Completing a master’s degree in aerospace engineering is a fantastic choice for anyone interested in aircraft, spacecraft, and military technology. Analytical problem solvers with strong mathematical skills will find completing a master’s in this field the perfect choice for growing their career.
The field of aerospace engineering can be divided into two subfields — astronautical engineering and aeronautical engineering, which are outlined below.
Learn more about becoming an aerospace engineer in this complete career guide.
What is Astronautical Engineering?
Space exploration has recently undergone a renaissance wherein private corporations, such as SpaceX, are replacing NASA and other government organizations as industry leaders.
Humanity’s expansion into space is no longer simply a result of curiosity. Reaching the cosmos has more practical applications ranging from global internet coverage to tourism to the eventual mining of asteroids for precious metals.
To make this possible, a great deal of innovation must create faster, longer range, and more affordable vehicles that can get us into space. Aerospace engineers are at the heart of this innovation, and obtaining a master’s degree in this field will allow you to partake in this fascinating endeavor.
What is Aeronautical Engineering?
For those who want a more “down-to-earth career,” obtaining a master’s in aerospace engineering can open doors to careers in the civilian and military aviation industries. For those passionate about aviation, designing, developing, testing, and manufacturing aircraft is about as immersed as one can get in this field short of being an actual pilot.
Companies such as Boeing or Airbus are at the forefront of aircraft manufacturing. In an ever more globalized and climate-conscious economy, transporting large amounts of people safely, comfortably, and efficiently is more important than ever. Thousands of hours and massive capital investments have gone into developing greener and more comfortable commercial aircraft such as the Boeing B-787 Dreamliner or Airbus A-350. One of the main benefits of participating in the development of a new aircraft is the diversity of skills needed.
Designing an aircraft requires specialized knowledge in fluid mechanics, electrical engineering, mechatronics, material science, and even interior design. Being on a team of aerospace engineers and developing a new aircraft will provide many opportunities to test and expand one’s knowledge continually. Similarly, a career in military aviation offers many of the same benefits as one in the commercial aviation business, with the added responsibility and prestige of supporting our nation’s defense capabilities.
Obtaining a master’s degree in aerospace engineering can lead to more broad careers in the defense industry, not just aviation. Corporations such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon supply our military with equipment such as UAVs, ballistic missiles, missile defense systems, and smart bombs. Developing this equipment requires varying degrees of aerospace engineering knowledge.
How to Get a Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering?
Completing an aerospace engineering master’s degree will include building on a certain aspect of the core knowledge obtained while studying other scientific topics and engineering during an undergraduate degree.
Most master’s programs offer the choice between a full-time or part-time class load. A full-time curriculum is the preferred option for those solely focused on learning. However, those currently employed in their field may opt for a part-time class load to balance their schooling and work.
Most master’s programs provide specialized curriculums for areas in aerospace engineering that you might be interested in. Here is a glance at some of these specializations:
The general science of researching, designing, and manufacturing aircraft. A very broad field, aeronautics includes light aircraft, commercial aviation, military aviation, and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).
Aircraft Guidance Control
The design and development of guidance systems to manage air traffic control and enable aircraft to reach their destination safely. A field mostly preoccupied with radar, GPS, and collision avoidance systems.
This is the study of how objects move through the air. Those specializing in aerodynamics can expect to spend their careers conducting research and optimizing current and future aircraft designs. Proper aerodynamics is a crucial aspect of an aircraft’s design as it affects both its performance and efficiency.
Space Mission Design and Planning
Sending spacecraft into the cosmos requires careful design and meticulous planning. Ensuring costly space missions are carried out in the safest and most cost-efficient manner while completing their objective will be the purpose of this focus.
Newer, more advanced propulsion systems and materials enable the development of next-generation spacecraft with lower costs and increased capabilities. Additionally, the privatization of space travel by companies such as SpaceX creates more opportunities to work in space exploration. Specializing in spacecraft design can help one pursue a career in this exciting field.
