The term “aerospace engineering” first appeared in 1958 when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was also founded. The compound word was a combination of the words related to the Earth’s atmosphere (aero) and outer space, a combination that aptly describes aerospace engineering.
Did you also know that aerospace engineers are known as rocket scientists? In modern society, the term “rocket scientist” denotes a person of exceptional intelligence. As such, aerospace engineers are held in high esteem!
Like many professions, aerospace engineering has its educational hierarchy. Aerospace engineers start with a bachelor’s degree, pursue a master’s degree and, finally, earn a doctorate, known as the terminal degree.
The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is a research-centric degree that trains its students in advanced technologies and techniques in aerospace engineering research. Students must be highly motivated and possess the exceptional mental ability, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math. Every Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program is characterized by academic rigor, intensive research, and high expectations.
But what exactly is aerospace engineering? This branch of engineering deals with the scientific principles and practices used in the design of airplanes, jet engines, and spacecraft. Two branches have distinct yet overlapping functions – aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. Many Ph.D. programs make the distinction by offering concentrations in these branches.
Avionics engineering is quite different from aerospace engineering – the former covers aerospace engineering’s electronics aspect.
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:
- Aerospace engineer in manufacturers of aerospace products and parts; engineering services; federal government agencies; and R&D in companies engaged in life, physical, and engineering sciences
- Engineering teacher in colleges and universities
- Engineering or architectural manager in construction sites and the like
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 unique conditions of the workplace, the specific job duties, and the project being worked on determines the tasks that aerospace engineers perform daily. In general, their typical duties include the design of aircraft, satellites, spacecraft, and missiles. The design aspect includes creating, evaluating, and testing prototypes to ensure that these are functioning according to parameters.
The specific duties of aerospace engineers include but aren’t limited to:
- Evaluate the technical and financial feasibility of proposals for projects
- Determine the safety of operations of the proposed projects based on defined goals
- Assess the quality of products based on customer requirements, engineering principles, and governmental regulations
- Conduct quality inspections to ensure that quality standards for the product and project are met
- Solve issues related to damaged and malfunctioning products
- Develop new technologies in the aerospace industry, from aviation to defense systems
Aerospace engineers may also specialize in specific areas, such as materials, thermodynamics, and aerodynamics. Many reports that their choice in specialization started early during their Ph.D. studies, with their dissertation tackling said choice.
What are the main branches of Aerospace Engineering?
As previously mentioned, there are two major branches. First, aeronautical engineers design, create and test technologies used in civilian and military aviation. The common work areas are in aircraft, jet engines, and drone systems development, many of which involve flight experimentation.
Second, astronautical engineers design, create and test technologies related to space explorations. Their work involves research and development on small and large satellites, space vehicles and capsules, missiles, rockets, and planetary probes. Many work in NASA and other space agencies for this reason.
Aeronautical and astronautical engineers deal with distinct issues in their workplaces, particularly environment, operations, and expectations. But both types of professionals are known for their exceptional mental ability, collaborative and communication skills, and drive.
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:
- A bachelor’s degree, at least, from an ABET-accredited engineering program (Holders of a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering degree may or may not pursue the PE license depending on their career goals or preferred workplace)
- Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, usually after earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering
- Passing the PE exam
- At least four years of relevant work experience
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:
- Orbital mechanics
- Space systems
- Theory of elasticity
- Fluid mechanics and dynamics
- Life support systems
- Human performance in abnormal and extreme environments
- Extraterrestrial resources
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!
The 20 Doctor of Aerospace Engineering universities featured here have been selected based on the following criteria:
- The university has accreditation from one of the six regional accreditation agencies and ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission for its post-graduate program.
- The admission process uses highly selective criteria resulting in only the cream of the crop being accepted.
- The university and the Ph.D. program are known for academic excellence, abundant research opportunities, and rigorous standards.
- The students thrive with the wide range of student support services, from library resources and research facilities to financial aid, available.
20 BEST DOCTOR OF AEROSPACE ENGINEERING GRADUATE SCHOOLS
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
: 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts
MIT is among the world’s leading institutes of technology that has produced numerous innovations, including pioneering high-speed photography and creating a new type of matter. At the institutional level, MIT provides robust support for interdisciplinary research across its numerous schools and departments. The Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics program adopts the same original, innovative, and impactful research philosophy that can lead to societal change.
- Students must perform most of their didactic and research work on campus due to MIT’s residence-only policy. Faculty members, students, and the university community collaborate to produce the best results, an MIT tradition.
- The AeroAstro Department offers 13 areas of study, including Aerospace Computational Engineering, Aircraft Systems Engineering, Humans in Aerospace, and Space Propulsion.
- The Ph.D. program’s combination of academic and research work is designed to encourage intellectual development, critical thinking, and objectivity in observing the physical world. While technical and scientific skills are valued, so is the proficient ability to communicate in English.
