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What is an engineering degree?
Do you love to take things apart and put them back together again? Are you fascinated with how electricity moves? How bridges are built? How airplanes stay in flight?
If so, a degree in engineering might be for you. This field focuses on the construction of machines, engines, systems, and structures.
Engineering is one of the most popular university majors. It's also one with the brightest career outlook. With the highest average starting wage of all majors, engineers have a median salary above $90,000. Almost 140,000 new engineering jobs are expected to open up in the next decade. Plus, engineering students graduate with lots of transferrable skills (more on this below). Their varied training helps them succeed in a range of careers—in engineering and beyond.
But it's not just the career outlook that makes this degree so appealing. By studying engineering, you'll have a chance to tackle the world's biggest problems. From detecting cancer to developing clean energy sources, engineering is meaningful work.
Considering a degree in engineering? Read on. Here are some of the key things you need to know.
Almost every practicing engineer has a bachelor's degree. Some also have a master's or a PhD. Let's take a look at what these different options involve:
Bachelor of Engineering
Bachelor's programs usually start with a year of general training. Then, students choose a branch of engineering to specialize in (see below). "Bachelor of Engineering" is the most common name for this undergraduate program. "Bachelor of Applied Science" and "Bachelor of Science in Engineering" are also common. Make sure you choose an accredited program.
Master of Engineering
Master's programs deepen and expand on what you learned during a bachelor's. They usually take two years of full-time schooling to complete.
Doctor of Engineering
Doctoral programs take five to seven years to complete. Most PhD students want to work in engineering education or research.
Degrees similar to engineering
Many students feel torn between studying engineering or a similar field. Top contenders include:
Science (especially Mathematics, Physics, or Chemistry
Some science students become engineers. Some engineering majors end up working in the sciences. These two degrees have a lot of overlap. But there are some key differences. Engineering students gain applied skills. They learn to how to design and build machines, systems, and structures. Science students tend to focus more on theoretical knowledge. On average, engineers also make 65% more than scientists.
Computer Science and Software Engineering (CS/SE)
This field has a lot in common with computer engineering (CE). Both are technical, creative, computer-focused, and practical. But they differ in important ways. CE focuses on hardware-related issues, only touching on software once in a while. CS/SE tends to emphasize programming and software system development.
Many students choose engineering because they love to build! Like civil engineers, architects help design and construct factories, offices, bridges, and more. But architects tend to focus on the early stages the design process. Civil engineers see projects through from start to finish.
Whatever level of study you choose, you'll also have to pick a focus. Some common branches to consider include:
- Mechanical: Maintaining, designing, and manufacturing mechanical systems.
- Aerospace: Designing, researching, and developing, aircrafts and spacecrafts.
- Chemical: Using biological and chemical processes to create and transport useful materials.
- Civil: Developing infrastructure projects like bridges, roads, and water supply systems.
- Electrical/Electronics: Creating and testing electrical power systems or electronic circuits.
- Biomedical: Developing specialist technology for medical and healthcare use.
- Environmental: Designing the infrastructures needed for a more sustainable world.
- Computer: Creating and testing computing hardware and software.
- Mining: Extracting and processing naturally-occurring minerals.
- Materials: Studying and combining different materials to serve new purposes.
- Management: Leading teams and overseeing major projects.
Skills you'll learn
One of the best things about engineering degrees is how broad they are. Students leave their program with a wide range of transferrable skills. Here are some of the most common ones:
Students can discuss specialized knowledge in words others can understand. This is especially important, because engineers often work with people from different backgrounds.
Students can apply their knowledge to solve complex problems of all kinds. They can innovate, create, and think outside the box.
Logic and Analysis
Students can think mathematically and rationally. They learn to make decisions based on facts, not emotion.
Students gain skills in design software, programming languages, modelling techniques, and more.
Attention to Detail
In engineering, a simple mistake can cause technical disasters, personal injuries, and even death. Students learn to check their work carefully.
Students master everything from basic number-crunching to higher level data analysis.
Engineering is not a solo profession. Students graduate with excellent collaboration skills.
Finally, engineering students know how to take the lead. They've learned to meet deadlines and oversee many projects at once. They also know how to delegate tasks, take responsibility, and supervise others.
What can you do with an engineering degree?
With these skills, there's no telling where an engineering degree can take you. Here are some popular career areas graduates can consider:
It's the obvious choice, but it's an important one! The possibilities in this career are almost endless. Depending on your major, you could help build bridges or sustainable buildings. You might develop a power grid for an entire community. Or, you might create a new material that helps detect cancer.
Each year, Harvard Business School ranks the world's 100 top-performing CEOs. For the last two years, more engineering than business graduates made the list! Why? Engineering students have excellent project-planning, leadership, and communication skills.
A consultant is an outside expert hired to help a company solve a problem. They use their training to provide advice on a wide range of engineering issues. You might work with NGOs or large corporations. You might be full-time or part-time. Varied and mentally stimulating, this can be a dream job.
Not every engineering student is a great communicator. But those who are can find success in a job as a technical writer or public speaker. In a communication career, you'll share complex technical information in clear, understandable language.
It might seem like a leap, but many engineering graduates go on to work in finance. Why? They're great with numbers and data and understand probability. They also know how to solve problems and pay attention to detail. These skills help them analyze economic trends, build financial models, and more.
Manufacturing and Logistics
Manufacturing is turning raw materials into finished products of all kinds. Logistics focuses on bringing those products to customers. Engineering graduates can find success in many different jobs in this industry. Some, like quality control, don't require an engineering background. Those that do usually involve designing systems to maximize efficiency and productivity.
You know what they say. If you can't do, teach. Some graduates decide engineering isn't for them and become teachers instead. Some might teach high school math or physics. Others might get their PhD and become university professors. Whatever the specifics, a job in education is a great way to show others the wonders of engineering.
Many successful lawyers start their careers in a completely different field. That's because most law firms aren't concerned what your bachelor's is in. An engineering degree sharpens your logic and analysis skills. It teaches you to work hard and focus. All of these things prepare students for a bright future in law.