What is a Mechanical Engineering Degree?
If you are interested in math, science and all things moving parts, mechanical engineering could be for you. Pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering goes a step further, showing potential employers that you are both interested in mechanics and qualified to work with their moving parts.
With a mechanical engineering degree, you will learn a variety of things that can help you specialize in what you truly enjoy, including:
- The design and manufacture of small individual parts and machines
- The design and manufacture of large systems and machines
- How to take a product from an idea to the marketplace
- The understanding of how exterior forces and the thermal environment affect a product and its parts
- How to design a product to best deal with those external forces and thermal environments
- How to design products for optimum functionality and aesthetics
- The best way to manufacture products so they are reliable
- How to analyze and design systems and objects with motion
These are skills that are required for almost everything that is manufactured. Because of this, the mechanical engineering field is quite broad and diverse, more so than any of the other engineering specialties and disciplines. A degree in this field will allow you to work in a variety of areas, including the automotive industry, aerospace, biotechnology, computers, electronics, energy conservation, environmental control, automation, microelectromechanical industries, and manufacturing of all kinds (including machine tools, microfabrication, and prototyping).
Career Opportunities for Mechanical Engineers
A mechanical engineer can work anywhere from the local auto shop to NASA. And, individuals with a Mechanical Engineering degree are always in demand, as manufacturers are key to the product development process.
Those who have the appropriate degree will also have a broad choice of roles to play in the workforce. To put it in perspective, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers currently lists 36 divisions of work in the field, and that number is increasing as technology evolves. Accordingly, you can specialize in several sub-areas with your degree, such as:
- Energy conversion
- Laser-assisted materials processing
- Cartilage-tissue engineering
- Heat transfer control
- Fracture mechanics
- Microfluid devices
- Micropower generation
- Tribology (the study of friction and wear)
- Waste engineering
- Textile engineering
- Aerospace engineering
Mechanical engineering is an in-demand field among employers, and is expected to continue to be. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for mechanical engineers is expected to grow from nine to 10 percent between 2016 and 2026. This is as swift as the growth average for all occupations.
Right now, the median average beginning salary for a mechanical engineer is $87,370, or about $42 an hour. Usually, all that is needed to enter the field is a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. Entry level positions would then lead to promotions and even higher pay. However, the median starting salary for mechanical engineers is far above the average for most other professions. Those who choose this career path will find themselves making a good income from the beginning.
With the job security involved in this field and the high median starting salary, mechanical engineering offers bright futures to those who pursue it. The job market for mechanical engineers is only expected to become more robust, so now is the time to begin a career in this lucrative field.
Career Paths for Mechanical Engineers
The possible career paths open to those with a mechanical engineering degree are almost limitless. You will find a need for mechanical engineers in almost every profession. Even the entertainment industry requires engineers to work with special effects and other elements of TV and movie sets. Government at all levels requires mechanical engineers to keep cities and states operating smoothly.
Some of the most common career paths for mechanical engineers include:
Material Engineers develop, process, and/or test materials that are used to create other products. They study the structures and characteristics of different materials like plastics, ceramics, metals, nanomaterials, and other types of substances. They also create new materials by applying their knowledge of electric, chemicals, and mechanics, all of which they learned in school.
Consulting or Researching for Manufacturing Companies
Going to work as a consultant or researcher for a manufacturing company is a great choice for those graduates who want to put their knowledge to use without actually building anything. As a consultant or researcher, you can share your knowledge about materials, equipment, and devices to promote greater safety, health, and environmental friendliness in products that are manufactured. You can also do research in scientific labs, and design new technological innovations.
Consulting on Patent Law
As a mechanical engineer, you can get a job in patent law. In this capacity, you would determine whether new engineering innovations are worthy of being patented. You must know how to make connections between engineering and patents, and have a knowledge of patent law. If this field interests you, it is a very lucrative one, as patent law is highly technical and tricky to learn.
A Career Path Outside of Engineering that Uses Engineering Knowledge
There are plenty of mechanical engineering graduates who choose to go into a non-engineering field that utilizes their engineering knowledge. If you choose to do this, you could end up working for any employer who needs someone adept at complex problem solving or high-level math. Careers in management, finance, supply chain and logistics, marketing, and sales operations are all possibilities for someone with a mechanical engineering degree.
Mechanical Engineering Curriculum
A traditional curriculum for a Mechanical Engineering degree includes the following (the curriculum is also often the same for online Mechanical Engineering degrees):
These are the courses that anyone pursuing an Engineering degree of any type must take:
- Calculus I, II, and III
- Introduction to Differential Equations
- Introduction to Engineering
- Introduction to Computers and Programming
- Chemistry I with lab
- Chemistry II with lab
- Physics I with lab
- Physics II with lab
Engineers are expected to have a broad knowledge of the world, not just related to engineering. It makes them more well-rounded people and better employees. Typical intellectual course requirements for a Mechanical Engineering degree include:
- Professional and Creative Development courses
- Liberal Arts
There are usually several credit hours required in each of these areas, so students should expect to take two or three courses in each area (with the exception of Humanities, which usually only requires one course in most cases). In addition, some of these courses may be required to be upper level courses.
Mechanical Engineering Core Courses
These are the courses you will be taking that are particular to your degree. At most schools, they include two to three courses each in:
- Design and Manufacturing
- Mechanics and Materials
- Dynamics and Controls
- Thermal Sciences
- Lab and Tech Communication
Specialization and Technical Electives
Typically, one to three courses of specialization electives as well as technical electives are required. The school will provide the available choices in the course guide.
One Advanced Math course is a usual requirement.
One course in Electrical Circuits is usually a requirement.
Most schools require between one and three general electives to be taken toward the degree. These courses can usually be left up to the individual student’s discretion and personal interests.
Pursuing Mechanical Engineering
A mechanical engineering degree is an attractive option for science and math lovers who enjoy studying and working with materials, moving parts and product ideas. From manufacturing to consulting, the career opportunities are vast and varied in this area, as well as highly in demand.