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What is a Mechanical Engineer?

Mechanical engineers design a wide range of machines and related machine parts. They develop things that include small devices and parts and large systems such as spacecraft. In the business world, mechanical engineers can take a product from its idea stage to a place on the market.

Mechanical engineers must understand the materials that they use, the effects of heat and cold, and ways to make machines and devices durable. They also must incorporate performance, and motion when they design and analyze objects and systems. The field includes many significant areas of effort. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has nearly 40 technical divisions. The range of mechanical engineering fields include advanced energy systems, aerospace engineering, solid-waste systems engineering, and textile engineering.

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Steps to Becoming a Mechanical Engineer

  • Step 1: Get a Degree in Engineering

  • Step 2: Get Experience

  • Step 3: Get Certifications and Licenses

  • Step 4: Finding a Job

  • Step 5: Career Advancement

Mechanical engineers require a mix of formal education, training, and on-the-job experience. This is one of the broadest fields of engineering, and it involves many types of work. As with all engineering, this is a technical field and students must have a strong base on knowledge and a thorough understanding of materials and the dynamics of forces, energy, and motion. If an engineer wishes to work as a professional and offer services to the public, then they must get a state-issued professional engineer license. A bachelor’s degree is the widely-accepted minimum educational level for mechanical engineering.


Step 1: Get a Degree in Engineering

Mechanical engineering entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree. Students should select an accredited college or university to earn a mechanical engineering degree. Institutions with regional accreditation offer outstanding recognition for their degrees and credits earned there almost always transfer to other educational programs, such as a master’s degree or other types of advanced or specialized studies. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the most widely-accepted accrediting authority for technology programs in the United States. The ABET is the standard for program accreditation in the mechanical engineering technology field. Many states require attendance at an ABET-accredited school to qualify for the professional engineer examination.

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Step 2: Get Experience

Students can begin building engineering experience during the four-year bachelor’s degree program. They can get internships and participate in research or other hands-on projects. Many top schools build in internships or other collaborative projects into their required curriculum. Experience is a key to education and professional development in mechanical engineering technology and it can also sharpen skills in the latest software, like computer-assisted design applications. Having hands-on experience in the latest technology can boost an applicant’s qualifications. On the job training and supervised experience are valuable parts of becoming a successful mechanical engineer.

Step 3: Get Certifications and Licenses

Certifications are voluntary credentials that can demonstrate a level of knowledge and a commitment to participation in the field of mechanical engineering. The Association of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) offers professional certifications for engineers in several specific fields. Green Business Certification Inc. provides recognized, third-party credentials in Green Design and Sustainability. The GBCI offers these credentials through study and examinations and they certify a high level of current knowledge and competency.

Mechanical engineers can use a body of experience to get a state-issued professional engineer license (PE License). States require a range of experience and a qualifying exam. Graduating engineering students can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and experienced engineers can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam or PE Exam. The FE exam designates graduates as Engineers in Training (EITs). The typical experience requirement is about four years, and qualifying experience must occur under some type of supervision from a licensed engineer. After getting qualifying levels of experience, the EIT can sit for the PE exam.

Step 4: Finding a Job

Mechanical engineering graduates enter a high-paying field that has a lot of competition for jobs. Experience is a vital qualification, and employers look for hands-on experience when reviewing mechanical engineering technology applicants. New engineers will typically work under the direction of a senior engineer for one to four years. The ideal path would provide increasing levels of responsibility and independence as the new mechanical engineering employee gains experience in varying project types or sizes.

Step 5: Career Advancement

Advanced degrees can open high-paying opportunities for mechanical engineers. Mechanical engineers with advanced degrees can participate in high-level research, serve as college educators, and provide expertise in one or more mechanical engineering fields. A master’s degree in mechanical engineering can help qualify the engineer for a Professional Engineer license. A doctoral degree in mechanical engineering can open the doors to cutting edge research and unique opportunities to advance the field of mechanical engineering in one or more of its sub-fields.

What Does a Mechanical Engineer Do?

Mechanical engineers usually work in professional teams that must assess a problem and find solutions. Problem-solving is the essence of mechanical engineering, and they work in a wide range of situations. Mechanical engineering is the science of systems that use force, energy, or motion. The work can occur on a large scale, such as powerful engines for commercial aircraft, and mechanical engineering work can occur on the tiniest levels, with microscopic sized machines and devices uses in medicine. A mechanical engineer is a highly-trained engineering professional that fills the need to design and manufacture a nearly boundless range of parts, devices, and systems.

