HELP! Advice for an aspiring Astronotical Engineering Major

I have been interested in space sciences for a while now and am currently leaning towards astronautical engineering. My hope is to work in a position on the frontlines of space exploration.

My university interests are pretty open but I’m looking to get into a top university for astronautical engineering (Ann Arbor, MIT, CalTech).

Side note: I am also keen on plant growth in space and would love to minor in botany or, if given the opportunity, astrobotany.

Any advice on activities/extracurriculars I should focus on during high school (grad 2024) that would help my chances of getting into a good school?

Other than some list says so, what makes you think they are “top” universities for you? I am not denying that they are. They will all be VERY different experiences from one and other though. You should put a little more emphasis on what you want your collegiate experience to look like beyond specious rankings.

Not knowing any more than what you’ve said (and that you probably read and liked The Martian :sweat_smile: ), I’ll throw out a name that probably isn’t on your radar, but may be a fit once you do a little more soul searching…Cal Poly.

Not only do they have a completely separate Aerospace department that’s not a subset of ME, they offer concentrations in either aeronautics or astronautics. The latter is not common. Several NASA sites, including JPL, along with SpaceX are in their top 10 employers for AE grads. The interesting angle though is that they also have a very well respected Agriculture school. The engineering curricula are packed, so I’m not sure how you’d work in the Plant Science/Agronomy/Botany angle, maybe a CubeSat project (which was invented at CalPoly). All the resources you could possibly need though could be found there.

As for activities, love and do well in math and physics. The highest correlation to success in an engineering program is the level of math you achieved in HS and how well you did. Other that that, do what you like. Admissions can sniff through BS ECs.

Good luck!

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When I was young I wanted to be an engineer in the manned space program. I also wanted to got to MIT as I thought that it would provide the best path to my intended career. I retired a few years back after doing exactly that: MIT then the space program. I worked with many excellent engineers and a few were fellow MIT grads but most were not. Just a numbers game with so many good engineering schools out there. Get yourself set up in a good engineering program and don’t get worked up about it having to be MIT or CalTech, just learn and do well wherever you go.

I also worked with engineers of just about every kind you could think of; Mechanical, electrical, chemical, materials, process, industrial, etc. It takes all kinds of specialties to make the space program go. Very few were actually aerospace engineering majors. Again just a numbers game. So, pursue your passion and you’ll find a place in the space program where you’ll be needed.

Chris Peterson from MIT has a good article to read about preparing yourself to apply to MIT. It applies to more than just MIT. Read it and follow his advice. It is called “Applying Sideways” and can be found at: Applying Sideways | MIT Admissions


Purdue is also a top aerospace school and a top feeder program for NASA; and like Cal Poly, it also has strong ag programs and cross-disciplinary research between the two - for example, Meet the Purdue professor revolutionizing outer space agriculture: BTN LiveBIG - Big Ten Network


I think I zeroed in on CP just to get the OP to expand their vision and because I know that school so well. Continuing with the theme though, I’d add UC Davis, Iowa State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Penn State. All have good engineering with either ABET accredited AE or an AE concentration/minor with ME and good Ag schools.


You might consider looking into schools with programs in planetary sciences and/or astrobiology. Florida Tech and University of Arizona come to mind. I know a Florida Tech grad who studied astrobiology there and had a lot of cool opportunities. His research was and is focused on plant and bacterial growth in space, in hostile environments on this planet, and in the potential on other planets. That student is in grad school now.


Thank you all so much for the helpful advice and linked resources (especially the other universities that were not previously on my radar!). I have found some summer courses relating to physics and math that I plan on taking this year.

I am currently taking flying lessons and am working towards getting my private pilot’s license. Are there any flight related activities that I could pursue to build portfolio because I really enjoy this field.

Additionally, could you please suggest any academic competitions that I should participate in that would help with my application?

Do the things you enjoy. Admissions departments see right through the ploys to do things simply to “make an application better.” You’d be far better ensuring your GPA and test scores are strong. Good luck!