Aeronautical vs Astronautical

KiwiBird

USAFA Appointee, Co 2025
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
Messages
205
I know that I don't have to choose yet, but I am currently not sure which of the two engineering disciplines I would prefer. Does anyone have experience with either? What are the classes and projects like? What do the jobs (assuming that they are related to the major) involve after graduation? What were the most memorable moments from the major specific classes? General thoughts on either or their differences? Thank you so much!
 

BuckeyeDad20

Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2019
Messages
261
My son is a baby Aero and considered Astro. First off, the programs only differ by about 15%. Between the Core curriculum and common engineering classes, the differences across all engineering programs is not huge and even less so between Aero and Astro.

What does that mean for you? You can go, take some classes, talk to the staff of each and decide for yourself. You could probably even take core and base engineering classes through your sophomore year and still be positioned to graduate without nailing it down. If you validate a bunch, you may need to get creative - my son has two Aero specific classes in addition to Aero 210 (which is core) this semester as a Doolie because he validated several classes. So don't feel rushed to make a decision. You have time to get there and settle in. The departments will have open houses and you can meet staff and upperclassman, ask questions about the program and figure out what you want to do from there.

Being engineering programs, either one will set you up for similar careers. If you know you really want to pursue Space Ops, then Astro is a better fit, but Aero (or any other engineering) is not precluded from Space Ops. If you want to fly, there is not much of a difference. If you want acquisitions, then one lends itself to airplanes vs boosters/satellites better, but again neither is precluded from the other - I was boosters as a EE. I imagine the difference really would only come into play if you wanted to go into research. In which case, you likely will pursue a graduate degree and that degree will need to be in the specific field of your research.

So you are pretty safe choosing the one that appeals to you more. The more you enjoy it, the less painful it will feel.
 

KiwiBird

USAFA Appointee, Co 2025
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
Messages
205
My son is a baby Aero and considered Astro. First off, the programs only differ by about 15%. Between the Core curriculum and common engineering classes, the differences across all engineering programs is not huge and even less so between Aero and Astro.

What does that mean for you? You can go, take some classes, talk to the staff of each and decide for yourself. You could probably even take core and base engineering classes through your sophomore year and still be positioned to graduate without nailing it down. If you validate a bunch, you may need to get creative - my son has two Aero specific classes in addition to Aero 210 (which is core) this semester as a Doolie because he validated several classes. So don't feel rushed to make a decision. You have time to get there and settle in. The departments will have open houses and you can meet staff and upperclassman, ask questions about the program and figure out what you want to do from there.

Being engineering programs, either one will set you up for similar careers. If you know you really want to pursue Space Ops, then Astro is a better fit, but Aero (or any other engineering) is not precluded from Space Ops. If you want to fly, there is not much of a difference. If you want acquisitions, then one lends itself to airplanes vs boosters/satellites better, but again neither is precluded from the other - I was boosters as a EE. I imagine the difference really would only come into play if you wanted to go into research. In which case, you likely will pursue a graduate degree and that degree will need to be in the specific field of your research.

So you are pretty safe choosing the one that appeals to you more. The more you enjoy it, the less painful it will feel.
Thanks for your thorough response! Do you (or anyone else reading) know how hard it would be to dual major in both? I ask since you said that the requirements are mostly the same.
 

BuckeyeDad20

Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2019
Messages
261
Dual major...depends and it is all relative. ANY engineering degree is difficult as a baseline so we are only going to discuss the added difficulty...

It is possible to dual major Aero/Astro. It will entail a lot of credit hours and maybe summer sessions. If you can validate courses, it makes it much more achievable. My son considered it as was guided to Aero/Applied Math dual major instead of Aero/Astro. You take so much math in engineering anyway that Applied Math (similar to Astro in this regard) is a handful of additional classes. He validated 7 or so classes so he had room in his schedule without too much issue to add the Applied Math. This has two near term impacts.

