It’s amazing how many young minds today are interested in attending college for aerospace engineering.
This field of engineering, concerning itself with the creation of aircraft and spacecraft, has gained tremendous popularity over the past 15 years.
Because of this field of engineering’s close relationship to the outside world, colloquially, aerospace engineering is THE field known as “rocket science.”
We find many of the best schools in the country consistently building their programs more and more for excellence in aerospace engineering; schools like University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MIT, and Georgia Institute of Technology are among just a few names that people look to consistently as the kings of this unique major of “rocket science.”
But are these schools among the top 10 for aerospace engineering in today’s landscape of colleges?
In this article, we dive right into this topic, searching out the best schools the US has to offer for this particularly unique niche. For this list, we analyzed several other “best aerospace engineering” lists, assigned a score to each school based on their position in each list, then came up with a final “meta-analysis” ranking.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 colleges for aerospace engineering in the US:
10. University of Colorado at Boulder (Boulder, Colorado)
Fun fact: Right now, the University of Colorado at Boulder is constructing a brand-new 144,000-square-foot building, which will be dedicated to its aerospace program.
According to its program, Colorado holds the title of second largest aerospace economy in the U.S., so it’s about time the state builds a hub — and students will reap the benefits of it.
Additionally, the school is all about hands-on learning and research. Focus areas include aerospace engineering systems; astrodynamics and satellite navigation systems; bioastronautics; and remote sensing, earth and space sciences.
Recently, a group of students have designed a whale-scouting drone to help scientists learn more about sperm whales and how to help save them. (The project is unironically named SHAMU, Search and Help Aquatic Mammals UAS.)
Research at the university is led by notable faculty members, including two presidential teaching scholars and two NASA astronauts.
9. University of Texas, Austin (Austin, Texas)
There’s some exciting headlines coming out of the aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics department at the University of Texas at Austin.
Recently, assistant professor Luis Sentis was granted $1 million to work on creating “humanoid robots” that’ll help humans on space missions.
It’s not just faculty making headlines either. Student group Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development has built drones that can be operated with brain waves, voice commands and body movements.
Then there’s the Longhorn Rocketry Association that developed a rocket engine test facility. Pretty impressive, right?
Since 1943, when the first aeronautical bachelor’s degrees were handed out at UT, the department has been taking the industry — and world — by storm.
Take, for example, student Dewey Younger, who, in 1949 built a flying saucer and was later accused of sparking the famous “Flying Saucer Sighting Scare.”
But that same model evolved into AVRO VZ-9V Avrocar, a vehicle that could take off and land vertically and held a crew of two.
Students continue to show the world “the sky isn’t the limit.”
HONORABLE MENTION: Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa)
Check out Iowa State University’s hall of fame — or hall of distinguished alumni — and you’ll spot astronauts, professors, NASA directors, the executive vice president of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, and even the CEO of Lockheed Martin.
These alumni exemplify the diverse opportunities available through Iowa State.
For the institution’s nearly 90-year-old aeronautical program, the sky isn’t the limit.
That’s because Iowa State is constantly looking forward into future of engineering.
With both undergraduate and graduate programs, it claims to be one of the top suppliers of professionals in the aerospace industry.
Ninety percent of its students have jobs within six months of graduation.
Perhaps what makes Iowa State stand out is its emphasis on hands-on learning. Its Make to Innovate (M:2:I) program hosts opportunities for students “to build, to break, and to learn from their failures.”
The program takes real-world problems and strives to offer a solution. Right now, it has approximately 15 ongoing projects with more than 200 students involved.
8. Rensselaer Institute of Technology (Troy, New York)
An outstanding aspect of the Rensselaer experience is their BS-PhD program. In this unique program, students can enroll at RPI for a doctoral degree immediately after completing a Bachelor’s degree. This provides students an unparalleled opportunity for research at a prestigious university while getting paid to do so (at the PhD level).
The engineering program at RPI, known as MANE (Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering) enrolls nearly 1600 students, approximately 1400 being undergraduates.
The university as a whole has some of the most distinguished faculty working in science today. They include five National Medal of Science winners, a Nobel Prize winner, six National Medal of Technology recipients, members in the National Inventors Hall of fame, and more.
Interestingly, according to the school’s website, Rensselaer is home to the nation’s most powerful university-based supercomputers.
7. Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Blacksburg, VA)
At Virginia Polytech, students in the aerospace engineering program have recently built satellites deployed into space. Amazing opportunities like this are at the core of the Virginia Tech experience; much of the program’s focus is around building vehicles for space, air, and ocean.
Speaking of ocean, Virginia Polytech is home to a major in Ocean Engineering, which in fact is very similar to their Aerospace curriculum. Because of this, students can dual major in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering at the school.
Uniquely, Virginia Polytech as a whole consistently scores high in metrics for student happiness. According to the Princeton Review in 2017, Virginia Tech is the 7th-happiest campus, 4th-best food campus, and 1st overall for quality of life.
Virginia Polyech’s aerospace engineering program is consistently ranked among the top in the world; US News ranked it recently in its top 20, and Best Value Schools ranked it number two on their list.
6. Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA)
Stanford has one of the most compelling Aerospace Engineering programs in the world. Research at the school includes work on cyber safety for transportation, future aircraft design, space systems, and much more.
Faculty and alumni from Stanford’s aerospace engineering program are among the most celebrated in the world. Many graduates of Stanford have gone on to win Guggenheim fellowships, entrance into the National Academy of Engineering, and more. Amazingly, 11 percent of the nation’s PhD in aerospace engineering graduate from Stanford.
Stanford is home to some of the impressive facilities for studying aerospace engineering in the country. They include the Aerospace Computing Lab, which is used in the design of aircraft and other aerospace products, the Aerospace Design Laboratory, and even an experimental Flight Room.
