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20 Best Doctor of Aerospace Engineering (DE, PhD) Graduate Schools

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Updated: May 30, 2024, Reading time: 15 minutes

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Aerospace engineers, known as “rocket scientists,” are known for their exceptional intelligence. As such, aerospace engineers are held in high esteem and are required to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. 

The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering is a research-focused degree requiring high motivation, exceptional mental ability, and academic rigor, characterized by intensive research and high expectations.

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METHODOLOGY

The 20 Doctor of Aerospace Engineering universities featured here have been selected based on the following criteria: 

Aerospace engineer assembling hardware
Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

20 Best Doctor Of Aerospace Engineering Graduate Schools

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts

PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics

Tuition:Varies
Credit Hours:285
Length:3-4 years
Acceptance Rate:11.2%

MIT is a world-leading institution for technology programs and has produced numerous innovations. MIT’s PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics, a very selective program, adopts the same original, innovative, and impactful research philosophy for societal change. 

Students have opportunities to specialize in one of the program’s thirteen areas, including Aerospace Computational Engineering, Aircraft Systems Engineering, Humans in Aerospace, and Space Propulsion. They can also choose from other courses in other departments.

California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California

PhD in Aeronautics or Space Engineering

Tuition:$63,063 per academic year
Credit Hours:135
Length:4 years
Acceptance Rate:9%

Caltech is known worldwide for its outstanding science and engineering programs and its research in pure and applied sciences. Caltech manages JPL, a reputable institution known for its aerospace engineering education and 25 spacecraft missions, offering students the opportunity to broaden their horizons.

The first-year Ph.D. and master’s degrees have identical coursework, and students can choose to receive their master’s degree upon completing their Ph.D. coursework. The program’s qualifying exams cover Space Engineering, fluid mechanics, solid/structural mechanics, autonomy, and control.

Stanford University

Stanford University

Stanford, California

PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics

Tuition:$1,304 per unit
Credit Hours:135
Length:6 years
Acceptance Rate:5%

Stanford is a global leader in cutting-edge research, producing the most Turing Award winners and various Nobel Prize laureates, Fulbright scholars, and Rhodes scholars. Stanford’s PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics receives an individualized program design that represents their interests and goals.

Funding is available to students in good standing, and it can include research and teaching assistantships, fellowships, and training grants. Students will focus on the study of propulsion, guidance and control, aerodynamics, and structural issues.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, Georgia

PhD in Aerospace Engineering 

Tuition:$586 per credit
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:22.6%

The National Institute of Aerospace cited Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering as the country’s #1 producer of aerospace graduates. The PhD in Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech is a highly regarded program known for its exceptional academics and rigorous research. 

If you’re looking for a cheaper and respected PhD program, this can be for you. It also offers various specializations: 

University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

Arbor, Michigan

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:Varies
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:15%

UMich is an AAU member, R:1 pioneering research university with a robust research-centric PhD in Aerospace Engineering. The most sought-after feature of this program is that it is fully funded, providing eligible doctoral students full tuition and mandatory fees coverage and a year-long monthly stipend. 

Students must pass the Rackham cognate requirement, which can be fulfilled through four credit hours of B-graded cognate courses or equivalent graduate coursework. Students can choose additional courses beyond the doctoral program as long as they align with their doctoral research specialization in consultation with their doctoral advisor.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois

Urbana, Illinois

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:Varies
Credit Hours:64 credit hours beyond the master’s degree
Length:4 years
Acceptance Rate:26%

Illinois has several things going for it, from its multimillion-dollar research expenditures to its enormous library collections. There’s no shortage of research opportunities for students in its Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program. 

It’s one of the most competitive PhD programs where students are required to have a 25% or higher teaching assistantship for at least one semester to meet candidacy requirements. Students are monitored by the doctoral committee at least once a year, and this can include a written progress report containing deficiencies and suggestions.

University of Texas Austin

University of Texas Austin

Austin, Texas

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:Varies
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:25%

UT Austin is among the most productive institutions with high research expenditures, from its engineering to social sciences fields. The university’s PhD in Aerospace Engineering requires its students to have continuous registration. 

Students also assume teaching assistant roles and enroll in the Supervised Teaching in Aerospace Engineering course. Moreover, students will receive funding opportunities like graduate research assistantships, fellowships, and teaching assistantships. 

Texas A&M University College Station

Texas A&M University

College Station, Texas

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:Varies
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:10-15%

TAMU’s research expenditures have seen an 18.8% increase in 2020, amounting to $1.131 billion! Engineering research accounted for 32% of the total amount, with students in the Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering likely benefiting from a strong focus on engineering research.

