A degree in engineering is the first step toward a future career of discovery, design and invention. You can approach the field of engineering from various academic angles. Associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees are all options for those with a desire to learn about engineering. The actual type of engineering, however, will strongly dictate the level of education you have to acquire and duration of study in order to begin working.
Generally upon graduation, engineering is one of the best areas of study to gain employment that also has some of the highest salaries in the U.S. In fact, according to a recent Forbes article, 6 out of the top 10 best-paying careers were within or related to an engineering field. You can view our writeup of the top 6 highest paying engineering jobs for more detail on some of the fields with the best annual wages.
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Types of Engineering Careers
Investigating potential careers are one way to determine what you would like to study in college. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular career paths in engineering.
Civil Engineer Career
Civil engineers work for the government, shaping the towns and cities we live in and designing innovative systems to keep them running efficiently. A bachelor’s degree is required for an entry-level position.
A civil engineer usually works in an office setting, though they may also spend time at construction sites overseeing projects. They’re enlisted with the task of designing, constructing, supervising, operating and maintaining various projects throughout cities. This can include everything from the construction of roads, bridges and airports to tunnels, dams and systems for water supply and sewage treatment. Typically civil engineers have a degree – either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree, and often go on to get their Master’s.
The job outlook for civil engineers in the United States is booming, with a projected growth rate that nearly doubles the national average (20 percent versus 11 percent) from 2012 to 2022.
Most civil engineers work full time jobs in an office setting.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual salary for a civil engineer to be $79,340 as of May 2012.
Industrial Engineer Career
Time and energy conscious people who have a strong interest in science, math and design may find their best suited for a career as an industrial engineer.
A Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering or related field is required for entry-level positions.
An industrial engineer works to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. Their job is to reduce levels of materials, improve process flows and engineering specifications in order to maximize productivity.
They develop management control systems for financial planning and cost analysis, work with customers and managers to develop service and service and production standards and coordinate the overall production system of an industry.
Industrial engineers work full-time, and can work both in an office as well as in the industries they’re trying to improve. For example, an industrial engineer who has been hired to improve the productivity and energy efficiency of a company may visit the factory to observe and take notes in order to assist with their research and help them design a plan.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary for an industrial engineer to be $78,860 as of May 2012. However, it may be relevant to know that the projected job growth is substantially lower than the national average (5 percent projected growth versus the median 11 percent).
Automotive Engineer Career
Any lover of cars and robotics won’t be able to get enough of a career as an automotive engineer. In addition to developing the latest and greatest technology in the automotive field, these engineers also work on improving and inventing the next generation of mechanical, electrical, electronic software and safety engineering systems. A Bachelor of Science in Automotive Engineering or a similar field will prepare you for entry-level positions working for leading manufacturers of today’s vehicles and motorcycles. A Bachelor’s of Science in Automotive Engineering and Technology would be the best qualification for entry-level applicants.
Automotive engineers have to study a lot, because without staying on top of the latest technology, they won’t be able to apply it to their own designs or improve upon it. When on the job, they’ll draw up plans for prospective automotive design concepts, calibrate vehicle systems, test methodologies and modify current tests to ensure optimal functionality.
An automotive engineer typically works traditional full-time hours.
Automotive engineering, a division of mechanical engineering, was not individually reported on by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however they reported the median annual income for a mechanical engineer to be $80,580.
Mechanical Engineer Career
Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest fields in engineering. Although it has many sub-divisions, a mechanical engineer is responsible for designing, testing and monitoring a variety of mechanical and thermal devices. A Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering or one of its many branches will prepare you for an entry-level position.
Researching and developing new means to create effective tools, engines and thermal devices to improve the current mechanical and technological systems of our world are part of a mechanical engineer’s responsibilities. They must architect plans and prototypes, construct and test their concepts and oversee the manufacturing process for the prototypes they create that prove functional.
While most mechanical engineers work full-time jobs during traditional office hours, their career does require additional time spent drafting blueprints and prototypes and conducting any additional research they may need for their projects.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average annual income for a mechanical engineer to be $84,860 as of May 2012. The projected job outlook is lower than the national average, only 5 percent versus 11 percent, though this doesn’t mean there won’t be job openings or entry-level positions available for holders of an undergraduate degree in engineering.
Top 3 Global Engineering Companies
One of the most enticing aspects of a career in engineering is that it is a career in demand all over the world. You can find work not just in the United States, but also abroad if you’re interested. The following are featured on Universum’s list of the “World’s Most Attractive Employers 2012” for engineering and IT students.
Google is an international company that has become a household name over the past decade. The company has an entire section on their careers site dedicated to those interested in working in engineering and design. Google has an audience that services millions worldwide, and the company isn’t showing any signs of slowing down or going out of style; their second quarter income results for 2015 showed a staggering $17.7 billion and revenue growth of 11 percent.