- Applicants must then pass the Graduate Writing Exam with at least a score of 80. Applicants with a score of 75 and below take a writing workshop during their first IAP.
- The admission process consists of several steps – admission to the Graduate program, passing the Field Exam, completing an SM degree, and getting accepted into the doctoral program of your choice.
- The PhD degree is conferred upon completing the individualized academic coursework, submission and defense of a dissertation proposal, and successful completion of an original dissertation.
Students may have official enrollment in the Ph.D. program, but their coursework isn’t limited to what the department offers. With the approval of the faculty advisor, each student can choose from courses in other departments. The result is an individualized program of study that covers multiple disciplines and, thus, a well-rounded education.
Students with a keen interest in advanced interdisciplinary research will find MIT’s numerous laboratories and research centers to their advantage! Among these facilities are a computer center, a nuclear reactor, and astrophysical observatories, even an AI lab, and a few wind tunnels.
California Institute of Technology
: 1200 E California Blvd. MC 105-50, Pasadena, California
Caltech has such an intense rivalry with MIT that it has crossed scientific lines. The rivalry started because of a prank during the 2005 MIT’s Campus Preview Weekend! Such rivalry extends to the excellence of its programs, including the PhD in Aeronautics program. MIT rivalry or none, Caltech is known worldwide for its outstanding science and engineering programs and its research in pure and applied sciences.
- Individuals with a bachelor’s degree equivalent to Caltech’s degree can apply to the Ph.D. program. Letters of recommendation, transcripts, and proof of English proficiency are required.
- Caltech doesn’t have a minimum GPA requirement, but most admitted students have at least a 3.5 GPA and belong to the top 5-10 percentile of their graduating class. The rigorous curriculum demands exceptional mental ability as well as strong scientific and mathematical backgrounds.
- The first-year coursework for the Ph.D. and the master’s degrees are identical. You may choose to receive your master’s degree upon the completion of your first-year Ph.D. coursework. Completion of at least 135 units is required to earn the master’s degree.
- Students in the Ph.D. program must choose and be accepted by their respective research advisor by the end of their third quarter of study. However, formal acceptance into the Ph.D. program happens only after the successful completion of the qualifying examination.
- The qualifying exam may cover solid and structural mechanics, fluid mechanics, mathematics, and autonomy and control. This is designed to determine the students’ readiness for the rigor of the Ph.D. program.
- Other crucial milestones are the candidacy exam during the third year and the seminar presentation of the thesis research.
Caltech has an educational exchange program with École Polytechnique (EP), where two Caltech students will enroll at EP for a year and vice versa. The exchange provides Caltech students the opportunity to broaden their horizons, among other benefits.
Caltech manages JPL. Over the years, Caltech has become a reputable institution known for its quality standards in aerospace engineering education. Under Caltech, JPL is presently operating about 25 spacecraft missions, with its Voyager spacecraft reaching the outer planets and beyond.
: 496 Lomita Mall, Stanford, California
When it comes to cutting-edge research, Stanford is a global leader! In fact, more Turing Award winners have come from Stanford than any other university, not to mention its numerous Nobel Prize laureates, Fulbright scholars, and Rhodes scholars. No wonder then that its Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics program has produced many of the country’s best researchers, teachers, and industry leaders.
- Applicants only need to possess a bachelor’s degree, but it need not be in aerospace or mechanical engineering. But a strong technical background in physics and engineering is preferred.
- Each student designs an individualized Ph.D. program in consultation with an academic advisor. The program of study must represent the student’s unique interests and goals in aerospace engineering.
- The minimum unit requirement is 135 units to earn the Ph.D. degree. If you earned a master’s degree from Stanford, you could transfer up to 45 units. But if not, then you may petition the Registrar’s Office to transfer up to 45 units, too.
- At least 27 units must be in advanced courses in science, engineering, and math. The 27-unit requirement doesn’t include research work, seminars, and directed study.
- Application documents include letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and transcripts, uploaded on or before the single Ph.D. admission deadline.
- Applicants are evaluated based on the submitted documents and their academic performance. Stanford has a most selective admission rate that applies to its graduate programs.
- Funding is available to students in good standing, and it can include research and teaching assistantships, fellowships, and training grants.
Students have plenty of opportunities to engage in several engineering disciplines, from the didactic courses to the research topic. The Ph.D. program emphasizes the study of propulsion, guidance and control, aerodynamics, and structural issues.
Talk about getting your feet wet on your first day at Stanford! First-year students go on a fountain-hopping spree around the campus fountains, many in their underwear, too.
Georgia Institute of Technology
: North Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia
Georgia Tech has grown by leaps and bounds since its 1885 founding, and among its best proof is the comprehensive range of engineering degree programs offered. Furthermore, the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering was cited by the National Institute of Aerospace as the country’s #1 producer of aerospace graduates. The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering is notable for its excellence in academics and research, and it’s considered the most rigorous program in the entire school.
