If you choose to major in mechanical engineering, you will be studying one of the oldest and broadest branches of engineering. A background in mechanical engineering qualifies you to work in any area of engineering design and production that has to do with solutions involving moving parts, from minuscule devices implanted inside the body for biomedical applications to large machines used in mass manufacturing. As you might expect, the curriculum of a mechanical engineering degree program has to be comprehensive as well as rigorous if it’s going to equip students with the skills to work in all of these aspects and areas within mechanical engineering.
An Overview of Mechanical Engineering Class Requirements
As a mechanical engineering major, your curriculum will cover science and math courses, a breadth of engineering science and design coursework, opportunities for hands-on experience and potentially specialized coursework in an area of concentration. Design is an important part of work in mechanical engineering, and students should expect to spend a good chunk of their college experience in an engineering clinic or design studio course practicing their design skills. By the time you graduate, you will have the competencies to design machines and mechanical devices, which can prepare you to work in a wide range of industries.
Because of the breadth of potential topics in mechanical engineering studies and the areas of specializations available in this discipline, students’ curricula can look very different from one school or concentration to another. These are examples of the mechanical engineering class requirements that may apply to your degree, but you should always do the research to find out specific degree plans and graduation requirements at your school.
Science Class Requirements for Mechanical Engineering
You may already know that science and mathematics are important subjects for aspiring engineers. What you might not know is just what a big part of your engineering curriculum these courses will be. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) requires all accredited engineering programs in all disciplines to include at least one full year – 32 credits, or one-quarter of your total undergraduate studies – of college-level math and basic science classes.
The basic science courses needed to succeed as a mechanical engineer include laboratory classes in chemistry and physics. Both of these branches of physical science focus on the matter that makes up the universe, but they do so through different approaches. Chemistry looks at the properties, functions and structures of the chemical compounds that make up matter, as well as the reactions between chemicals. Physics instead looks at the motion of matter moving through space and time, including the natural laws that govern motion, energy and forces in the universe.
Mechanical engineering design draws upon the concepts found in both chemistry and physics. An understanding of chemistry is valuable for choosing the right materials from which to create mechanical systems, processes and devices. Some of the areas of mechanical engineering in which the concepts of chemistry play a part may include thermodynamics and thermal sciences, combustion theory and fluid mechanics. In addition to taking a sequence of laboratory courses in general chemistry, mechanical engineering majors might opt to take chemistry and chemical engineering electives such as organic chemistry and biochemistry.
Physics theories, concepts and calculations are behind many aspects of mechanical engineering design. Mechanical engineering is all about developing solutions that involve moving parts, and physics is the science of motion. Don’t be surprised if you have to take at least one – if not two or three – laboratory physics class as part of your basic science requirements to cover topics such as mechanics, waves, electromagnetism and oscillatory motion. You might also take technical electives in physics, including courses in modern physics, optics and electric circuits and electronics.
If you think you might want to put your mechanical engineering skills to work developing medical devices, then studies in biology may also be valuable. Biology courses aren’t always required as part of your mandatory basic sciences for mechanical engineering, although they are a standard part of the curriculum at some schools. Still, you might take classes in subjects like biomechanics, biological frameworks for engineers, engineering properties of food and biological materials, technological symbiosis in biological engineering and populations biology as electives in pursuit of a mechanical engineering degree.
Your basic science courses are likely to be laboratory classes, but they probably won’t be your only courses with a lab component. Lab work is an important part of many required mechanical engineer classes, including courses in instrumentation and data acquisition, mechanics of materials, mechanical vibrations, thermodynamics and combustion, fluid mechanics, dynamic systems and energy systems and conservation.
Mechanical Engineering Maths to Study
For mechanical engineering students, math courses that cover multivariate calculus and differential equations are the most important, according to ABET accreditation standards. Some coursework in statistics will also probably appear in your curriculum.
Students should be prepared to complete at least two or more levels of calculus courses. Calculus is the branch of mathematics used to model and calculate change, including changes in motion, force and energy generation and usage, all of which come into play in the engineering design of mechanical systems. Multivariate calculus is calculus involving the functions of several variables. Calculus courses may also overlap with analytic geometry, which involves the properties of points, lines and shapes pertaining to coordinate systems.
Differential equations is the branch of math that involves both functions and derivatives, typically quantifying relationships between quantities and the rate at which they change. Coursework in differential equations is usually based on linear algebra.
Through classes in statistics, aspiring mechanical engineers learn how to gather, arrange, organize, prepare, analyze and interpret numerical data. Statistical analysis techniques are used in engineering for many purposes, including assessing the properties of materials to be used in the machines and devices they design and model the performance of their designs. Statistics can also be used to understand the scope of engineering problems that must be solved and to make decisions that pertain to the business side of engineering, such as those involving costs and budgets, resource availability and market for the product.
