The engineering industry encompasses a broad spectrum of specializations, such as aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering and mechanical engineering. Read on to see job prospects, degree programs and skills needed.
Engineering is a field that includes the study of math, biology, chemistry, mechanics, computer science, and even physics. Overall, this field focuses on solving problems by turning a theoretical idea into a practical plan, product, or process. There are a variety of different types of engineering degrees available at both the undergraduate and graduate level, including associate in engineering, bachelor's in engineering, master's in engineering, and Ph.D. in engineering degrees.
Students can earn an engineering degree in a range of different subfields, such as in:
- Civil engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Environmental engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Biosystems engineering
- Petroleum engineering
- Software engineering
Each subfield has its own unique focus and coursework requirements. For example, civil engineering centers on the design and development of built environments, including roads, water systems, and tunnels, while chemical engineering centers more on the process of producing energy and materials from chemical reactions.
As such, a degree in engineering allows students to pursue a specialized career in several different fields and industries, such as in construction, software development, food safety, government, and logistics. In each career field, engineers work to come up with solutions to the issues within their field. A software engineer tests and creates new software systems based on need, and an environmental engineer will solve issues dealing with pollution or wastewater.
Associate Degree in Engineering
An associate degree in engineering typically requires students to complete 60 credits of coursework, including some general education courses in the humanities, social sciences, composition, English, and math. Additionally, in a 2-year engineering degree program, students usually study the basics of engineering, including engineering graphics, materials science, and computer aided drafting (CAD) methods and programs.
Many associate-level programs are also designed as a pathway to a full bachelor's degree in engineering, and after completing their associate degree, students can choose to further their education through a bachelor's degree completion program. With an associate degree in engineering, students can pursue an entry-level position the field as an engineering technician, who mainly assist engineers, in the civil, industrial, or mechanical engineering fields.
Bachelor's Degree in Engineering
Bachelor's degrees in engineering usually take about 4 years to earn and require 120 credits. Students complete general education coursework, including taking composition, math, history, economics, and social science classes. Students then take courses within the engineering major. The exact engineering coursework a student is required to complete depends on the field of engineering they are studying, as bachelor's degrees in engineering come in many subfields, including computer, electrical, environmental, industrial, and material science engineering--just to name a few.
So, for example, an environmental engineering bachelor's program may include coursework on air pollution, hazardous waste control, thermodynamics, and hydraulics. A civil engineering program could include courses on structural modeling, transportation engineering, and geographic information systems. Some engineering bachelor's programs also require a final capstone project, which usually consists of a design experience where students define, analyze, and research an engineering problem.
With a bachelor's degree in engineering, a student can pursue a career as a full engineer in their subfield.
Master's Degree in Engineering
Master's degrees in engineering require around 30 total credits with coursework focusing solely on engineering topics and take around 2 years. Master's programs can center on numerous subfields of engineering, including engineering management, aerospace engineering, systems engineering, and many more subfields.
There are generally 2 types of master's degrees in engineering: Master of Science (MS) degrees and Master of Engineering (MEng) degrees. MS degrees are more research focused, and along with coursework, students must usually complete a final project or thesis, which is a long-form research project. However, some MS programs will make a final project optional. MS in Engineering degrees also prepare students for future academic study in a PhD program.
MEng degrees, on the other hand, are more practice-based, usually only requiring coursework and a final exam; although, a final design project may be optional in some programs.
A master's degree in engineering allows a student to pursue a higher-level engineering career that includes management responsibilities and can increase their salary.
PhD in Engineering
PhD in Engineering programs are intensive programs that can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to complete. These doctoral programs usually have several pathways for admissions: one for those with an engineering master's degree and another for those with only a bachelor's degree in engineering. PhD in Engineering degree programs require that student's complete coursework (those with a bachelor's usually needing to complete more) and qualifying exams. Further, PhD programs require a dissertation, which is a scholarly research project that they must defend and a final exam.
Like other engineering programs, there are several types of PhD programs, including ones that focus on engineering management, mechanical engineering, and systems engineering. Like master's degrees, a PhD can prepare students for higher-level engineer management positions, and it can also prepare them for a career in academia as an engineering professor or in a research-focused position.
Online Engineering Degrees
On the undergraduate level, there are a limited number of online associate programs in engineering. While more prevalent, there are still limited engineering bachelor's programs that are fully online. Generally, associate and bachelor's programs feature a mix of online and on-campus classes. Along with some online classes, students may have to complete on-campus intensives courses or attend weekly classes. Additionally, there are also fully online bachelor's degree completion programs available for associate holders.
Online engineering degrees at the graduate level are also available. Online master's degree programs in engineering can generally be completed fully online with no on-campus requirements. PhD programs allow students to complete classes online and complete their research where they live, but it may be required that students come to campus for part of the dissertation process.
Online engineering programs come with pros and cons. For example, when choosing an online engineering degree program, make sure that the format works for your schedule. Some programs require you attend online live lectures. Other programs may be asynchronous, meaning you can view class lectures and complete assignments on your own time.
One of the best advantages of an online program is that they come in a range of engineering subfields. If your chosen specialty is not available as an on-campus program in your area, you can still pursue the engineering subfield of your choice through an online program. However, it is important to know that out-of-state online students may be charged more in tuition and fees compared to their in-state peers.
Types of Engineering Degrees
There are various types of engineering degrees that have a unique area of study and focus on different industries. Below, you can learn about the specific topics covered in several types of engineering degree programs.
