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What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of engineering? Maybe someone who creates blueprints of space shuttles? Someone who solves a lot of math equations? Someone who designs and builds bridges? If you thought of any of those things, you’d be right.
Engineering has been part of the foundation of modern human society. It is a broad field of applied science, figuring out how things work and how to bring ideas to life. Engineers are the professionals who are behind most of our contemporary conveniences: trains, planes, cars, computers, smartphones, biomedical products, spaceships, skyscrapers, bridges, roads, boats, electricity. Almost every industry imaginable has been touched by the hands of a professional in engineering. Likewise, an engineering degree online can cover a wide gamut of fields, from electrical to transportation to biomedical. If you are contemplating an engineering degree, take the time to understand the complex factors that may impact your ability to practice in this professional field.
THE CAREER PATH
Engineering professionals work across the spectrum of industries, where there is a need for engineering, mechanics, or other types of technology. General engineering programs are great for professionals who are curious in exploring the diverse arena of engineering and their many career options. If you’re interested about turning math and science into real life innovations that may change the way our world works, then read on to consider how you can get started in engineering.
The responsibilities of those that have earned a general engineering degree will depend on the type of employment they eventually secure. The Department of Labor (DOL) gives an overview of some of the most common engineering positions:
- Aerospace Engineers - These engineers design, create, and test aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. They often specialize in areas such as aerodynamic fluid flow, structural design, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, robotics, and propulsion and combustion. They can also specialize in designing different types of aerospace products, such as commercial and military airplanes and helicopters, remotely piloted aircraft and rotorcraft, spacecraft, and military missiles and rockets. Engineers can start their career as an aerospace engineering technician, operating and maintaining equipment that’s used for the development and sustainment of aircraft and spacecraft, with an an associate’s level education, making nearly $70,000 on average. Aerospace engineers must have at least a bachelor’s degree, which pays off to the tune of nearly $110,000 in annual salary on average.
- Mechanical Engineers - These professionals apply their knowledge of math and science to create and maintain machines that use or produce power. They make work with cars, heating and cooling systems, or even robots; they are involved in the production of everything from batteries to refrigerators. Like other engineers, mechanical engineers use computers quite often to integrate many aspects of projects. Mechanical engineering technicians can begin their career with an associate degree, to help mechanical engineers design, develop, test, and manufacture mechanical devices, including tools, engines, and machines. On average, technicians make nearly $55,000 each year. With a bachelor’s degree, professionals can find positions as mechanical engineers, with the potential of making an average salary between $80,000-90,000.
- Chemical Engineers - Chemical engineers apply a unique knowledge of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and more. These engineering professionals may conduct research, establish safety procedures for working with dangerous chemicals, or specialize in a particular chemical process such as oxidation. Like most engineers, chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree before they can dive into their work. They are among some of the better paid engineers, making an average of nearly $100,000 each year.
- Civil Engineers - These professionals design, supervise, and maintain major infrastructure projects that allow our society to operate smoothly. They are the ones who are typically responsible for the foundational pieces of our public and private sectors such as bridges, dams, roads, tunnels, and more. They usually specialize in one or more areas that include construction, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, etc. Professionals may start their career with an associate’s degree as a civil engineering technician, helping civil engineers to plan, design, build, and maintain infrastructure projects. Civil engineering technicians make an average of nearly $50,000 annually. With a bachelor’s degree, professionals can seek positions as a civil engineer, making more than $80,000 on average each year.
Regardless of your specific passion and interests, or how much you are able to invest in your career, there are limitless options to creating a path in engineering that’s perfect for you.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
Careers in engineering are for professionals who are not timid to dive into the depths of multiple STEM topics, becoming experts at applied math, science, and physics. Professionals who succeed in these types of careers must have a careful eye for detail to solve complex equations and the technical skills that are required to turn scientific concepts into realistic products.
In addition to being mathematical problem-solvers and critical thinkers, these professionals must be great communicators since they often have to work in teams with other professionals and colleagues. They must also have the creativity to bring science to life in an almost magical sense. If you’re interested in making the products that help shape our society, then there are many unique paths to the world of engineering.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
To become a licensed engineer, you generally must attend on an online engineering school that is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). In addition to completing a bachelor's of science in engineering, you may be required to complete up to four years of supervised engineering work experience post-degree, and pass the national Professional Engineer (PE) exam. You will then be a licensed engineer (PE). Note that requirements vary by state. Check the licensing requirements in your state before enrolling in any engineering degree program online.
A general engineering program offers professionals the foundational skills and knowledge that is needed for a career in engineering, while still leaving room for individuals to customize and specialize their curriculum to fit their unique interests in agriculture, environment, electronics, aerospace, or more. Compare the online master of engineering (ME) to the online master of science in engineering (MSE). The presence or absence of the word “science” in the degree title has meaning. A master of engineering is a professional engineer’s degree, and will not require a research thesis. The master of science (MS) will require a traditional thesis and is best suited for academics and researchers. Many states also require licensed engineers to participate in continuing professional competency (CPC). Many online ongoing education courses are available to help accrue necessary hours.
Engineering technicians, however, do not need to meet the above requirements. Technicians often earn online associate or bachelor degrees in applied engineering technology from an Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC) accredited school. Professionals who earn online engineering technology degrees can major in the same areas as licensed engineers—civil engineering, mechanical engineering, etc.—but they usually make less in salary. They may also have to work under the direct supervision of a licensed engineer. An engineering technology degree contains more applied courses. A technology degree has less of an emphasis on theoretical math and science than an online bachelor's degree in engineering.
Our rankings reveal that the average cost of an online master's degree in engineering is just under $28,000. Keep this figure in mind as you compare programs. Make sure any program you enroll in meets any licensing requirments that you'll need for your future career goals as an engineer.