College Majors: A Student’s Guide to Engineering

College Majors: A Student’s Guide to Engineering

Key Takeaways

  • Upon graduation, engineering majors have numerous job opportunities for higher-than-average positions in a wide range of fields.
  • Engineering programs encompass numerous specialty fields including aerospace, chemical, civil, electrical, and industrial engineering.

Engineering remains one of the most in-demand and rewarding career paths for creative people who like solving real, complex problems.

Engineering is a diverse field encompassing many kinds of work and numerous specializations, such as aerospace engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, and mechanical engineering. This brief engineering college major student’s guide will help you understand the field more, as we feature some of the most popular Engineering majors.

Featured Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Engineering?

Engineering is a field that uses science and technology to create and operate machines, structures, infrastructures, and manufacturing processes. There are many different types of engineers, including engineers who:

  • Design electronics and computer hardware
  • Build spacecraft and submarines
  • Devise processes to promote environmentally sustainable agriculture or workplace safety
  • Invent processes for extracting oil and gas and harnessing nuclear energy
  • Create new materials and novel medical processes, and
  • Construct parks, buildings, and the systems that support entire cities

A good engineer systematically and creatively uses the tools and resources around them to come up with practical solutions to the challenges with which they are presented.

What does it take to become an engineer?

Students interested in becoming engineers should have a solid background in math (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus), science (chemistry, physics, and even biology), and computer programming. Skills like problem-solving, creativity, attention to detail, leadership, and the ability to communicate effectively and work with a team are also essential to succeeding as an engineer. While earning a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement to pursue licensure, those who have graduated from a master’s degree program have a higher chance of employment in higher-level roles.

What’s the job outlook for graduates of Engineering degree programs?

For students considering majoring in engineering in college, the career options are limitless and the employment future is bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that roughly 91,300 new engineering jobs will be created between 2021 and 2031. The median annual salary within the engineering workforce was nearly $79,840 in 2021, with the lowest paid engineering career option earning $46,910 and the highest earning more than $130,850 a year.

Can students studying engineering specialize in a specific area within their chosen discipline?

Yes, many online engineering programs allow students to concentrate on a particular aspect of their chosen field. For instance, a specific focus of engineering requires those who focus on robotics or thermal systems within mechanical engineering.

mechanical engineer working in the field

Engineering College Major Student’s Guide: Featured Programs

Engineering is a diverse field encompassing many kinds of work and numerous specializations, such as aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, and mechanical engineering.

space rocket engine

Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace engineering students start by learning theories and engineering principles in the lecture hall, prototyping in the labs, to full-size builds in the workshop. Students in aerospace engineering majors will be well-prepared for professions in engineering, manufacturing, production, design, automotive, systems, and a wide range of other related fields with the skills they acquire in these situations.

In an aerospace engineering program, you can learn a wide range of core engineering concepts and specialized information on designing, constructing, and using aircraft and spacecraft. Various facets of aerospace engineering are often included in the curriculum, such as:

  • Calculus and Differential Equations
  • Computer Engineering
  • Physics for Engineers
  • Aerodynamics
  • Flight Mechanics
  • Aerospace Structures
  • Propulsion Systems
  • Control Systems
  • Spacecraft Design
  • Avionics and Navigation
  • Aerospace Materials
  • Orbital Mechanics
  • Senior Aerospace Project

What They Do:

Every NASA mission from the first human spaceflight to the exploration of Mars has depended on aerospace engineers. But so do more commonplace things, like the navigation system on your phone, your satellite television service, and the weather report.

Aerospace engineers design, operate, and maintain airplanes, rockets, missiles, and satellites. Aerospace engineers typically work for aerospace product manufacturers or for the U.S. government at the Department of Defense or at NASA.

Employment Opportunities:

A few examples of job titles in aerospace engineering include avionics engineer (designs communication, navigation, and other electronic systems for aircraft and spacecraft), propulsion engineer (designs spacecraft engines), and mission specialist (oversees testing, operation, and maintenance of spacecraft and their related missions).

