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Mechanical engineers work with machines of all kinds, from tools to medical devices and vehicle engines to household appliances. Because the field of mechanical engineering is so broad, these engineers find work in a number of industries. No matter which industry they work in, they think about problems and create machines to solve those problems. They use computers in their designs, but they also build prototypes of their ideas and test them to see how well they work. After perfecting the design of a machine, mechanical engineers supervise the manufacturing process.
The first step to becoming a mechanical engineer is earning your undergraduate degree from a program accredited by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. A Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering is the most popular degree path for entering this field, but students can also major in mechanical engineering technology. Any undergraduate mechanical engineering program will include substantial coursework in engineering, design, life sciences, physical sciences and math, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. While students will have to learn engineering theory and principles, they should be prepared to spend much of their time applying those principles to solve real-world problems. Engineering programs are rigorous and often require – or at least encourage – students to gain hands-on work experience through internships and co-op experiences. It’s not unusual for students to take five years to complete mechanical engineering degrees, even in programs that could be finished in four years, the BLS reported.
For many mechanical engineers, a bachelor’s degree alone is sufficient academic preparation for their careers. Their undergraduate education teaches them the theory they need to know and how to apply it in their work. However, certain roles in the field of mechanical engineering require a master’s degree. For academic positions in college settings and high-level research and development jobs, employers may only consider candidates who have a graduate degree. Some ambitious mechanical engineers earn a degree in another relevant subject, like business administration, to advance to management roles. While some engineers go out and gain work experience before going back to school for their master’s-level studies, others go right to graduate school. If you know graduate school is a necessary part of preparation for your goals, a five- or six-year program that allows you to earn both degrees together might be a good option for you.
If your work will include offering services directly to the public, then you will need to earn a professional engineer (PE) license, the BLS reported. You can take the first required exam, the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, even before you graduate to become an engineer in training. Once you have at least four years of engineering work experience, you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, attain your license and finally be considered a full-fledged professional engineer.
Mechanical engineers earn a median salary of $80,580 per year, according to the BLS. The highest earning potential is found in some of the industries that employ the most mechanical engineers, including computer and electronic product manufacturing, architectural and engineering services and transportation equipment manufacturing. While the overall job outlook for mechanical engineers is below average, the BLS still expects faster than average job growth in industries like architecture and engineering services, machinery and transportation equipment manufacturing and gas and oil extraction.
Mechanical engineers think up, design and create devices to solve real-world problems. They take their ideas from being mere concepts to fully functioning machines.