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Master’s Program

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Our Master of Science program is based on the completion of lecture courses focused on a theme within the discipline of Aeronautics and Astronautics engineering. No thesis is required. No research is required.

The master’s degree program requires 45 quarter units of course work, which must be taken at Stanford. The course work is divided into four categories: basic courses, mathematics courses, technical electives and other electives.

Basic courses

MS candidates must select eight courses as follows:

Five courses in the basic areas of Aeronautics and Astronautics (one in each area)

  1. Fluids: 200 (Applied Aerodynamics), 210A (Fundamentals of Compressible Flow)
  2. Structures: 240 (Analysis of Structures)
  3. Guidance and Control: ENGR 105 (Feedback Control Design), ENGR 205 (Introduction to Control Design Techniques)
  4. Propulsion: 283 (Aircraft and Rocket Propulsion), 204 (Spacecraft Electric Propulsion)
  5. Experimentation/Design Requirements (PDF)

A maximum of six independent study/research units (AA 290 or independent study in another department) may count toward your MS program. If you fulfill your Experimentation/Design requirement with a course other than AA290 (or equivalent from another department), it is possible to count AA 290(s) in the technical or free elective sections.

Three courses, one each from three of the four areas below

  1. Fluids: 200 (Applied Aerodynamics), 210A (Fundamentals of Compressible Flow), or 244A (Introduction to Plasma Physics and Engineering)
  2. Structures: 242B (Mechanical Vibrations), 256 (Mechanics of Composites), 257 (Structural Health Monitoring), or 280 (Smart Structures)
  3. Guidance, Navigation, Dynamics, and Control: 242A (Classical Dynamics), 242B (Mechanical Vibrations), 251 (Introduction to the Space Environment), 271A (Dynamics and Control of Spacecraft and Aircraft), 272 (Global Positioning Systems), 274A (Principles of Robot Autonomy I), 275 (Navigation for Autonomous Systems), 277 (Multi-robot Control and Distributed Optimization), or 279A (Space Mechanics)
  4. One course selected from A/A courses numbered 200 and above, excluding seminars and independent research.

Students who believe they have satisfied Basic Course requirements previously may request a waiver of one or more courses. (See “Waivers and Transfer Credits” below.)

Mathematics courses

M.S. candidates are expected to exhibit competence in applied mathematics. Students meet this requirement by taking two courses - a minimum of six units – of either advanced mathematics offered by the Mathematics department or technical electives which strongly emphasize methods of applied mathematics. Approved mathematics courses offered by the Aero/Astro department include:

  • AA203 - Optimal and Learning-Based Control
  • AA212 - Advanced Feedback Control Design
  • AA214 - Numerical Methods for Compressible Flows
  • AA218 - Introduction to Symmetry Analysis
  • AA222 - Engineering Design Optimization
  • AA228/CS 238 - Decision Making under Uncertainty
  • AA242B - Mechanical Vibrations
  • AA273 - State Estimation and Filtering for Robotic Perception
  • AA277 - Multi-Robot Control and Distributed Optimization

The list of mathematics courses in the department's handbook (PDF) has additional suggestions, and includes all courses in mathematics numbered 200 or above. In order to use applied mathematics courses not on either list to fulfill this requirement, prior approval should be obtained from the student's advisor and the candidacy chair. (Note: Calculus, ordinary differential equations and vector analysis are fundamental math prerequisites and will not satisfy the mathematics requirement. They may be counted only as a free elective.)

A maximum of six independent study/research units (AA 290 or independent study in another department) may count toward your MS program. If you fulfill your Experimentation/Design requirement with a course other than AA290 (or equivalent from another department), it is possible to count AA 290(s) in the technical or free elective sections.

Technical electives

Students, in consultation with their advisor, will select at least four courses* from among the graduate-level courses, totaling at least 12 units, from departments in the School of Engineering and related science departments. This requirement increases by one course [3 units] for each basic course requirement which is waived. Up to three seminar units may count toward a technical elective requirement (equivalent to one technical elective course). These courses should be taken for a letter grade; the student should not elect the credit/no credit option for any course except free elective.

*Up to three seminar units may count toward your MS program, and will be counted as one technical elective. At least three additional graduate courses offered in Engineering or related math/science departments should be taken to meet the technical elective section requirement.