Educational Requirements:

A bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or a science related to aerospace systems is required to become an aerospace engineer. Aerospace engineers who work for the government may also need security clearance.

chemical engineer standing outside a chemical plant
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Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers impact virtually all aspects of modern life. Chemical engineers design and manage chemical processes for the production of foods, fuels, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals.

Degree programs in chemical engineering are vast and varied. It is a multidisciplinary field of engineering that combines specific engineering principles with life sciences (such as biology, biochemistry, and microbiology) and natural or experimental sciences (such as physics and chemistry), as well as mathematics and economics. A chemical engineering degree aims to equip students with abilities to design, develop, produce, transform, transport, operate, and manage the industrial processes that turn raw materials into valuable products.

Here’s an overview of what a chemical engineering program typically covers:

  • Chemical Processes and Reactions
  • Mass and Energy Balances
  • Chemical Separation Processes
  • Reaction Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics
  • Chemical Kinetics
  • Process Safety and Hazard Analysis
  • Chemical Plant Design
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Environmental and Sustainable Engineering
  • Bioprocess Engineering
  • Computational Methods and Simulation

What They Do:

Chemical engineers work at large-scale manufacturing plants, at water and waste treatment plants, and in recycling. They work in environmental health and safety, in health care and biotechnology, in agriculture and food processing, and in microelectronics and advanced materials design. They even work in the cosmetics industry.

Employment Opportunities:

A few examples of jobs in chemical engineering include petroleum engineer (develops refining and extraction systems for oil and gas), environmental engineer (measures pollution and other environmental problems and devises solutions to address them), and materials engineer (analyzes materials used in manufacturing processes).

Educational Requirements:

A bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related field plus practical experience from internships and cooperative programs is typically required to become a chemical engineer.

two civil engineers looking at plans for a project together
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Civil Engineering

A great thing about civil engineering is how it constantly adapts to society’s needs and wants. In recent years, civil engineering has evolved to take into account many current environmental difficulties, contributing to the resolution of pollution and water supply shortage problems while taking into account the potential of sustainable energy within the sector.

Civil engineering degree programs consider environmental, financial, legal, and ethical factors. This engineering major helps students apply mathematics and scientific knowledge (especially physics) to real-life scenarios and problems resulting from building and maintaining structures. Sample coursework:

  • Structural Engineering
  • Geotechnical Engineering
  • Transportation Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Resources Engineering
  • Construction Management
  • Surveying and Geomatics
  • Structural Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering
  • Materials and Concrete Technology
  • Infrastructure Design and Urban Planning
  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  • Ethics and Professionalism
  • Engineering Economics
  • Project Design and Management

What They Do:

Civil engineers design, construct, maintain, and operate safe and durable infrastructure including roads, bridges, harbors, dams, pipelines, and water treatment systems. Civil engineers might specialize in construction engineering, transportation engineering, environmental engineering, or land development.

Employment Opportunities:

Civil engineers are often employed by architectural and construction firms and by all levels of government, with a famous example being the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In civil engineering, you could be a surveyor (plots property boundaries), urban planner (works with public officials and the community to plan land use), transport planner (develops transportation strategies to address the needs of drivers and pedestrians), or water resources engineer (creates systems for managing water resources for consumption, industrial use, and recreation).

Educational Requirements:

A bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field from an accredited program is required to become a licensed civil engineer.

electrical engineer standing outside
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Electrical Engineering

Students learn to build and analyze electrical systems with a four-year degree. The degree program will give students a thorough understanding of electrical theory and practical knowledge of circuitry, mechanics, computer programming, and thermodynamics.

Before students may enroll in a particular electrical/electronics engineering course, they often need to pass introductory math and physics courses. Some courses in advanced engineering require students to select a specialty. Other coursework include:

  • Circuits and Electronics
  • Digital Logic Design
  • Signals and Systems
  • Electromagnetics
  • Microelectronics
  • Communication Systems
  • Control Systems
  • Power Systems
  • Renewable Energy Systems
  • Electric Machines and Drives
  • VLSI Design (Very Large-Scale Integration)
  • Embedded Systems
  • Robotics and Automation
  • Computer Architecture
  • Engineering Ethics and Professionalism

What They Do:

Electrical engineers design, test, and supervise the use of products, equipment, and systems that use electricity. Electrical engineers design electrical systems for everything from cars to computers and from communications systems to power grids.