- Students can select from many areas of specialization: aerodynamics and fluid mechanics, structural mechanics and materials behavior, aeroelasticity and structural dynamics, propulsion and combustion, system design and optimization, and flight mechanics and control.
- While every student’s research project centers around one of these areas of specialization, the program also encourages an interdisciplinary approach. Students can collaborate with researchers in other departments for as long as their respective research project meets the Georgia Tech brief – original, innovative, and effective in providing possible solutions to issues or answers to questions.
- Students complete 42 credit hours beyond a bachelor’s degree. The coursework includes a graduate seminar course, at least 36 credit hours of 6000-level courses, and six credit hours of 4000-level courses. Nine credit hours must come from Math-prefixed courses.
- A maximum of 30 credit hours may be transferred from a Georgia Tech master’s degree or any accredited institution.
- Students must pass a series of milestones with a specific time frame of accomplishment. These include a qualifying exam, a thesis proposal, and successful defense of your research results.
- There’s a strict 3.25 minimum GPA standard that every student must pass to earn a PhD degree.
Students can work with government and industry leaders during their Ph.D. studies through the Graduate Internship program. Academic achievement is the primary factor in getting accepted into the program, which says a lot considering the program’s rigor.
The Ramblin’ Wreck car is such a part of the Georgia Tech culture that it’s featured during alumni events and homecoming games, and there’s one in the hotel lobby. This means there are three of these cars!
University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
: 1320 Beal Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan
UMich is a pioneering research university with membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities and an R1 designation. Such a robust research-centric means that its Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program provides students with plenty of opportunities for multidisciplinary research.
- This five-year program has a rigorous curriculum consisting of academic coursework, a qualifying exam, and a preliminary research exam. Students must also defend and submit an original dissertation with the guidance of one or more faculty advisors. The dissertation must be published as part of the graduation requirements.
- The fully-funded program provides full tuition and mandatory fees coverage and a year-long monthly stipend to students in good standing. Students can apply for external funding, such as merit-based fellowships, which will give them more flexibility in their studies and research.
- While a master’s degree in aerospace engineering or related field isn’t required for admission, it’s considered an advantage. The admission process is very selective, with about 10% of applicants getting accepted. Plus, the rigorous program of study demands strong foundations in the sciences, math, and technology.
- Students must demonstrate their independent research-related abilities, particularly in identifying issues and finding possible solutions. This culminates in the dissertation, which must be defended and published before the PhD degree can be conferred.
- Eligibility for the preliminary exam requires a minimum 3.5 GPA in five core courses. The preliminary exam consists of two oral tests – one on coursework and one on research.
- PhD candidacy is conferred once the oral coursework exam has been passed, the cognate requirement completed, and attendance in four RCRS workshops is made. Candidates must also have earned a minimum of 18 credit hours at UMich.
Every student must pass the Rackham cognate requirement, which can be satisfied in one of two ways.
- Completion of four credit hours of cognate courses with at least a B grade; or
- Completion of graduate-level coursework equivalent to Rackham’s requirement
The cognate courses don’t apply to the required minimum credit hours to earn the degree. But these are required to expand the depth and breadth of each student’s doctorate education.
Check out the Harmonica Guy and be entertained by his musicianship!
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
: 104 S. Wright St, Urbana, Illinois
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a Public Ivy and public research university, has several things going for it, from its multimillion-dollar research expenditures to its enormous library collections. Indeed, there’s no shortage of research opportunities for students in its Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program, and it’s one of the reasons for its enduring popularity.
- Students on full-time enrollment can complete the program’s three stages in at least three years. For doctoral candidates who earned their master’s degree in Illinois, they only have seven years to complete all Ph.D. requirements (inclusive of the master’s degree) from the date of registration in the Graduate College. For those who earned their master’s degree elsewhere, Illinois gives them only six years. In general, nonetheless, students are expected to complete all requirements within four years.
- Students complete at least 64 credit hours beyond the master’s degree to earn the Ph.D. degree.
- The three stages are: Completion of the master’s degree; completion of at least 24 additional credit hours, including special course requirements; and completion of a thesis and passing the final exam.
- The third stage in the program starts when the student completes all graduate-level coursework and passes the preliminary exam. The student then puts the proposed research program into action, as outlined in the dissertation proposal, and starts writing the dissertation. The latter represents 40 credit hours (AE 599).
- Students are monitored by the doctoral committee at least once a year, and this can include a written progress report containing deficiencies and suggestions.
- Continued enrollment requires at least a 3.0 GPA cumulative.
Illinois has numerous impressive research facilities that graduate students can access for their own independent research. These include a wide array of workstations, computer clusters, and microcomputers, as well as laser diagnostics, state-of-the-art microscopes, and wind tunnels. Interdisciplinary Research Units, such as the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, are also on campus.