Bachelor’s degree students must complete one academic year and one semester of in-resident study, while master’s degree students must complete one academic year and nine credit hours per semester. Students must pass the Aerospace Engineering Fundamentals Exam (AFQE) during their second semester, followed by a preliminary exam to determine their suitability for the Ph.D. program.

Princeton University

Princeton University

New Jersey

PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:$57,410 per year (regular enrollment)
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:12%

Princeton’s PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering provides its students with various exchange programs with other institutions and international partnerships. Every student is offered full financial support provided good standing is maintained. All students are also on the eligible list for the Wu and Upton Fellowships. 

Princeton’s aerospace engineering research program, focusing on fluid mechanics, materials science, and robotics, offers interdisciplinary opportunities and encourages collaborative work among 100 in-residence students.

University of Colorado—Boulder

University of Colorado

Boulder, Colorado

PhD in Aerospace Engineering Sciences

Tuition:$2,823 per credit (in-state)
$6,270 per credit (out-of-state)
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:4 – 6 years
Acceptance Rate:79%

The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder offers several collaborative research centers fostering student-researcher relationships. These include the Anschutz Medical Campus, the National Science Foundation Industry & University Cooperative Research Program, and the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory.

Students may participate in community outreach projects. The BOLD Center is a prime example, and it manages several programs for K-12 student engagement in science and engineering.

Cornell University

Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:$24,800 yearly
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:5%

Cornell’s Ph.D. programs, including its Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering, benefit from the Ivy League university’s robust support for research. Faculty members focus on aerospace vehicle dynamics, celestial mechanics, and basic aerosciences, including unsteady and vortical flows, transonic flows, and combustion processes, and welcome student assistantships. Students must assume teaching assistantships for two semesters. 

Students enter the program with a bachelor’s degree but must demonstrate exceptional intelligence and other personal traits vital to degree completion. The university expects its Ph.D. students to make original and substantial contributions to the body of knowledge related to aerospace engineering.

University of Maryland – College Park 

University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:$1,350 candidacy per semester (in-state)
$2,626 candidacy per semester (out-of-state)
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:4 years
Acceptance Rate:N/A

Thanks to its proximity to Washington, D.C. and Public Ivy status, UMD’s Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering students have numerous opportunities for research partnerships with federal agencies. Every student creates a Doctoral Coursework Plan that outlines the courses taken to earn the Ph.D. degree. 

Ph.D. students have access to the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center, among the country’s leading research centers in aerospace engineering. There are also numerous CCE research centers, labs, and institutes with interdisciplinary research programs going on at any time.

University of California—Los Angeles

University of California

Los Angeles, California

PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:$18,136 per year (residents)
$33,238 per year (non-residents)
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:23%

UCLA’s outstanding Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program encourages a collaborative culture that results in productive research in engineering and science. The Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Department is a separate entity and, thus, has more autonomy in its decisions than other departments. 

Bachelor’s and master’s graduates of mechanical and aerospace engineering-related degrees offer academic advantages, while other engineering fields are accepted. Professional background and upper-division undergraduate coursework are considered for non-MAE applicants.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Blacksburg, Virginia

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:$846.25 per credit (in-state)
$1,705 per credit (out-of-state)
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:N/A

Virginia Tech, with a $522 million research portfolio, is among the best schools for research and support for programs like the Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. In fact, its AE Ph.D. is one of the most supported programs in the university. You can earn an M.S. in Ocean Engineering and a Ph.D. as an option under Aerospace Engineering.

The Ph.D. allows its students to specialize in one or more fields. Specializations include Aero-Hydrodynamics, Dynamics And Control, Structures And Structural Dynamics, Ocean Engineering, Applied Physics, Space Engineering, and Applied Mathematics, among others. 

Pennsylvania State University – University Park

Pennsylvania State University

University Park, Pennsylvania

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:Varies
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:4-10%

Penn State is a renowned public research institution that has reached its 60-year mark for its international leadership in aerospace engagement, education, and research. The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at Penn State exposes its students to experimental and computational research approaches while engaging in traditional subjects.

Recent research topics include propulsion, aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics, rotorcraft engineering, and flight science. Cutting-edge research in commercial space, UAVs, and nanomanufacturing are also popular. Several first-rate graduate research facilities are available for students, including an indoor UAV flight space, high-performance computer clusters, and vibration and acoustics labs.