Employment Opportunities:

Electrical engineers are critically important to the development of sustainable technologies including renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power and to the development of personal technology including smartphones and computers. A few examples of jobs in electrical engineering include communications engineer (designs communication systems), electronics engineer (designs electronic equipment such as vehicle motors and household appliances), and design engineer (uses computer-aided design software to create new products).

Educational Requirements:

A bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a related field plus practical experience from internships and cooperative programs is typically required to become an electrical engineer.

electrical engineer monitoring the status of an electrical system
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Industrial Engineering

Students who earn a degree in industrial engineering are prepared to manage businesses and develop strategies in the engineering industry. They get knowledge of various business procedures, product designs, engineering specialties, and other advanced topics. Curriculum may vary, but here is a sample of courses you might encounter in industrial engineering degrees:

  • Systems Analysis and Design
  • Operations Research
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Manufacturing Processes
  • Quality Control and Six Sigma
  • Production Planning and Control
  • Ergonomics and Human Factors
  • Simulation and Modeling
  • Data Analytics and Decision-Making
  • Facility Layout and Design
  • Project Management
  • Engineering Economics
  • Lean Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement
  • Human Resources Management
  • Sustainability and Green Engineering
  • Engineering Ethics and Professionalism

Business topics and engineering core courses are usually mixed together in industrial engineering degrees to provide students broad education experience.

What They Do:

Industrial engineers work closely with manufacturing and production engineers to improve the quality and productivity of industries. Their work assists with the production and delivery of goods and services at every part of the supply chain, from the sourcing of manufacturing materials to final product delivery.

Industrial engineers create systems that efficiently integrate workers, knowledge, processes, equipment, and materials. Industrial engineers study complex systems and organizations on site, often in settings like a factory or manufacturing plant. They also work in offices using computers to analyze observed data in order to solve problems or design more effective processes and procedures.

Employment Opportunities:

A few examples of job titles in industrial engineering include industrial designer (creates blueprints and prototypes for new product designs), energy efficiency engineer (works with builders and manufacturers to help them improve energy efficiency), and supply chain analyst (optimizes supply chain processes).

Educational Requirements:

A bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering plus practical experience from internships and cooperative programs is typically required to become an industrial engineer.

mechanical engineer operating a machine
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Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering is among the most challenging degrees at the undergraduate level. This program studies the design, development, installation, operation, and maintenance of machinery, engines, and structures in industrial, instrumentation, biomedical, and transportation systems. The program teaches students how to effectively use these energies, forces, and structures to accomplish various activities. Students will also explore the study of thermal and chemical energy conversion into mechanical work through engines and power plants.

Some modules mechanical engineering students may study include:

  • Biomedical And Bioengineering
  • Electromechanical
  • Engineering Concepts
  • Solid Mechanics
  • Structural Materials
  • Systems Modeling
  • Thermodynamics
  • Thermofluids

What They Do:

Mechanical engineering has been referred to as a generalist and a jack of all crafts since engineering professionals in the field undergo training and knowledge in various technical, social, environmental, and economic issues. Mechanical engineers design, build, and test mechanical devices and equipment. Mechanical engineering is one of the earliest and oldest engineering fields. The application of mechanical engineering dates back thousands of years and includes the invention of classic machines such as inclined planes, pulleys, and the wheel.

Today, objects designed by mechanical engineers are involved in the building of a wide range of products, including batteries, medical devices, electric generators, combustion engines, heating and cooling systems, automobiles, and robots.

Employment Opportunities:

A few examples of jobs in mechanical engineering include automation engineer (designs and builds self-operating machines), power train engineer (works in the automotive industry improving the performance of vehicles), and instrumentation engineer (designs and manages the equipment that controls other engineering systems).

Educational Requirements:

A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is typically required to become a mechanical engineer.

Find out more about what you can do with a mechanical engineering degree.

mechanical engineer operating a lathe

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