What Does a Career in Engineering Entail?
To embark on a career in engineering, you will first need a degree. Since the term engineering is still rather broad, that degree can be anything from a high school diploma to a master's degree, or more. However, to gain the technical knowledge and skills needed for a proper career in engineering, you should complete at least an associate degree which will make many incredible opportunities available to you. Your options only get better with subsequent degrees and certifications.
When you then go on to complete a bachelor’s degree, you can advance even farther as an engineer. State licensure boards will recognize a degree accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and after you pass the standardized exams you can receive your license. Once licensed, you can take on projects as an independent contractor, or sign off on projects your firm has been contracted for.
Engineering Degrees & Career Paths
Components of A Successful Career in Engineering
In any successful career in Engineering, you will find certain common denominators. You will probably first notice at least a bachelor's degree that's been accredited by ABET, state licensure, and membership to professional associations. Successful engineers also have a long history characterized by constant learning and fine-tuning of their best practices.
The most successful engineers also approach their careers from a business perspective. They see the bottom line as the primary feature of any project. While they look to design systems and structures that stand out in their class, they also try to carry off those projects under budget. Successful engineers see themselves as team members, not individuals. They know how to work with the members of their team while also collaborating with other teams on any given project. After all, any major project requires the effort of many different teams.
How to Earn an Engineering Degree
Typical Engineering Degree Requirements
Each degree of your engineering education requires a certain number of courses and their attendant credit hours. To start, your Associates degree will typically require 60 semester-hours of work. From there, your bachelor's will require another 60 hours, adding up to 120 hours total. If you decide to continue and complete a master's degree, that program will require approximately 30 hours, but some programs may require more.
Typical Engineering Certifications
When you embark on an Engineering career, you will probably start off with a degree. However, that does not mean that your learning will stop. In fact, it probably never will cease as long as you remain in the profession. Depending on your personal interests, the demands of the market, and what direction your firm needs to move in, you could choose one or more of the following certifications:
- Coastal Engineering
- Construction Materials Testing (asphalt, concrete, or soils)
- Electrical Power Testing
- Highway Construction Inspection
Engineering is an intensely academic field. Your colleagues will likely be very intellectual, and all constantly strive to learn more about their field. In fact, some engineers become too preoccupied with academic learning and neglect the more practical, business-focused aspects of their careers. Thus, you should strive to maintain the highest academic standards for an Engineering Degree. Many programs will enforce high standards by requiring a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, or higher to remain in the program and off academic probation.
Exam and Experience Needed
To achieve an Engineering degree you will not necessarily need to pass a particular exam or have specific experience. However, you should make an effort to gain practical experience as part of your degree program. Some programs offer a co-op route to graduation where you will alternate terms in the classroom and working for an engineering firm. Most programs should offer a semester or two in an internship. When you graduate with a bachelor's degree and decide to improve your credentials with a state license, you will then need to pass a standardized test.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn an Engineering degree?
You can complete an Engineering bachelor's degree online in approximately four years, if not less. Also, if you are taking courses online, you may be able to integrate academic learning with real-world, experiential learning. Once you have completed an associate's degree, you might seek out employment with an engineering firm. You might be able to work on isolated projects and then take time after those projects to complete more courses. In this way, you will prolong the time it takes to graduate, but you will accrue invaluable experience along the way.
How much does a degree in engineering cost?
Depending on your school, an Engineering bachelor's degree can cost as little as $30,000 or as much as $300,000. The key difference in the price will depend on whether you attend a public, in-state school or a private school. Note that if you attend a public school in another state that you will probably pay twice (or more) of the base tuition. Private schools are liable to charge far more, particularly if they are highly prestigious and located in expensive urban centers such as Boston or New York City.
Does the school have the engineering major(s) you’re considering?
Before you enroll in a college, make sure that they have the major you are considering. For engineering, many universities have whole departments devoted to the subject. If that is the case, then make sure they have the specific branch of engineering that interests you. For example, you might check to see that they have civil engineering, electrical engineering, or environmental engineering. If you are starting out at a community college, they may not have a specific degree for budding engineers, but they may offer the right math and science courses you will need as prerequisites. Investigate how well your community college work will synch with your later work in a university before registering.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
These days fewer and fewer students graduate in four years. In fact, the government now sets the bar at a six-year term from starting a degree to graduation. Engineers in ABET-accredited programs, on the other hand, are more likely to graduate in 4-6 years. That's because those programs are more competitive, and studies have shown that students in highly-competitive programs have more success with graduating in six years (or less.)
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
In order to launch a successful engineering career, you will want an undergraduate program that is accredited by ABET. That credential indicates that your degree qualifies you to apply for state licensure. If you don't wish to sit for state licensure, strive to attend a program that at least has regional accreditation. When your work is accredited, it will be recognized by graduate schools and your credits will transfer if you decide to add a second undergraduate degree.