Illinois is a founding member of the Big 10 Conference and Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the University of Chicago.
University of Texas Austin
: 301 E Dean Keeton St, Austin, Texas
UT Austin is part of a university-wide system with $3.4 billion in research expenditures (2020), and it’s among the most productive, too! The McLellan Lab, for example, has created a key coronavirus protein used in the development of all vaccines used in the United States. Students in their Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering have big shoes to fill, research-wise, for this reason.
- Applicants may have a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering or other engineering fields, although a Master of Science in Engineering degree presents a greater advantage. While applicants with math or science degrees are welcome, additional coursework will be required to make up for academic deficiencies.
- Minimum GPA must be 3.0 in junior- and senior-level as well as graduate work completed. GRE scores are also required, but a waiver may be obtained for pandemic reasons.
- The status of the doctoral candidate is granted to students who pass the oral and written qualifying exams.
- Completing all required didactic coursework, annual reviews, and dissertation, including passing its defense (i.e., final oral exam).
- Students with a full-time load must register for nine credit hours each in the fall and spring terms, as well as three credit hours in the summer.
- Continuous registration is a must for doctoral candidates during the spring and fall semesters until degree completion. This means at least three dissertation credits for these semesters.
- Courses include Mathematical Analysis for Aerospace Engineers, Analytical Methods I and II, System Theory, Linear Systems Analysis, and Multivariable Control Systems.
- Students also assume teaching assistant roles and enroll in the Supervised Teaching in Aerospace Engineering course.
- Funding options include graduate research assistantships, fellowships, and teaching assistantships.
The nationally-ranked program offers a seamless transition from the Master of Science degree to the Ph.D. degree, an educational path that most students prefer. Graduates become leaders in their industry and pursue specific careers as engineers, astronauts, and inventors.
The school colors – white and orange – were the result of a fluke! In 1885, students wore ribbons in these colors because the local storekeeper only had these colors on hand.
Texas A&M University College Station
: 701 H.R. Bright Bldg, College Station, Texas
TAMU reported an increase of 18.8% in its 2020 research expenditures, and it’s a whopping $1.131 billion! Of the amount, research in engineering accounted for more than $359 million or nearly 32%. We can safely assume that students in the Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering benefited from a strong focus on engineering research.
- The minimum credit hours required to earn the Ph.D. degree vary between 64 and 96, depending on your previous credits and degree earned.
- Students admitted with a bachelor’s degree are required to spend one academic year and one semester of in-resident study. Students with a master’s degree will only spend one academic year. The minimum number of credit hours is nine for each semester.
- Students must pass the rigorous Aerospace Engineering Fundamentals Exam (AFQE), a doctoral qualifying exam, during their second semester. This is followed by passing the preliminary exam that determines the student’s suitability for the Ph.D. program and getting the research proposal approved.
- The respective student must write and defend the original dissertation as part of the PhD completion requirements.
- There’s a 10-calendar year limit for the completion of all Ph.D. requirements.
- Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree requires compliance with several factors: completion of all didactic courses except for a few courses, a 3.0 graduate GPA, aced written and oral preliminary exam, and submission of the approved research proposal. Residency requirements must be met, too.
TAMU is Texas’ largest university. Its wide range of exceptional engineering programs makes it among the most popular institutions for aspiring aerospace engineers. The university is also cited as among the country’s friendliest campuses, and its students are considered the happiest. Indeed, Ph.D. students at TAMU aren’t the stereotypical stressed students with haggard looks!
Reveille, a Rough Collie, is TAMU’s dog mascot, and he – yes, he’s a real dog – has the highest ranking in the student military organization, the Texas A&M Corps of Cadet. There are nine Reveilles buried in the Kyle Field football stadium, which is the tallest building in College Station.
: Clio Hall, Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton lives up to sky-high expectations about academic excellence and research opportunities in all its programs. Students in their Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering benefit from the exchange programs with other Ivy League institutions, regional institutions, and international partnerships.
- This program takes five years with didactic and research components and a teaching assistantship period. Teaching assistants serve for at least three semesters.
- 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.
- Each student creates their integrated program of study in consultation with their respective faculty adviser and doctoral committee. At least ten courses must be completed throughout the student’s enrollment.
- The dissertation must demonstrate the student’s technical mastery and contributions to the body of knowledge in their field of choice. There must also be a public presentation of the dissertation results.
- The minimum GPA is 3.0 for continued enrollment and to be considered in good standing.
- Students must pass the general exam, a tool used by the department to determine a student’s capacity to complete the PhD degree. The two components consist of a 30-minute presentation with an open forum (research component) and a 90-minute oral exam (subject component).
- After passing the general exam, a student will be conferred the Master of Arts degree (i.e., an incidental degree attached to the PhD program).
- The culminating requirement is a dissertation on the student’s desired and approved topic. There’s a public final oral exam, too, which must be sustained to earn the Ph.D. degree.
