If you’re looking for an easy major, engineering isn’t it. As a whole, the field of engineering is so rigorous that fewer than half of students majoring in the field complete their bachelor’s degree within five years, according to CBS News. By necessity, engineering degree programs require a great deal of studies in science and math. However, if you are prepared for the demands of this science- and math-heavy field of study, you can certainly seek out “easier” majors within the field that have less strict requirements and offer more flexibility in terms of curricula.
Curriculum Requirements for All Engineering Degrees
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the organization that accredits engineering degree programs in all branches of the field. ABET has one set of general curriculum criteria that all accredited engineering programs must meet, regardless of the specific discipline of engineering, and a set of program-specific criteria for each recognized branch of engineering degree programs.
Even the easiest engineering majors must meet these requirements if the school wishes to maintain accreditation status. That means that in every engineering program, one year, or one-quarter of a student’s education, must be spent taking college-level mathematics and basic laboratory science courses. You also can’t get out of the ABET requirement that engineering science and design courses make up a year and a half of your studies. General education courses, too, are mandatory, as is a final engineering design experience, often in the form of a capstone project or senior design project.
It’s in the program-specific ABET requirements that students will see the most variance between one type of engineering degree and another. Some types of engineering programs have very strict requirements and a detailed list of required courses, while others have fewer absolute requirements and more freedom for schools and for students to decide what coursework to include in the program.
The purpose of the major design experience that is required for even the easiest ABET-accredited engineering program is to gain experience applying engineering knowledge to solving problems that mimic real-world challenges and constraints.
Engineering Degrees With Fewer Requirements
General engineering is one of the only programs recognized by ABET to include no further requirements beyond the general curriculum criteria. Because there is no specialization to speak of in a general engineering, engineering physics or engineering science program, ABET names no program-specific criteria for this type of engineering degree. General engineering degree programs are harder to find than programs in broad disciplines or in narrower subdisciplines of these more prevalent branches of engineering. The engineering core curriculum for a general engineering degree program might include courses such as introduction to engineering, introduction to thermodynamics, introduction to scientific computing, science of materials, systems, control theory, distributed systems and fields and discrete and probabilistic systems.
Industrial engineering is the application of science and math principles to solve problems of wasted resources and unproductivity that plague the manufacturing industry and other business entities. ABET requires “in-depth instruction” to equip students with the skills needed to use experimental, analytical and computation practices to improve productivity and reduce waste in industrial processes. However, the accrediting organization doesn’t specify any advanced math subjects or specific science classes that need to be covered, noting only that graduates of these programs should be able to design and develop “systems that include people, materials, information, equipment and energy.” Industrial engineering degree programs often cover a breadth of relevant topics, though they may also allow students to choose to pursue a concentration in an area of specialization such as operations research, supply chain engineering and economic and financial systems.
In a manner of speaking, you might consider mechanical engineering to be one of the easiest engineering degrees to earn, if only because the discipline is so broad. Mechanical engineering is a diverse field that involves applying science and mathematics theory to the design and development of anything with mechanical or moving parts, the human body included. ABET does specify that mechanical engineering programs should include studies in calculus and differential equations. Beyond that requirement, though, the accrediting organization focuses on the skills graduates should have, which are fairly broad and include the ability to analyze, design, model and build physical systems, processes or components of machines.
Systems engineering, an interdisciplinary field of engineering study usually offered at the graduate level rather than the undergraduate level, has no program-specific requirements and must meet only the general curriculum criteria established by ABET.
There are no truly easy engineering degree programs. All require you to learn the theory of science and advanced mathematics and the hands-on technical skills of engineering design. However, easy is a subjective descriptor, and students should consider their individual strengths and weaknesses as they evaluate whether a specific major in the field of engineering is right for them.