Online Aerospace Engineering Master’s Degree Programs
Over 20 universities offer online master’s degree programs in aerospace engineering. Some programs are fully online, whereas others offer hybrid courses where class time is split between virtual and in-person learning. The main benefit of online courses is that they provide flexibility. This is especially important to professionals already working full-time jobs who may not be able to attend in-person classes. Students themselves can decide when and how they will complete their coursework.
An online curriculum is delivered differently than it would be in person. Universities offering online courses have innovated clever new ways to deliver learning material. Existing in-person classes may simply be recorded and uploaded online for later viewing for the lecture portion. Other times, instructors may use certain media designed for online lectures such as powerpoints and interactive programs. Classes may also be conducted in the form of a video group call using software such as Zoom or Google Classrooms. Students can ask instructors questions in real-time during these sessions, just like during an in-person class. However, if this does not work out schedule-wise for a particular student, these sessions are recorded for later viewing.
Completing homework assignments will also differ significantly from traditional classes. Often, an online platform will be used for assigning homework. Assignments will typically take a form resembling a quiz where answers are either multiple choice or typed in. Alternatively, some assignments may simply be done on paper in the traditional way, except instead of turning it in during class, you will simply take a picture and upload it to the class website.
Here are a few examples of online courses one might sign up for while completing an online master’s degree in aerospace engineering :
Aerospace Composite Design
Most modern air/spacecraft are made from composite materials such as aluminum alloys and carbon fiber. Understanding the material properties and abilities is crucial when designing stronger, lighter, and more efficient modern aircraft. Undergraduate engineering topics such as strengths of materials, material science, statics, and dynamics will be revisited and built upon.
Hobby 3-D printing is the first thing that comes to mind when additive manufacturing is mentioned. However, this technology has increasingly played a role in aerospace engineering. From rapid prototyping to the manufacturing of complex shapes that better optimize strength and aerodynamics, additive manufacturing will likely be an important part of this industry in coming years. Courses in additive manufacturing will likely teach students about the benefits and limits of this technology, along with 3-D printing methods and workflow.
Aircraft propulsion courses will focus on the study of propulsion systems such as radial, turboprop, turbofan, and turbojet engines. Such courses will likely build on previously learned engineering topics such as thermodynamics, heat transfer, and the strengths of materials.
Dynamics, Stability, and Control of Vehicles
Designing a propulsions system and durable airframe is not the only aspect of aerospace engineering. Air and spacecraft require complicated systems to ensure stable flight and adequate maneuverability, which this course will focus on. The dynamic relationship between controls, software, hardware, and aircraft mechanics will be covered at length.
Aerospace Engineering Master’s Programs
When considering a master’s degree, the most logical question is how much it will cost.
The cost of tuition will vary depending on whether you enroll in an online or in-person program. Likewise, out-of-state tuition will be substantially greater than in-state tuition. The cost of an online degree may be substantially lower than an in-person degree because your current living accommodations may not need to change. In the end, the university itself will be the most important factor when it comes to tuition costs.
Most universities operate on a per-credit basis. The cost will vary substantially depending on which university is selected. The University of Washington charges $535 per credit for Washington state residents and $985 per credit for nonresident or international students. Prestigious universities will charge significantly more. Private schools, on the other hand, like Columbia University, charge a flat rate of $1,936 per credit hour regardless of state residency.
When it comes to funding postgraduate studies, several options are available. Traditional finance methods, such as student loans and grants, are typically utilized. The most popular method of funding your education is through federal financial aid. This aid provides around $20,500 in unsubsidized loans each year, but supplementary “Direct PLUS Loans” may be available if more money is needed. Due to relatively low-interest rates and deferment options, federal loans are the preferred method of financing secondary education. However, private student loans may be an option if one does not qualify for these loans or needs additional funding. Scholarships are also available to help cover educational costs.
