What is an Aerospace Engineering Degree?

Aerospace engineering degree programs teach the analytical, computational, and engineering and design skills needed to work in the aerospace industry. Aspiring aerospace engineers learn how to apply this knowledge to the manufacturing, testing, and monitoring of civil or commercial aircraft, military aircraft, missiles, rockets, spacecraft, lunar vehicles, and space stations.

Topics covered include:

  • Aerodynamics – aerospace propulsion and atmospheric flight; fluid dynamics and thermodynamics
  • Aerospace Structures – flight and space vehicles design; materials strength
  • Aerospace Systems and Controls – communication and navigation systems; mechanics and robotics
  • Space Systems Design – space and satellite technology

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering – Four Year Duration
Graduates with an Aerospace Engineering Bachelor’s Degree qualify for entry-level roles as aerospace engineers and aeronautical engineers. Students should choose a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Here are some sample courses offered in Aerospace Engineering Bachelor’s Degree programs:

  • Calculus
  • Introduction to Computer Science Programming
  • Fundamentals of Computational Thinking and Data Science
  • Materials and Structures – behavior of materials; physical causes of material and structural failure; extending infrastructure life
  • Signals and Systems
  • Fluid Dynamics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Automatic Control
  • Dynamics – the study of the motion of objects and the forces that create that motion
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Structural Mechanics
  • Aerospace Propulsion
  • Digital Systems
  • Flight Vehicle / Space Systems Engineering
  • Robotics

Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering – Two Year Duration
At the master’s level, Aerospace Engineering Degree programs prepare students for senior roles in the field. The curriculum is focused on solving real-world industry problems and requires that students complete a design project (design, scheduling, budgeting, and building), an internship, or lab research. Possible areas of research include:

  • Aerospace Computational Engineering
  • Aerospace, Energy and the Environment
  • Air-Breathing Propulsion
  • Aircraft Systems Engineering
  • Air Transportation Systems
  • Autonomous Systems
  • Communications and Networks Controls
  • Humans in Aerospace
  • Materials and Structures
  • Space Propulsion
  • Space Systems

Depending on the chosen research concentration, courses may include

  • Aerodynamics
  • Flow and Propulsion
  • Dynamics of Spaceflight and Spacecraft
  • Solar and Space Physics
  • Sensors in Space
  • Atmospheric Flight Mechanics
  • Aircraft Design and Performance
  • Engineering Analysis

Doctoral Degree in Aerospace Engineering – Two to Four Year Duration
Graduates with a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering often go on to teach the subject at the university level or to conduct advanced aerospace research.

At this level, aerospace engineering degree programs focus on theories and practices in the two fields of aviation and aerospace. The aviation portion of the curriculum typically includes coursework in safety, economics, and industry regulation. Here are some possible Ph.D. courses:

  • Aviation Safety Systems
  • Research in Aviation
  • Computation Fluid Dynamics (CFD)
  • Combustion
  • Dynamics of Manned and Unmanned Aircraft

Degrees Similar to Aerospace Engineering

Aeronautical Engineering
The Aeronautical Engineering Degree is very closely linked to the Aerospace Engineering Degree. Aerospace degree programs typically cover both aerospace and aeronautics specializations. Aeronautics degree programs focus only on aircraft that fly within the Earth’s atmosphere.

Astronomy students use math, physics, and chemistry to study celestial objects like planets, stars, comets, meteors, and galaxies.

Electrical Engineering
This field has a lot in common with aerospace engineering. Electrical engineering programs teach students how electricity works, how it is generated, and how it is used. The field involves a wide range of components, devices, and systems, from microchips to power station generators.

Engineering Technology
Engineering technology programs teach the engineering skills required to assist engineers with developing and testing products. Common classes are computers for engineering technology, construction methodologies, structural systems, strength of materials, and technical drawing.

Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering has a close connection to aerospace engineering. It is concerned with the science behind machines. It deals with statics and dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, stress analysis, mechanical design, and technical drawing – all of which play a role in aircraft and spacecraft design.

Nuclear Engineering
Students of nuclear engineering learn how energy released from nuclear reactions can be used in power plants, medical diagnostic equipment, and other industries. Nuclear engineering courses cover nuclear reactor theory, design, safety, and risks.

Physics is a field that keeps changing as discoveries are made. This means that the field asks at least as many questions as it answers. Students of physics degree programs study matter and energy. They learn about the relationships between the measurable quantities in the universe, which include velocity, electric field, and kinetic energy.

Skills You’ll Learn

Because the work of an aerospace engineer is many-sided, graduates of the field come away from their studies with a fairly wide set of skills that can be used in other kinds of work as well:

  • Math
  • Analysis
  • Creative and critical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Safety oriented
  • Technical savvy

What Can You Do with an Aerospace Engineering Degree?

Aerospace / Aviation
Within the aerospace and aviation industries, there are several different possible roles for graduates with an aerospace engineering degree:

  • Spacecraft Designer
  • Commercial Aircraft Designer
  • Commercial Aerospace Engineer – these engineers develop more efficient forms of air travel to decrease airline fuel costs and CO2 emissions
  • Inspectors / Compliance Officers – these officers enforce aviation laws and regulations; they may work for or consult for government safety boards (like the Federal Aviation Administration – FAA) and aerospace/aircraft manufacturers
  • Engineering Data Processing Manager – these specialists run simulations on supercomputers to analyze data and propose improvements to various systems
  • Aerospace Technician – these technicians install, test, maintain, and repair equipment used by aerospace and aviation manufacturers and airlines
  • Mission / Payload Specialist – these experts or researchers are crew members on space missions; they install equipment to be used on missions
  • Drafter – drafters write detailed specification documents and create technical drawings before an a spacecraft, aircraft, or missile is built

Military / Department of Defense
In this sector, aerospace engineers develop military technologies and systems.

Mechanical Engineers
Many parts of both aircraft and spacecraft, from jet engines to small warning sensors are designed by mechanical engineers.

Research & Development and Education
Aerospace engineers with a master’s or doctorate may conduct aerospace research or teach the discipline.


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