Princeton offers exciting opportunities in aerospace engineering research, particularly in fluid mechanics, materials science, and robotics and control. Interdisciplinary research is the core of the Ph.D. program, too. With just 100 in-residence students, the Ph.D. program also encourages collaborative work among students and faculty members.
Nassau Hall became the nation’s capital in 1783, although only for four months when the Continental Congress held its meetings there. The American Whig-Cliosophic Society boasts of two POTUS, two vice presidents, and four justices in the US Supreme Court as alumni.
University of Colorado—Boulder
: 3775 Discovery Dr, Boulder, Colorado
CU Boulder cited as a Public Ivy, offers a diverse range of interdisciplinary research opportunities from space systems to biotechnology. There are several collaborative research centers where Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences students can work with fellow students and researchers. These include the Anschutz Medical Campus, National Science Foundation Industry & University Cooperative Research Program, and Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory.
- Students may participate in community outreach projects that broaden their horizons while also providing a valuable service to the community. The BOLD Center is a prime example, and it manages several programs for K-12 student engagement in science and engineering.
- The typical completion period is between four and six years. Students with a master’s degree when they enter the Ph.D. program will have a shorter completion time. But there are high-achieving students without a master’s degree, too; a strong background in engineering, math, and science is recommended.
- The time limit for completion of PhD requirements is six years, at most.
- At least 30 credit hours on 5000 and above courses must be earned for degree completion, and the cumulative GPA is 3.25 or higher. At least 15 credit hours must be in aerospace engineering sciences. There’s also a 30-credit hour requirement for dissertation credit to earn the Ph.D. degree.
- The graduate committee approves transfer credits that can be applied toward the PhD degree, and the maximum is 21 credit hours.
- Master’s degree-level courses at 5000-level and above taken at the University of Colorado campuses may also be transferred to the Ph.D. program.
- Students must pass both the preliminary and comprehensive exams as well as comply with the dissertation requirements.
The Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences encourages its Ph.D. students to engage in novel research, both independently and under the guidance of a faculty advisor. There’s a 180,000-square-foot aerospace engineering building with state-of-the research facilities for this purpose.
UC Boulder is ranked #2 among public universities for NASA research funds grants.
: 616 Thurston Ave. Ithaca, New York
Cornell’s Ph.D. programs benefit from the Ivy League university’s robust support for research. It’s the State of New York’s #1 university in terms of research expenditures with a total research funding of $1.19 billion! The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program, emphasizing both basic and applied research, prepares students for Cornell’s extensive research opportunities.
- The research emphases among faculty members are in aerospace vehicle dynamics, celestial mechanics, and basic aerosciences, such as unsteady and vortical flows, transonic flows, and combustion processes. Students are welcome to apply for assistantships in these projects.
- Candidates to the Ph.D. program must first take the qualifying exam (Q exam) but at different times, depending on their academic credentials. Students with a master’s degree take it at the end of their first semester. Students with a bachelor’s degree do so at the end of two semesters. The Q exam aids in determining the candidate’s ability to complete the program and the necessary steps to create an individualized program of study.
- The B exam is taken only after the academic degree requirements have been met. Students defend their dissertation before a committee as part of the dissertation approval process.
- Students must assume teaching assistantships for two semesters.
- The program offers several concentrations, including aerospace systems, dynamics and control, aerodynamics, materials and structure, thermal sciences, and propulsion.
- The current tuition is $29,500 for the Ph.D. program.
- For the fall term, the deadline for application is December 15th. There are no spring admissions.
- Application materials include three letters of recommendation and a GRE general test. (Due to the pandemic, the GRE test is currently optional)
Students enter the program with a bachelor’s degree but must demonstrate exceptional intelligence and other personal traits vital in degree completion. The university expects its Ph.D. students to make original and substantial contributions to the body of knowledge related to aerospace engineering.
Cornell has achieved many firsts globally – the first university to award the first degrees in journalism and veterinary medicine; the first university to award doctorates in electrical and industrial engineering.
University of Maryland – College Park
: 4298 Campus Drive, College Park, Maryland
UMD’s status as a PUblic Ivy is strengthened by its reputation for cutting-edge research, thanks partly to its proximity to Washington, D.C. With numerous research partnerships with federal agencies, such as NIH, NASA, and DHS, its undergraduate and graduate research programs are most productive. Expectations are high for candidates applying to the Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program!
- At least 36 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree is required to earn the degree. Students must earn a minimum of 12 credit hours at UMD, and at least 12 semester hours must be in dissertation research.
- Every student creates a Doctoral Coursework Plan that outlines the courses taken to earn the Ph.D. degree.
- Students must keep their GPA at a 3.0 minimum for continuous enrollment.
- The degree requirements include passing a qualifying exam before formal entry into the Ph.D. program, a research proposal exam, and an oral exam. The oral exam is part of the defense of your dissertation and will be administered by a five-member committee. The comprehensive exam is also in the program.
