A simple definition of engineering is that it is the science of design and manufacturing. But as you may have guessed, the field of engineering is anything but simple. There are over 20 fields of engineering to choose from, each requiring a specific skill set based on an understanding of particular areas in mathematics and the sciences. Those who enjoy building and designing things for human use should definitely consider an engineering career. It is advisable to conduct initial research to figure out if you are prepared to do what it takes for entrance into an engineering program, as well as identify the best engineering path for yourself.
The journey to becoming an engineer is not an easy one. Engineering programs are hard, and people tend to drop out if they are not totally committed. If you are one of the students capable of the type of mathematical and scientific thinking, and dedicated study, required of engineers, there is great reward to be gained through the profession. The demand for engineers is high and the low supply of people with engineering skills drives up the price of engineering labor.
Not every type of engineering degree may be pursued online, unfortunately. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all United States engineers selling their skills to the public must be licensed. In order to be licensed, you must first earn an undergraduate degree accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. The majority of ABET-accredited programs are offered mainly on-site. There are some ABET-accredited online programs, however. A list of those online programs may be found at the ABET website. Before choosing a specific field in engineering, you should make sure that you can either pursue that degree online, or that you are able to attend a program in your chosen field on-site.
How do I prepare to major in engineering?
Taking a variety of science, mathematics, and engineering-related course work and participating in programs and projects that expose you to engineering concepts will prepare you to enter an engineering program.
How many types of engineers are there?
There are more than twenty-five majors in engineering.
What is the highest paying engineering job?
The demand in particular areas of engineering is cyclical. The type of demand during one decade can change the next. Most engineers work in more than one field throughout their career. Do research into current engineering fields to understand which field is currently paying the highest salary, but don’t base your choice solely on pay. Pay fluctuates, but engineers will always be in demand, so choose a path that interests you greatly.
How long does it take to become an engineer?
The typical college student studies for four years before entering into the engineering profession.
What kind of engineering path is best?
Engineers do many things and move around a lot. You should choose your area of interest and preferred working conditions, since engineers are always in demand, and you want to love what you do, right?
There are over twenty-five recognized major areas in engineering, and many degree options, as well. The general rule for moving into a job is to complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. A master’s degree is required for those wishing to do advanced development work, and a doctoral degree would be necessary for those who wish to participate in research. Below are the general categories of degrees available to engineers:
- Associate Of Applied Science (AAS): This degree in mechanical, electrical or industrial engineering can get you hired as an industrial engineering technician.
- Bachelor of Science (BS): This is the most common of the engineering degrees. The majority of engineers in most fields hold a bachelor’s degree.
- Master of Science (MS): This type of degree usually emphasizes research and requires a thesis for completion, making it the optimum degree for graduates who wish to pursue a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) in engineering.
- Master of Engineering (MEng): This program is aimed toward equipping students with technical preparation for fieldwork practice. In the field of engineering, masters’ degrees accelerate career advancement approximately 15 percent above the average. It is wise to pursue the master’s degree if you did not earn your bachelors degree in an engineering field, but you want to move into an engineering career.
- Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD): With this degree you might find opportunities to work in academia or in industry. This is especially true for researchers that study profitable, commercial products. It is also said that a PhD in engineering will give you a chance to do things that engineers without a PhD have to fight harder to do, as certain career tracks right out of college may create a limited perception of the scope of your abilities.
Online Degrees & Accreditation
To become an engineer typically requires a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline. Engineers who wish to become licensed to work with the public must complete a program that is accredited by ABET and meet the state requirements for licensure.
In short, your best bet in becoming any type of engineer in the United States is to attend a program which is accredited by ABET. The bad news for online students is that there are far fewer accredited degree offerings online than there are on-site.
The list of online accredited engineering programs is updated every October.
Visit this link to view the ABET list of accredited online engineering programs.
ABET accredits all levels of engineering degree. It is always best to pursue your degree from an institution accredited by ABET.
Course of Study
Engineering programs typically include a combination of math and science courses, along with coursework specific to your field of study.
Prerequisites may include calculus, chemistry, biology, and advanced computer skills. Students are advised to look at the particular program they wish to pursue to see the prerequisites specific to their career goals.
Careers with a BS, MEng or MS Degree in Engineering
Designs, develops, and tests aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles.
Designs, plans, develops, tests, and even supervises the manufacturing of computer hardware.
Figures out methods and systems to produce a product in an efficient, and cost-effective way.
Applies engineering principles to the construction, planning, and design of buildings and other structures.
Designs next generation computer systems, computer networks, biomedical information systems, gaming systems, search engines, web browsers, and computerized package distribution systems; might also focus on improving software reliability, network security, and/or information retrieval systems.
Produces primary materials through design and development.
May design medical instruments and devices; develop new medical procedures, or research solutions to new medical problems.
Applies the physics and mathematics of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism to contribute to the development of an endless list of possible products.
Uses the principles of energy, materials, and mechanics to design and manufacture machines and devices of all types.
May improve food-processing techniques, improve methods of producing fertilizers, construct synthetic fibers, develop methods to mass-produced drugs, create safer, more efficient methods of refining petroleum products, or develop solutions to environmental problems.
May conduct hazardous-waste management studies, develop regulations to prevent hazardous-waste accidents, design municipal water supply systems and industrial wastewater treatment systems. An environmental engineer may also conduct research on proposed environmental projects, analyze scientific data, perform quality control checks, provide legal and financial advice, and study and attempt to minimize the effects of acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion, as well as get involved in the protection of wildlife.