Software, Technology & Skills Needed
Engineering is a highly technical field and you will need to learn CAD for design as well as other graphics packages. When you enter school, however, you will need to have already demonstrated skill with math and science. It's recommended that you enter college having already passed calculus I, physics, and chemistry. If possible, try to work in an engineering or architectural firm where you can be exposed to CAD and discover the other vital tools of the trade.
Engineering Associate’s Degree
There are many community colleges that can prepare you for a brilliant career in engineering. Some of these two-year programs are designed to provide a bridge to a state university's school of engineering. As such, these programs often offer a prescribed, term-by-term, course of study to groom you for success. With that said, many students complete their associate's degree in engineering and then embark on lifelong careers in the field.
One chief advantage of starting out at a community college is that you can make up for any academic shortcomings you might have. In high school, you might not have realized that you wanted to pursue engineering so didn't take the higher math or science courses. A community college can help you get back up to speed for an engineering career.
- Electrical Fundamentals, I
- Co-Op Education: Engineering
- Calculus, I & II
Engineering Bachelor’s Degree
When you graduate with an undergraduate degree, you will be prepared to launch a brilliant career. You can start working on becoming state licensed and think about attending graduate school. Your license and graduate school aspirations will depend on how well your undergrad school was accredited. That is, it must be ABET-accredited to qualify you for licensure and likely for most graduate schools. However, if you wish to steer in a new direction, an MBA program likely won't need ABET credentials and can set you up for management positions with a focus on engineering projects and companies.
Another benefit of a bachelor's degree is that you can focus on the specific area that intrigues you. You could major in civil, aerospace, mechanical, or industrial engineering for instance. You will need a total of +-120 hours to complete your bachelor's degree. Along the way you might take courses that include, but are not limited to:
- Solid Mechanics Design
- Viscous Flow and Heat Transfer
- Fundamentals of Photovoltaics
- Concrete Materials
- Urban Hydrology
Engineering Graduate's Degree
These days, a graduate degree is more and more important. That imperative extends to Engineering. When you arrive at the decision to add a graduate degree to your growing list of credentials and achievements, you may need to decide whether to take a more academic or professional track. That is, there are graduate programs that focus on thesis work, teaching, and a life in academia or research. Other programs focus on professional life, including technological innovation, corporate environments, and management.
When you decide on graduate school, you'll probably wish to enhance the knowledge and skills you have developed in your chosen field, such as mechanical engineering. However, you could decide to apply your engineering skills to the world of business and add an MBA to your resume. Many financial wizards started off with engineering degrees. Nonetheless, if you dive into an MS in an engineering field, you can focus on one of the following areas:
- Aerospace Engineering
- Computer Science
- Electrical Engineering
- Energy Systems
- Railway Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
Engineering Fields of Study
Aerospace Engineering: With a degree in Aerospace Engineering, you can truly go where no one has gone before. Even if you spend your time working on airplanes and terrestrial-bound flying machines, you will be at the forefront of transportation technology. Some Aerospace Engineers are even starting to design prototypes for civilian aircraft that may someday replace automobiles. Courses include:
- Mechanics of Aerospace Structures
- Aerospace Dynamical Structures
- Aerospace Decision Algorithms
Bioengineering: We don't often think of ourselves as systems or subject to engineering, but Bioengineers certainly do. As you study this field, you will need an extensive knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics to create things like prosthetics, medical devices, and even pharmaceuticals, among other exciting projects. Courses include:
- Conservation Principles
- Modeling Human Physiology
- Circuits and Systems
Computer Engineering: We take computing for granted, but we are just starting to understand what is possible with this powerful technology. Where most computing programs tend to focus either on hardware or software, as a computer engineer, you will be steeped in both. You will have a full working knowledge of circuit boards as well as the software that inhabits them. Sample courses include:
- Computer Systems Engineering
- Computer Security
- Distributed Systems
Engineering Physics: Since physics tackles questions related to time, space, matter, and energy, this field of study might be the very backbone of Engineering. Graduates with this degree are found in diverse fields such as: nuclear medicine, astronomy, solar energy, coastal science, and laser science, among others. As you progress in this field, you might take courses such as:
- Electricity and Magnetism
- Thermal Physics
- Mechanics and Relativity
- Quantum Physics
Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering: We were brought into the nuclear age by engineers in the NPRE field. Nuclear and radiological engineers help in solving problems or advancing industries and civilizations; for instance, those in this field help design nuclear power plants, work on energy policy issues, and create nuclear propulsion plants for the U.S. Navy. A few courses you might take include:
- Modeling Nuclear Energy Systems
- Neutron Diffusion Transport
- Radiation Protection
- NPRE Design
|Degree||Associate’s Degree Range Cost||Bachelor’s Degree Range Cost||Master’s Degree Range Cost|
|Engineering||$4,500 – $6,500||$18,300 – $34,800||$12,700 – $27,400|
Earning Potential and Career Salaries for Engineering Major Graduates
When you embark on an engineering career, you will find a wide range of paths to choose from. Each will offer its own struggles and rewards for a professional. Note that you can practice in any of these areas with as little as an associate's degree, or as much as a masters. With an associate's degree, your salary and responsibilities are likely to be in the bottom tier for your profession. However, with each greater degree, your earnings grow considerably. For instance, with a bachelor's degree, you can achieve a state license and then start your own engineering firm or stay at your firm as the lead engineer on larger projects.
