What Can I Do with a Degree in Mechanical Engineering?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in mechanical engineering. Find information on mechanical engineering careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in mechanical engineering.

Overview

Every time you get into a car and start the engine, you can thank a mechanical engineer. Mechanical engineers are the individuals responsible for designing and constructing engines, tools and vehicles. Mechanics is, at its most basic, the application of heat and its effect upon materials. Mechanical engineers therefore must apply physics to real-world problems, producing solutions to heating and cooling, transportation equipment, and even the factories that manufacture necessary items. After the design, mechanical engineers are responsible for overseeing how their systems are installed, operated and maintained over the long term. Mechanical engineers look for ways to improve upon existing machines.

In the United States, mechanical engineering generally requires up to five years of undergraduate education. Coursework in physics, chemistry, electrotechnology, thermodynamics, calculus are all required, as are newer computer-aided design studies and occasionally robotics. Students should seek out a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), an organization that ensures the program meets educational guidelines in coursework that enables the graduate to successfully complete licensing. State and federal licensing of mechanical engineers is a requirement for employment. Further, a Professional Engineer may seek out additional degrees, such as a Master of Engineering or even a doctorate (EngD).

Careers

Mechanical engineers have a number of different career paths available to them. The top industries that employ mechanical engineers include: architecture; scientific research; aerospace engineering; motor vehicle manufacturing; oil and gas exploration; and machinery manufacturing. The highest concentrations of mechanical engineering jobs are currently located in Michigan, California, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The very broad nature of mechanical engineering will allow the individual to seek out a career from one that designs jet fighters to one that designs toasters. In general, any manufacturing industry will require the services of a qualified mechanical engineer. The changing nature of the 21st century will see an increased demand for engineers in environmental science and biomedical engineering. Current mechanical engineering research areas include acoustical engineering (e.g. noise control), internal combustion engines, metal cutting, and biomechanics. Mechanical engineers are even moving into manufacturing systems, which seeks to integrate design, material and manufacturing for business, all of which is done on computers.

Salary

An individual with a degree in mechanical engineering will, on average, receive a starting salary of $60,000. This figure ranges anywhere from $45,000 to $65,000 for those with less than two years in the industry. Individuals with experience in computer-aided design can double their salary within five years. Of course, salary will vary by industry and geographical location. Mechanical engineers in the automotive industry have an average annual mean wage of $91,470. The oil and gas extraction industry sees average wages of $101,930, while engineers in the commercial and industrial machinery industry have an average salary of $107,580. The federal government also employs a significant number of mechanical engineers. While government jobs have a tendency towards lower salaries than private industry, federal mechanical engineers still earn, on average, $91,970 per year. Geographically, mechanical engineers are the highest paid in Alaska, with an annual salary of $99,400, followed by the District of Columbia (think: federal government) at $96,310 and Virginia at $94,530.

Job Outlook

In 2009, there were approximately 1.6 million professional engineers in the United States. Mechanical engineers made up the second largest group (14.9% or 239,000 jobs). Mechanical engineering is expected to grow approximately 9 percent over the coming decade. Even though general manufacturing employment is projected to see little, if any growth, in the coming years, the demand for qualified mechanical engineers is anticipated to remain keen as industries seek out improved designs for machinery and machine tools. Further, the growth of cutting edge science in IT, biotechnology, and even nanotechnology (assembly of machines the size of a molecule) will require the talents of skilled mechanical engineers. Stand-alone mechanical engineering companies will also see significant growth in the next few years as many industries that previously employed in-house engineers seek to outsource that work. Because mechanical engineers can be involved in a wide range of production, and as companies seek to make better and more efficient products, students seeking a career in this field will be in demand.

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