Engineering Careers Degrees, Specializations, and Professional Resources for Aspiring Engineers

This guide was written by

MoneyGeek Staff

Whether it’s the car you drive, the building you work in or the computer you use, engineers had a hand in making it. Because engineering intersects with many other industries, engineers have a range of job opportunities and can solve a range of problems. Find out more about engineering careers, the outlook for various roles, and what it takes to get started.

Career Possibilities in Engineering

There are multiple career paths within engineering, from computer software and hardware engineers who build the apps and devices we use every day to civil engineers who shape our cities to environmental engineers who preserve our natural resources. Specific jobs and responsibilities vary greatly, depending on the branch of engineering, but most careers share some common functions — research, development, design, construction, production, operation, and management.

Explore some of the common career opportunities for engineers, with statistics on job growth and salaries:

Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers solve problems related to the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and other products by applying the principles of chemistry, biology, physics and math. They also design processes and the physical equipment necessary for large-scale manufacturing.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 2%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, preferably with some supplemental practical experience

Civil Engineer

Civil engineers design and carry out construction projects, such as buildings, railways, road systems, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment. They also oversee all aspects of the project, ensuring everything complies with regulations.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 8%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or civil engineering technology

Electrical Engineer

Electrical engineers design, develop, and maintain all forms of electrical equipment and devices, from the wiring in buildings and cars to large-scale communications systems and generators.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 1%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering; coursework in physics and math is especially important

Hardware Engineer

Hardware engineers design and develop the hardware components of computer systems, such as circuit boards, processors, memory devices, networks, and routers. These professionals often work with software developers to ensure hardware components work properly with the latest software updates.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 3%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a related field, such as electrical engineering or computer science

Mechanical Engineering Technician

These professionals assist mechanical engineers to develop, test, and manufacture mechanical devices. They are usually tasked with recording and analyzing data and creating sketches and layouts of devices.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 2%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Associate degree in mechanical engineering technology

Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineering has a wide scope. In a nutshell, these engineers design, develop and build mechanical devices for various industries. This process typically includes analyzing problems, developing prototypes of devices to fix the given problems, and overseeing manufacturing after the prototype is refined and ready for rollout.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 5%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

The CTO oversees all technological aspects of a company, from developing the company’s technology infrastructure to hiring IT professionals.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 2-4%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field, as well as several years of professional management experience; some employers prefer applicants with an MBA or MS in a technology-related discipline.

Director of Engineering

Directors of engineering plan, direct, and oversee a company’s engineering projects. This can include coming up with design plans, presenting plans to management for approval, managing a team of engineers to implement the plan, and ensuring the plan stays within the company’s budget.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 2-4%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a related field, as well as several years of engineering management experience

Engineering Teacher (Postsecondary)

These individuals teach college students the theories and principles of engineering. They may also conduct their own research to help advance the field of knowledge.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 13%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    PhD in engineering, although a master’s degree may be accepted for teaching positions at community colleges

Statistician

Statisticians collect information via surveys, questionnaires, polls, and experiments and then analyze data to create solutions to real world problems.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 34%

  • Minimum education requirement:

    Master’s degree in statistics, mathematics or a related quantitative field

Architect

Architects use creative and technical knowledge to plan and design buildings, houses, offices, and similar structures.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 7%

  • Minimum education requirement:

    Professional or master’s degree in architecture

Drafter

Drafters use CAD software to turn designs from architects and engineers into technical drawings.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): -3%

    (BLS predicts a decline due to new software programs that help current drafters become more efficient. As a result, fewer drafters may be needed and competition for employment will be high.)

  • Minimum education requirement:

    Certificate or associate degree in drafting, typically from a technical or vocational college

Data Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 and the Occupational Information Network

Pay for Engineers

Engineering is a broad field, which means salaries can vary depending on job title and years of experience. Below are recent salary trends for different careers within engineering to give you an idea of what to expect.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015

Are You a Fit for Engineering?

According to “The Accidental Engineer” by Dr. Catherine E. Brawner of Research Triangle Educational Consultants, most people who apply to degree programs in engineering decided to be engineers by their senior year of high school. If you’re still trying to determine whether this field is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you like math?