- Civil Engineer:
In this career, you can become involved in a wide range of projects; you could build bridges, dams, or stadiums. Civil engineers are involved in a wide range of projects that impact people's lives in ways they might not realize. For instance, some build huge tunnels that ensure that cities don't flood in the event of major rainstorms. When you do your job right, nobody will ever know.
- CAD Technician:
CAD Technicians are vital to the functioning of any engineering or architectural firm. They rely on instructions from engineers to realize their designs and plans for a project. A CAD Technician needs only an associate's degree, but they can have long and fruitful careers as they grow and develop. In fact, you could possibly start your own business and contract with smaller engineering firms who cannot afford full-time design assistance.
- Marine Engineer:
If it goes in the water, there's a good chance that a marine engineer has helped design it. Highly skilled marine engineers work to create large ships, yachts, and oil rigs. Not only are they experts at creating devilishly creative structures, but they have designed them to withstand the punishment of the ocean. This is like designing a building to withstand daily earthquakes for fifty years. Your knowledge of structures, materials, and mechanics will all play a role in this demanding field.
- Water Resources Engineer:
Water is fundamental to life. Thus, it's fundamental to how buildings, neighborhoods, and whole cities operate. Consider that Los Angeles would not be the city it is today had there not been a team of genius Water Resource Engineers ready to shift water down to the burgeoning metropolis. You could also work on water storage and purification or discovering innovative ways to source clean water.
- Railroad Engineer:
As populations grow, there is an increased need for trains of all sorts. We need trains to transport goods across the country, but cities also need rail systems to ease traffic woes. Your engineering skills will be put to great use creating intra-city and regional rail transportation that is speedy, safe, and runs on time.
- Electrical Engineer:
Electricity is everywhere. Therefore, Electrical Engineers are always in demand. You can work with high-voltage systems in the power grid, creating alternative solutions to our energy needs, or designing and maintaining cellphone systems.
- Construction Management:
Engineers work on individual systems within a wider whole. Construction Managers make sure all the engineers, tradesmen, architects, etc. can work together and pull off a project within the budget and on time. Some trained engineers work in construction management, as they are highly skilled at ensuring that complex systems work smoothly.
- Aerospace Engineer:
An airplane is a fine-tuned system that relies on aerospace experts to ensure that it flies properly and that it has all the subsystems necessary to keep pilots informed of internal and external conditions. There is talk these days of flying cars and so the demand for this specialty could be about to explode. What Henry Ford did for the internal combustion engine and inefficient automobiles, you can do for personal aircraft.
- Mechanical Engineer:
If it has a motor, it needs a Mechanical Engineer. With a vocational degree, you can work on engines and keep them running. With a bachelor's degree, you can start designing complex mechanical systems that provide the propulsion behind automobiles, airplanes, and trains, among many other things. Other Mechanical Engineers work with HVAC systems, healthcare equipment, or even mechanized toys.
Annual Median Salary by Occupation
|Occupation||Entry Level Salary Range||Mid Career Salary Range||Late Career Salary Range|
|Water Resources Engineer||$60,500||$71,400||$105,600|
Eugene C. Figg, Jr. Civil Engineering Scholarship
Deadline: February 10
This scholarship is exclusively for undergraduate juniors and senior studying civil engineering in an ABET-accredited institution. You must be a U.S. citizen, a student member of the ASCE in good standing, and have a passion for bridges. The award amount varies from year to year, depending on the endowment's current income. When you win, the endowment will add the award to your student account, to be credited to your tuition.
Admiral Grace Murray Hopper Scholarship
Deadline: May 1 (Freshman), February 15 (Sophomores-Graduate)
This $1,700 scholarship is awarded to three women per year. You must be in an ABET-accredited engineering program, a woman, and have significant academic accomplishments to show. Further, this particular scholarship tends to favor those studying computer engineering or a related field.
American Transmission Co. Scholarship
Deadline: June 30
This scholarship is awarded to second-year through senior undergraduate women who are studying engineering. You must be an outstanding scholar with a cumulative GPA between 3.0 and 4.0 and have a home and school address in one of the following midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin.
