Tips for Fresh Graduates: What to Do after Getting an Aerospace Engineering Degree

It's an exciting time to start your career in aerospace engineering. Read the article for tips and learn how you could launch an exciting and successful career.

When you finish your aerospace engineering degree, you get a sense of accomplishment for all the hard work you put in over the years. Your aerospace engineering degree also provides you a chance to get lucrative jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual aerospace engineering salary in May 2018 was $115,220. Moreover, ZipRecruiter reports that an entry-level aerospace engineering salary averages $66,198 per year. But getting access to these high-earning aerospace engineering jobs requires that you have a plan that helps you outshine competing job applicants.

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The good news is you don't have to come up with a sure-fire strategy on your own. Leverage this engineering career advice will help you get ahead in your aerospace engineering career.

Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam

If you want a chance at getting creating a lucrative and solid career path to high-earning aerospace engineering jobs, then it's essential to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. This exam is the stepping stone to taking the Principals and Practices of Engineering (PE) exam — the test you need to pass to become a licensed professional engineer (PE).

In addition to having an ABET-accredited degree and four years of work experience, you'll have to pass the PE test and the FE exam to get your professional license.

If you plan to lead high-level projects or manage a team of aerospace engineers, such as some of the leading aerospace engineers that design a military airplane, then it's critical to get licensed as a PE.

The test-makers at the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) designed the exam to be taken for recent graduates, and many examinees take the test in their senior year of college.

Tips for Fresh Graduates: What to Do after Getting an Aerospace Engineering Degree
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But it's not too late to take the exam as a fresh graduate out of engineering school. Start by taking the exam within 12 months of graduating while the information is still fresh in your mind.

Practice strategic networking

It's no secret that networking can lead to the coveted job opportunities you seek as an aerospace engineer.

Data from LinkedIn shows that most jobs come from employee referrals. That means most people secure a role in their respective fields via references or people they know. Your engineering school is a great place to start to build relationships with key people in the aerospace engineering field. It's also okay if you haven't started networking yet.

There's no time like the present to get involved in a professional association like the Society of Flight Test Engineers or the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). and attend career events and conferences to get closer to the aerospace engineering community. But it's critical to be strategic when you're networking and focus on establishing a rapport with the individuals who can help you progress with your career. Have conversations, informational interviews, and offer your valuable skills in return.

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Also, reach out to your school's career support center and meet up with a mentor who can offer valuable engineering career advice to help you get your first professional job in the field.

Consider cooperative education programs

A cooperative education program or co-op provides the opportunity to get access to your first professional job as an aerospace engineer. 

Tips for Fresh Graduates: What to Do after Getting an Aerospace Engineering Degree
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Reach out to your school regarding a co-op program as many businesses and organizations in the aerospace industry partner with local schools for quality candidates. For instance, CASE Western Reserve University partners with organizations like Tesla Motors, Boston Dynamics, and NASA to provide jobs to their students via its co-op program.

Unlike internships, co-op programs often tend to be more than a few hours a week. For example, participants in the University of Michigan's co-op program must commit to a full-time schedule of 30 to 40 hours of work time per week for at least six weeks.

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By putting in the time, you get a chance to get valuable leadership and engineering career advice while getting paid to gain experience as an aerospace engineer. Even if you recently graduated, it's still worth signing up for these programs as some companies look for fresh graduates that they can hire after completing the co-op program.

Apply for aerospace engineering internships

Aerospace engineering internships are a great way to segue into your first aerospace engineering job in the professional field. It's how Hermeus founder Skyler Shuford received his first aerospace engineering role. He became a SpaceX intern by preparing for his interview, brushing up his resume, and improving on weak skills like applied control theory by demonstrating initiative to build a quadrocopter.

You can get access to aerospace engineering internships by reaching out to your career services center at your college. Consider also asking friends, family members, members of the professional associations you are a part of, and mentors for leads on aerospace engineering internships. Also, avoid limiting your job search to a specific location, industry, or title.

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Tips for Fresh Graduates: What to Do after Getting an Aerospace Engineering Degree
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Some of the top-paid aerospace engineering jobs are in research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences sectors and pulled in a median annual salary of $124,430 in May 2018, according to BLS. You may want to explore other job titles that are related to aerospace engineering internships to broaden your options or to specialize in a particular area, for example, as an aeronautical engineer. This way you can specialize in aircraft or astronautical engineering that focus on spacecraft.

Expanding your scope of aerospace engineering internships may have rewarding benefits, such as a high-paying entry-level position. PayScale reports that entry-level aeronautical engineers make an average of $68,887 per year.

Furthermore, the BLS reports that most aerospace engineering jobs were located in states like California, Alabama, Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Maryland, as of May 2018. So, it's worth considering looking at other locations and looking at related roles to get your foot in the door.

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Final thoughts

Earning your degree is just the beginning of getting your start in the professional job market. But with a plan, you can find your first entry-level aerospace engineering job.

Read aerospace engineering guides that offer valuable engineering career advice and apply the best practices mentioned here. You'll be on your way to securing a spot in the running for entry-level aerospace engineering jobs in the professional job market.

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Nader Mowlaee is an Electronics Engineer, working as an Engineering Career Coach and Technical Recruiter since 2012. Nader is inspired by motivating confidence in engineers and helping job seekers take calculated actions to move towards their career goals. Nader’s mission is to enable engineers to break away from their fears and create the ideal career they want. He helps engineers strengthen their Communication, Personal Branding, and Networking skills, resulting in job interviews and job offers fast. You can contact Nader on LinkedIn.