Main image courtesy of Engineers Network.
Preparing for the transition to college can be difficult and confusing. At the same time that you’re trying to keep up with your obligations in high school, you’re also having to think about application essays and figuring out how to finance your education.
In the midst of all the things you have to keep track of, it can be a struggle to keep an eye on the bigger picture-- on what you actually want to pursue long-term and how to get there. In the chaos of just trying to get into a good school, it’s sometimes easy to forget to look into what programs and majors colleges offer.
But it’s always useful to know what kind of education you can get from the schools you apply to. Especially if you know you’re interested in a specific field, it’s important not to limit your opportunities by settling for the first college you get accepted to-- make sure your home for the next four years can meet your needs and help you reach your goals.
For STEM students interested in studying aerospace engineering, for example, it might be difficult to figure out what you need to do to get the job you want. To help you in your college search, we’ve compiled a list of the best colleges to attend for aerospace engineering!
What Does an Aerospace Engineer Do?
Today, people from all over the globe are connected more than ever before-- and aerospace engineers play a huge role in enabling that connection. Aerospace engineers are responsible for designing, building, and safety-testing aircraft of all kinds, from passenger planes to spacecraft. It is largely thanks to these men and women that we have reliable transportation in most places worldwide, and that we have been able to send spacecraft further into space than ever before.
Aerospace engineering is an umbrella term-- aerospace engineers can either focus on aeronautical or astronautical engineering. The first involves working with aircraft that stay inside the earth’s atmosphere, including airplanes of all sorts and drones. The second focuses on vehicles that leave the earth’s atmosphere, from rockets, to satellites, to planetary probes.
So-- how do you become and aerospace engineer? Obviously, since the field requires such a strong understanding of mathematics and physics, it’s usually best to start taking advanced math and science courses as early as high school.
Regardless of your high school qualifications, you’ll definitely need to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering at an accredited university. It’s also wise to get involved with research or internship opportunities relevant to your interests while in college-- these can further develop your understanding of your chosen field while bolstering your resume for post-graduation. Taking on a related minor is also helpful for rounding out your education and your resume.
With a bachelor’s degree in hand, you’ll be qualified for plenty of entry-level positions. If you want a wider variety of options and more room to move up in your career, though, it’s highly recommended to pursue a master’s degree. Getting professionally licensed as an aerospace engineer is also a good idea, although not all roles require it.
Now that we have a general understanding of what aerospace engineering involves and how to get the right qualifications for the field, here are some of the best colleges for aerospace engineering in the United States!
The Best Colleges for Aerospace Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
It’s not much of a surprise that MIT is heading up our list of colleges with the best aerospace engineering programs-- this college has one of the most reputable aerospace engineering programs in the world, let alone the country. Over the course of their undergraduate studies, students develop a solid understanding of aerodynamics, propulsion, fluid mechanics, and structure of aircraft.
MIT offers two degrees in the field-- a Bachelor of the Sciences in Aerospace Engineering or in Engineering. The first focuses on the principles needed in order to design and analyze aircraft specifically, while the second provides students with more flexibility and allows them to do interdisciplinary studies-- combining aerospace engineering concepts with concepts of environmental science, sustainability, or space exploration.
California Institute of Technology
CalTech's aerospace engineering program is another one of the top programs in the country for students who want to get a strong grounding in the field. This school offers a minor in aerospace engineering for undergraduate students, designed to be earned alongside another undergraduate degree.
CalTech’s graduate aerospace program is what really makes this school impressive, though-- the school owns a variety of Graduate Aerospace Laboratories where grad students get hands-on experience engineering, experimenting with the mechanics and movements of fluids and other materials, and more. Students at CalTech work on a variety of research projects, including the mechanics of fracture, space technology, and mechanics of lightweight space structures-- so this is a great school to keep in mind, especially if you plan on pursuing a master’s degree!
Stanford's aerospace engineering program conducts research in a variety of areas, including aircraft design, multidisciplinary computational aerosciences, and distributed space systems-- so if you have an idea of what direction you want to take your aerospace education in, this is a good school to investigate. Stanford offers a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics as either a major or a minor, as well as three graduate degree programs and two online certification programs, so there are several ways to pursue your goals.
Georgia Institute of Technology
The Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology is an excellent school to look into if you’re passionate about pursuing a career in aerospace engineering. The aerospace program is 132-credits long and ends with a senior capstone project in one of three areas: rotorcraft, fixed-wing, or spacecraft.
Students get first-hand experience with aerospace engineering in a variety of ways at Georgia Tech. For example, right now, students in the program are working with a small spacecraft owned by the college, communicating with it and learning from it as it orbits the sun-- certainly a unique experience, especially for undergraduate students! There are also plenty of research opportunities here for undergrad students to participate in-- about 80% of undergraduate students are involved in research before they graduate-- so you’ll have ample time to round out your resume.
University of California-- Los Angeles
With its emphasis on providing students with the concepts necessary to design aircraft of all kinds, UCLA is another great aerospace engineering school to keep an eye on. The undergraduate program aims to teach students how to design and build fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft as well as spacecraft-- so whether you’re interested in passenger planes, helicopters, or space exploration, UCLA has options for you. UCLA also offers a graduate program in aerospace engineering, so this is a good place to look into if you want to continue your education after your undergrad years.
Purdue University-- West Lafayette
The School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue conducts research in areas like aerodynamics, astrodynamics and space applications, propulsion, and structures and materials, providing students with opportunities to deepen their knowledge of many aspects of aerospace engineering. The Aeronautics and Astronautics program typically starts after students complete Purdue’s First-Year Engineering Program, so if you attend this school, you’ll need to transfer programs in your sophomore year. The Aeronautics and Astronautics program has an excellent track record, though-- 18 of their graduates have gone on to become astronauts themselves, including Sirisha Bandla, Gregory Harbaugh, and even Neil Armstrong.
Those Were the Best Colleges for Aerospace Engineering!
Although the college search can be terrifying, it’s always easier when you have a basic understanding of what interests you and what schools offer relevant programs. Here, we’ve tried to break down what aerospace engineering entails and how you should go about building up the right qualifications for a career in the field.
Besides prioritizing math and science classes in high school, finding a college with a solid aerospace engineering program, pursuing relevant internship, research, and work-study opportunities, and considering a master’s degree are also good ideas if you want to go as far as possible as an aerospace engineer. It might be difficult to visualize exactly what your path to your dream career will look like, but the colleges on this list-- with their excellent aerospace engineering programs-- are great places to begin working toward your goals.
Regardless of where you are in your college search, we hope you’ll find opportunities that will get you just a little bit closer to wherever you want to be-- and we wish you good luck on your endeavors!