Going back to school

Ever since I left Washington University in 2005, I've been searching for other graduate school programs that fit my interests and time/financial limitations. For a while, I was serious about moving to France to do the 1-year ISU masters, but it would have cost too much, so I did the ISU summer program instead. There are, of course, many options out there if you're willing to move to the school and become a full time student (e.g., MIT's TPP). I, however, need to work full time to support my family and pay the bills. Unfortunately, the programs offered by the only local university (University of Hawaii) don't quite fit my interests, so I resorted to looking at those offered online.

By spring 2007 I had decided to enroll in a program starting with the fall 2007 semester. My main goal is to gain a degree in a space-related discipline to propel my career more towards space exploration pursuits. The constraints are that I have to study part-time as a distance student and have little to no money to pay for the educational expenses. I might be willing to entertain the idea of moving to a university for PhD work in a few years, but for now, these are the limitations.

These are the options I considered:
  1. Via Stanford University's Center for Professional Developmment, I'd work towards an Aeronautics and Atronautics MS degree. Depending on how that goes, I'd probably move to San Francisco in a few years to continue work on a PhD in the Space Systems Development Laboratory within the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department. [45 credits required, no transfer credit allowed, no non-loan financial aid, total cost $55,800]

  2. Via the University of Southern California's Distance Education Network, I'd work towards either an Astronautical Engineering or Aerospace Engineering MS degree. Depending on how that goes, I'd probably move to Los Angeles in a few years to continue work on a PhD in either the Astronautics & Space Technology Division or Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering Department. [27 credits required, no non-loan financial aid, total cost $32,859]

  3. Via the University of Colorado at Boulder's Center for Advanced Engineering and Technology Education, I'd work towards an Aerospace Engineering MS degree. Depending on how that goes, I'd probably move to Boulder in a few years to continue work on a PhD in the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research within the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department. [30 credits required, no non-loan financial aid, total cost $19,650]

  4. Via Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Worldwide Online campus, I'd pursue a Master of Aeronautical Science with a specialization in Space Studies or Aeronautics. Embry-Riddle teaches some classes on Air Force bases here on Oahu, so there is a chance I could even take some courses in person. There is no PhD option. [36-39 credits required depending on the area of specialization, supposedly $2,208 per year with no non-loan financial aid]

  5. Via the University of North Dakota's Space Studies Department in the School of Aerospace Sciences, I'd earn a Space Studies MS degree. The department expects to start offering a distance PhD program sometime in the next few years, so I might choose to continue in that program when/if it is offered. In that case, there would be a minimal residency requirement of perhaps one week per semester. [33 credits required, tuition waiver financial aid available, total cost $21,879 with no aid]

  6. other distance aerospace programs not seriously considered: University of Washington, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, North Carolina State University, and Auburn University.

After weighing the pros and cons of each of the five programs, I decided to pursue the Space Studies masters degree at the University of North Dakota. This program gives the student an overview of many areas related to space including science, engineering, business, and policy/law. I've always gravitated towards interdisciplinary programs, so this one fits my interests the best. Furthermore, the UND program was the only one that offered me money, so that sealed the deal. Hopefully, I won't have to pay much to get the masters degree.


Student said…
Just in case anyone is interested, most students pursuing a PhD in the physical sciences (e.g. physics, astronomy, geology, geophysics, chemistry) receive fellowships or assistantships (e.g. you're a TA for undergrad classes) to pay for most or all of the tuition, plus living expenses. This is generally not the case for advanced engineering degrees, but some employers (particularly the big aerospace companies) have programs to pay for their employees to pursue graduate degrees.

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