Aerospace Engineering Degree
Aerospace engineering primarily focuses on the design and development of space vehicles and aircraft as well as other space-related objects, such as rockets and missiles. In an aerospace engineering program, students explore such topics as aerodynamics, aircraft dynamics, and aerospace structures. Aerospace engineers can work for NASA, space-focused agencies, and even in the automotive industry.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aerospace engineers earned a median salary of $116,500 in 2019, and the number of jobs is expected to increase 2% from 2018-2028.
Civil Engineering Degree
Civil engineering concerns the design and planning of built environments, such as roads, tunnels, bridges, and even wastewater systems. Civil engineers work for the government, in construction, and in research. In this type of engineering degree program, students normally learn about structural analysis, hydrology, mechanics of fluids and solids, and transportation systems.
As per the BLS, civil engineers earned a median salary of $87,060 in 2019, and the numbers of jobs is anticipated to increased 6% from 2018-2028.
Electrical Engineering Degree
Electric engineering is a broad range of study that can include several other disciplines of engineering, such as computer engineering, power engineering, and microelectronics engineering. Basically, electric engineering is all about power, circuits, signal processing, and electrical systems. These types of degree programs may include the study of power electronics, phototonics, control systems, and communication systems.
The BLS reports that, in 2019, electrical and electronics engineers earned a median salary of $101,250 and have a projected job growth of 2% from 2018-2028.
Environmental Engineering Degree
Environmental engineering degree programs prepare students to design and create strategies that are used to protect the environment. Environmental engineers work to solve issues such as air pollution, water pollution, and other issues that negatively impact the environment. Students study various disciplines in this subfield, including chemistry, biology, earth science, and math.
In 2019, the median salary of environmental engineers was $88,860, per the BLS, and the number of jobs is expected to increase 5% from 2018-2028.
Mechanical Engineering Degree
Mechanical engineering is another wide-ranging subfield that mainly focuses on the design and creation of machines of all kinds. Mechanical engineers are trained to understand thermodynamics, the dynamic motion of machines, and the basic principles of mechanics to create and build machines for different uses. Mechanical engineers work in a wide range of fields, including in the automotive industry, aerospace, manufacturing, and product design.
According to the BLS, mechanical engineers made a median salary of $88,430 in 2019 and are anticipating a job growth of 4% from 2018-2028.
Petroleum Engineering Degree
Degrees in petroleum engineering have a course of study that centers on the extraction, production, and refinement of fuel for machines and vehicles from the Earth's surface. In this type of program, students study such areas as drilling engineering, natural gas, geosystems engineering, and reservoir engineering.
The BLS states that petroleum engineers earned a median salary of $137,720 and will see a job increase of 3% from 2018-2028.
Software Engineering Degree
Somewhat like computer science, the subfield of software engineering centers on the design and development of computer software as well as the creation of algorithms and other computer programs. In a degree program of this type, students learn about such areas as computer programming languages, computer networks, operating systems, and data engineering.
In 2019, as per the BLS, software developers, who need a degree in software engineering or a similar field, made a median salary of $105,590, and the job outlook increase is 21% from 2018-2028.
What Can You Do with an Engineering Degree?
The engineering career path you follow mainly depends on the level of school you complete and what the focus of your engineering degree is. For example, with an associate degree in civil engineering, you can become a civil engineering technician, but with a bachelor's degree, you can become a full civil engineer. Below, you can learn about the degree requirements, median salary and job growth outlook of several engineering careers.
|Job Title||Degree Requirement||Median Annual Salary (2019)||Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)|
|Civil Engineering Technician||Associate||$53,410||5%|
|Computer and Information Research Scientist||Master's||$122,840||16%|
|Postsecondary Teacher (Engineering Professor)||Master's or PhD||$101,010||11%|
Salary information provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019
To help you afford your engineering degree, you can take advantage of several engineering scholarship opportunities, which are available for both undergraduate and graduate students. Below, you can explore examples of scholarships for engineering students.
Donald and Barbara Mozley Scholarship
SAE International, which is an association of aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle engineers and experts, offers this scholarship, which is for college students from the freshman through senior level who are attending an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)-accredited program. Usually, there are about 7 scholarships of $5,000 available each year. Applicants must have a 3.5 or higher GPA, must meet SAT/ACT score requirements, must have financial need, and must submit a letter of recommendation.
George B. Hightower, P.E. Fellowship
This is a $3,000 award from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). It is for an undergraduate or graduate student who is a NSPE member and is attending an accredited engineering program. Applicants are evaluated based on their GPA, internship or co-op experiences, faculty recommendations, and any other awards or honors achieved. Applicants must also write a 500-word essay.
David and Catherine Thompson Space Technology Scholarship
This is a $5,000 scholarship awarded by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for an undergraduate student pursuing a degree related to the aeronautics industry, such as aeronautic engineering. Applicants must be an AIAA member and have a 3.3 GPA with at least 1 semester of college completed.
ABET Accreditation for Engineering Degree Programs
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is an organization that offers peer-reviewed accreditation to on-campus and online engineering and technology degree programs. ABET is made up of 4 commissions, which accredit specific programs within their designated fields. These commissions include the:
- Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission (ANSAC)
- Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC)
- Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC)
- Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC)
To achieve accreditation, a program must go through a process that includes a site visit and self-study. ABET accredited engineering programs must meet standards that center on student outcomes, curriculum, program improvements, and faculty resources. ABET accreditation assures students that they are receiving a high-quality education and that their program fully prepares them for an engineering career.
Additionally, many engineering-related certifications and licensures require that applicants have graduated from an ABET-accredited engineering school. For example, state licensure usually requires a degree from an ABET-accredited program, as does the optional Professional Engineering (PE) license, which is for engineers who want to enter a leadership role. Additionally, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) requires that computing applicants who want to file and work on patents have graduated from an ABET-accredited program as well.