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Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering?

  1. Feb 25, 2014 #1
    Hi, I'm currently a Sophomore with a major in Mechanical Engineering. However, I'm really conflicted in deciding what my major should be. I really love anything space related and was thinking about switching my major to Aerospace Engineering. I want to eventually work at places such as NASA or SpaceX. I heard that Mechanical Engineers basically do the same job that an Aerospace Engineer would do. How true is that statement?
    Should I just switch my major to Aerospace while I still have the chance?

    Also, how important are grades when it comes to getting a job after graduation? I really messed up my first year and now I am trying to raise it up, so I'm hoping it'll be high enough by graduation.

    Thanks guys!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2014 #2

    D H

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    Sure, there's overlap. For example, in one sense there's not a whole lot of difference between a mechanical, aerospace, electrical, or for that matter even chemical engineer who specializes in control theory. They all know what a Bode plot is. However, they are controlling rather different processes. The underlying math and the tools of the control theory trade might be the same, but they need to know the discipline they are controlling.

    Think about it this way: Why would schools have different departments / different degree programs if there was no difference between mechanical and aerospace engineering?

    Grades are important. Nowadays, a master's degree is much preferred over a bachelor's by many employers. It's hard to get into graduate school with a low GPA. Grades are important even if you decide to go straight to industry after getting your bachelor's degree. Good employers, the ones you want to work for, oftentimes don't look at fresh-outs with less than a 3.0 GPA.
  4. Feb 25, 2014 #3


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    That is very true, but you are unlikely "learn the discipline" to the required level of detail in college, whatever degree you choose.

    The cynical answer would be "marketing". if high school kids have the dream of working for SpaceX or Nasa) (regardless of how unrealistic that dream is), are they are more likely to pay their fees for a course in "aerospace engineering," or something that sounds like it is left over from the the 19th century?

    The hard part is getting your foot through the door of your first job. After that, people don't care so much what pieces of paper you have collected at college, but what you can actually DO.
  5. Feb 25, 2014 #4

    D H

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    Mechanical engineers don't study how to make an object that floats freely in space detect and maintain it's attitude, how to make that object change orbit, what orbit it should change to, and how to make that object dock in space with another space vehicle, how to make an object safely enter a planetary atmosphere at Mach 25 or higher.

    On the other hand, mechanical engineers were involved with the design and operation of the winch that lowered the most recent Mars rover down to the planet, and with the design and operation of the rover once it reached the surface of Mars.
  6. Feb 25, 2014 #5
    Thank you for your replies guys.

    If I want to work with spaceships and satellites and stuff, should I try instead to go for an aerospace degree instead?
  7. Feb 25, 2014 #6

    D H

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    In general, yes. That's the point of the "space" part of aerospace.
  8. Mar 13, 2014 #7
    Maybe at the undergrad level Mech Es don't do what DH posted, but at the graduate level they do. I am in a grad Mech E program with a specialization in orbital mechanics. My research is on spacecraft in perturbed systems. The only two things I haven't study have been maintain altitude but that is just applying the appropriate delta v and docking in space. So if you do grad work in Mech E look at Univ Texas, MIT, and Cal Tech ME programs. They do a lot aerospace. Those are the big name schools but there are about 30 schools I can think of that Mech Es do a lot of aero. Purdue as the editor for guidance and control I believe.
  9. Mar 28, 2014 #8
    Here is my "geek out" answer. Go aerospace, planes are just so freakin' cool!

    I live in Seattle where we have the museum of flight. http://www.museumofflight.org/. Jets, choppers, fighter planes from WWI, II, etc. Maybe it is just me but every time I go there I am blow away by these flying machines and the tech they use. Simply awe inspiring.

    I hope to get a job at Boeing as an EE when I am done with my degree next June.

    As for grades a company like Boeing wont even consider you unless you are at least at a 3.0 and above is what I have heard BUT you are only a Sophomore so you have time to get your GPA back up. Re-take a class or slow down to part time if you have to. College is a very short time and the rest of your future is not. Make the most of it.

    I can also tell you aerospace is at the top of the pay scale for engineering degrees.
  10. Mar 29, 2014 #9
    Thanks for all the replies guys. It really clears up what I was thinking and the fears I had regarding grades. I think I might switch over to aerospace due to the fact that I want to work at places like NASA, Boeing, SpaceX, etc, where the work is highly involved into flight, propulsion etc.

    I also have one question, how important is the university when it comes to getting a job?
    Does a person from a more prestigious university have a higher chance of getting hired and do they get paid more?
    From what I can see, I do not think that applies quite literally, but I am just curious as to what the people here believe.

    Just out of curiosity, where can I find the pay scales for different engineering majors?
  11. Mar 29, 2014 #10
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