or some other field of engineering or science related to aerospace systems.

What are the two types of aerospace engineers? ›

The field has traditionally focused on problems related to atmospheric and space flight, with two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering.

What do aerospace engineers do daily? ›

Aerospace engineers use their skills to design, create and maintain aircraft, spacecraft, missiles and more. Their daily responsibilities can include: Conducting tests on prototypes. Adjusting aerodynamic systems to improve flight results.

Does NASA ask for GPA? ›

Before you start, make sure you meet the preliminary qualifications: U.S. Citizen. Cumulative 3.0 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) Full-time student (high school through graduate)

What are 3 types of astronauts? ›

There are three types of astronauts in the U.S. space program: the commander/pilot, mission specialist, and payload specialist.

What exam should we write for NASA? ›

The entrance exams you can appear for are JEE Main, JEE Advanced, AIEEE, BITSAT, IIST.

Can students write to NASA? ›

Thanks to NASA's pen pal program, they can write and receive answers from real, live astronauts. It's a great way to keep kids interested in science, and if a letter does come back, it's a pretty cool item for the family “brag board.”

Is NASA an education? ›

Education is an essential part of NASA's mission to “drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality, and stewardship of Earth.” Advance high-quality STEM education using NASA's unique capabilities.

What math is used for rockets? ›

Force is equal to mass times acceleration. This is really a mathematical equation, f = ma. This equation applies to launching the rocket off the launch pad. It is essential to understand that there are four basic forces operating on any object moving through the air.

What subjects would you need to take in year 11 to become an aerospace engineer? ›

Education & Training for an Aerospace Engineer

Prerequisite subjects, or assumed knowledge, in one or more of English, mathematics, chemistry and physics are normally required.

What school subjects do you need to become a aerospace engineer? ›

From the third year, emphasis is placed on aeronautical design and on the study of aircraft behaviour.
...
First-year
  • Engineering Chemistry.
  • Introduction to the Engineering Profession.
  • Engineering Analysis and Design IA AND IB.
  • Engineering Mathematics IA AND IB.
  • Engineering Physics IA AND IB.
  • Applied Physics I.

Does NASA need aerospace engineers? ›

To tackle our diverse missions, NASA hires 20 different types of engineers; the most common fields are aerospace, general, and computer engineers.

Does aerospace require math? ›

Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Math Requirements. Mathematics is an important component of engineering. It is recommended that the student take a course to satisfy the Math requirement from the Math Department.

What math do aerospace engineers use? ›

Aerospace engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work. Aerospace engineers must have a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or some other field of engineering or science related to aerospace systems.

How do I start studying for aerospace? ›

Prepare for your future as an aerospace engineer by taking high-level math and science courses such as physics, trigonometry, calculus, computer programming and chemistry. Earning high marks in these classes can help you improve your chances of admittance to a degree program.

What job can I get if I study aerospace? ›

5 Jobs You Can Get with a Bachelor's in Aerospace Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineer – 84,970 USD/year. ...
  • Flight Engineer – 76,000 USD/year. ...
  • Maintenance Engineer – 71,050 USD/year. ...
  • Materials Engineer – 77,850 USD/year. ...
  • Inspector and Compliance Officer – 70,500 USD/year.
12 Jan 2022

Which university is best for aerospace engineering? ›

Here are the Best Aerospace Engineering Programs
  • California Institute of Technology.
  • Stanford University.
  • Georgia Institute of Technology.
  • Purdue University--West Lafayette.
  • University of Michigan--Ann Arbor.
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
  • Texas A&M University--College Station.
  • University of Colorado--Boulder.

What are 5 careers in the aerospace industry? ›

8 Cool Jobs You Can Get with an Aerospace Engineering Degree
  • Mechanical Engineer. ...
  • Aircraft/Spacecraft Designer. ...
  • Data Processing Manager. ...
  • Military Aerospace Engineer. ...
  • Inspector and Compliance Officer. ...
  • Drafter. ...
  • Aerospace Technician. ...
  • Mission or Payload Specialist.
12 Sept 2016

How much math does aerospace engineering require? ›

For aerospace engineering students, mathematics studies should include calculus at increasingly advanced levels of study. The curriculum might also include courses in subjects like differential equations, matrix theory, linear algebra, analytical geometry and numerical analysis.

Is it hard to get a job at NASA? ›

Even though there are lots of opportunities to apply, it's still difficult to get a job at NASA. If you want to get a job at NASA, you need to have high academic qualifications and diverse experiences. NASA employs more than just astronauts.

What are NASA engineers called? ›

Aerospace engineering
NASA engineers, seen here in mission control during Apollo 13, worked to ensure the safety of the operation and astronauts onboard
Occupation
NamesAerospace engineer Engineer
Occupation typeProfession
Activity sectorsAeronautics, astronautics, science
4 more rows

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