Best aeronautical engineering colleges

Photo by Official US Navy Imagery
Photo by Official US Navy Imagery

Which are the best aeronautical engineering colleges?

Before I answer, I’m assuming that you’re a geeky, plane-crazy teenager, approaching the end of secondary school, or whatever you call it in your country. And you know you want to design aircraft or spacecraft, or something very related.

Here’s my answer. I’m sorry if it causes an argument between you and your parents, but that’s the only thing I’ll apologize for.

Don’t trust the official university rankings published by governments or other public institutions.


Photo by Steve Cadman
Photo by Steve Cadman

They’re mostly published by middle-aged English-speaking male adults like me. 

They probably have the best of intentions. But they might also have a hidden agenda.

They’re using methods and criteria that make lots of sense to them, but not necessarily to you. Their criteria are based on the values that they developed as they were growing up. Not your values.

They are likely to be concerned with the preservation of what currently exists. Companies, universities, institutions, governments . . . . all things that they’ve spent decades building up and supporting. They want to see these things last. Nobody likes to see the results of your work crumble after you leave it. (Especially if you’re depending on it to support you in your old age!)

Quite understandable.

They’re not unconcerned about you. Don’t get me wrong. They are just likely to have mixed motives.

Don’t trust university reputations.

Especially now, don’t trust university reputations!

Education is going through a long-delayed upheaval, enabled by the Internet. It is now possible to take courses online for free (or relatively cheaply), that previously would have cost you small fortunes and forced you to relocate thousands of miles. (See Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, and there are probably many more that I haven’t even heard of yet.)

Post-secondary institutions everywhere are scrambling to get on the bandwagon.

Thus far, I’m not aware that the trend has touched aeronautical or aerospace engineering.

It will, and quite soon.

There’s another reason not to trust university reputations.

I can speak with a measure of authority on this one. My aunt was for many years the chairman of the board of directors of a major Canadian university. It was then a medium-size university (by Canadian standards), but still had the reputation of being inferior to the larger, older Canadian institutions.

She said to me, when I was a student:

University reputations tend to lag reality by about 10 years.

That particular university had (and still has) an aeronautical programme which, in hindsight, would have been a better choice for me. But my father’s view was that it was an inferior upstart, so I was persuaded not to apply.

Many years later, I would spend a year at a university in the UK, world-famous for aeronautics, with my father’s hearty approval.

It was something of a let-down. Due to budget cutbacks, many of the lecturers, well-known for their technical expertise, had retired. They had been replaced (in some instances) by recently-graduated (and cheaper) PhD’s. I had spent almost all my savings on that programme. It did enable me to re-jig my career (which had been my goal from the outset), so the venture was successful. I nevertheless came away feeling somewhat cheated.

(One could argue that if I’d done proper research beforehand, I could have saved myself the disappoinment. That is a fair point.)

Don’t follow your friends’ lead.

Your friends have their own values and motives, which are probably not far removed from yours. That’s why they are your friends. But their values and motives are not yours.

And what’s more, your friends (and their values and motives) will change significantly through their university years. As will you and yours. Most friends drift apart after the secondary school years, and then re-connect years (or decades!) later.

So whose judgement should I trust then?


Do your own homework. And then, trust your gut.

Because of the era of rapid change that we are in, I am dis-inclined to trust long-established educational institutions. Big and old organisations are slow, lumbering, bureaucratic, and self-absorbed. They are generally unaware of the changes that are going on around them until it is too late to adapt, and they die.

The ones that do survive are likely to be new, unknown, small, nimble, doing things that nobody else is doing, and located in places nobody would have guessed.

You have the advantage of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and countless other online tools for doing due diligence on any opportunity. (Not just educational ones.)

Find these places.

Find the people doing the stuff you want to do.

Find out where they teach or work, or taught or worked. Make friends of them. Get their feedback. If you can, start participating with them via online open-source projects. One opportunity will lead to another, and to another, and . . . . .

In other words . . . . . .

Hack your education.

That is a much better way to educate yourself in anything (not just aerospace).

The best aeronautical engineering colleges are the ones that you sniff out and create for yourself, that are best for you, and nobody else. You may find it’s cheaper, quicker, more fun, and you might  even find you can do it from home!

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