What You'll Do
By Sarah Stevenson
Mechanical engineering is a very broad discipline, covering the design and manufacturing of mechanical devices from hand-operated tools to complex machinery. Mechanical engineers work in a wide range of industries, but what all jobs in the field have in common is a focus on the mechanics of motion, whether it's fluid dynamics in a hydroelectric power system, the transport and conversion of energy, or the moving parts of complex automated factory equipment.
Mechanical engineering professionals often concentrate on drafting and design engineering, such as product, equipment or systems design. They also work on research and development, manufacturing, and testing in the lab or in the field.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 277,500 mechanical engineer jobs in 2014. Many work in general machinery engineering, such as refrigeration systems; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; or industrial manufacturing equipment. Others work in energy-related fields, helping to develop new sources of energy production or designing methods of energy conversion like power plants and combustion engines. Some design transportation machinery, while others test machines such as vehicles and elevators for safety. There are even mechanical engineers who explore the limits of technology through the design of robotics and automated systems.
The Future of Mechanical Engineering
In many ways, mechanical engineers shape the future of industry. Because mechanical engineering is at the forefront of developing and improving products, machines and systems, there will always be a high demand for qualified workers in any sector that relies on the use of mechanical technology. Emerging fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and alternative energy technology will also produce an increasing number of job opportunities.
Schools & Degrees
- Associate's Degree in Mechanical Engineering: Entry-level mechanical engineering jobs usually require a bachelor's degree. However, a 2-year associate's degree in mechanical engineering technology makes it possible to start work as a technician, assist licensed mechanical engineers in the field, or transfer to a 4-year program.
- Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering: Besides technical training in design, computer and simulation applications, and applied sciences, a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in mechanical engineering teaches you the problem-solving and analytical skills that are critical for practicing engineers. Many mechanical engineering students also select a specialty such as aerospace engineering or propulsion systems.
- Master's and Doctoral Degrees in Mechanical Engineering: A master's or doctoral degree enables you to further specialize in a particular area of mechanical engineering, whether you choose to work in the field as an engineer or pursue research. Graduate degree options for mechanical engineers include the Master of Science (MS), Professional Science Master (PSM), or PhD.
- Online Mechanical Engineering Degrees: More and more institutions are offering online bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering, as well as associate's degrees in mechanical engineering technology. There are even a few online PhD programs in mechanical engineering.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for mechanical engineers is $83,060. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.