How can an international student find work in aerospace engineering?

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What-is-Aerospace-EngineeringJagdish from Iowa State University asked:

I am an international student studying Aerospace Engineering (B.S.- M.S. dual degree), I am concerned about my job prospects after graduation for two primary reasons:  It can be difficult for international students the find employment in the U.S., and the types of jobs I am seeking require security clearance. I am really motivated and ready to pursue this career path, but also worried; there are many hurdles and the stakes are high (education debt). What do you think should I do to get a job and contribute successfully in this field? I wish I had a mentor to guide me!

Hi Jagdish –

You are correct.  It can be very difficult for international students to find employment in the U.S. after graduation.  Employment laws and policies give preference to U.S. citizens and others already possessing permanent work authorization, and new work visas – largely – are awarded to professionals in fields where qualified candidates are scarce.  I have over simplified the topic significantly, so I recommend you consult regularly with the international student office at your university so you will always be aware of the work-related opportunities and obstacles surrounding your visa status.

In addition to thoroughly understanding your visa status, you need to understand your industry, build your network and get experience while you are still in school, if you want to be successful.

Understand your industry

What is Aerospace Engineering?  What do people with degrees in areospace engineering do? Where do they work and for what kinds of organiations do they work?  The better you understand your industry, the more effectively you will be able to pursue internships, research opportunities, scholarships and jobs while you are in school and after graduation.  It’s not just about getting a degree and sending out resumes when you graduate. It’s about having the education, skills, experience and industry knowledge you need to make an immediate impact.

Regarding the issue of security clearance:  Explore your options further before coming to any conclusions.  There are many jobs in aerospace engineering that do not require security clearance (or at least high level security clearance).  If you are not able to get security clearance, some jobs may be out of your reach.  That does not mean that all jobs are out of your reach. This is just one more example of why it is really important that you understand your industry!

Build your network

You said that you wish you had a mentor to guide you.  You’re right, mentors can be great- so find one!  A faculty member in your department could be a good mentor; so could an aerospace engineering alumni from your school.  Did you know that Iowa State has a student branch of The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)?  AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession, and  has online resources specifically for university students studying aerospace engineering.  In addition to the student branch at ISU, there are student branches of AIAA all over the world.  Connect with the professional community and you will meet people that could become mentors.

Get experience

While ISU does not require you to complete an internship or co-op experience while you are in school, I strongly recommend that you complete at least one (and more than one if possible!).  ISU’s College of Engineering has a strong Career Services office.  Connect with your Career Services office sooner rather than later.  They can help you get the experience you need.

Everyone faces some hurdles and obstacles when they try to get started in a new career path.  Some hurdles are larger than others, and some obstacles will seem impossible to overcome when you are not prepared and you don’t understand all of your options.

If you work with your international student offfice, faculty and staff advisors, your campus career center and the student branch of AIAA at Iowa State, you will put yourself in a position to be successful.

Completing your degree requirements and making good grades is only the beginning, so don’t stop there!

Good luck,




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