- The specializations are in Rotorcraft, Space Systems, Aerodynamics and Propulsion, and Structural Mechanics and Composites.
- Students must also choose a minor area consisting of at least six semester hours. There’s also a math/science requirement.
- Transfer of credits allowed subject to approval by the program’s administration. Applicants with a master’s degree may request for transfer of up to 24 credits.
- The admission criteria include competitive ranking based on GPA and test scores; quality of letters of recommendation; match between faculty and applicant’s research interests; and degree of professional experience.
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.
There’s a spot on campus where lines point toward UMD’s old buildings that stood before the 1912 fire. But whatever you do, you should avoid stepping on the Point of Failure, or else you won’t graduate in four years.
University of California—Los Angeles
: 7400 Boelter Hall, Los Angeles, California
UCLA’s outstanding Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program has 38 full-time professors and 338 graduate students. Every professor serves as a graduate adviser to specific students and, thus, 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.
- Only the UCLA Application for Graduate Admission, an online application form, can be used for applying to the program.
- There’s only fall admission with the submission period from September 15 to December 1.
- Application requirements include transcripts, three letters of recommendation, personal statement, statement of purpose, and GRE test scores.
- Admission to the Ph.D. program is a selective process. Admitted students have a mean GPA of 3.68 (on a 4.0 scale) and high GRE scores – 79% (Verbal), 92% (Quantitative), and 84% (Analytical).
- A bachelor’s degree is the minimum academic qualification for admission. Applicants must also demonstrate the necessary academic preparation for the successful completion of MAE graduate courses.
- The minimum GPA is 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale) in the third and fourth year of baccalaureate studies and at least 3.5 in a master’s degree program.
- Applicants with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering have an academic advantage. But applicants with a degree in other engineering fields are welcome to apply, and many are accepted. Professional background and credits earned equivalent to upper-division undergraduate coursework will be considered for applicants with neither an MAE nor engineering background.
- Five years is the average completion time.
- Financial support in the forms of assistantships and fellowships is available.
The MAE Department awards the most outstanding BS, MS, and Ph.D. students. The winners are selected annually by the Awards and Honors Committee with the selection criteria including GPA, research engagement, and extracurricular activities.
The robots to rockets program is among the best because of its excellent balance between structured academic learning and design-oriented, creative, and individualized opportunities.
UCLA is the world’s only preeminent research university founded in the 20th century – in 1919 as UC Berkeley’s Southern Brand. But the Midnight Yell, a UCLA tradition where students yell at midnight during finals week, is a more recent innovation.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
: 460 Old Turner St., Blacksburg, Virginia
Virginia Tech’s huge $522 million research portfolio puts it the best school in engineering in Virginia and among the best in the United States. There’s such robust support for research in the Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering that it’s among the most popular degrees in the university! But keep in mind that its highly selective admission process is among the reasons for its inclusion in the list of the best doctor of aerospace engineering programs.
- The specializations offered are in aero-hydrodynamics, dynamics and control, structures and structural dynamics, ocean engineering, applied physics, space engineering, and applied mathematics, among others. Students can then focus their studies and research on one or two specialized areas, and it’s the broad academic freedom that makes for a vibrant community.
- The culminating project is an approved in-depth dissertation that must pass an oral defense exam. Recent topics covered instrumentation development, aerodynamic modeling, and nonlinear flight control. Many of these research projects are with government- and industry-sponsored programs.
- Students must pass a preliminary exam with written and oral components and a final comprehensive oral exam to earn the degree.
- Applications are evaluated based on past academic performance and potential, test scores, work and research experience, and letters of recommendation. Offers of admission and assistantships are made based on merit, research fund availability, and areas of interest, among other factors. Applicants must be patient as the review process may take several months.
- Applicants only need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physics, or mathematics to be eligible for admission, subject to other admission criteria.
- GRE general scores are a must for eligibility.
- Students must earn at least 90 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree to earn the PhD degree. At least 30 credit hours should involve research and dissertation.
Virginia Tech offers the unique Ocean Engineering program wherein students earn an M.S. in Ocean Engineering and a Ph.D. as an option under Aerospace Engineering. Ocean Engineering is concerned with the hardware systems in various vehicles, structures, and systems that function on, under, or over bodies of water.
Virginia Tech started as an all-male college in 1872 and admitted its first white female students in 1921. In 1953, the first black man was accepted, followed by black women in 1966.
Pennsylvania State University – University Park
: 229 Hammond Building, University Park, Pennsylvania
Penn State, a public research university with preeminent academic, research, and service status, is considered a Public Ivy with a state-wide instructional mission. The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering is offered by its Department of Aerospace Engineering, a 60-year old institution recognized for its international leadership in aerospace engagement, education, and research. The department’s core values are academic integrity, innovative research, and commitment to industry advancement, and students are expected to uphold these values.
