It’s easy to be drawn to the sky, to cast your eyes upwards and become captivated by that vast expanse and the final frontier that lies beyond. After all, we’re not meant to have access to space or to float among the clouds. However, thanks to the hard work, vision and ingenuity of aerospace engineers, we do. If you are fascinated by aircraft and exploration (and want people to refer to you as a rocket scientist in earnest), then aerospace engineering just might be the major for you!
To put it simply, if you major in aerospace engineering, you will study the design, development and operation of all types of aircraft. The discipline is often divided into two sub-categories: aeronautics (atmospheric flight) and astronautics (space flight). Regardless of your focus, you’ll learn all about propulsion, fluid and flight mechanics, heat transfer, performance and control of aircraft. You can expect a combination of classroom and laboratory work (including flight testing models of your own design). Be forewarned, while aerospace engineering is an exhilarating major, your coursework will be extremely rigorous and challenging. Make sure you’re ready to commit.
Without a doubt, as an aerospace engineering student you’ll need quantitative skills that are off the charts. Moreover, you should be a creative thinker who is adept at understanding and applying abstract concepts. And, as if that wasn’t a tall enough order, it helps to be detail oriented with a keen sense of logic. Finally, you probably shouldn’t be a person who suffers from aviophobia (i.e. fear of flying).
Nuts and Bolts
Should you decide to major in aerospace engineering, your course-load will look something like this: Calculus, Fundamentals of Flight, Strength of Materials, Thermal and Fluids Engineering, Modeling and Analysis of Uncertainty, Numerical Computing, Wind Tunnel Lab, Aerospace Propulsion Systems, Flight Controls, Boundary Layers and Heat Transfer, Introduction to Helicopter Design, Analytic Geometry, Circuits and Sensors and Thermodynamics.
An aerospace engineer’s passion for all things science and tech-related might also lead him/her to study physics, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, computer engineering, naval architecture, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, atmospheric sciences, nuclear engineering, architectural engineering, geology or geophysics.
As you’ve probably deduced (after all you are a budding rocket scientist), most aerospace engineering majors end up working in the aerospace industry. Of course, there are multiple avenues to pursue within this sector. Some graduates find professional opportunities with government agencies such as NASA or the Department of Defense. Others seek employment with private airline companies, aerospace contractors and suppliers or the propulsion industry. Still others seek out a career path within academia. Potential job titles could include design engineer, test engineer, spacecraft designer, drafter, compliance officer, military aerospace engineer and data processing manager.
Finally, it should be noted that although you can certainly find employment with an engineering degree, you will not be a full-fledged, licensed engineer. Indeed, you will have to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (known as the FE) administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Upon successful completion of the FE exam, you will acquire an apprenticeship to qualify for the Professional Engineer exam (known as the PE). Once you pass the PE exam, you will become a fully-certified engineer! Only a small percentage of aerospace engineers sit for the FE. The majority work professionally without it.