Many scholarships are available for students wishing to pursue a STEM degree. Some of these scholarships are offered through universities directly, whereas others may be provided by businesses looking for future employees. Your qualification for these scholarships usually depends on your previous academic achievements, racial and ethnic background, socio-economic background, and other such attributes. One useful resource for finding the correct scholarship for your graduate program is scholarships.com.
A master’s degree normally requires 30 to 36 credits to complete. The pace at which these credits are earned, at least in online learning, can be heavily influenced by the student’s scheduling needs. Master’s programs can be finished in just over a year or spread out over several years, depending on the student’s preferences.
Not all aerospace engineering master’s degrees are structured in the same way. Some programs may be course-based only. Others may require you to complete a thesis, a project that integrates a student’s coursework and pushes them to demonstrate an understanding of the topics covered in their master’s program. A thesis may only involve the university itself or a partnership with industry professionals.
Internship opportunities may be included in some master’s programs. These allow you to apply the methods and skills you learned to a real-world application and may be required as an alternative to completing a thesis. Exposure to the industry can offer valuable knowledge that may not be gained in a classroom.
Aerospace Engineer Master’s Jobs
Some common job opportunities for those holding a master’s degree in aerospace engineering include the following:
- Aerodynamics Engineer: An aerodynamics engineer will design and conduct aircraft testing, analyze aspects of aviation concerning aero physics, select appropriate aircraft materials, and present results of experiments to colleagues who may not be as technically skilled.
- Aeronautical Engineer: An aeronautical engineer will aid the design and development of aircraft (both commercial and military) and possible missile systems. Day-to-day tasks may include creating prototypes and using CAD software to improve designs of aircraft components.
- Procurement Officer: The purchasing of goods and services for a corporation from manufacturers, importers, and wholesalers is handled by procurement officers. These purchases are often complex and require strong organization and negotiation skills along with the technical knowledge gained by completing a master’s in aerospace engineering.
- Mission and Payload Specialist: As the title suggests, this career will entail aiding space missions by collecting data, conducting experiments, and other related activities. A mission and payload specialist will likely be involved in every step of a manned or unmanned space mission, and thus their career will be more proactive than others in this list.
- Data Processing Manager: Computer-based simulations are becoming an increasingly important aspect of aerospace engineering due to newly available technology and lower costs. Data collected from these simulations must be processed and interpreted by engineers who will then decide which design changes are appropriate. As a data processing manager, you will be overseeing this process.
- Inspector and Compliance Officer: Skilled professionals are needed to ensure the safety of future aircraft passengers. Inspectors and compliance officers ensure that aircraft manufacturers comply with all safety standards and regulations, thus minimizing accident risks. These individuals may be employed by the government, airlines, or aircraft manufacturers.
Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering Career Outlook
As of May 2020, the median annual pay for aerospace engineers was $118,610, according to the US 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.
Master’s in Aerospace Engineering FAQs
The information provided was meant as a brief introduction to what earning a master’s degree in aerospace engineering may entail and why one would go about doing so. Below are some common questions that may be asked if you are considering furthering your education in this field.
These fields have some things in common with aerospace engineering: Data science, electrical and computer engineering, electronics engineering, materials science, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, mechatronics. Although this is not a complete list, these areas of study will likely include some aspects of aerospace engineering, as many scientific disciplines have knowledge overlaps.
Useful prerequisite courses include courses that teach applied mathematics (such as calculus, differential equations, linear algebra), physics, materials science, and other STEM subjects.
This is dependent on individual academic programs. A placement exam may be required for students that have not completed certain prerequisites. It is best to inquire the university directly about this.
Typically, a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field of study will be required. Such fields include engineering, physics, mathematics, and other sciences. Your undergraduate grade point average may also be taken into consideration.
Yes, some academic programs may waive GRE/GMAT requirements if you have a certain amount of relevant work experience.
This will likely depend on the course itself. Some courses may have flexibility, but others will be part of a building sequence.