5. California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, California)
Caltech offers an undergraduate minor and boasts reputable graduate programs within its department of aerospace.
Coined GALCIT (Graduate Aerospace Laboratories of the California Institute of Technology), the department focuses on not only the fundamentals in mechanics but also research, advanced facilities and infrastructure, and direct collaboration with the aerospace industry and government labs.
Research at the institution takes place in its experimental facilities in fluids, solids, materials, biomechanics, propulsion and combustion — which, the school says, sets it apart from other aerospace programs.
Additionally, GALCIT has produced a number of notable alumni, including some of its own professors, the presidents of major corporations and astronauts.
4. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Did you know there’s an Aerospace Day?
Now you do, and the University of Michigan’s aerospace engineering program celebrates — twice a year.
In fact, it’s one of the program’s largest events, pulling in students from across the state. The goal is to get young people stoked about aerospace.
In addition to celebrating its field, the program also focuses on research. It started, most notably, with a wind tunnel being built in 1926.
From there, the university has tested airplane models for the Ford Motor Company; has performed wind-pressure and rain-penetration tests for the Celotex Corporation of Chicago; and has taken part in a number of confidential projects for the Army Air Corps.
To further emphasize the University of Michigan’s important role in the aerospace engineering industry, Michigan souvenirs, including the seal of its department, sit on the moon, placed there by the Apollo 15 crew.
3. Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)
Purdue’s most public claim to fame in aersospace engineering is actually the accomplishment of one of their alumni. Neil Armstrong, a graduate of Purdue’s Aerospace program, was the first man on the moon.
However, perhaps the most impressive part of the aerospace engineering experience at Purdue is Zucrow Labs, a 24-acre facility representing the nation’s largest university propulsion facility. At Zucrow Labs, students study, first-hand, turbo machinery, combustion, atomization processes, and much more.
Purdue’s program is widely lauded: both US News as well as ARWU (Academic Ranking of World Universities) ranked it in the top 5. In fact, most publications rank Purdue among the top 10 for aerospace engineering in the country.
The research being done in Purdue’s program can be classified as nothing short of brilliant and visionary. One professor in the aerospace engineering program, Alexy Shashurin, has overseen a device with the potential to treat cancer with plasma cells.
The aerospace engineering program at Purdue is available to both undergraduate and graduate students, making it an ideal option for the aspiring rocket scientist, astronaut, or other space/engineering professional.
HONORABLE MENTION: University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Indiana)
What sets the University of Notre Dame apart from other aerospace engineering programs is that it has relationships with 14 other universities across the world — from Perth, Australia, to Hong Kong, China, to Santiago, Chile.
Its students typically study abroad their fifth and/or sixth semesters and are able to immerse themselves into a new culture.
One seven-week program, which takes place at Tsinghua University in China, allows Notre Dame students to work closely with Chinese students to tackle real-world design challenges for global corporations.
Not a bad summer…
Research also plays a big role at Notre Dame — “from the time Albert Zahm experimented with his manned gliders at the old Science Hall to the computer-aided analysis of supersonic aerodynamics in the wind tunnels of Hessert Center…” the department states.
Its more recent research areas focus on flow physics and control; biomedical science and engineering; mechanics, computation and design; and energy/thermal sciences.
HONORABLE MENTION: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Urbana-Champaign, Illinois)
The aerospace engineering program at the University of Illinois offers students ample opportunities to design, create and fly aircraft and spacecraft before they receive their diplomas.
Many of those opportunities come from not only within the classrooms and labs but also in the form of student organizations.
The university offers a little bit of everything from a student branch of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics to the Illinois Space society to Student Aircraft builders.
Students at the university also have access to the engineering career services department, which has paired with big names including Boeing, Cisco, Procter and Gamble, and the U.S. Navy.
It’s worth noting the average University of Illinois engineering alumni receives two or more job offers.
Also impressive is the graduates’ of aerospace willingness to stay in touch with their roots by returning to the school to judge competitions, speak in lectures and act as mentors to current students.
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Offering its first aerospace course in 1914, MIT boasts one of the oldest programs in the country.
The school’s AeroAstro program has produced a number of notable alumni, including Buzz Aldrin, one of four MIT graduates who has set foot on the moon.
In fact, more astronauts hold an MIT diploma than any other school.
Together, they’ve logged more than 10,000 hours in space.
Back toward earth, MIT’s AeroAstro students and alumni have garnered a number of firsts. In 1953, “Doc” Draper, the founder and director of the school’s instrumentation lab, flew from Massachusetts to Los Angeles, successfully completing the first long-distance inertially navigated flight.
More recently, the Gas Turbine Lab is working to develop a silent jet, which would be no louder than a semi-truck.
The program has also acknowledged the 21st century’s changing aerospace industry and has created and implemented new curriculum and educational initiative deemed Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate.
More than 100 universities worldwide have also implemented the protocol.
1. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Georgia)
In February 2018, the White House named 29 candidates for the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group.
Hopefuls included the president of SpaceX, the CEO of Boeing, five astronauts — and Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson, who started his career as a research scientist.
Peterson’s passion for research trickles down to Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering.
There, research plays an integral role in the program. Not only does every graduate student partake in research, approximately 30% of undergraduates are eligible to join in, too.
Disciplines include aerodynamics and fluid mechanics, aeroelasticity and structural dynamics, flight mechanics and controls, propulsion and combustion, structural mechanics and materials, and system design and optimization.
Each week, the school’s newsletter, “The AErial View” boasts a number of new opportunities for students, including notable speakers coming to campus, academic opportunities including NASA’s call for abstracts, scholarships, competitions, club meetings and even open jobs.
For this article, we sourced several different lists to create a meta-analysis ranking.