Kate Sundquist 4 min read Academics, Career Path Breakdowns

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

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High school can seem all-consuming when you’re in the midst of it. Between prepping for standardized tests, putting in long hours with sports teams or clubs, and trying to make good grades, it is easy to put your head down, work hard, and sometimes lose sight of the long term goal. The age-old question of what you want to do when you grow up is looming nearer and nearer, and high school is the time to start thinking about it more seriously. Exploring career interests and possibilities now is a great idea to help set your course for the future. If you’re considering a career in mechanical engineering, this post will give you a good idea of how to get there and what to expect.

What Does a Mechanical Engineer Do?

 

Mechanical engineering is a fairly broad career field. To put it simply, mechanical engineers research, design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices and sensors. They often work in energy or medical sectors, but the options go even further. Mechanical engineers are responsible for technology as big as wind turbines and as small as medical implants. They might also research and test things like new batteries, elevators and escalators, or heating and cooling systems. 

 

In general, most of the work a mechanical engineer does is on a computer. Some may use simulations to test how a machine is likely to work, while others use computer programming, which is responsible for many sensors or controllers. Mechanical engineers might even use computer technology to design, maintain, and program a new robot or energy source. 

 

Mechanical engineering is a solid career path with good earning potential. Career growth in the field is average, and newcomers with training in the latest technology will always be in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a mechanical engineer is $87,000 and entry-level positions can be secured with just a bachelor’s degree. 

Steps to Become a Mechanical Engineer 

 

If you like to tinker with things or are fascinated by the intersection between physics and technology, mechanical engineering would probably be a fulfilling field for you. Below, we’ll outline some of the steps for getting there. 

 

What to Do in High School

 

In high school, you can start yourself off in the right direction for a career in mechanical engineering by gaining the background knowledge necessary for future studies. This will include courses in the STEM fields, and might also include electives in computer science or robotics. Physics, chemistry, and higher-level math classes will all be equally useful for a career in mechanical engineering. Even courses like biology or anatomy may come in handy if you end up pursuing a design work in medical devices. 

 

If you take AP classes, consider AP Physics, AP chemistry, and one of the AP Calculus exams. These will not only ensure that you have the background knowledge you need but also they may allow you to place out of entry-level courses when you get to college.

 

There are many summer programs with great options in the STEM fields. Top schools like Penn State and MIT offer engineering summer camps which can not only front-load your knowledge in the field but also set you apart as a college applicant. You could also spend your summer working as a lab assistant or shadowing successful engineers in your areas of interest.

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What to Do in College

 

In college, your prep for a career in mechanical engineering will get a little more serious. You’ll need to declare yourself as a mechanical engineering major and follow the prescribed coursework. This makes the track a little bit clearer than other occupations that don’t have a specific major associated with them.  

 

In general, the prescribed course load for a degree in mechanical engineering will include classes in calculus, engineering, physics, and computer programming. Often, you’ll also take classes in specialties like thermal sciences or design and manufacturing. Your coursework will take the form of lectures, seminars, labs, and field placements. 

 

By your junior or senior year, you might choose to look for an internship or gain experience working in a lab with your professors as they conduct research. Talk with your advisor or professors whose classes you enjoy the most about the opportunities that may exist at your university or nearby facilities. 

 

Finally, you might consider an accelerated program. Some schools have five-year degree programs that culminate in both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. Although you only need a bachelor’s to get an entry-level position in the field of mechanical engineering, a master’s degree will likely accelerate your career growth and open up higher earning potential too. Doing this through a five-year accelerated program will not only save you time but also money over the long term. 

Exams and Licenses

Engineering can be a competitive field across the board. While not required by all firms, gaining a license by taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination will open job opportunities for you by serving as proof of your proficiency in the field. Passing the test serves as an initial licensure in the field. After you’ve worked professionally in the field for at least four years, you might also choose to take the Professional Engineering (PE) exam, which demonstrates an even higher level of competence. 

 

For more information about preparing for a career in the STEM fields, don’t miss these popular CollegeVine posts:

 

 

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.