CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an engineer.
Is becoming an engineer right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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High school students who find that they have a knack for solving analytical problems and mathematical equations may be suited to an engineering role. Accelerated courses in the following subjects will help to lay a foundation for undergraduate studies:
- Pre-Calculus and Calculus
- Computer Science
- Language Arts
- Foreign Language
In addition, talk to practising engineers and ask them several questions:
- What led you to choose engineering as your career?
- What do you like about your job? What do you dislike?
- What kind of training do you have?
- What is your day like from the time you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night?
- What kinds of interests did you have as a child/teen?
- Where did you go to college? Was it a good choice? Why?
- If you could choose a career all over again, what would it be?
- What advice do you have for me?
- What classes or books or experiences do you recommend to me before I go off to college?
- Are there other people in your field that you think I should talk to?
Select a major and a school
According to the College Board, there are more than thirty college engineering majors, including the following:
The Board’s annual publication Book of Majors includes a section dedicated to the engineering field. It addresses what the engineering majors are, what the training teaches, and what the academic programs entail. The book also identifies colleges and universities in the U.S. that offer different engineering specialty programs, and at which levels: Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate.
Select a school that specializes in your chosen engineering sector. Select a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation is based on criteria such as faculty, curricular content, facilities, and ongoing program improvement, and practical/industrial applications versus theoretical focus.
The College Board administers a group of standardized tests which assess college-level knowledge in thirty-six subject areas. The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows students to earn college credits by passing exams that test knowledge in various areas. Students can also use the website to find out which educational institutions accept CLEP.
At the undergraduate level, students receive a general overview of various engineering fields, with exposure to areas such as mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering. Once they select a specialty – typically, in their second or third year of undergraduate studies – they narrow their focus to design, laboratory, and computer classes specific to their chosen discipline. For example, a student majoring in electrical engineering may take course such as Electronics and Semiconductor Devices, while a chemical engineering student may take courses like Physical Chemistry and Fluid Mechanics.
Many engineering positions are available in developing countries. Prospective engineers who hope to work overseas should add an international component to their education. This is often comprised of a minor in a foreign language, international relations, or a related discipline. In addition, some colleges and universities offer study-abroad programs, which expose students to foreign environments and cultures.
Internship / Practicum
Not only does an internship or practicum help students gain a further understanding of the subject matter, it can significantly improve their career prospects. Forbes Magazine reports that these work experiences turn into job offers sixty percent of the time. This can cut out all of the time and energy that would otherwise be spent searching for a job. And even if an internship or practicum does not result in an offer of employment, it provides invaluable experience and a step up on competing job candidates.
Major companies and institutions with engineering departments often have internship and/or practicum programs. The process of securing an internship or a practicum varies considerably from one company to the next, but it is often no different than securing a job. Engineering firms generally list these opportunities on their websites.
- Aim for a paid internship whenever possible
- Summer internships may be full-time positions
Some schools may offer credit for internships
A practicum can sometimes replace or take up a significant portion of the final year of undergraduate studies
- A practicum can carry a competitive salary and provide a deeper, longer-term experience than an internship
Companies that do not offer internships or practicums may have work shadowing programs, which allow students to follow an engineer throughout their work day.
In the United States, engineers who offer their services directly to the public must be licensed. After completing an ABET-accredited undergraduate program, they are required to complete a two-part state licensure examination administered by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). Once they pass the first part of the test – the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) – they must gain at least four years of engineering experience through an internship or supervised training. Following that, they may sit for the second part of the test to become a Professional Engineer (PE).
Even if they are not mandated to hold a license by the nature of their work, most engineers – especially those interested in leadership and management roles – pursue licensure.
Graduate Degree (required for some roles)
A master’s or Ph.D. is essential for individuals seeking core faculty positions or careers in research and development. Graduate level education may also be required for advancement in some specialties and/or with specific companies.