Graduate Degrees & Requirements

Graduate study in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics includes graduate-level subjects in Course 16 and others at MIT, and research work culminating in a thesis. Degrees are awarded at the master’s and doctoral levels. The range of subject matter is described under Graduate Fields of Study. Departmental research centers’ websites offer information on research interests. Detailed information may be obtained from the Department Academic Programs Office or from individual faculty members.

For more information about MIT AeroAstro graduate degree programs, email

The Master of Science (SM) degree is a two-year graduate program with beginning research or design experience represented by the SM thesis. This degree prepares the graduate for an advanced position in the aerospace field, and provides a solid foundation for future doctoral study.

The general requirements for the Master of Science degree are cited in the section on General Degree Requirements for graduate students. The specific departmental requirements include at least 66 graduate subject units, typically in subjects relevant to the candidate’s area of technical interest. Of the 66 units, at least 21 units must be in departmental subjects. To be credited toward the degree, graduate subjects must carry a grade of B or better. In addition, a 24-unit thesis is required beyond the 66 units of coursework. Full-time students normally must be in residence one full academic year. Special students admitted to the SM program in this department must enroll in and satisfactorily complete at least two graduate subjects while in residence (i.e., after being admitted as a degree candidate) regardless of the number of subjects completed before admission to the program. Students holding research assistantships typically require a longer period of residence.

In addition, the department’s SM program requires one graduate-level mathematics subject. The requirement is satisfied only by graduate-level subjects on the list approved by the department graduate committee. The specific choice of math subjects is arranged individually by each student in consultation with their faculty advisor.

SM Requirements

  • English evaluation Test (for non-native English-speakers if not previously satisfied at MIT)
  • Technical writing requirement if not previously satisfied at MIT
  • Math requirement
  • 66 subject units, not including thesis units, in graduate subjects in the candidate’s area of technical interest
  • Within the 66 subject units, a minimum of 21 units from AeroAstro subjects
  • Classes taken on a pass/fail basis do not count towards degree requirements
  • Minimum cumulative grade point average of 4.0
  • Term-by-term thesis (16THG) registration and progress evaluation
  • Acceptable thesis. View SM Thesis Archive (via DSpace).

AeroAstro offers Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) doctoral degrees that emphasize in-depth study, with a significant research project in a focused area. The admission process for the department’s doctoral program is described previously in this section under Admission Requirements. The doctoral degree is awarded after completion of an individual course of study, submission, and defense of a thesis proposal, and submission and defense of a thesis embodying an original research contribution.

The general requirements for this degree are given in the section on General Degree Requirements. Program requirements are outlined in a booklet titled The Doctoral Program [PDF]. After successful admission to the doctoral program, the doctoral candidate selects a field of study and research in consultation with the thesis supervisor and forms a doctoral thesis committee, which assists in the formulation of the candidate’s research and study programs and monitors his or her progress. Demonstrated competence for original research at the forefront of aerospace engineering is the final and main criterion for granting the doctoral degree. The candidate’s thesis serves in part to demonstrate such competence and, upon completion, is defended orally in a presentation to the faculty of the department, who may then recommend that the degree be awarded.

Doctoral Program Objectives & Outcomes

AeroAstro’s doctoral program objectives are:

  • to produce original research and technologies critical to the engineering of aerospace vehicles, information, and systems.
  • to educate future leaders in aerospace research and technology.

Upon graduation, our doctoral students will have:

  • a strong foundation in analytical skills and reasoning
  • the ability to solve challenging, engineering problems
  • an understanding of the importance and strategic value of their research
  • the ability to communicate their research with context and clarity

These degrees, for which the requirements are identical, are for students who wish to carry out original research in a focused field, and already hold a master’s degree. AeroAstro offers doctoral degrees in 13 fields. A description of general MIT doctoral requirements appears in the MIT Course Catalogue.