Mechanical engineers design small things like inkjet printer nozzles to large things like machine tools, rockets for space travel, and electric power generation systems. Mechanical engineering employees design parts for the human body which have some of the attributes of an extremely complex machine. Mechanical engineering can be involved in a machine or device from the time the idea occurs to the redesign after years of successful usage. They can work in nearly any field, but they already play large roles in the automotive industry through engine and other types of critical design.

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Mechanical Engineer Skills to Acquire

Mechanical engineers need training that prepares then for technical challenges. Mechanical engineering professionals also need traits or soft skills that orient their approach to mechanical engineering and predict successful careers.

  • System design is a science that helps engineers understand the ways that components fit into a larger system of products or services. System design involves a series of interfaces that facilitate internal communication between significant parts. Proper design can prevent breakdowns, bottlenecks, or other inefficiencies.
  • Computer science fundamentals are essential for engineers in nearly every sub-field of mechanical engineering.
  • Data modeling can convert ideas into workable and shareable forms for group study or collaboration. This field has changed rapidly and is evolving further as 3-D, and other innovations drive changes in software and other modeling systems.
  • Probability/Statistics is a field of study that supports the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence. Mastery of skills and refreshing your skills in this field will enable adaptation as technology and innovation create fundamental changes in software and controls.
  • Soft skills for Mechanical engineers are just as important as other skills. The soft skills apply to nearly all types of engineering and can predict career success.
  • Communications are an essential part of successful career in mechanical engineering. Both written and verbal communications skills will help shape successful mechanical engineering careers. Mechanical engineers must frequently work in professional teams and with clients. They must be able to relate their ideas about complex items clearly and convincingly.
  • Leadership and time management are part of the work ethic that mechanical engineers must continuously apply. Their work typically proceeds on schedules related to other developments, teams, or products.
  • Critical thinking skills create a framework for understanding and creating testable concepts. Insight and analysis are needed to apply creative ideas and assess unique situations.
  • Problem-solving skills are important to mechanical engineers; for most engineers, it is the essence of their work. Success depends on the ability to apply engineering, mathematical, and computer science principles to design and system issues.

Alternative Paths

Employers strongly prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a closely related field. An alternative to a four-year degree may be a two-year degree in a field like pre-engineering. Two-year engineering programs can help create an alternative path to the mechanical engineering profession. A two-year program can provide transferable credits towards a later bachelor’s degree.

Two-year programs can help you get jobs in the field. Mechanical engineering degree graduates can find work as assistants or mechanical drafters. The experience of working in the mechanical engineering field as an assistant or mechanical drafts person can help the student later, after they complete a bachelor’s degree. The alternative paths are ways to get to a bachelor’s degree when entering a four-year accredited program may not be available. In the end, students will need a four-year degree from an accredited school, college, or university.

Mechanical Engineer Career and Salary

Where Might You Work?


Most mechanical engineers work in office environments alongside other engineering professionals including designers, architects, and computer scientists. While many engineers work 40-hour weeks, a large number of engineers have demanding jobs or assignments that require additional days or hours per week. These can involve complex and urgent situations that require intensive efforts. Mechanical engineering professionals must often take assignments that require working in field locations. When in the field, mechanical engineers can work with constructors, construction managers, and specialty subcontractors.

In the private sector, mechanical engineers work for a range of organizations; many work for architectural, engineering, and design services companies. A large segment of mechanical engineers work in the field of machinery manufacturing. They design computer and electronic products and develop machines and devices at all scales including microscopic devices, controls, and machines.

Mechanical engineers also help resolve design problems and create higher levels of efficiency through the integration of systems. Quality control and assurance programs rely upon them, and these assessments and continuous evaluations support efficient manufacturing and other production processes.

In the public sector, mechanical engineers can play key roles in defense, civil defense, mass transportation systems including bus, rail, light rail, and elevated rail systems, and subways. Patent examination and patent protection are essential federal functions that rely on experts in mechanical and related fields of engineering. The defense sector uses mechanical engineering disciplines in research, development, and maintenance programs. The advanced technology in weapons, controls, and communications systems in the Army, Air Force, and Navy require advanced levels of professional training and education in engineering.

Mass transportation is a key element in urban and suburban environments; while we intend to reduce negative impacts such as pollution and sprawl, public transportation has problems too. Mechanical engineers can play a role in creating efficient designs that meet the current and future needs of a community.