Math is a critical area of knowledge for engineers. Engineering involves precise measurement and analysis of mathematical data, so if calculus class was enjoyable for you in high school, engineering may be a viable career option.

Do you like science?

Much like math, engineers use the principles of science every day in their work. Physics is especially important, because it deals with how energy is transferred — a process engineers strive to refine.

Are you good with your hands?

A great deal of engineering work involves building and manipulating machinery. Though some of this is done through computer-aided manufacturing, much of it is hands-on work that lets professionals internalize the mechanics of how things work.

Do you love solving problems?

Does finding the answer to baffling puzzles or seemingly impossible conundrums thrill you? If so, engineering is a promising option as companies are seeking faster, more affordable, and better options to their existing products.

Are you a team player?

Although parts of the job can be done on your own, it’s rare for modern engineers to work in complete isolation. Whole teams of engineers are employed to brainstorm solutions and troubleshoot problems, and engineers will likely need to work cross-functionally to get things done.

Skills for Being a Successful Engineer

Science and math knowledge

Engineering involves working with scientific principles and math equations to analyze problems and test solutions.

Ability to work independently and within a team

Certain aspects of engineering jobs can be done individually, but completing an entire project — big or small — requires the help of team members from various departments.

Strong analytical mind

Engineering is all about effective problem-solving. Engineers must be able to collect and analyze information to come up with safe and reasonable solutions.

Clear and effective communication

Engineers often work with colleagues who don’t have a technical background. Effective communication is crucial to keep projects moving forward and manage expectations.

Adaptability

Even with careful planning, things can go wrong or unexpected issues can arise, especially when creating something new. This is particularly true in today’s rapidly changing tech world. As a result, engineers must be able to adapt to the unexpected and adjust plans according to the given environment.

Engineers use different tools and technology, depending on their specific roles. For instance, electrical engineers may use semiconductors and signal generators, whereas software engineers are more often than not behind a computer. In general, however, most engineers can expect to use the following technology:

CAD (computer-aided design)

CAD software is used to create 2D and 3D models. It’s particularly useful for those in structural engineering fields.

CAM (computer-aided manufacturing)

Rather than having to use manual tools, CAM software lets computers operate tools to manufacture items, thereby achieving an extraordinary degree of precision.

Excel

Engineers must track, analyze, and present all sorts of data, as well as budgets. Excel helps these professionals do just that.

Programming languages

Engineers can expect to use programming languages such as Java, C#, Ruby on Rails, PHP, C++, and/or Python for front-end frameworks and/or backend development.

Statistical analysis software

Engineers use statistical analysis software, such as MATLAB, to express problems and solutions in mathematical notation. These tools can be used for computation, algorithm development, modeling and prototyping, and data analysis.

Degrees That Help Prepare You for Engineering Careers

Santa Barbara City College notes there are 25 engineering specialties, which doesn’t include at least 85 different subdivisions. Because engineering is such a broad field, colleges and universities across the U.S. offer several different degrees, at all levels, to help prepare students for engineering careers. Despite there being so many different branches, the core of the profession consists of the following areas:

Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering degrees emphasize chemistry and other hard sciences, as well as math, readying graduates for work with chemicals that enhance existing products or create new ones. Undergraduates first get up to speed with college-level science and math, including biology and multivariable calculus, before diving into advanced chemical engineering concepts. Baccalaureate-level chemical engineering courses include:

  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Thermodynamics & Kinetics
  • Transport Processes
  • Chemical Engineering Reactor Design

At the master’s level, students may find themselves doing research, though this is not always a requirement. The master’s in chemical engineering can be either a bridge to a PhD in the field or a gateway to advanced research and development in industries such as those dealing with food, energy, pharmaceuticals, or microelectronics. Some sample courses are:

  • Modeling and Analysis of Chemical Engineering
  • Transport Phenomena
  • Statistical Mechanics
  • Heat Transmission
Civil Engineering

A mix of mathematics, engineering, and design, civil engineering degree programs prepare students to solve a range of societal problems, such as improving infrastructure, creating sustainable systems, and protecting resources. In a bachelor’s degree program students learn core knowledge, including theory and applications, to build the foundation of a successful civil engineering career. Example courses include:

