Aerospace Engineering falls under two categories – Aeronautical and Astronautical. Both focus on flight, but the distinction comes with where you’re flying. Aeronautical Engineering deals with aircraft that travels within the Earth’s atmosphere and Astronautical Engineering deals with spacecraft that cruises around way out there. Both require at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college to get you anywhere.
There are lots of different ways you can go as an Aerospace Engineer. However, all of them have a basic kinship with flight. That doesn’t mean you have to enjoy airline travel by any means. But the concept of making planes and space craft faster, safer or more fuel efficient would be topics that would jazz any true Aerospace Engineer.
Aerospace Engineering majors have to be, pardon the pun, well grounded. They need to be able to handle a lot of tough classes without buckling under pressure. You wouldn’t want a doctor who fell asleep in class all the time operating on you, and you certainly wouldn’t want the guy designing your airplane barely breezing by classes on how to keep things from crashing. They are good at math, but they are also good communicators.
If your idea of a successful flight is launching your little brother up-up-and-away headfirst off the trampoline and into the rose bushes, you may not have the right attitude about safety and value of life. Blowing up rockets can be fun, but the world really needs Aerospace Engineers who are even more thrilled when the rocket launches and safely lands.
The good news about this major is that those who take it usually like math. The bad news is that no matter how much you love math, you’ll take so much of it you may want to launch yourself into outer space. An Aerospace Engineering degree basically starts at the Calculus level. From there you’ll take classes like Thermodynamics, Propulsion, Trajectory Dynamics, etc. You’ll also learn all the basics of engineering – all about different materials, physics and science-related stuff, etc.
There’s plenty of opportunities to specialized in this field. For example, you could be on a team that’s designing the new earth-orbiting space station. Or you could be the guy who runs the testing on a new military jet to see if it meets all your expectations. You could be in charge of building the machines that build the planes. There are government jobs including plenty of civilian work for the military. And there are private jobs for aircraft manufacturers, etc.
If your high school offers Advanced Placement math and science classes, take them. And if you can handle the math OK but you aren’t quite ready to start off with college Calculus, consider taking Algebra or Trig at your local community college first.
Aside from paying attention and doing well in classes, you’re going to want an internship. Whether you take a semester off or dedicate a summer to interning somewhere, those connections and experience will be crucial for getting a job.