Other electives

It is recommended that all candidates enroll in a humanities or social sciences course to complete the 45-unit requirement. Courses fulfilling this requirement may be taken as credit/no credit. Practicing courses in art, music, dance and physical education do not qualify in the free elective section. With advisor approval, language courses will qualify.

Waivers and transfers of credit

Waivers of the Basic Courses required in the M.S. program can only be granted by the instructor of that course. Students who believe that they have had a substantially equivalent course at another institution should consult with the course instructor to determine if they are eligible for a waiver, and with their advisor to judge the effect on their overall program plans. To officially request a waiver, students should fill out a Petition for Waiver form (reverse side of the department's Program Proposal) and have it approved by the instructor and their advisor. One additional technical elective must be added for each Basic Course which is waived.

Students taking Aero/Astro qualifying exams are strongly encouraged to take specific classes, and there is a separate waiver process for Qualifying Examination core courses (described in “Ph.D. Qualifying Procedures in Aero/Astro”). Students should consult with their advisor before waiving courses.

Program proposal for master’s degree

Each master’s student must submit a master’s program proposal by the last day of classes in the first quarter of study. It must be signed by the advisor, then submitted to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office for the candidacy chair’s approval signature. This first submission is intended as a planning document to ensure that the student has identified at least one plan of study that meets all department and university requirements and that also fits the student's own abilities and interests. Recommended timing: the student should discuss several versions of this overall plan with the advisor when choosing classes for the first quarter; then schedule an appointment for just after midterms to work out a detailed course plan for future quarters and file an official program proposal for department review and approval.

Any changes to the program of study should be made in consultation with the advisor and the student services administrator. Such changes may be made more than once, but the final program proposal must be filed early in the quarter in which the degree is to be conferred. The changed program of study should be summarized on a program proposal marked “Revised,” signed by the advisor and submitted to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office for the Director of Graduate Studies' approval signature. The MS degree cannot be conferred unless the student has successfully completed all courses on the most recent, fully approved program proposal.

International students should consult with the Bechtel International Center, but typically must be enrolled in at least 8 units per quarter to maintain legal status.

Research opportunities

No thesis is required, but there is an opportunity for students to become involved in research projects during their master’s year(s). Students interested in this opportunity should make arrangements with a faculty member to supervise their research and enroll in AA290 to receive academic credit. Students can count up to 6 units of research towards their MS degree.

Coterminal master's program

This program allows Stanford undergraduates an opportunity to work simultaneously toward a B.S. degree and an M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics. Stanford undergraduates who wish to continue their studies for the master of science degree in the coterminal program must have earned a minimum of 120 units towards graduation. This includes allowable Advanced Placement (AP) and transfer credit.

The department-specific Aero/Astro coterminal program application, which includes information and deadlines, can be obtained from the Aero/Astro Student Services Office. A completed application (including letters of recommendation and transcripts) must be received no later than the quarter prior to the expected completion of the undergraduate degree. Admission is granted or denied through the departmental faculty admissions committee. Stanford undergraduates interested in learning more about receiving an Aero/Astro master's degree as a coterm student should review the information on the University Registrar's web site and visit the Aero/Astro Student Services Office.

University Coterminal Requirements

Coterminal master’s degree candidates are expected to complete all master’s degree requirements as described in this bulletin. University requirements for the coterminal master’s degree are described in the "Coterminal Master's Degrees" section. University requirements for the master’s degree are described in the "Graduate Degrees" section of this bulletin.

After accepting admission to this coterminal master’s degree program, students may request transfer of courses from the undergraduate to the graduate career to satisfy requirements for the master’s degree. Transfer of courses to the graduate career requires review and approval of both the undergraduate and graduate programs on a case by case basis.

In this master’s program, courses taken during or after the first quarter of the sophomore year are eligible for consideration for transfer to the graduate career; the timing of the first graduate quarter is not a factor. No courses taken prior to the first quarter of the sophomore year may be used to meet master’s degree requirements.

Course transfers are not possible after the bachelor’s degree has been conferred.

The University requires that the graduate advisor be assigned in the student’s first graduate quarter even though the undergraduate career may still be open. The University also requires that the Master’s Degree Program Proposal be completed by the student and approved by the department by the end of the student’s first graduate quarter.

