How to Become an Aerospace Engineer

If you have passion for spacecraft or aircraft, in addition to strong math and physics skills, then a career as an aerospace engineer may be a great fit for you. Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, and propulsion systems. It is one of the most challenging fields of engineering and requires special academic qualifications and training. However, if you get the right education and gain experience in the field, you’ll have no problem establishing your career in aerospace engineering.

EditSteps

EditGetting the Right Education

  1. Develop sound math and science skills in high school. Aerospace engineering requires advanced science and math skills. Take classes in chemistry, physics, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry in high school to get a head-start on developing the skills you’ll need.[1]
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    • Put your best effort into these classes so you can earn high marks. A high GPA will help you get into a good aerospace engineering program in college.
    • Participate in related extracurricular activities, such as joining an astronomy or computer programming club or participating in a science or engineering competition.
  2. Strengthen your analytical skills. It’s important to have critical thinking and analytical skills for a career in aerospace engineering. You’ll need to solve complex problems using either concrete or intuitive methods. Playing mental games like crossword puzzles, chess, and other strategy games will help you develop these skills.[2]
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  3. Get a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. Apply to several colleges and universities with aerospace engineering programs to give yourself options when acceptance letters arrive. Make sure each university you apply to is ABET-accredited (ABET is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), as most employers will not recognize degrees from universities that are not.[3]
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  4. Take classes in writing and business. An aerospace engineer will also need strong writing skills in order to document their work and write papers that clearly describe their designs. You’ll also need knowledge of business practices and commercial law, so you should take both writing and business classes in college.[4]
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  5. Earn a graduate degree. If you’re truly dedicated to becoming an aerospace engineer, you should earn a Master’s or Doctorate degree in the field. Though this will add between two and four years to your studies, it is worth it to begin your career with the best education possible.[5]
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    • You’ll need to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) before applying to grad school.
    • While in grad school, it’s important that you complete and do well in all the required coursework.
    • Earning a graduate degree requires you to research and complete an original thesis.

EditGaining Experience

  1. Complete a summer co-op or internship. Some universities and colleges offer cooperative programs or internships for students. These programs pair you with experienced members in the aerospace engineering industry to allow you to gain practical experience and exposure to the professional environment while completing your degree.[6]
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    • Completing a co-op or internship will also provide you the opportunity to network and acquire professional references.
  2. Apply for an apprenticeship. Doing an apprenticeship will provide you with valuable experience as an aerospace engineer. Not only will you learn the basic requirements of the job, but you’ll also be able to pick up tips and tricks from someone who knows all the ins and outs of aerospace engineering. Several of the NASA field centers offer apprenticeship programs, lasting from 10 weeks to five years.[7]
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    • For NASA apprenticeships, you must be in the process of obtaining, or already have, a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.[8]
    • You’ll need a GPA of 3.0 or higher and you must be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident. You can apply online on the NASA website.[9]
  3. Work as an aerospace engineer technician. You may find that it’s easier to become a technician in the field of aerospace engineering. Consider taking a position as a technician to gain valuable experience and make connections in the industry. You may even be able to work as a technician part time while you’re finishing your studies, as less education is required for this position.[10]
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  4. Join professional societies and organizations. There are several societies and organizations you can join, such as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), SAE International, and the Sigma Gamma Tau: National Aerospace Engineering Honor Society. You’ll be able to attend industry events, receive trade publications, and even visit a career center specifically targeted toward engineers.[11]
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    • The AIAA only charges a $25 membership fee for students,[12] while the SAE membership ranges from $95-$285, depending on the benefits.[13]
    • The Sigma Gamma Tau: National Aerospace Engineering Honor Society doesn’t charge a membership fee, although you must have completed three semesters of work toward a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering.[14]
  5. Find a mentor in the industry. A great way to gain experience and make connections is to find a mentor in the industry of aerospace engineering. If you have a good relationship with one of your professors or supervisors of your internship, co-op, or apprenticeship, talk to them about becoming your mentor.[15]
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    • The AIAA as well as the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program of America can also help pair you up with a mentor in the industry.
    • Send an email to or speak with the person you’d like to become your mentor. Say something like, “I really admire your dedication to and knowledge of aerospace engineering. I’m looking for a mentor in the industry to help me learn the ropes and make connections. Would you be interested in, and have the time to, be my mentor?”

EditEstablishing Your Career

  1. Apply with manufacturing companies.[16] While working for a manufacturing company, you will provide technical expertise as well as troubleshoot projects during all stages of a project, from development from implementation. The ASRC Aerospace Corporation, Boeing Co., SpaceX, and the United Space Alliance are a few examples of manufacturing companies you could contact.[17]
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  2. Apply with engineering services firms.[18] There are many engineering service firms that require aerospace engineers to use statistical tools to perform modeling and prediction as well as develop standards and guidelines. Contact companies like Ball Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, and Woodward, Inc. to find jobs in your area.[19]
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  3. Apply with federal agencies.[20] Federal agencies, including the military as well as NASA, need qualified aerospace engineers to develop and test propulsion units for spacecraft, aircraft, and missiles. To find and apply for jobs from these agencies, visit the NASA careers website (nasajobs.nasa.gov) as well as government websites (such as usajobs.gov).[21]
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  4. Get licensed. If you get a Professional Engineer’s (PE) license, you’ll be qualified for higher levels of leadership in the aerospace engineering field. To get your PE license, you’ll need an ABET-accredited degree as well as four years of work experience. You’ll also need to pass both the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.[22]
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