- Students are exposed 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.
- The program has 20 full-time faculty members with impressive credentials that encourage a collegial community, research innovations, and collaborative learning.
- Several first-rate research facilities are available for students, including an indoor UAV flight space, high-performance computer clusters, and vibration and acoustics labs.
- Students don’t have a specific number of credit hours to earn as part of the Ph.D. degree requirements. But the typical student takes a minimum of 24 credits beyond the master’s degree.
- The dissertation requirement takes more than one year of full-time commitment. This is equivalent to 30 credits, and the doctoral committee determines the other dissertation requirements.
- Other degree requirements are passing the qualifying exam, English proficiency exam, comprehensive exam, and final dissertation defense. Students must also meet the residency and continuous registration requirements.
The Ph.D. program is the pathway toward a fulfilling and successful career in aerospace and defense, especially as Penn State is ranked #1 in industry recruitment. Students start their careers early with training from the DOD and NASA-funded, on-campus Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence.
Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield – yes, the masterminds behind the Ben & Jerry brand – started at Penn State’s Creamery. But Penn State students and alumni will tell you that none of their flavors will beat Creamery’s classic ice cream.
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
: 110 Union St SE, Minneapolis, Minnesota
UMN’s 25 Nobel Prize recipients are just one proof of its proven strong commitment to and track record in cutting-edge, life-changing research. The College of Science of Engineering (CSE) itself has produced over 144 patents, 715 invention disclosure, and 16 startup companies – and counting. The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics program has contributed its fair share to these remarkable achievements.
- The selective CSE admissions process ensures that only about 90-100 students are enrolled in all the college’s graduate programs. About 30 are conferred their graduate degrees every year, too.
- Students are admitted only during the fall term. Direct applications to the Ph.D. program are encouraged, and admitted students are automatically eligible to earn the master’s degree.
- Due to the program’s selective nature, applicants with a four-year bachelor’s of science degree in engineering, math, or science with a minimum of 3.2 GPA are preferred.
- Unofficial transcripts and other academic records must be uploaded only; paper documents will not be accepted and acknowledged.
- Application materials also include three letters of recommendation; a resume with a list of awards or publications, if any; a personal statement; and a diversity statement.
- Students complete their academic coursework in the first two years, with the succeeding years devoted to their dissertation. The expected completion time is 4-5 years, but students may only complete the degree requirements within six years.
- Students earn 42 credits of coursework and 24 credits for their dissertation. GPA must be at least 3.0 for the courses to be counted toward the degree.
- Degree requirements include an oral and written preliminary exam, a final oral exam, and an approved dissertation.
Every AEM program emphasizes mastery of fundamental principles, practical applications of innovative research projects, and interdisciplinary learning. Students acquire the proficiency to become thought leaders, creative researchers, and influential aerospace engineering and mechanics teachers. Despite UMN’s huge campus, there’s a small-knit community feel within the AEM department, too.
Walton Lillehei is recognized as among the most distinguished UMN alumni, thanks to his pioneering and impactful work on open-heart surgery.
University of California – San Diego
: 9500 Gilman Dr. La Jolla, California
For UCSD researchers, their vital work didn’t stop with the coronavirus pandemic! On the contrary, their working days became busier with understanding the coronavirus, predicting wildfire behavior, and assessing climate change risks. Every single one was supported by its $1.54 billion in research funding (2021), and researchers in the Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program likely benefited from it, too.
- Being conferred the Ph.D. degree represents the achievement of an advanced body of knowledge and research skills, a terminal degree that can only be proven in worth with more impactful research.
- Students don’t follow a one-size-fits-all specific program of study, not even specific course requirements. But students must consult with the Advising Committee for their specific coursework in preparation for the qualifying exam. The typical coursework varies between 10 and 12 courses.
- Passing the qualifying exam means the student can work with their doctoral committee to develop their individualized program of study. The specific focus is on the dissertation, including its subject.
- Five years is considered the typical normative time for the Ph.D. program, and the rules and regulations are determined by the UCSD and San Diego State University (SDSU) general catalogs.
- A bachelor’s or a master’s degree in engineering and other related fields is acceptable for admission. But there’s a minimum GPA requirement – 3.0 for a bachelor’s degree; 3.5 for a master’s degree.
- GRE scores should be within the last five years with minimum scores – 159 (Quantitative); 153 (Verbal); 4.0 (Analytical Writing)
- Letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and resume are required application materials.
- The doctoral dissertation is the program’s culminating project, and it passes through several processes before its approval.
Students are considered enrolled at both UCSD and SDSU for the entirety of their stay in the program. This is among the most affordable Ph.D. programs with basic tuition of $2,082 for in-state students, and tuition waivers are available.
UCSD may be known for the seriousness of its academics and research projects, but the Tritons know how to have fun, too. Students can walk to the beach and relax, perhaps even surf. UCSD is the country’s top surfing school, too!
