Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering

First Advisor

Benjamin Ahn

Second Advisor

Thomas Ward III


Technological development, research and progress are one of the boosters of the US economy. Preparing students is important for the advance of the US economy and quality of life. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees prepare students for the technological and economic challenges by providing them with tools to advance in these areas. However, the decline in enrollment in engineering degrees and a low retention rate may be hindering the US’s ability to respond to their technological and economic challenges. It is then important to increase the retention of students in STEM and engineering.

Despite several studies on persistence in STEM and engineering, there are very few studies on persistence in aerospace engineering, most specifically on why students choose and leave aerospace engineering. Aerospace engineering has specific challenges that are not addressed in studies of other engineering fields, such as the whimsical nature of space and flight, the perceived number of jobs in the space industry, the specialization of aerospace engineers and others.

Our research investigates the reasons why students choose and why students leave aerospace engineering. Through a survey administered to students who declared as aerospace engineering students, we found students’ main reason for choosing aerospace engineering is a long term passion for the field, which in many cases starts developing during childhood, and carries into their college major choice. However, during their academic career, some students will not persist in aerospace engineering, with 23% of the respondents of our survey having changed major. Students’ main reasons for leaving aerospace engineering are their mismatched expectations between job prospects when they make their major choice and when they become aware of the reality of the job market, high specialization in comparison to other engineering fields, as well as poor teaching and advising.

To improve persistence in aerospace engineering, both the program and the students can make changes. Programs should aim to improve the quality of their teaching and advising, as well as showcase the field and its job opportunities realistically. Students should research their future major and understand its job market, as well as the implications of choosing a highly specialized field.

Copyright Owner

Sara Oliveira Pedro dos Santos



File Format


File Size

78 pages