Engineering Careers and Courses
If you’ve always been interested in science and mathematics, engineering may be the path you should take to your future! Engineers held over one and a half million jobs in the United States in recent years, and the occupational outlook for this professional area continues to be very strong in the future.
A strong aptitude in physical sciences and mathematics is usually a prerequisite for an engineering degree. The basics of engineering will apply to any one of the hundreds of engineering specialties, each requiring a slightly different course of study.
Almost every engineering job requires at least a bachelor’s degree. Entry level positions usually involve a bachelor’s in an engineering specialty, although some mathematics or science graduates obtain entry level jobs in engineering.
Getting Prepared for an Engineering Program
High school students interested in an engineering degree should concentrate on college preparatory classes, with a heavy emphasis on mathematics. Courses should include algebra, trigonometry, calculus and geometry. A concentration in science is also a requirement; be sure to take biology, chemistry, physics and natural sciences. Good communication skills and problem solving abilities are also necessary.
Undergraduate Programs in Engineering
The program requirements for a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering vary widely, depending on the specialty. Despite this, most of the programs start with two years of general college education courses and some introductory courses in engineering. Coursework will be heavy in mathematics, including calculus, and science, including physics. General education usually includes communications, or English, courses, humanities and social sciences. After the initial two years, classes become more specialized, focusing on the requirements of the engineering field chosen.
Community colleges sometimes offer engineering preparatory programs, providing the first two years of a bachelor’s of science in engineering education at reduced tuition rates and in a more relaxed environment. Many of the community colleges offering these programs will have transfer agreements with local colleges and universities to make the transition for engineering students seamless.
Many top colleges around the country have excellent engineering programs, however, not all schools offer every specialty. You’ll need to investigate the schools that you are interested in and the programs they offer to see if the field you are interested in is available. While undergraduate engineering programs are typically intended to last four years, many students find the coursework challenging enough to need five years to graduate.
Advanced Degrees in Engineering
Graduate degrees are usually required for engineering faculty positions and many research and development careers. Graduate level work in engineering or business administration is common, with many engineers using advanced training to enter management, research or teaching positions.
After obtaining a bachelor’s of science and a work requirement, engineers must pass a state test to be licensed as professional engineers. This license is required if the engineer offers their services to the public. Licensed engineers are called Professional Engineers (PE). A special program allows new graduates to get an interim certification by taking the first parts of the test while meeting the work experience requirement. After passing the first part of the test called the Fundamentals of Engineering the graduate earns the designation “Engineer in Training”. After the work requirement is met, usually four years, passing the second part of the test earns the PE license. The number of states requiring continuing education for engineers is growing.
There are many different engineering specialties. Some majors are more versatile than others, but each one offers career opportunities and challenges. Here are some areas that may interest you:
- Architectural Engineering
- Agricultural Engineering
- Biomedical Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Computer Engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Environmental Engineering
- Industrial Engineering
- Materials Engineering
- Marine Engineering
- Mining Engineering
- Nuclear Engineering
- Petroleum Engineering
- Software Engineering
Let’s take a look at a few of the more popular ones.
Civil engineering is the most popular career for engineering graduates. Civil engineers can also specialize in structural, construction, environmental or resources engineering, with others focusing on geotechnical or transportation engineers. Civil engineers design and coordinate the construction of roads, transportation systems, airports, tunnels, bridges and water/sewage systems. They often analyze design, cost and utilization expectations, ensuring that the project will comply with all government regulations. Civil engineers are usually also responsible for the analysis of the environmental impact of each project.
The second most popular career in engineering is mechanical engineering. These engineers specialize on the design and manufacture of tools, machines and other mechanical devices. Mechanical engineers also research new machines. Mechanical engineers have had a part in the design and manufacture of most products and systems that either use or generate power, including generators and automobile engines. Mechanical engineers design tools used by many other professions.
The third most popular engineering specialty is industrial engineering. An industrial engineer is responsible for the processes or factors that go into producing goods or services. They use technology and mathematics to help companies more effectively use materials, human resources, technology and information to produce their products. Industrial engineers design information and management systems to aid in the production process and help control costs.
In the field of electrical engineering, all aspects of the production of electrical machinery and equipment are managed. Electrical engineers focus their efforts on generating power and working with machinery that uses electrical power. They design, develop and test these machines, as well as doing research and managing production. A lot of electrical engineers are employed by utilities and companies heavily involved with electric motors.
Unlike electrical engineers, an electronics engineer works with electronic equipment. Communications equipment, GPS systems, entertainment systems and broadcasting equipment are all in the realm of the electronics engineer. These engineers may also work in signal processing, robotics or control systems. For years, computer hardware engineers were considered electronics engineers, but most engineering groups now consider the computer hardware engineer as its own specialty. As you may guess, computer hardware engineers work in the design, development and manufacture of computer hardware.
Other Engineering Careers
Although the engineering disciplines listed above comprise nearly 70% of all licensed engineers, there are many other specialties for today’s engineer. Aerospace engineers work with aircraft, spacecraft, missiles and related systems. These engineers may also be involved in defense systems, navigation and communication. Environmental engineers use their educational background in biology and chemistry to work on environmental issues like pollution, recycling, and waste disposal.
Chemical engineering involves designing and managing the manufacture of chemicals. A strong aptitude in chemistry, physics, mathematics and mechanical engineering is usually required for success in this field. Biomedical engineers work mainly in the medical and health care industries. Many biomedical engineers work in research on projects like the artificial heart, or on medical instrumentation. You may also be interested in pursuing a career in petroleum or nuclear engineering, agricultural engineering or health and safety engineering.
Your Future in Engineering
If you are intrigued by how things work and you have an aptitude in math and science, an engineering career may be right for you. The outlook for engineering jobs is great in the coming decades, with new technology and advances in electronics spurring new job growth in almost every area of expertise. If you’re intrigued, check out your local college or university today and get your education on the right track for a career in engineering!