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What is a Mechanical Engineer (ME)?
Mechanical Engineering (ME) is a branch of engineering that focuses on the design, operation, function, construction, and utilization of machines. Mechanical engineers are needed to design individual parts (sensors), assembly units (combustion engine), and devices (machine tools) for a variety of industries including aerospace, biotechnology, computers, energy, automation, manufacturing, microelectromechanical systems, and environmental control. ME’s are tasked with bringing ideas to life and need specialized knowledge to accomplish this objective that include:
- Forces the product and subsystems will encounter
- Thermal environment
- Product functionality
- Cost limitations
- Manufacturing parameters
- Affect(s) of motion and wear
The sheer breadth of mechanical engineering makes this field one of the most diverse in the engineering world. Regardless of discipline studied in school or the industry, a mechanical engineer will have the mental acuity to think creatively and analytically to solve a wide variety of problems. Likewise, a mechanical engineer is trained to effectively communicate with team members to design, create, market, and launch a product to market. Such skills make it attractive to start companies in manufacturing, healthcare, management, or consulting trades.
Educational Requirements in Mechanical Engineering
A degree in mechanical engineering prepares individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to design, modify, or repair machines. Mechanical engineers will learn about the functions of machines, how those machines operate, the tools necessary to construct or repair them, and the methods for designing and constructing said machines. Mechanical engineers will work on a variety of machines, using various power sources and other constructs to ensure that the machines operate as intended. A bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering is typically needed for entry level positions, with graduate level degrees necessary to pursue or be promoted to managerial or supervisory positions.
A curriculum in mechanical engineering may include:
- Fluid Mechanics
- Machine Design
How Do You Become a Mechanical Engineer?
To become a mechanical engineer, you will need to follow a series of discrete steps. These steps must be performed in a particular sequence to move to the next set of steps in the process as foundational steps build upon one another. We have outlined the steps to becoming a mechanical engineer below to help you navigate the process with greater efficiency.
Step 1 – Research Accredited Schools
Your journey to become a mechanical engineer starts with researching accrediting colleges and universities. It is important to note a school must fit your professional objectives, budget, and personal priorities more so than landing on a ‘TOP 10’ list of any media publication angling to sell magazine subscriptions or internet ads for timeshares. Start by reading our Complete Guide to the College Admissions Process followed by How to Crush the Odds and Get Into Your Top College. Once you have a list of personal priorities firmly in place, utilize the schools and information on this resource page or use our proprietary matching portal to request information packets from schools on your list.
Step 2 – Submit Your College Application
After receiving information from your top schools offering mechanical engineering programs, you will need to apply to those schools. Your college application should accurately highlight your uniqueness, academic prowess, extracurricular activities, and relevant work experience. Illuminating your uniqueness will help you stand out in a crowded application pool and help propel you forward into your first year of college at a great school.
Step 3 – Attending College
After gaining admissions to the college of your choice, you will have the opportunity to attend orientation, meet with your academic advisor, register for classes, and begin coursework in mechanical engineering. Ask questions, remain curious, and stay focused during this period of time as you will look back at this period of time and remember the great relationships, challenging work, and good times in school.
Step 4 – Final Exams & Graduation
After meeting all necessary course requirements set forth by your college, you will be conferred with a degree in mechanical engineering. Whether you earned your mechanical engineering degree online or in a traditional classroom setting, you will be ready to move on to the next step towards additional schooling or employment in the marketplace.
Step 5 – Licensing & Work
At present, only engineers offering services directly to the public need to earn a license. In other words, if you are working for an engineering company or government agency a license will not be required to start work. With that in mind, you may still elect to earn a license to show employers and customers your commitment to the engineering field. All states have their own unique set of requirements for a mechanical engineer but will generally require you to have at least four years of work experience, a degree from an ABET accredited college or university, and passing scores on PE examinations. To find work in the field, utilize your network and college’s resources to connect to top firms that fit your interests and skill set.
Degrees in Mechanical Engineering
Earning a degree in mechanical engineering online or in a classroom will help propel your career in a direction fitting for you. Programs span from a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate degree plus certificate programs. We have outlined each below to help you better understand your options in mechanical engineering.
Mechanical Engineering Certificates Online
Earning a mechanical engineering certificate can serve different purposes depending on the certificate achieved. For example, an undergraduate certificate in mechanical engineering is a starting point to help students get familiar with the foundational elements of the trade (materials science, product design, production) as a stand-alone certificate or coupled with an undergraduate degree. Students will typically have classes in requisite classes such as math, physics, and chemistry. Upon completion, students will typically enter the field as a mechanical engineering technologist or technician.
Graduate certificates in mechanical engineering are specialized programs for practitioners in the field that have already earned a degree from an ABET accredited school in mechanical engineering or adjacent program. Specializations can include nanotechnology, integrated systems, or manufacturing engineering to name a few. A graduate-level certificate will be utilized to upskill with an employer, move up in an organization, or help make a professional shift into an area of specialization within mechanical engineering.
