Aerospace engineering: It isn’t only rocket science. Aerospace engineering programs at universities in the United States also teach — and make discoveries in — space exploration, air transportation, aerospace propulsion, advanced manufacturing, and other high-complexity fields.
If you want to disrupt aeronautical design in the passenger air travel industry or work on the next iteration of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, aerospace engineering might be right for you. Read more about five top-ranked aerospace engineering colleges in the United States and learn how to take the next step toward a career.
Is Aerospace Engineering Hard?
There’s a reason people use “rocket science” — or aerospace engineering — when they want to express a task of extreme difficulty. It’s a hard course of study! That said, engineering courses, in general, can be challenging. On average, they require longer periods of study to understand. It’s said that for the average college course, one must study two hours for every one hour of class time. In engineering courses, many say that number doubles. According to the American Society for Engineering Education, 40 to 50% of engineering students change majors before graduation because the course of study is so rigorous.
Whether aerospace engineering is any more difficult than other engineering fields depends on you and which math and science areas you find easy or challenging. If classes in hypersonic aerodynamics, aeroelasticity, structures and materials, orbit determination, or propulsion system design and integration — all real classes at the University of Kansas — don’t intimidate you, then you are in the right place.
Is Aerospace Engineering a Good Career?
Aeronautical engineers are changing the future of passenger air travel and pushing humankind’s boundaries with space travel. Auburn University aerospace researchers study the surface of asteroids, University of Kansas students launch their own satellite, and University of Dayton students put their personal aircraft designs to the test during the It Flies! Competition at the Merlin flight simulation laboratory.
In 2019, there were more than 66,000 aerospace engineers working in the United States. You only need a bachelor’s degree to get started as an aerospace engineer, but don’t expect to design rocket ships right away. With an aerospace engineering degree, you can start looking for roles as flight technicians, technical communicators, and even astronauts.
Here is the breakdown of aerospace engineer employers in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing
Percentage of Jobs
Federal government, excluding postal service
Percentage of Jobs
Percentage of Jobs
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing
Percentage of Jobs
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences
Percentage of Jobs
How Much Money do Aerospace Engineers Make?
Graduates of these top-ranked programs make high median salaries of more than $115,000 annually in the United States. The average starting aerospace engineer salary in 2019 for a bachelor of science graduate was $69,507, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
Let’s review five Shorelight universities that are leading the way in aerospace engineering.
1. Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Auburn University
To study aerospace engineering at Auburn University is to be part of a legacy dating back to 1942 when the Wright brothers (the so-called fathers of flight) helped establish the program. Auburn grads include several astronauts, NASA engineers, and scientists. There’s a legend around Astronaut U — a nickname given to Auburn University — that the first words spoken on the moon were almost “War Eagle” in tribute to the school’s mascot and several alumni that worked on the lunar launch in 1969.
The aerospace program at Auburn currently holds 490 undergraduate students and 70 students in the graduate program, and there are 16 full-time faculty members. Students can study for a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering (BS) at the undergraduate level and a master of science (MS) or doctor of science (PhD) at the graduate level. Auburn’s graduate program is ranked #38 in the country by U.S. News & World Report. There’s also an online master’s degree program, part of Auburn’s grad engineering online program, ranked #18 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
2. School of Engineering, University of Dayton
The University of Dayton also boasts connections to Orville and Wilbur Wright. In fact, up in Dayton, Ohio, they are so proud of their aeronautical history that they nicknamed their sports teams The Flyers. UDayton boasts close relationships with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) and the school’s research institute (UDRI). The aerospace program also offers access to a state-of-the-art wind tunnel and full-motion flight simulator at the Merlin Lab.
Graduate students at the University of Dayton can study for a master’s of science (MS), doctor of science (PhD), or engineering doctorate (DE) degree. Grad students are also eligible for several grants, assistantships, and fellowships, including opportunities from the Ohio Space Grant Consortium in conjunction with NASA. Dayton is the top-ranked school in the nation for federally sponsored materials research and the nation’s top Catholic university for all sponsored engineering research and development at the graduate level.
3. School of Engineering, University of Kansas
Aerospace engineering students are buzzing over how good the programs, facilities, and opportunities are at University of Kansas (KU). With more undergraduate newcomers and more PhD students enrolled at KU than there have been in the last 70 years, it’s a great time to study the stars from Kansas. Just ask Google Earth founder Brian McClendon, a Jayhawk alumnus, or one of the several astronauts and space-travel engineers for NASA that also graduated from KU.
Some recent exciting additions to the KU campus include the Learned Engineering Expansion Phase 2 (LEEP2), which doubled the total available education and research space. In addition to LEEP2, there are many cutting-edge labs and facilities. Available resources, laboratories, and tools include wind and water tunnels, structural dynamics and acoustics labs, and an anechoic chamber.
The University of Kansas Aerospace Engineering department (KUAE) offers bachelor’s degree programs, master’s of science (MS), and master’s of engineering (ME) programs, as well as doctorate degrees in science (PhD) and engineering (DE). Graduate research students can choose from several nationally recognized programs, areas, and centers of research, including The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS), which is developing new technologies and computer models to measure and predict the response of sea-level change to the mass balance of ice sheets in polar regions.
4. McNAIR Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina (UofSC) is proud to host the only aerospace engineering program in the state’s second-largest industry — that means plenty of internships, research, and employment opportunities for students enrolled at the McNAIR Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research. The UofSC program works with nearly 50 organizations, educators, and government agencies that are key employers of aerospace engineering grads, including Boeing, SC Aerospace Task Force, and the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium. The undergraduate engineering program is ranked 102 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.
At UofSC, you have multiple options available as an undergraduate or graduate student. Undergrads can earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Aerospace Engineering as part of the mechanical engineering program or study in the program for their minor instead. Graduate students can also pursue a master’s degree in either science (MS) or engineering (ME).
5. University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida (UCF) is the number-one supplier of graduates to the nation’s aerospace defense and industries. UCF is also a diverse and inclusive community that welcomes engineers from all over the world and is home to two Patti Grace Smith Fellowship recipients for black aerospace undergraduates. UCF has several partnerships and research relationships with corporate organizations, schools, and government agencies, including NASA, for whom UCF students are working on a developmental project for space-friendly composites.
If you are interested in aerospace engineering, then you want to push the boundaries of math and science to explore space and air. The only place for you is the United States. Nowhere else can you find innovative programs with access to cutting-edge tools and research opportunities with trailblazing enterprises and organizations.
Auburn University students were instrumental during the most important moments in the history of space exploration. KU is the winningest program in the American Institution of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) design competition history, with 37 wins. Each program has networking, internship, and career opportunities with global leaders in space and air travel, from NASA to SpaceX.
Shorelight universities offer an exciting array of undergraduate and graduate engineering programs in the United States. It’s important to do your research before choosing a field of study. Reach out to student groups and talk to professors to learn more about your options for studying engineering. Think about where you want to live after graduation, whether you want to continue your education, and what career options you will have. If you think aerospace engineering might be right for you, reach out to a Shorelight advisor today and take the next step toward an out-of-this-world career.
Shorelight can help you study at top-ranked programs in the US >