What to Expect

Graduate Students: What to Expect


The academics and expectations for Graduate Students are quite different from undergraduate study.

The Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics is  dedicated to educating graduate students in the diverse disciplines represented within its degree programs of aerospace engineering and mechanics. Graduate study enables a student to develop in-depth knowledge in one or more specialized fields, apply their knowledge of physics, engineering, computer science, and various other disciplines to create new and improve upon existing technologies by doing original research. In addition, your graduate study will teach you how to work independently and think critically about one’s own work and that of others. AEM faculty will help you reach these goals by offering challenging courses, organizing research seminars, encouraging informal discussions, and providing guidance during all stages of your research and coursework.

If you have any questions on the graduate program, feel free to contact Professor Gebre, Director of Graduate Studies or email us a aem-dgs@umn.edu.

Graduate Research Group photo

Masters of Science, Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics

Master Degree Requirements

The M.S. Degree offers three plan options. Plan A emphasizes research and preparation of a thesis, Plan B emphasizes a project, and Plan C is a coursework-only option recommended for working professionals.

Students will select from either Plan A, Plan B, or Plan C. If a student chooses Plan A, they then will write a thesis, which enables them to register for up to 10 credits for their research work. Plan B is accomplished mainly through coursework with a final three credit individual project. Plan C is coursework only.

M.S. Plan A

The M.S. Plan A degree is the research option and requires completion of a master’s thesis. The Plan A requires a minimum of 30 credits, which includes at least 20 course credits plus 10 credits of thesis research. If a minor is designed, a minimum of 6 credits must be taken in a single field outside the major field. A research project is normally derived from a student’s duties as a graduate research assistant and typically from a funded proposal idea developed by the graduate adviser. Students can also propose an independently conceived research idea, then develop, and refine the research plan in consultation with the graduate adviser. 

M.S. Plan B

The M.S. Plan B degree is the project option and is typically pursued by students intending to continue their Ph.D. degree. The Plan B option requires a minimum of 30 credits, which includes at least 27 course credits. The course work is selected in consultation with a faculty adviser. In addition, the student must demonstrate ability to work independently and present the results of such work effectively by completing one or more project papers.

M.S. Plan C

The M.S. Plan C degree is the coursework-only option and is recommended for working professionals who wish to pursue a Master’s degree on a part-time basis but can also, be used by students intending to continue on for a Ph.D. degree. The Plan C requires completion of a minimum of 30 course credits. At least 2 courses at the 8XXX level must be completed. The student must complete a minimum of 100 hours of project work in increments of 40 hours per project or greater. The projects are to be performed as part of specific courses in aerospace engineering and mechanics that comply with the M.S. Plan C project requirements

Of the coursework completed, a first-year graduate student usually takes at least one comprehensive sequence in basic engineering science. Students may choose more advanced and more specialized courses after they have covered the fundamentals. 

Incoming students who have not covered basic aerodynamics, airplane dynamics, structures, and propulsion in their undergraduate programs are required to make up this material in addition to completing the 30-credit graduate program.

Outside the major credits, many students include courses in mathematics in their programs. Courses offered by the Mechanical Engineering Department in heat transfer and propulsion are also appropriate in aerospace engineering programs.

Doctor of Philosophy Degrees

 Ph.D. Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. program requires approximately two years of course work, but the heart of the Ph.D. program is the thesis research. The first year of the Ph.D. program is similar to the master's program, and most Ph.D. students receive their master's degree. By the end of the first year, the student has chosen an adviser.

The second year is devoted to more advanced courses and beginning research. Subsequent years include some course work with increasing focus on research. The time required to complete a research project is uncertain, but students who enter with a bachelor's degree usually finish the M.S. and Ph.D. program within four to six years. A more complete list of the degree requirements is available.

Students typically emphasize one of three fields of study: fluid mechanics, solid mechanics, or aerospace systems and control. However, graduate students can, and often do, conduct research in topics that span more than one of these fields and/or involve other departments in CSE or other colleges at the University of Minnesota.

Typical First Year Course Sequence Field of Study


The U of M consistently ranks among the top 10 of public research universities and remains among an elite group of public institutions in the US. The AEM department has built broad expertise in the core foundations of aerospace engineering and mechanics: fluid dynamics, solid mechanics and materials, and aerospace systems. Our faculty is active and our research is in strong demand; in 2018 AEM had over $8.9 million in sponsored research expenditures. AEM research ranges from the design of hypersonic aircraft to the discovery of new active materials with unprecedented properties; from new control algorithms for drones to the discovery of MRI methods for measuring fluid flow in the respiratory system. Our research guides our undergraduate and graduate teaching and inspires our students. Our fundamental scientific approach to all our areas of teaching and research catalyzes an unmistakable atmosphere of collegiality in AEM.

In addition, AEM researchers have ongoing global collaborations at the Universities of Antwerp, Bonn, Carleton (Canada), Kiel, KU Leuven, Melbourne, Queensland, Canberra, Oslo, Oxford, Tel Aviv, the Ecole Centrale and Ecole Polytechnique, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; at research institutions such as the European Space Agency, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Sztaki), the Laboratoire de Mecanique des Solides (Paris), the Max Planck Institute on Mathematics in the Sciences (Leipzig), the Norwegian Institute of Technology, the Advanced Institute of Italy (SISSA), the von Karman Institute for Fluid Mechanics (Belgium) and SYNTEF Energy Research (Norway). AEM researchers also currently lead the NSF sponsored KIM project (400 members in 29 countries) and “The Rise of Data in Materials Research” (participants from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK).

Learn More about our Research

What can you do with a Graduate degree?