First, he is taking higher level courses in his second semester - this means the degree of difficulty from first semester to this semester has gone up dramatically. Second, by adding the double major, he is adding work, while simultaneous losing the open period he would have had by just validating and doing a single major. He has high goals and ambitions, but also a pragmatic attitude - if it gets to become too much, he can drop the applied math major and just stick with Aero.

So, if you can validate classes, the logistics of the double major are easier. But even if you do not validate, cadets still manage dual majors at times. Btw, some even do a science and a humanities so you are not stuck in double engineering if thats not what you want to do. He has found the department staff to be very supportive and assuming all the departments are like that, it will come down to your drive and goals to work with them to come up with a plan to make it work for you.

WARNING: He had difficulty initially with his schedule and planning all of this out. The general counselors were a huge disappointment when he finished BCT and he had to deal with them. He received a lot of advice to NOT validate classes because it would make things too hard, etc. and they seemed to want him to just do what everyone else was doing. Luckily the Head of the Aero Dept is awesome, answered his questions and got him on track. That's actually why he declared his major really early - once you declare, you get a new counselor from that department. So, manage your own schedule/track and make them tell you no if you want to do something. (I will not rant more than that on here, but parents can DM me if they like)

You are responsible for your career at the Academy (and USAF) not anyone else so be respectful, courteous, but persistent in pursuing your goals.
 

anlee

3rd time USAFA re-app CO 25
Joined
Dec 28, 2018
Messages
91
On the USAFA website under majors you can compare and contrast the two. They have very detailed information including courses and future job opportunities.
 

USAFA10s

USAFA Class of 2012 Kirtland, AFB
10-Year Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2007
Messages
695
Not specific to Aero/Astro (I doubled in Physics and Math) but I see a lot of these threads. Many many appointees come in thinking they are going major or double major in Aero/Astro/Physics - but very few actually do. USAFA is hard, and it is even harder with a tough or double major. Go in with an open mind and once you get through basic and your first semester -THEN really take the time to think about the different majors (there are a lot of cool ones that aren't as well known) as well as what kind of AF job you want to do and your post AF plans. Some have specific degree requirements while others it won't matter at all.

Many incoming freshman underestimate just how hard the course load is when you add in all the other stuff going on at USAFA. If you get through your first semester and are crushing every class, that's a good indicator that you can really load up and consider a challenging major or even a double. If you are struggling, get some study tips, see if you can improve your habits, but realize that freshman year is about as easy as it gets academically if you go into a STEM major. It only gets harder.

All that said - be sure to major in something that interests you, because studying hard is easier if the material is something you care about.
 

KiwiBird

USAFA Appointee, Co 2025
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
Messages
205
Not specific to Aero/Astro (I doubled in Physics and Math) but I see a lot of these threads. Many many appointees come in thinking they are going major or double major in Aero/Astro/Physics - but very few actually do. USAFA is hard, and it is even harder with a tough or double major. Go in with an open mind and once you get through basic and your first semester -THEN really take the time to think about the different majors (there are a lot of cool ones that aren't as well known) as well as what kind of AF job you want to do and your post AF plans. Some have specific degree requirements while others it won't matter at all.

Many incoming freshman underestimate just how hard the course load is when you add in all the other stuff going on at USAFA. If you get through your first semester and are crushing every class, that's a good indicator that you can really load up and consider a challenging major or even a double. If you are struggling, get some study tips, see if you can improve your habits, but realize that freshman year is about as easy as it gets academically if you go into a STEM major. It only gets harder.

All that said - be sure to major in something that interests you, because studying hard is easier if the material is something you care about.
At one point, I considered majoring in math or physics. What really interests me specifically is the quantum realm. Right now, I am taking an independent study on physics (a class that I designed myself), and I watch some MIT lectures from a quantum physics course. I won't pretend to understand all of the math, but I find so many of the underlying concepts interesting. I also enjoyed reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil de Grasse Tyson, both for that class. If you are able to tell me, do you ever work with the quantum realm as a physicist in the AF? In wanted to pursue that before, but was deterred due to the lack of and competitiveness of the available jobs. But definitely, the theoretical stuff seems to interest me a lot more than the applied stuff, even though it can sometimes be cathartic to work on and finally solve a hard problem.

