Education, Engineering

Top U.S. Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering Programs

I wanted to compile a short list of the top aerospace engineering programs in the United States. I’ve listed the top 5 here with their respective tuitions. Remember that this is not a comprehensive list and there are many great schools not listed here. Click the “full article” links on each category to see more options. Additionally, professionals working in the aerospace field can hold degrees in many other specializations like mechanical, chemical, electrical and software engineering, business, etc. Don’t let the dollar signs scare you as there are a multitude of scholarships, grants and other opportunities to help at least partially pay for school.

Further, as graduate school application season approaches, I’ve added the top aerospace graduate programs. I added a separate list for top online Master’s programs as many choose to pursue graduate programs while working a part or full-time job, and let’s not forget the unique challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this year.

I also suggest checking out my other grad school related blog posts: 1) Is Grad School “Worth It”? and 2) Graduate School Application Tips.

Undergraduate Programs [full article]

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
    • $53,818/year (private)
    • enrollment: 4,530
  2. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
    • $33,794/year (out-of-state), $12,682/year (in-state)
    • enrollment: 15,964
  3. California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA)
    • $56,862/year (private)
  4. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
    • $52,266/year (out-of-state), $15,948/year (in-state)
    • enrollment: 31,266
  5. Purdue University-West Lafayette (West Lafayette, IN)
    • $28,794/year (out-of-state), $9,992/year (in-state)
    • enrollment: 33,646

Graduate Programs [full article]

Cost of enrollment for full-time graduate programs is highly dependent on whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student and whether or not you obtain funding through a grant, scholarship, graduate research assistantship (GRA), graduate teaching assistantship (GTA), or other similar funding source. If you are interested in external funding for your graduate degree, apply early!

  1. California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA)
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
  3. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
  4. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
  5. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)

Online Master’s Programs [full article]

If you choose to pursue your advanced degree while working, check with your employer and see if they’ll fully or at least partially reimburse you for courses or degrees related to your job. This is a great added benefit many companies offer.

  1. University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
    • $1,000/credit (out-of-state)
  2. Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)
    • $1,348/credit (out-of-state)
  3. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
    • $2,075/credit (private)
  4. North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC)
    • $1,295/credit (out-of-state)
  5. University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (Urbana, IL)
    • $670/credit (out-of-state)
Photo Credit: Kyle Sudu Photography

Wishing you fair winds and following seas wherever your journey takes you.



What’s NASA’s Astronaut Application Like?

That’s one small step towards my childhood dream. In 2016 a record-setting 18,300+ people applied to be an astronaut. NASA chose 12. How do you like those .066% odds? This year, even with the additional requirement of a Master’s degree, NASA still received over 12,000 applications. One of them was mine. I think this may just be the most competitive job in the universe! Since the application changed a little bit this year, I thought I’d share with you what the application looked like.

Part 1: Build Resume in USAJOBS

This is probably one of the most time consuming parts of the application and can be quite frustrating. Although USAJOBS has an option to import your resume, for certain postings it requires you to use the USAJOBS Resume Builder. This is one of those positions. You will be required to manually enter each of your professional experiences individually and select whether you’d like to allow them to reach out to your supervisor. I would suggest that you only say yes if you are sure they’ll remember you and/or you’ve let them know you put them down. I felt like this process made it a bit difficult to set yourself apart from the crowd, but then again, I’m sure there are others who felt that way as well.

Part 2: Upload Required Transcripts

It’s a good idea to keep electronic copies of your college transcripts on hand because you never know when you’ll need them (ex. job applications, professional certifications like the P.E., etc). In addition to your USAJOBS resume, you will also have to upload and submit transcripts for all degrees you want credit for. If you do not upload these transcripts or other required documents as listed in the job posting, you will likely be disqualified right off the bat. You are not required to upload official transcripts but keep in mind that if selected, you will be required to provide official transcripts.

Part 3: Qualifying Questions

Just when you think you’ve completed the application and say to yourself “Wow, that was surprisingly simple” you submit and are routed to the agency specific section. Don’t worry, this isn’t difficult either. You’ll be asked questions that help further determine if you meet the basic requirements of the job listing and whether you understand the risks of the job, etc.

Part 4: Assessment

The assessment is something new this year. Within about 30 minutes of submitting the application, you will receive a link to the assessment which needs to be completed within 48 hours of the application closing. The assessment contains three parts and it is recommended to take the entire thing in one sitting but you can save it and come back if you’d like. The assessment is management by OPM (Office of Personnel Management), the federal agency responsible for managing the government’s civilian workforce.

Assessment #1: Work Experience Assessment. This one is not timed and about 25 multiple choice questions. The questions ask things like “When asked, your supervisor would explain your work style as” and then gives you a number of choices.

Assessment #2: OPM Essay Test. You will be given 25 minutes to write an essay which the system says will be graded by computer. The prompt I was given related to writing about the pros and cons to a particular subject. Astronauts are often the face of NASA and human spaceflight so I presume this is supposed to assess whether you are able to communicate effectively.

Assessment #3: Work Styles Assessment. This one felt like it went on and on…and on. It is non-timed and forces you to select one of two given options related to what describes you better in a work situation. Sometimes this is incredibly difficult as I often felt like neither choice applied to me and they both sounded like negative attributes to have! The ones I remember most were related to how you react to being stressed at work or how you feel when others at work are stressed out.

A helpful note is that once you have submitted your application, you are able to re-enter the system and make changes up until the application closes. Start your application early because it will likely take you longer to complete than you expect.