Microsoft has been a leading innovator of engineering and technological design for decades, and becoming a part of the team now would mean joining a global corporation with offices in the United Kingdom, Asia, Australia and more. Third quarter income reports for 2015 showed $4.98 million in net income and $27.8 billion in revenue. They also offer their own certification program, which could leave you with the ability to call yourself a Microsoft Certified System Engineer on job resumes.
Apple, makers of the iPhone, Mac and the most popular tech gadgets of today, are a rapidly expanding company with global offices in the US, London, Ireland and beyond. Their 2015 first quarter report alone showed $18 billion, so if you’re looking for one of the world’s technology engineering leaders, add them to the list. Their careers page provides everything you’ll need to know about becoming a part of the Apple corporate team, and they even have student programs for students looking to gain experience and prepare for their futures.
Types of Engineering Degrees
You’ll most frequently come across civil engineering and industrial engineering mentioned when discussing potential engineering majors, but computer science, environmental engineering and medical engineering are also options you can pursue. The specific area of engineering you choose dictates your entire course of study, so researching the fields, their prospective career options and subject material in order to determine which one you’re most interested in is crucial.
Once you know exactly what aspect of engineering you wish to study and the ideal career you’d like to have, you’ll be able to investigate the levels of degrees offered at institutions and make a decision that will help you advance toward your goal. Our full list of types of engineering degrees is a great starting point in figuring how which area you want to study.
Associate of Science in Engineering
The acquisition of an Associate of Science degree generally takes two years to complete, though it’s important to note that when it comes to engineering, an Associate of Science degree is usually the foundation for students that intend to pursue a Bachelor of Science in some field of engineering. The reason behind this is that engineering is such an in-depth field that it requires highly qualified professionals, ones who are both academically cultured and occupationally trained.
Nevertheless, an associate’s degree in engineering can be earned from a variety of institutions, though the careers that students generally envision themselves in post-graduation require a bachelor’s for entry-level positions.
The jobs that those with an Associate of Science in Engineering usually take are:
- Civil Engineering Technician
- Mechanical Engineering Technician
- Industrial Engineering Technician
Bachelor of Science in Engineering
A bachelor’s program in engineering usually takes four years to complete and provides students with the education they’ll need to enter an entry-level job, where they can either continue to work or pursue a master’s degree. With science degrees like engineering, students who intend to reach the highest level of education on the form of a master’s or PhD isn’t uncommon.
What’s most appealing to students of engineering is that the degree itself is so broad that people are given the opportunity to study across a wide field of some of the world’s fastest developing fields in a way that focuses on innovation and problem-solving to help shape a brighter, faster future.
Some of the fields an undergraduate engineering student can choose from are:
- Civil Engineering
- Industrial Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Computer Science
If you’re interested in attending some of the top nationally ranked programs in the United States, you can check out Stanford University of California’s School of Engineering and the coveted Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Throughout an engineering bachelor’s program, you’ll be introduced to the core subjects of your chosen field in addition to plenty of mathematics and science courses such as differential and integrated calculus, physics and programming. The specific requirements will vary depending on your major and the particular institution’s curriculum.
Master of Science in Engineering
A Master of Science in Engineering can be acquired in two forms: an academic degree or a professional degree that underscores important skills and casts a strong emphasis on theory and research.
Nationally speaking, there are a number of institutions critically acclaimed for their graduate programs in engineering.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Stanford University and the University of California – Berkeley were awarded the top three slots on U.S. News & World Report’s list of top programs.
Different countries offer different methods of obtaining a master’s degree, so if you’ve always wanted to study abroad and receive not just a memorable experience but also be immersed in a new way of learning, your master’s degree may be the golden ticket.
Take the United States versus Australia and the United Kingdom. In America, a master’s degree in engineering is a professional degree that takes three years to complete after a student has earned their bachelor’s. In Australia, however, the master’s programs are composed of two to three years of study followed by an end-of-the-year thesis. The United Kingdom’s program structure consists of an additional four years of study to become chartered engineers. Depending on your long-term professional objectives, choosing to study in a country outside the U.S. could provide you with a unique opportunity to expand your educational background and introduce potential career opportunities overseas.
Top Engineering Career Resources & Organizations
- American Engineering Association (AEA)
- American Society for Engineering Education Member Resources (ASEE)
- American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)
- American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
- IEEE Career Information
- Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE)
- National Society of Professional Engineers Career Center (NSPE)
- Society of Women Engineers
Engineering Careers in the Military
Unlike some other MOS placements (military occupational specialties), if considering an engineering career in the military candidates must meet certain educational requirements before seeking consideration as a member in the United States Army Engineering Corps. There are a multitude of career paths available, in fact many people may be unaware that the Army Engineering Corps is the largest construction and engineering agency in the world.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists close to one dozen types of civilian engineering specialties, including nuclear and health and safety. Job responsibilities focus on project development. Personnel work independently or within a larger group setting, depending on the situation. In most cases, a four-year bachelor’s degree is the only educational requirement to procure employment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists almost a dozen types of civilian engineering specialties.