Thanks for your advice about the majors! I am thinking that being a developmental engineer would interest me. I didn't really see any more specific ones than that on the AF page, but there were specific titles on the USAFA page listed under the descriprion of different majors. Some of those seemed interesting to me too. I also (as best I currently can) understand that there will be so many pressures, but I think that I'd be able to handle it, as long as I am able to pass some of those validation tests.

Something else that I forgot to mention, at the moment, I really want to go into the AF over the SF, although I will consider the latter. Will any certain majors preclude me from the AF?
 

wildblueyonder

USAFA '19
5-Year Member
Joined
Jan 31, 2015
Messages
433
I'm not sure to what extent they're still going on with COVID, but USAFA also has multiple Majors' Nights designed for 4*s and undeclared 3*s. Representatives of all the different majors set up their respective booths in Fairchild, and attendees have the opportunity to go around and talk with instructors and current students in each major (and also see cool science demos like a hybrid rocket engine...). I think it is difficult to make a fully informed decision on a major without having those kinds of face-to-face discussions, or prior to taking coursework in the respective subject.
 

raimius

10-Year Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2006
Messages
2,683
I had a roommate who was going to double-major, get a minor, and do a D1 sport. I think he got the minor...

I figured I would take it easy and shoot for a 3.5 gpa first semester then work up from there. With a really good final semester, I managed to make 3.25 by graduation.

This is to say a lot of cadets are smart. The average is going to become a lot tougher. Maybe you will be the academic ace and get a 4.0 (although when I was there the people who got 4.0s were usually on exchange semesters to other Service Academies). Maybe you'll be able to handle a double major easily (or with a TON of work). Maybe not. Don't worry too much about it before you get there.
 

BuckeyeDad20

Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2019
Messages
261
I would be surprised if your major mattered between SF and AF. If your degree matters for a specific job, it will most likely require a Masters and you could get any undergrad STEM and then get a Masters in a specialty if needed.

Near term, the first decision you will have is how many classes to validate. This can drive your schedule of classes for first semester so I would suggest you think about it before BCT. If you validate a lot, you will bring things forward in your schedule. It is difficult for people to give advice because everyone reacts differently at USAFA. As Raimius shared, you may crush it out of the gate and be comfortable validating, bringing classes forward and doubling up. However, you may feel overwhelmed by academics, cadet life, being away from home, etc or your high school didn't actually have the best Calc or Physics teacher afterall and you do not find it as easy to do as you thought you might. Some upperclassman had an exchange with my son about him being an Aero major that went something like,

"Oh, your an Aero major? Yeah, I was an Aero major. Mike, weren't you an Aero major too?"

"Yup, with a Japanese minor."

"Lots of Doolie Aero majors. Not so many at graduation."

So, try to be honest with yourself and assess your ability, study skills, and commitment to the path. Figure out what classes you want to validate if any. A couple weeks in, they have major nights where you can discuss the major, careers, etc with staff (they even did a modified version for '24 so I am sure they will do it for '25) - this is going to be the best source of info for you. You will be able to talk to staff - some of which may have had the career path that you want - and you can talk to upperclassman about their thoughts on the major, career and program overall..
 

HCopter

Member
Joined
May 16, 2017
Messages
485
@KiwiBird I have no words of wisdom on Aero vs. Astro. It's great you are thinking about this, just keep an open mind, advocate for yourself, and find out as much as you can when you get to USAFA as much of what you will need to know comes from fellow upperclass Cadets, faculty, and overlay with your specific situation.

NOTE: NOT SURE IF SOURCES ARE RELIABLE; UP TO YOU HOW MUCH YOU RELY ON THIS!

 

USAFA10s

USAFA Class of 2012 Kirtland, AFB
10-Year Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2007
Messages
695
@HCopter that is an interesting source - particularly the majors. Very interesting how business and management has been growing since 2012, up from under 10% to 23%!
 
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