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Mechanical engineering is a broad field that serves the medical, automotive, robotics, energy, and transportation industries, just to start with. It’s the study of researching, designing, developing, and testing devices that involve force or motion. If it moves in some way shape or form, chances are that mechanical engineering was involved.
Most positions in the mechanical engineering world require a baccalaureate for entry-level positions, while managerial, academic, and research and development require higher levels of education. The area of study is available at all levels of education, including associate, baccalaureate, master, and doctorate levels.
When searching out mechanical engineering programs, keep in mind that attending an accredited school isn’t enough. Mechanical engineering programs need to be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which currently approves more than 315 mechanical engineering programs at multiple stages of education.
One thing to note is the difference between mechanical engineering and engineering technology programs—technology programs will focus on theory, while mechanical programs are geared towards practical usage.
While rare, associate degrees are still an option at some colleges. As with most AS degrees, they typically take 2 years and will provide an introduction to the area study, focusing on very general, broad strokes, while spending most time on core courses, such as mathematics and English.
Careers for graduates with an Associate in Mechanical Engineering: Mechanical Drafter
At this level of education, completion leads to licensure as a Mechanical Engineer post-graduation. Typically taking four years, the curriculum will consist of an introduction to engineering, as well as the product design process. Trigonometry and calculus will be the foundations, complemented by research technique and technological applications. There will also be a significant amount of time spent on understanding chemistry, physics, heat transfer, metals selection, and learning programming languages, as well as writing design reports, synthesis and analysis software, and using computer-aided design (CAD) software.
Careers for graduates with a baccalaureate in mechanical engineering*: Mechanical Engineer, Automotive Engineer, Biomedical Engineer, Nuclear Engineer, Robotics Engineer, Acoustics Engineer, Design Engineer, Energy Conservation Engineer, Piping Engineer, Mechanical Maintenance Engineer, Thermal Design Engineer, Tool Engineer. The median annual salary for individuals with a baccalaureate in mechanical engineering is $80,000.
*Most jobs in this area of study require licensure. Graduates of an ABET-accredited program must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which is orchestrated by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.
Graduate degrees in mechanical engineering are particularly used for specialization within a certain area of this broad study, but they can also be used to advance within an already established career. Students will hone in on their interests, such as biomedical engineering, combustion, nanotechnology, or rail travel, and take courses like engineering project management or patent law. Simulation modeling and experimentation may also play a significant role in the program.
If industry research or becoming a college professor is the end goal, a doctorate program in mechanical engineering is the level of education required. Focusing on advanced mathematics and research skills, it takes between 4 to 5 years to complete a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.
Careers for graduates with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering: Professor, Research and Design