Part-time master’s degree program

Only applicants for the part-time master’s degree program for working professionals (HCP) are considered quarterly. Prospective HCP students follow the same admissions process and must meet the same admissions requirements as full-time graduate students.

Honors cooperative program

The Honors Cooperative Program (HCP) makes it possible for academically qualified engineers and scientists in nearby companies to be part-time master's students in Aeronautics and Astronautics while continuing nearly full-time professional employment. For more information regarding the Honors Cooperative Program, see the Stanford Center for Professional Development web site.

Degree completion

Every student should be familiar with the University’s requirements for minimal progress as outlined in the Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures GAP. A minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.75 is required to fulfill the department's Master’s degree requirements. Students must also meet the University’s quarterly academic requirements for graduate students, as described in the Bulletin. All units must be in courses at or above the 100 level, and all courses used to satisfy the Basic Courses, Mathematics and Technical Electives requirements must be taken for a letter grade (excluding seminars).

For midyear degrees, the date of conferral is during the first week of the next quarter. Students who have no outstanding Stanford obligations (financial or academic) may obtain an official "certificate of completion" from the Graduate Degree Progress Office after degree conferral. Diplomas are distributed once a year at Commencement in June. In addition, diplomas for graduate degrees are available for pickup or by mail. Once you have begun study for the Master’s, you have three years to complete the degree (five years for Honors Cooperative students). This time is not extended by Leaves of Absence.

Time limits for M.S. Degree:

  • HCP (Honors Cooperative Students): Five years from the first quarter of enrollment in the MS program.
  • Co-terminal students: Three years after the quarter in which 180 units are completed.
  • All other students: Three years from the first quarter of enrollment in the M.S. program, or 60 units completed.

Study after the master’s degree

Students wishing to continue at Stanford after receiving the MS degree must be approved for further study during their final master's quarter. (This includes approval for the Engineer's degree or PhD in Aero/Astro, or for a degree in another department.) In order to stay here, a graduate program authorization form should be fully approved and filed at the Registrar’s Office before the MS is conferred.

Students who are not citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. will need to verify their funding for the new degree and update their visa documentation as part of the Graduate Program Authorization procedure. Appropriate forms are available from the Bechtel International Center. Support from research assistantships can be verified by the professor providing support, and the Student Services Office can verify course assistantships. For personal funding or other support, inquire at the Bechtel International Center about the proper source for verification.

Students (admitted for Autumn 2021-22) wishing to continue to the Ph.D. program

The M.S. program is designed for students who intend to proceed directly to a professional career in aeronautics and astronautics. However, in rare cases, an M.S. student may be able to transition into the Ph.D. program. To do so, the student must have commitment from a professor willing to fund and advise the student throughout their Ph.D. Such students may submit an application for the Ph.D. program in the Autumn Quarter (mid-October deadline) of their second year in the M.S. program.

Required Application Material

  • Statement of purpose describing the area of study and topic for thesis research
  • Letter of Recommendation from Ph.D. advisor
    • If the proposed Ph.D. advisor is not in the Aero/Astro Department, consult with the Aero/Astro Student Services Office in advance to ensure eligibility
  • Confirmation of funding form signed by Ph.D. Advisor

Note: Students must be in good standing, and eligible to take the departmental qualifying examination (quals) in Spring Quarter of year two (see Ph.D. Qualifying Procedures in Aero/Astro, below).

The Admissions Committee will review the required application material, including previous application and current Stanford transcript, and make admission decisions by the end of the Autumn Quarter. If a student is approved for the Ph.D. program, a Graduate Program Authorization petition ($125 fee) must be submitted online through AXESS and fully approved before the M.S. is conferred (see Changes of Degree, above). Enrollment as a Ph.D. student, including funding, will begin in Winter Quarter of year two.

Students who are not citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. will need to verify their funding for the new degree, and update their visa documentation, as part of the Graduate Program Authorization procedure. These forms are available from the Bechtel International Center. Support from research assistantships can be verified by the professor providing support and the Aero/Astro Student Services Office.

If you leave Stanford for employment or study at another institution and later wish to return for further degree work, you will need to submit a standard admission application to the department. Check with the Aero/Astro Student Services Office to verify deadlines and required credentials. International students will be subject to visa requirements when they are considered for admission.