Potential Career Paths

A mechanical engineering degree program offer career paths in traditional and cutting-edge industries. Mechanical engineers can apply engineering principles and creative thinking to design products and systems that meet or exceed the required performance. Career paths go beyond mechanical engineering into management positions that require engineering knowledge. Project management in engineering, construction, and manufacturing settings offer high-paying and challenging work for mechanical engineers.

Civil engineering offers career options and major roles for mechanical engineers. Infrastructure has grown into a mix of public and private operations, and mechanical engineers play critical roles in design and assessment functions.

  • Transportation Systems Engineers focus on transportation systems and related machinery including rail, light rail, monorails, and subways.
  • Mechanical Design Engineers help provide maximum lifecycle benefits. These highly-trained experts can assess a wide range of products and devices. They can improve quality assurance and quality control.
  • Biomedical engineers apply engineering principles to healthcare. Mechanical engineers have produced artificial limbs and machines that enhance limited abilities like hearing and vision disorders.
  • Laser-Assisted Materials Processing Engineers use the precision dynamics of laser energy to enable manufacturing and other materials processing at high volume.
  • MEMS or Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems Engineers provide design and product building on a microscopic scale.

Mechanical Engineer Salaries

Median Career Salaries Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Controls Engineer $65,000 $83,000 $99,000
Manufacturing engineer $62,000 $76,000 $84,000
Aerospace Engineer $63,000 $85,000 $129,000
Project Manager, Engineering $65,000 $91,000 $116,000
Automotive Engineer $68,000 $81,000 $97,000
HVAC Engineer $59,000 $75,000 $87,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

Mechanical engineering is a growth occupation, and it has the further assurance of participation in a wide range of public, private, commercial, and industrial applications. With nearly 40 substantial areas of study, mechanical engineers will have many sources of demand for their services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the growth rate for mechanical engineers will be at about 9% during the decade that ends in 2026. The national average for all occupations is about 9%.

Career outlooks depend on some fundamentals like attendance at a regionally accredited institution or one that has widely respected accreditation. The ABET is a leading program accreditation for the fields of engineering, and students that attend programs with regional and program accreditation will have an advantage in the job marketplace. The growth sectors for mechanical engineering are driven by innovation and demands within a global economy. The leading areas for future growth include robotics engineering, automobile research, and energy systems.

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Advancing From Here

Mechanical engineers must consistently study and renew their knowledge. Mechanical engineering exists in an ever-changing work environment that adds new technology and innovations. Licensed mechanical engineering professionals must meet state requirements for continuing education to maintain their licenses in good standing. Mechanical engineering professionals can rise to senior levels of engineering in an organization and, depending on the type of organization, mechanical engineers can fill top executive roles.

Mechanical engineers can get master ’s degrees and doctoral degrees. Advanced degrees extend career options to include roles as college faculty and engineering experts. Master’s degree holders, doctoral candidates, and doctoral degree holders can qualify for college faculty positions. This vital core of educators must carry on the development of future engineers at every level from bachelor’s to doctoral graduates.

Entrepreneurship is an attractive option for many advanced level mechanical engineers; they can serve as consulting experts on projects, research, and other specialized situations like legal proceedings. Many businesses develop around a core of engineering expertise, and mechanical engineers can find strong markets in many essential public and private activities in the civilian side and the defense sector.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does a career in mechanical engineering look like?

On a day to day basis, mechanical engineers spend time troubleshooting problems, determining solutions, analyzing mechanical and thermal deceives, and completing repairs. They also test and develop technical and mechanical prototypes.

What skills do mechanical engineers need?

Mechanical engineers need to know system design, computer science, statistics, and data modeling. Mechanical engineers also need to have good communication, strong leadership, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills.

How much do mechanical engineers earn on average?

Mechanical engineers earn on average $90,000 per year on average.

What tasks do mechanical engineers do?

Mechanical engineers develop, design, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices and sensors. Mechanical engineers develop and test prototypes and help diagnose equipment failures as well as recommend solutions.

What kind of subjects will I learn about when studying mechanical engineering?

Mechanical engineers will need to study:

  • Math
  • Science
  • Statists
  • Engineering materials
  • Thermodynamics
  • Fuels and combustion
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Mechanism and machine design
  • Instrumentation
  • Manufacturing
  • Control theory
  • Engineering design
  • Drafting computer aided design
  • Computer aided manufacturing

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