University of Washington
: 1410 NE Campus Parkway, Seattle, Washington
UW’s Office of Research makes substantial investments in research projects – $1.89 billion in sponsored grants and contracts. With 280 research centers, it’s among the most prolific and productive research universities, too. The Ph.D. in Aeronautics & Astronautics program gives its fair share in research projects and results, too.
- The minimum number of graduate-level credits required to earn the Ph.D. degree is 90, and these must have numerical grading except for the research credits.
- Admitted Ph.D. students typically have a Bachelor’s of Science in Aerospace Engineering or Mechanical Engineering.
- Students must pick a concentration in one of these areas: Controls; Fluids; Structures; Plasmas.
- Full-time enrolment is a must for students to remain in good standing. This means being registered for a minimum of 10 credits every quarter.
- The average time-to-degree period is 5-6 years. The typical students spend their first two years in MSAA and graduate fundamentals. Year three students pass the qualifying exam and complete their doctoral coursework. During their fourth year, their studies are focused on passing the general exam and dissertation. The last two years are devoted to completing the dissertation and passing the final exam.
- The admission process is competitive, with the minimum GPA being 3.0 to be even considered for eligibility. Required application materials are a completed electronic application, GRE scores, resume, transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.
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. The direct-to-Ph.D. pathway requires completion of graduate fundamentals consisting of three analytical classes, five depth classes, and two breadth classes for a minimum of 36 credits.
The “World’s First Trash-In” was organized by UW students on February 26, 1970.
Ohio State University
: 201 W. 19th Ave., Columbus, Ohio
Ohio State is considered a Public Ivy for many reasons, from its tradition of academic excellence to its significant contributions to the body of knowledge in a wide range of fields. It’s also among the most selective public universities, with the majority of its students in the 95th percentile and higher on standardized tests. Its Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program adopts these high standards, too, with its 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. Graduate advisory committees guide students while also promoting their academic, scholarly, and research achievements.
- The minimum required number of credits to earn the Ph.D. degree differs depending on the student’s academic background when entering the program. MS-to-Ph.D. students must complete at least 50 credit hours (18 graduate coursework, 32 research credits). For BS-to-Ph.D. students, it’s 80 credit hours (30 graduate coursework, 50 research credits).
- All applicants must meet the Graduate School’s minimum criteria for admission eligibility. Note that the PhD program has rigorous admission criteria. These include technical academic record; quality of degree and school; statement of intent, letters of recommendation and resume; GRE scores; and desired area of study.
- The estimated costs differ between Ohio residents and domestic non-residents. Be sure to account for living expenses.
- Funding is competitive, and it comes in the form of associateships and fellowships. Benefits include paid tuition, health insurance, monthly stipend, and child care, even coverage for short-term absences and prolonged leaves of absences for specific reasons.
Ohio State has a history of diversity and inclusivity in and beyond the classroom, and it’s a philosophy that applies to its Ph.D. programs. Too. Graduate students can engage in multidisciplinary research across several departments and colleges within OSU.
Don’t be fooled by the ferociousness of the Buckeyes during games and when the TBDBITL marches down the ramp! Ohio State is among the country’s top producers of Peace Corps volunteers and students studying abroad. OSU has over 200 study-abroad programs on all seven continents.
University of Southern California
: 3650 McClintock Ave, Los Angeles, California
The USC Viterbi School of Engineering is best known for its exemplary Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering program that upholds its tradition in innovative research combined with academic excellence. USC itself has numerous contributions to technology, including the Domain Name System, dynamic programming, DNA computing, and VoIP.
- 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.
- Among the research areas are Bio-Inspired Engineering; Combustion and Heat Transfer; Computational Engineering; Design and Manufacturing; Solid and Applied Mechanics; and Robotics.
- Students must complete 60 units to earn the Ph.D. degree. But up to 30 units of master’s degree coursework can be transferred and applied to the PhD degree.
- The degree requirements include maintaining a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA; passing the written and oral exam during the departmental screening process; passing the qualifying exam, and completing an acceptable dissertation and its defense.
- The typical time-to-degree is 5-6 years.
- A bachelor’s degree in engineering, math, or applied sciences is sufficient for admission subject to other factors.
- Three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, a personal statement, and a resume are required.
- Demonstrated ability, experience, and advanced potential in graduate research are a must for applicants to be considered.
- USC has a full funding policy for its Ph.D. students with coverage for tuition, stipend for living expenses, and health insurance package. Assistantships and fellowships are available, too.
USC’s student support services are exemplary, so much that its graduation rate is among the highest in the country! The Viterbi Link, for example, provides mentoring services for graduate students.
Professor Willard Geer, a USC physics professor, invented the Geer color tube and, thus, revolutionized the television industry. The Trojan Marching Band has two platinum records, the first and only collegiate marching band in the country to achieve the feat.