Ph.D./Sc.D. Requirements

  • English evaluation Test (for non-native English-speakers if not previously satisfied at MIT)
  • Technical writing requirement if not previously satisfied at MIT
  • Qualifying Field Evaluation, completed within three terms of entering the department. (See below for more information.)
  • Completion of Research Process and Communication (RPC) Course
  • Formation of a thesis committee and first meeting confirmed by filing a virtual Doctoral Record Card within 2 regular terms of admission to the doctoral program.
  • Completion of the major concentration with a minimum of 60 units and completion of the minor concentration with a minimum of 30 units, as approved by the student’s thesis committee
  • Math requirement
  • Minimum cumulative 4.4 grade point average
  • Term-by-term thesis (16THG) registration and progress evaluation
  • Thesis proposal and defense within 3 regular terms of admission into the doctoral program.
  • Successful thesis submission and defense within 4 regular terms of passing the thesis proposal defense. View the doctoral thesis archive (via DSpace.)

See the AeroAstro Doctoral Program Guide for additional guidelines and the PhD Quick Guide for a complete overview.

Doctoral Qualifying Field Evaluation

A student seeking entrance to the department’s doctoral program must complete a course-based evaluation in their chosen field of study. Information about the doctoral program and the doctoral qualifying process can be found in the department’s Doctoral Program Guide.

Field Evaluation Process Timeline
July 1The Field Evaluation Course List will be made available on the Department website for future planning purposes. This is the finalized list (with possible course additions being the only change from that published the previous Fall) for the class of students that will initiate the FE process in September.
Mid-AugustAll students are welcome to attend the information seminar on the Field Evaluation Process provided by the Graduate Program Administrator and the Chair of the GC. 
Early September Fall Registration Day: Initiation Forms are due to the Graduate Program Administrator from students who are in the 3rd semester of their graduate program.
Late December/Early JanuaryFall Grade Deadline: Completion Forms are due to the Graduate Program Administrator, including PhD advisor signature, grades, and cumulative GPA.
Mid-JanuaryCompletion/Outcome of the Field Evaluation is confirmed for all participating students.
FebruaryPhD Orientation session for all students who pass the FE. Students who have yet to initiate the exam check-in with their advisors on progress towards their FE course completion.
MayField Exams will be held for students who need to take them.

The following are a few examples of successfully written and defended thesis proposals by doctoral candidates within AeroAstro. These may be downloaded and examined as part of your preparation for the Thesis Proposal Defense, a required part of our doctoral program.

  • Xun Huan – A Bayesian Approach to Optimal Sequential Experimental Design Using Approximate Dynamic Programming – 2013 – ProposalDefense
  • Ashley Carlton – Scientific Imagers as High-Energy Radiation Sensors – 2017 – ProposalDefense
  • Maria de Soria Santacruz Pich – Electromagnetic Ion Cyclotron Waves for RBR Applications – 2013 – ProposalDefense

The department participates in several interdisciplinary fields at the graduate level, which are of special importance for aeronautics and astronautics in both research and the curriculum.

Aeronautics, Astronautics, and Statistics

The Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Statistics provides training in statistics, including classical statistics and probability as well as computation and data analysis, to students who wish to integrate these valuable skills into their primary academic program. The program is administered jointly by the departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Economics, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Physics, and Political Science, and the Statistics and Data Science Center within the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society. It is open to current doctoral students in participating departments. For more information, including department-specific requirements, see the full program description under Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs.

Air Transportation

For students interested in a career in flight transportation, a program is available that incorporates a broader graduate education in disciplines such as economics, management, and operations research than is normally pursued by candidates for degrees in engineering. Graduate research emphasizes one of the four areas of flight transportation: airport planning and design, air traffic control, air transportation systems analysis, and airline economics and management, with subjects selected appropriately from those available in the departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Economics, and the interdepartmental Master of Science in Transportation (MST) program. Doctoral students may pursue a Ph.D. with specialization in air transportation in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics or in the interdepartmental Ph.D. program in transportation or in the Ph.D. program of the Operations Research Center (see the section on Graduate Programs in Operations Research under Research and Study).