UPS Scholarship for Minority Students
Amount: Up to $4,000
Deadline: November 15
UPS sponsors this scholarship program through IISE, the Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers and is available to any minority student in North America. That includes the entire United States and all of its territories, Canada, and Mexico. Students must be enrolled in an accredited, undergraduate degree program majoring in industrial engineering.
UPS Scholarship for Female Students
Deadline: November 15
If you are a woman enrolled in an ABET (or other agency) accredited industrial engineering degree program, this scholarship is well worth applying for. Through the IISE, UPS awards $4,000 to a single industrial engineering student annually. You needn't be a member of IISE nor attending any specific school. The chief qualifying quality of your education is that it be accredited by an agency recognized by the IISE.
American Society of Mechanical Engineers
As a member of the ASME, you will have access to educational and professional development resources. Since engineering is an ever-evolving field, your discussions and professional networking efforts will pay off in terms of new ideas and innovations. You will also develop leadership skills, have access to group insurance plans, stay up-to-date with cutting-edge technologies, and make personal and professional connections that will last a lifetime.
American Society of Civil Engineers
Through the ASCE, you will have endless opportunities to learn and grow as an engineer. The ASCE can help you become licensed in your state and continue learning with boundless online resources. With your membership card, you'll have access to journals and individual articles at a reduced rate and be able to attend special conferences.
National Society of Black Engineers
The NSBE is involved in helping black engineers find resources, fellowship, and leadership opportunities in their chosen field. Membership starts at the student level and continues through the duration of your career. As a professional, you'll find special interest groups within NSBE, so you can join in career-focused discussions that will drive your personal innovation.
Society of Women Engineers
SWE is dedicated to providing women engineers an outlet for professional advancement, idea incubation, educational resources, and more. Members will have access to special ebooks, podcasts, scholarships, executive programs, and grad school resources. If you need to hire a new engineer or find a new job, SWE offers a special jobs board for members.
National Society of Professional Engineers
Professional associations are vital to any career, including engineering. NSPE strongly advocates for PE licensure, professional ethics, member advancement, and leadership opportunities. There are so many advantages to becoming a member of NSPE that it's hard to list them all. Start as a student member, apply for a scholarship, and then later continue your involvement by taking their continuing education courses.
Institute of Industrial Systems Engineers
Industrial systems are the backbone of our economy and your hard work helps it all work smoothly for the rest of the world. With IISE membership, you can form professional and personal relationships with colleagues. You can attend special conferences and seminars designed to advance your professional growth, have access to online trainings, and receive the magazine, ISE.
Choosing an Accredited College
Choosing an accredited college is a vital decision for any engineering student. Whether your school is accredited by the ABET or not will determine a lot of your future choices. While not everyone wants or needs to become a professional engineer with state licensure, you cannot achieve that credential without a bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited institution.
Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid
Many programs these days are offering Engineering majors online, on-campus, and via hybrid programs. You might be able to complete an online Bachelor's in Engineering while working part-time for an engineering firm. In fact, you could possibly work on a project with a firm, then return to either online or on-campus courses for a term or two. Online learning platforms offer flexibility, which opens up many opportunities.
On-campus engineering programs are the more traditional method and they are still more popular. With engineering, you don't necessarily need to be on campus. However, some fields will make online learning harder, as you won't be able to reproduce a working laboratory at home.
Since online education is still a nascent phenomenon in the engineering world, there are a few hybrid programs out there that seek to bridge the gap between online and on-campus learning. These programs carry on primarily online, but you will need to attend seminars or other events at scheduled times throughout the course of your education. These meetings allow you to meet fellow students in person, as well as your instructors. Putting a human face on your online experience can help deepen it in meaningful ways that will benefit your long-term learning.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
If you are going to spend a lot of time and energy to attain an engineering degree, you will certainly want some job placement assistance as you near graduation. Discuss this with your admissions counselor when you are considering the right program. In fact, you might want to broaden that discussion by asking about how your school handles internships and if co-op programs are available. Experiential learning can help you not only gain the skills needed to land a job, but you can also cultivate a professional network that will help you build the career you deserve.
Why You Need to Consider the Overall National Rankings of the College and The Effects on Your Career or Salary
National rankings mean a lot in the Engineering world. After all, the field is composed of people who constantly measure and compare values. When you graduate from a top school, your resume will immediately open doors and you will find that your paycheck reflects the hard work it took to graduate from a top school. That is, employers see graduates from top schools as worthy investments and employees that will help propel their firms to the next level. Further, when you decide to pursue a graduate degree, you will have an easier time getting into your first-choice program if you’ve attended a well-known school.
This does not mean that you should use school rankings alone to make your decision on which school to attend. However, if you come to a stalemate in your selection process, with two or more options seemingly equal, you could use rankings to break the tie and help you choose the best college to attend.