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

PhD in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics

Tuition:$1,593 per credit (in-state)
$2,465 per credit (out-of-state)
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:4-5 years
Acceptance Rate:59%

UMN’s College of Science of Engineering (CSE) has produced over 144 patents, 715 invention disclosures, and 16 startup companies – and counting. The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics program has contributed its fair share to these remarkable achievements.

Although the average time of graduation is four years, students have up to six years to complete other degree requirements, such as research and dissertation. However, they must complete their academic coursework in the first two years.

University of California – San Diego

University of California

La Jolla, California

PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering 

Tuition:Varies
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:N/A

UCSD researchers utilized $1.54 billion in 2021 funding to understand coronavirus, predict wildfire behavior, and assess climate change risks. Researchers in the Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program likely benefited from it, too. 

The Ph.D. in MAE at UCSD doesn’t follow a one-size-fits-all specific program of study, not even specific course requirements. Students must consult with the Advising Committee for their specific coursework in preparation for the qualifying exam. Students are considered enrolled at both UCSD and SDSU for the entirety of their stay in the program.

University of Washington

University of Washington

Seattle, Washington

PhD in Aeronautics & Astronautics

Tuition:$25,734 per year
Credit Hours:90
Length:5-6 years
Acceptance Rate:22%

With 280 research centers, Ph.D. in Aeronautics & Astronautics students have among the widest array of opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and cutting-edge research. Students must pick a concentration in one of these areas: Controls, Fluids, Structures, or Plasmas.  

Students choose between the direct-to-Ph.D. pathway or earn an MS in Aeronautics & Astronautics as part of the Ph.D. program. Applicants with a master’s degree may also be admitted through the post-master’s admission process. 

Ohio State University

Ohio State University

Columbus, Ohio

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:$782.19 per credit
Credit Hours:Varies
Length:5 years
Acceptance Rate:N/A

Ohio State, one of the Public Ivies, offers a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program known for faculty and students constantly innovating on flight principles and practices. Students are expected to keep technology, innovation, and research as part of their day-to-day experience, a philosophy that stimulates productivity. 

Although funding is available, it’s very competitive. Benefits include paid tuition, health insurance, monthly stipend, and child care, even coverage for short-term absences and prolonged leaves of absence for specific reasons. 

University of Southern California

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California

PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Tuition:Varies
Credit Hours:94
Length:5-6 years
Acceptance Rate:14%

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering is best known for its exemplary Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program. The Ph.D. program has three strategic themes – art, science, and technology involving creation, design, and manufacturing in aerospace; exploration technologies; and the use of aerospace engineering and its technologies to improve the quality of urban life.

In addition to its rigorous curriculum and various research areas, USC has a full funding policy for its Ph.D. students with coverage for tuition, a stipend for living expenses, and a health insurance package. Assistantships and fellowships are available, too.

aerospace engineer doing a technical fix

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of a PhD in Aerospace Engineering degree?

Aerospace engineers are among the highest-paid professionals in the country, with a median annual wage of $118,610 (May 2020). But note that it’s only with a bachelor’s degree! Individuals with a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering can land jobs with higher pay and better benefits, including but not limited to: 

Many Ph.D. holders even branch out into other branches of engineering, such as electronics, industrial and mechanical engineering. Their advanced education and training become the best foundation for being multi-talented engineers. 

What are the typical duties of an Aerospace Engineer? 

The specific duties of aerospace engineers include but aren’t limited to: 

Aerospace engineers may also specialize in specific areas, such as materials, thermodynamics, and aerodynamics. Many report that their choice of graduate specialization started early during their Ph.D. studies, with their dissertation tackling said choice. 

What are the main branches of Aerospace Engineering? 

There are two major branches. 

What are the licensing and certification requirements for Aerospace Engineers? 

Licensure is neither common for aerospace engineers, unlike in other engineering occupations, nor is it required for entry-level jobs. But getting a Professional Engineering (PE) license is an option, especially for aerospace engineers looking for leadership positions. 

The licensure requirements vary by state, but the common requirements include: 

What’s the typical coursework of a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program? 

Since a Ph.D. degree is the highest academic attainment, the typical curriculum in a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program includes advanced topics in: 

Aside from the intensive STEM-centric and rigorous coursework, Ph.D. students also gain knowledge and skills in business, law, and ethics. Ph.D. programs are designed for aerospace engineers who have already made a career but want to pursue management positions, contribute to the development of the profession, and be updated about new knowledge. 

The culminating project of Ph.D. programs is dissertation research, and it’s among the most challenging academic requirements. In fact, Ph.D. students can spend between three and five years on their dissertation before these are considered acceptable! 

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