Biomedical Engineering

The department offers opportunities for students interested in biomedical instrumentation and physiological control systems where the disciplines involved in aeronautics and astronautics are applied to biology and medicine. Graduate study combining aerospace engineering with biomedical engineering may be pursued through the Bioastronautics program offered as part of the Medical Engineering and Medical Physics Ph.D. program in the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) via the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST).

Students wishing to pursue a degree through HST must apply to that graduate program. At the master’s degree level, students in the department may specialize in biomedical engineering research, emphasizing space life sciences and life support, instrumentation and control, or in human factors engineering and in instrumentation and statistics. Most biomedical engineering research in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics is conducted in the Human Systems Laboratory.

Certificate in Aerospace Innovation

Today, the aerospace sector has returned to its original roots of innovation and entrepreneurship, driven not exclusively by large government or corporate entities, but by small and mid-size firms. These are experimenting with, and launching electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing and electric Short Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL and eSTOL) vehicles, cutting-edge CubeSat missions, and new drone-enabled services that offer data analytics in agriculture, renewable energy and in other sectors. Students in Aerospace Engineering and related fields have expressed a strong desire to hear from and learn about how to launch their own ventures and initiatives in aerospace. Responding to this need, AeroAstro is proud to launch a new Certificate in Aerospace Innovation in collaboration with the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. To learn more, please visit the website for Certificate in Aerospace Innovation.

Computational Science and Engineering (SM or Ph.D.)

The Master of Science in Computational Science and Engineering (CSE SM) is an interdisciplinary program for students interested in the development, analysis, and application of computational approaches to science and engineering. The curriculum is designed with a common core serving all science and engineering disciplines and an elective component focusing on specific disciplinary topics. Current MIT graduate students may pursue the CSE SM as a standalone degree or as leading to the CSE Ph.D. program described below.

The Doctoral Program in Computational Science and Engineering (CSE Ph.D.) allows students to specialize at the doctoral level in a computation-related field of their choice through focused coursework and a thesis through a number of participating host departments. The CSE Ph.D. program is administered jointly by the Center for Computational Science and Engineering (CCSE) and the host departments; the emphasis of thesis research activities is the development of new computational methods and/or the innovative application of computational techniques to important problems in engineering and science.

For more information, see the program descriptions under Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs.

Joint Program with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Joint Program with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is intended for students whose primary career objective is oceanography or oceanographic engineering. Students divide their academic and research efforts between the campuses of MIT and WHOI. Joint Program students are assigned an MIT faculty member as an academic advisor; thesis research may be supervised by MIT or WHOI faculty. While in residence at MIT, students follow a program similar to that of other students in their home department.

The program is described in more detail under Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs.

Leaders for Global Operations

The 24-month Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program combines graduate degrees in engineering and management for those with previous postgraduate work experience and strong undergraduate degrees in a technical field. During the two-year program, students complete a six-month internship at one of LGO’s partner companies, where they conduct research that forms the basis of a dual-degree thesis. Students finish the program with two MIT degrees: an MBA (or SM in management) and an SM from one of eight engineering programs, some of which have optional or required LGO tracks. After graduation, alumni lead strategic initiatives in high-tech, operations, and manufacturing companies.

System Design and Management

The System Design and Management (SDM) program is a partnership among industry, government, and the university for educating technically grounded leaders of 21st-century enterprises. Jointly sponsored by the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management, it is MIT’s first degree program to be offered with a distance learning option in addition to a full-time in-residence option.

Technology and Policy

The Master of Science in Technology and Policy is an engineering research degree with a strong focus on the role of technology in policy analysis and formulation. The Technology and Policy Program (TPP) curriculum provides a solid grounding in technology and policy by combining advanced subjects in the student’s chosen technical field with courses in economics, politics, quantitative methods, and social science. Many students combine TPP’s curriculum with complementary subjects to obtain dual degrees in TPP and either a specialized branch of engineering or an applied social science such as political science or urban studies and planning. See the program description under the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.