Multivariate calculus, calculus involving more than one variable, is important for designing and analyzing mechanical devices and understanding factors like mechanical stress and strain on a machine.
Mechanical Engineering Classes Required
If you’re eager to get started developing your own engineering designs, you might be pleased to learn that much of your education will be spent on core engineering studies. ABET requires accredited engineering programs to include at least a year and a half of studies in engineering science and engineering design. For mechanical engineering students, this coursework will culminate in developing the skills to design, analyze and develop models of mechanical or thermal systems, processes or components.
Introductory courses in general engineering principles and in computers and programming are common in mechanical engineering degree programs, as they are in many other engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineering students take a breadth of courses under general areas such as design and manufacturing, dynamics and controls, laboratories and technical communication, mechanics and materials and thermal sciences. Studies in dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, statics and materials science are particularly important for acquiring the skills to design mechanical devices and processes of all kinds.
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Your mechanical engineering education will extend beyond the classroom. In addition to lecture courses, laboratory classes and hands-on fieldwork opportunities are essential parts of a mechanical engineering education, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You will also put your skills to work developing your own engineering designs to solve a real-world problem in a capstone or senior design experience. Many mechanical engineering majors take part in an internship or cooperative program to develop more extensive on-the-job training in the field prior to graduating.
Mechanical engineering students also develop familiarity with the principles of other branches of engineering, including civil, chemical and electrical engineering, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Specializations in Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering is such a broad discipline that even the most committed students can’t study every aspect of the field in depth during their undergraduate education. Many mechanical engineering degree programs allow students to pursue an area of specialization or concentration, building on their required core engineering courses and using their electives to choose topics that appeal to them personally.
Concentrations or specializations within mechanical engineering degree programs are as varied as mechanical engineer jobs themselves. Popular specializations include automotive engineering, energy systems engineering, nuclear engineering, applied mechanics, biomedical engineering and robotics. The mechanical engineering specialization you choose affects not only what classes you take during your education but also what skills you develop and, in turn, what career options will be open to you after you graduate.
The mechanical engineering class requirements for a concentration in automotive systems engineering might include vehicle dynamics and aerodynamics, vehicle power systems and laboratory work in the design of high-performance automotive vehicles. If your plan is to design and develop mechanical energy systems, your classes may include sustainable design, upper-level coursework in thermodynamics and heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as energy system designs coursework in the lab. Nuclear engineering courses for mechanical engineers may include nuclear reactor theory, reactor design and systems, the design and analysis of nuclear power plants, system analysis of the nuclear fuel cycle, radiation safety and the fundamentals of nuclear engineering practice. In a biomedical engineering concentration, mechanical engineer classes may include the fundamentals of biomechanics, biofluid mechanics and biosolid mechanics. Robotics specialization mechanical engineering class requirements may include mechatronics, robotic arms and the robotic technologies used in unmanned systems.
All mechanical engineers need to develop proficiency in applied mechanics because that is, in a nutshell, what mechanical engineers do: apply the concepts and techniques of mechanics to design and develop engineering solutions. Choosing to specialize in applied mechanics means delving even deeper into the design of machines, mechanisms, control systems and structures and the properties of the materials used in engineering these solutions.
There’s more to specializing in an area of mechanical engineering than the classes you take. Finding ways to gain relevant hands-on experience, such as through internships and co-ops in your intended area of focus, can be valuable in preparing you for future success in that specialization.
Engineering schools that allow mechanical engineering students to build an area of specialized expertise give you the best of both worlds, with an education that offers breadth and depth.
How General Education Courses Fit Into Mechanical Engineering Class Requirements
Although most of the class requirements for mechanical engineering fit into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, you typically can’t graduate without completing a set of general education courses. Gen ed requirements are typically school-wide, and the point isn’t to support your studies in your major but rather to help you develop a well-rounded foundation of college-level knowledge in all subjects.
The good news is that some of your general education requirements, like classes in math and basic laboratory science, can count toward your degree requirements. Other classes, like English or composition, history, art, psychology and social sciences, may not seem to have much to offer a mechanical engineering major – at least, not on the surface. However, these classes help you develop a background of knowledge that can prove valuable while simultaneously building your skills in reading, writing, public speaking, solving problems and thinking critically and creatively. History may not be your forte, but a U.S. History I course may apply to your career by covering the events that led to and resulted from the Industrial Revolution, which is widely considered to be the start of the field of mechanical engineering. You might not be an artist in a visual sense, but understanding the theories, concepts and techniques of art can improve your ability to develop designs that are aesthetically appealing as well as functional.
Aside from the technical proficiencies, listening skills, creativity and problem-solving skills are among the most important capabilities for mechanical engineers, the BLS reported. Communication skills are crucial for interacting with clients, managers and junior engineers about project requirements, specifications and feedback. Developing your creativity and your problem-solving skills allows you to be more resourceful in your designs.