  • Calculus for Engineers
  • Introduction to Engineering and Design
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Structural Dynamics

A master’s program aims to supplement existing knowledge to help students become experts in the field of civil engineering and also prepare them for senior-level careers. Many programs allow students to pursue a concentration area to further specialize their knowledge and skills. Graduation requirements usually include a capstone design project, where students design and direct a plan that addresses a social, economic and/or environmental issue. At this level, courses include:

  • Engineering Analysis Techniques
  • Fundamentals of Environmental/Water Resources Engineering
  • Engineering Mechanics
  • Quantitative Methods and Financial Analysis for Managers
Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering degrees heavily emphasize math, physics, and engineering science, as well as the relationship between technology and society, to help prepare students for work with electromagnetic fields and electricity. Coursework covers key topics such as working with sensors, collecting data, processing signals and information, and modeling complex systems. Example courses within a bachelor’s degree program include:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry for Engineers
  • Modern Differential Equations
  • Fundamentals of Electromagnetics
  • Circuits

A master’s program dives deeper into advanced theories and application of electrical engineering principles. Most programs require students to choose a concentration area to master — such as communication systems, electronic circuits, or signal processing — and to complete a graduate-level thesis. Sample course titles are:

  • Integrated Circuit Fabrication Processes
  • Principles and Models of Semiconductor Devices
  • Computer Systems Architecture
  • Wireless Communications
  • VLSI (Very-Large-Scale Integration) & Circuit Design
Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineers are efficiency experts when it comes to production, looking at not only equipment but also the people who use it. Bachelor’s students study processes such as logistics and supply chain design, then learn how to make computer simulations to test their designs. An example senior project might be redesigning the library’s shelves and modifying its book checkout procedures to increase usability during midterms. Courses could include:

  • Industrial Costs and Controls
  • Project Organization and Management
  • Human Factors Engineering
  • Quality Engineering

Graduate students come into a master’s program with the math and science prerequisites and foundation in systems design, which readies them for advanced coursework that can make them industry experts in system simulation and quality management. Sample courses for master’s students in this discipline include:

  • Lean Manufacturing
  • Design for Manufacturability
  • Simulation and Stochastic Processes
  • Deterministic Optimization
Materials Science Engineering

A BS degree in materials science and engineering is for future product-makers. Undergrads will learn about the physical strengths and shortcomings of materials, such as metals and plastics, and use such materials to create better products — everything from smoother-riding baby strollers to medical equipment that can withstand an electrical surge. On their way to a final design project, baccalaureate students get a strong foundation in physics and chemistry during their first two years before moving into core courses in materials science, including:

  • Materials Processing
  • Mechanical Behaviors of Materials
  • Design of Microstructure
  • Introduction to Polymer Engineering

Master’s students should expect to work on a graduate thesis after exploring more in-depth a section of materials science and engineering they want to continue research in after school. Examples of areas could be nanomaterials, computational materials science or biomaterials. Courses include:

  • Phase Transformations in Crystalline Materials
  • Ceramic Processing
  • Fundamentals of Thin Film Materials
  • Advanced Electron Microscopy and Diffraction
Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering deals with the design and use of machines, which means degree programs help prepare aspiring engineers to combat real world problems in a range of areas, from manufacturing to transportation to health. An undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering provides a solid foundation in the technical principles of the field, such as thermal and fluid sciences, dynamics and control, and mechanics and materials. Programs typically consist of courses such as:

  • Engineering Problem-Solving and Programming
  • Linear Algebra and Differential Equations
  • Computer-Aided Design
  • Waves, Optics and Thermodynamics
  • Heat Transfer

An MS in mechanical engineering helps prepare students for more advanced careers in a number of industries, from manufacturing to nanotechnology to resource conservation. Students also choose a concentration — such as design and manufacturing, bioengineering, robotics, or thermal fluids — to tailor their skills to personal interests and/or goals. Some universities also have a thesis or practicum requirement for graduation or give students the option to complete one. At this degree level, examples of courses are:

  • Statistical Mechanical Concepts in Engineering
  • Product Development
  • Continuum Mechanics
  • Computational Methods in Materials Science
  • Green Manufacturing

