How to Become an Aerospace Engineer: Steps to Take from High School

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The field of aerospace engineering continues to grow as a society prioritizes research into new ways to explore space or fly. It’s undoubtedly an exciting career and anyone looking to become an aerospace engineer has the chance to make history. If you’re interested in becoming an aerospace engineer, read on to find out how to prepare for this career from high school. 

 

What Does an Aerospace Engineer Do?

 

As an aerospace engineer, you’ll be mainly responsible for designing and creating spacecraft, aircraft, missiles, and other technical objects. As a part of the design process, you will also produce prototypes of these items and conduct thorough testing simulations. Aerospace engineers usually have one of two specialties, either aeronautical or astronautical. Aeronautical engineers work on aircraft and their components, while astronautical engineers create and design spacecraft. Types of aerospace products that you may design include:

 

  • Commercial and military airplanes
  • Commercial and military helicopters
  • Space shuttles
  • Satellites
  • Defense system technology
  • Missiles
  • Remotely piloted aircraft

 

How Much Do Aerospace Engineers Make?

 

Aerospace engineers usually hold a bachelor’s degree, either in aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, or a related engineering discipline. If an aerospace engineer works for the government, they will access certain levels of security clearance. Aerospace engineers work in what can be considered high-stakes industries, so their salary usually reflects the amount of responsibility they have in their day-to-day duties. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, aerospace engineers earned a median salary of $118,610 in 2020, making it one of the highest-paying engineering degrees. 

 

How to Become an Aerospace Engineer: Steps to Take from High School

 

If you’ve decided in high school that you want to become an aerospace engineer, then there are steps you can take to prepare for this career path. Steps to take from high school include:

 

  • Taking advanced-level math and science courses
  • Enrolling in STEM electives
  • Finding an internship in STEM
  • Choosing a college with a good engineering program
  • Graduating high school (in good standing)
  • Following the requirements for an engineering degree
  • Earning a bachelor’s degree
  • Possibly going to graduate school

 

High School

 

In high school, you’ll want to concentrate heavily on advanced-level math and science classes. This material will serve as the building blocks of the foundation of knowledge you’ll need as an aerospace engineer. Along with those courses, you should seek out advanced-level writing courses. An underrated skill in engineering disciplines is clear written communication. 

 

Concentrate on taking STEM electives that will also boost your knowledge, such as computer science, engineering, robotics, and others. Getting an internship while you’re in high school could help as well. For example, NASA offers a highly competitive internship for high school students. In high school, you’ll also want to start taking a close look at the best engineering colleges so you can figure out what college gives you the most flexibility and opportunity! You can use CollegeVine’s chancing engine to aid you in your decision, as it can give you estimated odds at getting into your school of choice.

 

 

College

 

Once you’re in college, you’ll start taking core classes required for every engineering major. By building on your knowledge of math and science, you will venture into technical writing and application-based learning. Engineering careers center around application and trial-and-error, so be prepared to take classes in college that will challenge you to problem-solve and design experiments. If you want to lead a group of engineers someday, you may also want to take some management courses

 

As you progress through your program, you’ll have more specialized courses in either mechanical engineering or aerospace engineering. These courses will cover aspects of both aeronautical and astronautical principles. Take this time to decide which specialty you would like to pursue. While it is not mandatory for most programs to declare a specialty, making this decision will empower you to focus on your field of study and gain access to more niche opportunities. All aerospace engineering programs are accredited by ABET.

 

In college, you may also want to find an internship to give you some more hands-on experience. There may also be some on-campus STEM organizations that you can join and work with other STEM majors to learn from them and collaborate on projects. Again, engineering courses are models of application-based learning. So, don’t be shy to reach out to your peers or professors for aid on creating a passion project or special experiment outside of the classroom! 

 

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Graduate School

 

After completing your undergraduate degree, you could choose to pursue a master’s degree. The advantages of these programs include a more formal advanced education, more specialized courses, and degree pathways, and more time to explore an aerospace specialty. This opportunity could help prepare you for a career in academia or to differentiate yourself from others searching for the same jobs as you. In some cases, a graduate degree could also aid you in securing a higher-level position when entering the field.

 

Work Experience

 

Some colleges will partner with local businesses to let their students gain some practical experience while they earn their degrees. While many aerospace engineering positions will require years of work experience, there will be entry-level positions where you can start and begin learning from others around you. Engineering fields tend to be collaborative environments, so don’t be afraid to send out your resume because oftentimes you can learn specialized skills or knowledge on the job!

 

Additional Training

 

Entry-level positions for aerospace engineers usually do not require extra licensing. However, as you progress in your career, you may need some additional training. For example, if you want to be more of a leader in your organization, you could work toward getting a Professional Engineering (PE) license. If you’re a PE, you have the baseline qualifications to lead and manage other engineers. The general requirements for the PE license include:

 

  • Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam
  • Passing the Professional Engineering exam
  • A bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • Around four years of relevant work experience

 

The first exam, Fundamentals of Engineering, can be taken shortly after you graduate college. It would be prudent to take the Professional Engineering exam once you have the appropriate work experience under your belt. Requirements can vary by state, so make sure to check with your state-specific guidelines to ensure you have all the requirements met. Additionally, some states may require you to take continuing education in order to maintain your license.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Aerospace engineering can be a challenging field to enter, but it’s an immensely rewarding career path. The field is projected to grow by 3% in the next few years; which demonstrates its potential and value in our economy. This demand will continue to rise as aviation companies move towards more sustainable business and production models, and as space travel continues to advance.

 

Rachel Swearingen
Content Writer

Short Bio
Rachel has worked to develop college courses for many higher-ed institutions and also taught high school English for a while. She's now using her knowledge to help students who are looking for information online. When she isn't writing, she's busy with her two kids and supporting the Tampa Bay Lightning (Go Bolts)!

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