For those who enjoy math and science, are inquisitive, feel a need to understand how things work, and enjoy solving complex puzzles or problems, then a career as an aerospace engineer could be a great fit. Jobs in this field often revolve around national defense but are also offered by civilian companies that deal with aircraft, satellites, and other related industries. Entry-level positions are available to those holding a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or another field of engineering or science.
See our ranking of the 30 Best Values for Aerospace Engineering.
High School Prep
Aerospace engineers usually focus on one of two areas: aeronautical or astronomical. Aeronautics deals with aircraft that stays within Earth's atmosphere while astronautics deals with spacecraft and satellites that operate both within and beyond Earth's atmosphere. Although a bachelor's degree is required for jobs in aerospace engineering, there are things a high school student can do to begin preparing for these careers. Coursework should include advanced math, computer programming, chemistry, and physics. Additionally, some universities and research institutes offer engineering summer camps.
Aerospace Technician vs. Engineer vs. Scientist
A variety of jobs exist for those with an interest in the aerospace industry. A scientist is a person who is motivated by a need to expand understanding and knowledge in their field. Research is the primary function of a scientist and usually an advanced post-graduate degree is required. An engineer is a person who takes the knowledge gained by scientists and converts that into plans and designs to build or improve things. These jobs require a minimum of a 4-year bachelor's degree. An aerospace technician plays a critical support role for both engineers and scientists. The technician performs tasks such as operating a wind tunnel, building models, and constructing test equipment. It takes just a two-year associate degree in science for most entry-level aerospace technician jobs.
ABET-Accredited Bachelor's Program
Most jobs as an aerospace engineer require a 4-year bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited school. This degree could be in aerospace engineering but could also be in a science such as physics, chemistry, geology, biology, or meteorology. A degree in mathematics or experimental psychology could also lead to a career in aerospace engineering. Some colleges and universities cooperate with local businesses or government agencies like NASA to offer internships, apprenticeships, or other programs. This helps to provide the student with extra training and experience.
Master's or Doctorate Degree
Because aerospace technology and engineering jobs are competitive, a student may choose to further their education in graduate school. A post-graduate degree would also be desirable for those wishing to achieve higher levels of leadership or research. Some bachelor's programs offer an additional fifth year, which allows the student to receive their bachelor's and master's degree at the same time. Other master's degree programs take two years to complete. For a doctorate degree, an additional two to four years is usually required.
For a career in the aerospace industry, one can expect to spend anywhere from two to ten years in college or university after graduating high school. It may seem like a lot, but the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, expects that the demand for these jobs will continue to grow over the next ten years. Doing what it takes now to become an aerospace engineer could prove to be a great investment.