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Aeronautical Degree Programs and Majors Overview

Students interested in aviation can pursue bachelor's or master's degrees in aeronautical engineering or aeronautical science. All programs are generally math and science intensive, and applicants need a strong background in those subjects.

Essential Information

Bachelor's programs in aeronautical engineering are for students who want to design and build airplanes and related aeronautical equipment. On the other hand, aspiring commercial or airline pilots can pursue bachelor's degrees in aeronautical science, which prepare them for FAA certification.

Master's programs in aeronautical engineering and aeronautical science focus on research. Students pursuing a Master of Science in Aeronautical Science may choose from concentrations including aerospace education and aviation management, among others.

  • Program Levels: Bachelor's and master's
  • Prerequisites: A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for entry into a bachelor's program; a bachelor's degree in a related field is required for entry into a master's program.
  • Program Length: A bachelor's degree takes four years; a master's degree takes two years.
  • Other Requirements: A thesis may be required at the master's level.

Bachelor's Degree in Aeronautical Engineering

A popular area of study in aeronautics is aeronautical engineering. Aircraft structure, design, dynamics and systems are studied in this 4-year degree program. A Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering prepares students for careers on the technical side of aviation, including designing, testing or building new aircraft.

Though no specific degree or certificate is required to enter a bachelor's degree program in aeronautical engineering, it is suggested that prospective students have a background in certain subjects. Prior courses in mathematics, chemistry, physics and communications can be helpful. College applicants must have high school diplomas or GEDs.

The curriculum of a bachelor's degree program in aeronautical engineering contains many courses in physical sciences, such as physics and chemistry. Topics addressed in typical program coursework will include:

  • Thermodynamics
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Structural dynamics
  • Flight dynamics
  • Aircraft design
  • Aircraft electronics

Bachelor's Degree in Aeronautical Science

Several American colleges and universities currently offer bachelor's degree programs in aeronautical science. Some schools allow students pursuing a 4-year degree in aeronautical science to choose an area of specialization, such as airline pilot, commercial pilot or dispatcher. Graduates are fully prepared to take Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification exams.

Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as submit test score and transcripts. Similar to the aeronautical engineering program, prospective students should have a strong math and science background.

Though one can choose a particular specialization within a 4-year degree program in aeronautical science, there are a number of core courses that must be completed regardless of a chosen area of study. Program coursework in a 4-year aeronautical science degree program includes:

  • Aerodynamics
  • Avionics
  • Flight physiology
  • Navigation
  • Aeronautical science applications
  • Aeronautical operations

Master's Degree in Aeronautical Engineering

An advanced degree in aeronautical engineering provides students the opportunity for further study of aircraft development, design, controls and manufacturing. Aircraft flight dynamics, propulsion and the structure of different types of aircraft are the main areas of study within a graduate degree program in aeronautical engineering.

One must generally hold a bachelor's degree in aeronautical science, engineering or a related field prior to enrolling in a master's degree program. Required or suggested undergraduate coursework includes aviation law and regulations, computers, mathematics and mechanical engineering.

Advanced courses in several topics studied in a bachelor's degree program make up a large part of the curriculum for a graduate degree program in aeronautical engineering. Program coursework might include:

  • Astrodynamics
  • Advanced propulsion
  • Computational fluid dynamics
  • Computational structural dynamics
  • Aerodynamics of helicopters
  • Advanced structural mechanics

Master's Degree in Aeronautical Science

An M.S. degree in aeronautical science typically prepares students for careers in engineering, management or education. In some cases, this advanced degree is pursued by those who are already working in the aeronautical field. Areas of specialization might include aviation safety, human factors in aviation, airport management and aerospace education.

The curriculum of a master's degree program in aeronautical science generally consists of courses in theories, management and research relating to aviation. There are also advanced courses in some of the same topics studied in a 4-year degree program. Coursework might include:

  • Airport operations management
  • Strategies of airline management
  • Legal issues in aviation
  • Analysis of aviation safety
  • Fundamentals of aviation education
  • Aeronautical simulation systems

Popular Career Options

Graduates of an undergraduate aeronautical engineering program are prepared for careers designing, researching, building or maintaining airplanes, satellites and other high-flying vehicles. Possible career titles include:

  • Flight engineer
  • Aerospace engineer
  • Aircraft designer
  • Controls designer
  • Aircraft mechanic

A bachelor's degree in aeronautical science qualifies graduates to pursue several career options in the aviation field, including:

  • Airline pilot
  • Commercial pilot
  • Air traffic controller
  • Flight instructor
  • Airline flight operations manager

A graduate program in aeronautical science prepares students to advance into management or teaching positions within the industry. Job titles for a graduate of this program include:

  • Aviation manager
  • Director of airport operations
  • Space operations manager
  • Aerospace consultant
  • Aviation safety manager

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), aerospace engineers are among the highest paid engineers, with a median annual salary of $105,380 in 2014. Employment opportunities in this field are projected to increase at a rate of 7% from 2012-2022, which is slower than the average of all occupations at 11% for that time period.

Continuing Education Information

Aeronautical degree programs can in many cases prepare students to take certification exams that might be needed to pursue careers in some specializations. The FAA offers certifications for pilots, flight instructors, aircraft mechanics, air traffic controllers and aircraft dispatchers. Oral, written and practical tests may apply to obtain FAA certification.

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