If you choose to major in mechanical engineering, you will be studying one of the oldest and broadest branches of engineering. 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. By the time you graduate, you will have the skills to design machines and mechanical devices, which can prepare you to work in a wide range of industries.
Science and Math for Mechanical Engineers
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.
For mechanical engineering students, math courses that cover multivariate calculus and differential equations are the most important. Students should be prepared to complete at least two or more levels of calculus courses. The basic science courses needed to succeed as a mechanical engineer include laboratory classes in physics and chemistry. 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.
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 Courses
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.
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, design and manufacturing, energy systems, applied mechanics, nuclear engineering, biomechanical systems and dynamics, vibrations and controls. The 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.
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.