Specialty Areas in Engineering

Within the core degree programs mentioned above, there are multiple concentrations, giving students the chance to tailor their education to a specific area of interest. Offered specializations, however, will vary significantly from college to college. To give you a sense of potential ways to tailor an engineering degree, here are six specialties within the core disciplines previously outlined:

Human Factors and Ergonomics

A subset of industrial engineering, human factors looks at how to make products safe and easy to use. A simple example would be designing a cell phone that’s easy to hold and allows users to reach all the buttons with their thumb.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology, which falls under chemical engineering in some colleges and mechanical engineering in others, is about building materials at a microscopic level. One potential use of this technology is more effective delivery of drugs to the parts of the body that need it most. Another is the use of nanoparticles to increase fuel efficiency in vehicles.

Robotics

A mechanical engineering specialization, robotics focuses both on automating repetitive tasks and creating avenues for robots to think and learn for themselves. Robots are most often found in manufacturing, but another example is the Mars Rover, which was designed to navigate unfamiliar and rocky terrain.

Structural Engineering

A specialization of civil engineering, structural engineering looks at the effects of force on objects, including bridges and buildings, and creates structures that can withstand everyday stressors such as gravity and weight as well as less common stressors such as natural disasters and aberrant weather.

Environmental Engineering

This specialization is sometimes offered within civil engineering degree programs. If you’re interested in creating new technologies to help protect the planet, consider studying environmental engineering. This area touches on the traditional math and science that are the foundations of engineering, but also explores how engineering intersects with biology, ecology, economics, and other social sciences.

Specialized Degrees

Some schools have elevated engineering specializations to full degree programs of study. This is fairly typical at schools with larger engineering departments. Specific offerings will vary from university to university, but a number of U.S. colleges offer full undergraduate and/or graduate degrees in niche areas of engineering, such as:

  • Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Engineering Physics
  • Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  • Welding Engineering
  • Architectural Engineering
  • Geosystems Engineering
  • Nuclear Engineering

Exams, Certificates, and Other Requirements for Engineers

There are plenty of credentials available to engineers, regardless of their discipline and area of specialization. Some of these can be found via the professional organizations.

Credentialing isn’t necessary for entry-level positions in the most common fields — chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, materials science or mechanical engineering — but engineers who want to advance in their careers will most likely need to earn a Professional Engineering (PE) license. To earn this designation, you’ll first need several years of work experience to complement your engineering degree. Then you’ll take your state’s Fundamentals of Engineering exam to become engineers-in-training before continuing employment and studying for the state’s Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Once you pass that, you are eligible for state licensure and government engineering projects.

Here are a few examples of optional credentials, some of which are available to all engineers in a particular specialization and others that require a PE license:

Certified Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers with a bachelor’s degree can become certified through the National Certification Commission in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Membership is renewed through continuing education, participation in professional societies, or authorship of publications.

Certified Professional in Supply Management

Industrial engineers can earn this specialized credential from the Institute of Supply Management after passing an exam that covers critical supply management topics such as costs, sourcing, logistics, and project management.

Diplomate, Water Resources Engineer

Civil engineers with a PE license and an additional six years of post-licensure work experience can take an oral exam to prove mastery in this area. To keep the certification, they must complete 30 hours of recognized professional development each year.

Where Engineers Work

Engineers’ primary workplace is the office, where much of their work is done on powerful computers that can run simulations and create 3D designs of products. However, engineers are not rooted to their desk chairs. They must be able to work wherever problems need to be solved. That might be anywhere from an airplane hangar to a research laboratory. Here are a few of the most common locations where engineers can be found:

Construction Sites

Civil engineers witness the physical creation of buildings and structures, ensuring that plans are properly followed and troubleshooting implementation problems. Industrial engineers may also visit construction sites to implement efficient systems and manage logistics.

Industrial Plants

Chemical engineers may be called to oversee processes at plants and refineries where products are mass-produced.

Research and Development Laboratories

Chemical engineers and materials science engineers are charged with developing products. Though they may be designed on computers, those products are tested in laboratories run by companies, universities and governments.

Factories

Mechanical engineers may want to see robots on an assembly line or may be called upon to consult on a machine that has broken down.