The selection process takes the agency approximately one year to complete and NASA plans to announce its next astronaut class sometime during early Summer 2021. I’ve heard a good sign that you may have made it into the running for the final interview round is if you hear that your references have been contacted.

For astronaut selection criteria and tips, click here to read my previous blog post. This post outlines the minimum requirements for NASA astronaut selection.

Godspeed friends,


Health & Fitness

How I Qualified for the Boston Marathon & the Life Lessons it Taught Me

Our journey as runners often takes us down shared roads. At times, those roads are harder and more challenging than we planned for and we need to adjust our pace to make our way through. But always, our grit, determination, perseverance, humanity, and sheer belief in ourselves and our community guide us to the finish line.

Michael Capiraso, President & CEO, New York Road Runners

Today I should be toeing the line at my first Boston Marathon. Just qualifying to run this historic race is an accomplishment I will hold as one of my proudest for as long as I live. It is not lost on me that of the 27,288 people that BQ’d (Boston Qualified) for this year’s race by running a qualifying time at another marathon, there are still more than 3,000 that did not make the cutoff (1:39 faster than the posted qualifying time). Months of sacrifice, mental and physical exhaustion, and a few lost toenails (lol) went into preparing for this day that will now come and go much like any other.

Instead of spending today dwelling on that which is out of my control, I’ve decided to reflect on the important life lessons that I have learned along my journey to becoming a runner but more importantly, what it has taught me about learning to love myself. My running journey started as something I did because I thought it would make me beautiful by society’s standards and quickly morphed into something essential to my well-being, almost how air is required for our lungs to breathe.

Like way too many young girls, I used to waste a lot of emotional energy wishing to be viewed as only one thing in this world: skinny, as if somehow our worth is measured by how little space we take up. When I think about the beginning of my running journey I specifically recall setting out to run on a treadmill one night towards the end of high school. I had made it maybe a quarter of a mile when I flat out gave up, nearly in tears. It was uncomfortable, it was hard, my leg fat jiggled with every step and I was self-conscious, but most of all my mind was telling me “you can’t”. I don’t remember how long it was before I ran again but I’d venture to guess it was well over a year. Eventually I set a goal and began working towards it. I added distance little by little and over time running became easier and I began to appreciate the way it made me feel once I had accomplished a goal I’d set out to achieve, no matter how small. When I lacked motivation, I found a friend to run with so we could keep each other accountable.

Nowadays, if I could be described in only one word, it would be disciplined. I view one form of discipline as honoring the commitments we make to ourselves. After all, shouldn’t we value the relationship with ourselves as much as those we share with our closest friends? I’m not going to lie and say that at times my friendships haven’t taken a backseat as a result. I sometimes questioned myself when I’d stay in weekend after weekend so I could go to bed early in order to wake up the next day and get a training run in (I ALWAYS questioned my sanity when that was 4 a.m. on a Saturday). One thing I’m certain of is that by continually honoring this commitment I’d made to my goals, somewhere along the road running became a source of comfort, my time to reflect and unwind, a birthplace of strength and mental toughness where I could escape to when life felt difficult. When I finally let it, running showed me that my mind and body are capable of so much more than I give them credit for on the average day. Most importantly, running allows me the time for myself in a busy world that is constantly telling us we aren’t enough and begging us to turn our attention elsewhere.

When I started getting messages from friends who wanted to try running but didn’t know where to begin, I reflected and realized that there really isn’t much magic to it. Whether you run several miles a year or several hundred, you are a runner. It’s sticking to that personal commitment that makes all the difference.

Be patient with yourself and your body. Weather, hydration level, what you ate (or didn’t) the night before or morning of, amount of sleep you’ve gotten, stress level, can all impact a run. At the end of the day, running shouldn’t feel like a burden. There are days my pace is an entire 2 minutes slower than another. There are days I could run for miles and days I want to quit, just like I did all those years ago on the treadmill. Just know that each run you go on, each time you honor the commitment you’ve made to yourself, you are improving the person you were yesterday. Remember to celebrate your accomplishments no matter how small they may seem. Running has given me strength, pushing my body places my mind told me were impossible for it to go and reminds me to keep score of my successes not just the failures.

My first marathon vs. my BQ race. Hundreds of miles went into cutting more than 54 minutes off my personal best marathon time. Success never happens overnight.

At 17 I never imagined I could run a mile. At 19 I never imaged I could run a half marathon. At 21 the idea of running a marathon seemed ludicrous. At 25 I said I could never Boston Qualify. At 27 I attempted my moonshot and I succeeded. The only thing that ever changed is my mindset and the way I viewed myself.

The path to life’s greatest achievements is seldom straight and those accomplishments almost never happen overnight. Instead life will take you weaving and bobbing sometimes to unknown destinations with uncertain outcomes. When times get difficult and you feel like giving up, remember that the things most worth having in life seldom come easy or without sacrifice. Remember why you started and why it’s worth finishing. My quest to BQ taught me that I am mentally and physically stronger than I ever dreamt and that with a little discipline and some self-confidence, no goal you set out to achieve is ever out of reach. More than anything, I learned the value of making promises to myself and keeping them no matter what conspired to get in the way.

“Running has given me so much-friends, a strong and healthy body, a reason to travel to new places, an outlet after a tough day, and the confidence to chase difficult goals. Today and everyday, I’m thankful for my legs for all the adventures they take me on.”

Mara, one of my best friends & the person who helped convince me that I had a BQ in me

Every run doesn’t have to end with a cheering crowd, as they seldom do, to warrant celebration. Be proud of each and every mile and cherish your body for all the amazing things your eyes can see because your legs took you there. No matter what road life takes you down I’ll be right here, celebrating with you during every step of the journey.