Information on the official United States Army website lists eight engineering groups, divided into Officer and Enlisted categories. Job responsibilities range from bridge construction to image extraction and reconnaissance (recon).
Officers work on project planning and train groups to implement their final vision. Enlisted members must meet specific score requirements on the armed services vocational battery: ASVAB exam for engineering corps. Officers must also have a four-year engineering degree and successfully complete Officer Candidate School (OCS).
Active duty personnel state that engineers are transient. Placement shifts depending on the Army’s needs at any given time. Civilian employees typically stay with one hiring entity that continuously embarks on various projects.
Certain Army engineering positions do not accept female candidates at the time of writing which is another occupational footnote that does not formally exist within the civilian world.
Military engineers receive compensation on a pay grade system that uses service time, rank and occupation to determine salary. According to an article for the Houston Chronicle, first-year Engineering Officers earn approximately $33,940.80 United States dollars (USD) per year while a Lieutenant General brings home $230,878.80 (USD) on an annual basis.
Army Engineering Corps Officer applicants must meet the following requirements:
- OCS entrants must be under 30 years of age, and prior service members cannot have more than six years of active duty.
- Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering from an accredited learning institution.
- Applicants must be eligible for a military appointment.
Understanding the subtle differences between civilian and military engineering positions is incredibly important when deciding on ultimate career goals. Interested parties should also remember that military placement is more about need than personal desires. Enlisted engineering positions do exist, but current service members found that a degree almost guaranteed placement within the Engineering Corps.
Engineering Drop Out Rates
With student debt mounting including stories of students graduating with six figures of college debt (sometimes without even graduating in the process) higher education is rapidly changing. In a lot of ways, college is the new high school. While in 1990, roughly one in eight US residents had a college degree, by 2015, that’s expected to be one in three and the numbers are expected to continue falling. A college degree by itself is no longer a ticket to a higher paying career and now more than ever students are turning their back on college education or dropping out without completing their studies.
Some Quick Statistics
- Nationwide, over all majors, the Institute of Educational Sciences states that 58% of all incoming freshmen complete college degrees in 6 years.
- Costs can exceed $100,000 if living on campus. (Typical cost breakdown available here: UFL Cost of Attendance)
- Outside of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics curricula, women are more likely to complete a degree than men are.
- In engineering programs however, the drop out rate for women is much higher.
- Most woman that drop out of engineering degrees enter into other degree programs rather than leave higher education.
- Females are also leaving Engineering as a career post study, due to perceived inequality in pay and promotions.
- Overall, engineering drop out rates are slightly higher than other degree programs, but the drop-out rate tends to be front loaded.
- It’s more difficult to acquire an engineering degree in four years, even for straight-A students.
Causes And Effects
Engineering program dropout rates depend strongly on how much of a mathematics background the student has. Inability to handle the course load in calculus, statistics or linear algebra is the leading academic cause listed. Because of this, more prestigious engineering programs, like MIT, CalTech and UC Berkeley, tend to have lower dropout rates.
The quality of students they attract tends to be higher, overall, than at other universities, and the students come in with stronger backgrounds in mathematics.
Academically Challenged Like Never Before
Psychological triggers are another cause of students dropping out. For many students in engineering programs, this is the first time they’ve ever been seriously academically challenged. For a straight-A student, failing an exam, or failing a class and having to take it a second time can be a crushing blow to their academic self-confidence, and cause them to re-think their major.
Related to both of these factors is the overall workload for an engineering degree. While the standard rule for a college degree program is that each hour of classwork will result in two hours of homework, the ratio for engineering degree programs is closer to four-to-one.
Lack of Social Life
For many students, an engineering degree means sacrificing social activity and bonding with peers. This shouldn’t be disparaged – the friends and social contacts one makes in a college degree program are important. This is especially true in the modern work environment where employers are moving towards collaborative teams rather than hiring employees.
Planning To Succeed In Engineering
The first thing a student interested in an engineering degree program should do is focus heavily on mathematics and preparing for the degree. Take as many math classes as you can; mathematics is the barrier to success for most first-year engineering students.
The second tip is to spend your first two semesters taking a lighter load of classes. It’s better to take your first two semesters of calculus with your general degree requirements classes balancing the load than with your classwork on general thermodynamics. It’s important to remember most students drop out within their first year due to excessive workload.
Be honest with your expectations. The average college student ends up taking an extra year to complete a four year degree, and it’s only by extending the window to six years that 60% graduation rates happen in most cases.
For an engineering degree, assume that you’re going to be in for the long haul and doing this on a five year or six year plan, and plan accordingly. This includes factoring in an extra 12 months of financial commitment. While engineering school dropout rates are higher than most, the challenges of an engineering degree can exceed those similar degree programs which for many is what makes an degree in engineering an attractive proposition to begin with.