Finding Employment: Engineering Job Boards

The National Science Foundation reports that a majority of engineers work in three fields: electrical engineering (25 percent), mechanical engineering (19 percent), and civil engineering (15 percent). The job boards below advertise openings for engineers in these popular fields as well as other specializations:

  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers

    ASME’s board lists engineering careers by category and features jobs that range from senior turbomachinery design engineer to robotics and cyber defender intern.

  • Dice

    Dice is a tech job repository used by large employers. Users can get weekly job updates emailed to them and read through the Dice career toolkit for job hunting pointers.

  • Engineering.com

    Users can search 33 categories of engineering jobs and/or look for posts from specific cities or states. They can also post their own resume, sign up for a job newsletter, and take any of the site’s webinars.

  • IEEE Job Site

    Companies such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Google use IEEE to recruit talent. Job seekers can search job listings, get resume tips, and listen to free webinars.

  • National Society of Professional Engineers

    The NSPE job board is open to anyone holding a valid license or certificate as a professional engineer, engineer-in-training or engineering intern.

Engineering jobs can be found at almost every company, but some obviously employ more than others. According to 2014 data from WANTED Analytics, the following organizations were looking to hire the most engineers:

Engineering Internships

Internships look great on any resume and boost employment opportunities by providing potential avenues into full-time work at the company where the internship takes place. Even if the opportunities don’t lead to a full-time role, interns still gain valuable work and industry experience that can increase their marketability. To find internships, utilize your student service resources, and be sure to attend information sessions and career fairs. But don’t be afraid to search on your own as well. Here are some examples of what’s available:

Chevron Engineering Internship

Location: Varies

Students pursuing degrees in chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical or petroleum engineering can look for oil in exploration zones or be stationed at a production facility or refinery for the summer.

CIA Undergraduate Internship/Co-op

Location: Washington, DC

Electrical and computer engineers pursuing degrees can sacrifice a semester and summer for this well-paid internship for the Central Intelligence Agency in the nation’s capital, where they’ll work with operating systems, networks and communications software.

Disney Professional Internship

Location: Anaheim, CA, or Orlando, FL

Engineers of nearly every background are needed to keep Disney’s parks running, but current industrial engineering students and recent graduates may find a Disney internship most intriguing, as they’ll be able to analyze visitor habits in some of the most popular properties in the world.

Goodyear RDE&Q Internship and Co-op

Location: Akron, OH

The Research, Development, Engineering and Quality department at Goodyear opens its laboratories to engineering students interested in the technology needed to develop and manufacture tires. Mechanical, chemical, electrical, civil and industrial engineers are all needed.

NBIB Biomedical Engineering Summer Internship

Location: Bethesda, MD

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering runs a two-month internship for undergraduates entering their senior year. Interns mix project work with lab visits and lectures.

Professional Associations & Organizations

Whether you’ve just decided to join the profession or are an experienced engineer looking to enhance your qualifications, professional associations offer their members many useful resources and also keep them abreast of industry news and trends. Consider joining one of the engineering groups below to further your professional development:

American Association of Engineering Societies

AAES is a multidisciplinary organization representing engineers in business, government and academia. Engineering societies that become members can vote and join working groups that take on industry issues, such as increasing workforce diversity or enhancing K-12 engineering education.

American Institute of Chemical Engineers

Webinars, conference presentations and certifications are just a few of the offerings to AIChE members. With a membership of 50,000 chemical engineering professionals from over 100 countries, AIChE members also can take advantage of the organization’s large databases for job hunting and networking.

American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers

ASABE membership comes with four general perks: access to extensive information on the field available through its library and member publications; networking opportunities via databases and events; skills development through networking, awards, courses; and career center access.

American Society of Civil Engineers

The nation’s oldest engineering society, ASCE gains members in part through its impressive catalog of webinars, not to mention the networking opportunities that come from joining an organization with 146,000 members.

Association for Computing Machinery

With a cross-disciplinary membership, ACM is an interesting option for professional and prospective computer engineers, who can join any of the organization’s 37 special interest groups.

Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration

SME’s membership includes not only engineers, but also geologists and metallurgists. Educators, students and researchers are all welcome to join and utilize the society’s professional development resources.