Mechanical Engineering Bachelor’s Degree Online
The classroom-based or online bachelor degrees in mechanical engineering are designed to expose students to a variety of design theories and mathematical models. Students enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program will take a number of science and math classes that underpin mechanical engineering along with introductory courses (chemistry, technical writing, computer programming, mechanics) in the first two years of study. These foundational classes provide the framework necessary for engineers to grasp more advanced concepts downstream. For example, classes in computer programming and electrical systems prepare students to more effectively work in robotics and robotic design fields.
The final two years of the 4-year bachelor’s degree program, students will take core engineering courses. Typical classes found in a course catalog may include machine design, fluid mechanics, circuit analysis, vector mechanics, metallurgic behavior, system dynamics, and mechanical systems. Some colleges and universities have CAD systems allowing students to prototype 3D models from start to finish.
Mechanical Engineering Master’s Degree Online
Online mechanical engineering master’s degrees are either research-intensive or professionally oriented. The research-based programs are generally created for student’s intent on pursuing a PhD or research-intensive jobs in the private or public sector. On the other hand, the professional degrees provide students with additional skills in a defined area of specialization like combustion, manufacturing, biomedicine, supply chain management, or nanotechnology. Students applying to a master’s degree program will need an undergraduate degree from an ABET accredited school and work experience is often preferred. The on-site or online master’s degree will last 1-3 years dependent on the course chosen and number of credits you have entering the program.
On-site or online master’s degree programs can be a stand-alone Master of Science (MS) or a joint BS/MS program which can truncate the overall length of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. From upper level math courses to specialized courses in a variety of mechanical engineering disciplines, students will be provided the opportunity to solve complex issues and create novel solutions to existing challenges. Additionally, some master’s degrees will require students to prepare a thesis while other schools offer the option to take additional classes in lieu of a thesis both of which affect the overall length of course completion.
Mechanical Engineering Doctorate Degree Online
Doctoral program in Mechanical Engineering is a PhD program is a terminal degree with no additional degrees beyond the doctoral degree. Students enrolled in a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering will select an area of concentration as part of their studies. Areas of specialty for PhD students may include: dynamics, automation, acoustics, mechatronics, bioengineering, aerospace, fluid mechanics, design, combustion, energy systems, robotics, manufacturing, medical physics, nano engineering, nuclear engineering, tribology, or radiological engineering.
In terms of admissions, the majority of colleges require a master’s degree while a few allow students with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering plus substantive work experience. In addition to intensive, rigorous coursework in the PhD program, students will invest years on their dissertation. The creation, design, research, and defense of a dissertation will translate to a 3-5 investment to complete a doctorate-level degree in mechanical engineering. Students considering a PhD will take jobs in higher education teaching, leadership positions, or performing research for public companies, private organizations, or government agencies.
A career in mechanical engineering requires individuals to have strong math skills, creativity, problem solving ability, and mechanical acumen. Mechanical engineers will seek out problems and try to find solutions through the design and application of machines. Such machines can be found in production facilities or in the home, and everywhere in between. Engineers will be required to analyze problems, and approach solutions thoroughly and safely.
All 50 states require licenses for mechanical engineers that work in the public sector, typically requiring two tests. Graduates of an accredited mechanical engineering program may take the first test, Fundamentals of Engineering, and will be designated Engineers in Training (EiT). After a significant amount of experience is gained EiTs may take the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam, the passing of which designates the individual as a Professional Engineer (PE). In addition, certifications are available in specific fields of mechanical engineering, the obtaining of which demonstrates competency. Job growth for mechanical engineers is expected to be limited over the next ten years. Job prospects are expected to be good for individuals who are current with the latest software and technology. The average salary for mechanical engineers is $78,000 per year.
Careers in Mechanical Engineering
A number of careers can be pursued after earning your degree in mechanical engineering. As industries change and technology advances, the number of options continue to expand for mechanical engineers. A list of common career tracks in mechanical engineering include analytics, quality control, research, engineering, product development, and maintenance in the following sectors:
- Marine Transportation
- Food Processing
Top Employers of Mechanical Engineers
- Architectural and Engineering Firms 63,360
- Research and Development Firms 19,530
- Aerospace Manufacturing 13,690
- Automotive Manufacturing 13,200
- Federal Government 12,230
States with the Highest Employment of Mechanical Engineers
- Michigan 42,080
- California 24,830
- Texas 19,690
- Ohio 14,920
- Illinois 14,500
Top Paying States for Mechanical Engineers
- Alaska $138,370
- District of Columbia $108,340
- New Mexico $108,140
- Louisiana $104,020
- Texas $103,060
Additional Resources for Mechanical Engineers
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- Institution of Mechanical Engineers
- International Academy for Production Engineering
- Society of Automotive Engineers
- Society of Manufacturing Engineers
- National Society of Professional Engineers
- Institute of Transportation Engineers
- Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers
- American Society for Engineering Education
- American Association of Engineering Societies
Individuals interested in mechanical engineering may also be interested in robotics, electrical engineering or architectural engineering. For additional information on a career in Mechanical Engineering, check out our Career Roadmap for Mechanical Engineers on our blog.