Researches and develops the processes, instruments, and systems for deriving the benefits from nuclear energy and radiation in manufacturing, agriculture, medicine, power generation, and many other areas.
Conceives, plans, designs, constructs, and operates facilities essential to modern life, ranging from transit systems to offshore structures to space satellites.
Determines the most effective ways to use people, machines, materials, information, and energy for efficient productivity.
Applies the principles and techniques of computer science, engineering, and mathematical analysis to design, develop, test, and evaluate software and systems that enable computers to perform.
Careers Requiring a PhD in Engineering
Works on designing and refining the processes of manufacturing that might involve chemical or biological elements.
Develops technology to produce clean burning gasoline and diesel, working with a team to develop new catalysts, modeling tools, or process technologies.
Licensing, Certifications, and Exams
In the United States, licensure for engineers is regulated by each state. If you want to become what is known as a Professional Engineer (PE), check the requirements in the state or territory where you plan to practice. Not all engineers must become licensed, but getting licensed opens up many more career growth opportunities. For example, as a PE, you would be able to bid for government contracts, perform consulting services, and offer your services to the public. Essentially, instead of working under another PE, you could work for yourself running your own business.
Each state licensing board has its own laws, but they each follow a common four-step process for licensure:
- Earn a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program.
- Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.
- Gain acceptable work experience, typically a minimum of four years.
- Pass the PE exam in the appropriate discipline.
While getting licensed isn’t necessary to become an engineer, it is highly recommended for those wanting to move through the highest levels of engineering in their chosen fields.
Additional Resources for Certification information
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) develops, administers, and scores the examinations used for engineering and surveying licensure in the United States.
To find out if you may work in foreign countries, visit Accreditation.org. Find a list of mutual recognition agreements, where two or more accrediting bodies agree to provide equivalent recognition to the engineering programs each accredits.
TryEngineering.Org provides a list of degree fields and describes different engineering career paths.
Future Outlook for Primary Career
Everyday, without really thinking about it, almost everything we do is the result of the work of an engineer. We need engineers to do their work so we can buy food to eat, have cars to drive, and sleep in a warm and cozy bed. There are so many fields of engineering, that it’s impossible to discuss all of them in one place. The following are three of the currently growing fields for engineers:
Civil engineers are involved in all phases of construction projects and systems. These engineers are needed to both update the nation’s aging infrastructure and to guide new development projects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the career of civil engineer will grow 19 percent by 2020.
Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution. They are in demand for their contributions to infrastructure updates, the issues of climate change and the purposes of energy exploration.
Software engineers develop the applications that permit people to do particular tasks on a computer or other device, as well as the fundamental systems that run the devices or control the networks.
Engineering salaries are generally higher compared to occupations that require a similar level of education. At the low end, environmental engineering technicians holding an associate’s degree can expect to earn a median salary of $50,000. Petroleum engineers can expect to make well over $100,000 a year with a bachelor’s degree. Overall, the profession promises great pay for those who attain the appropriate degree.
Engineers apply the principles of science and math to solve problems. The study of engineering involves completing a program that includes mathematics, the sciences, and highly technical courses. From this knowledge base, you will gain many important and marketable skills, including:
- Drafting software
- Designing for manufacturability
- Measurement conversions
- Technical mathematics
- Product design
- Data handling
- Computer literacy
- Problem solving
Internships are intrinsic to gaining the appropriate work experience in any field. What’s great about most engineering internships is that you will get to work on actual projects under highly intelligent and successful engineers. The following are some of the options available for engineering interns:
- Researching in the nanosciences
- Supporting engineers in product development
- Learning how government officials use engineers to make decisions in Washington DC
- Integrating yourself into the work environment of research and manufacturing
- Working on municipal water and wastewater treatment projects
- Gaining practical experience in the fields of chemistry, manufacturing, and controls as they relate to the drug development process
- Performing testing, evaluation, and demonstration of projects involving the environmental degradation of materials
- National Society of Professional Engineers
- American Society for Engineering Education
- Society of Women Engineers
- The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
- American Society of Civil Engineers
Suggested Online Degree Programs
The programs listed below are all named top online graduate engineering programs and are all sufficiently accredited. As stated above, there are few accredited online programs in engineering, but the list will continue to grow over time.
- UCLA Master of Science in Engineering Online Program received extremely high marks in U.S. News criteria for student engagement, faculty credentials and training, and admissions selectivity. The school received a perfect score of 100 in student services and technology.
- Columbia University’s School of Engineering & Applied Science offers an education with a faculty whose research activities are focused on increasing the knowledge base of engineering and creating technological solutions that serve society.
- North Carolina State University College of Engineering Online established its first distance engineering programs in 1978 to engage students around the world.
Below are some websites that can help you think more logically about your decision to become an engineer, establish your path towards your chosen engineering field, and learn what you will have to do to in order to get where you want to go.
- Forbes Magazine: article on top paying careers. It covers some fields of engineering.
- Money Magazine: article on the best jobs in the United States. Covers fields in engineering.
- Try Engineering: website dedicated to all things engineering, from assessments to advice to career descriptions to blogs by actual engineers.
- Live Science: website dedicated to science and technology. Explores many careers in engineering.
- ABET (formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology): accredits engineering educational programs and endorses quality and innovation in instruction.