Bioengineering vs. Biomedical Engineering: Which is Right for You?

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Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering are two majors that are relatively similar, both in name and in principle. Both fields are very broad and encompass a variety of topics, but which one is right for you? In this post, we will compare both majors and their eventual career paths to help you decide!

 

Overview of Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering

 

Both bioengineering and biomedical engineering prepare you for the practice of engineering in relation to the body. They apply principles of biology in combination with engineering to solve health related problems in order to improve quality of life. But you may be asking, what is the difference between the two? We will quickly cover their definitions and required skill sets below. 

 

Basics of Bioengineering

 

Bioengineering focuses heavily on applying principles to biological systems. This means that bioengineers work deeply to solve problems related to artificial tissues, gene therapy and pharmaceuticals. For example, a bioengineer may work with programs such as CRISPR to edit genes and develop mRNA technology (this is the same technology that gave us the COVID-19 vaccines). A bioengineer could also be interested in tissue engineering to replace and transplant damaged tissues in humans.

 

Basics of Biomedical Engineering

 

Unlike bioengineering, biomedical engineering focuses more on engineering devices to work as artificial organs or external support systems to help biological systems. Biomedical engineers can engineer pacemakers, insulin pumps, ventilators, etc. to support human beings if their organs are too weak or damaged to function adequately. They can also develop artificial organs such as mechanical heart valves and prosthetics to replace non-functioning body parts. Biomedical engineers are not only knowledgeable in biology, but they are also skilled in other types of engineering such as mechanical, electrical and computer science to name a few.

 

However, the lines between bioengineering and biomedical engineering are very blurred. You can take courses in tissue engineering or gene therapies as a biomedical engineer and vice versa. The concepts taught in both majors are relevant to one another and can easily be applied to the other. 

 

For example, while you may learn the process of how the body repairs itself in terms of immunology as a bioengineer, these concepts can translate to a biomedical engineer since they will need to understand how certain implantable materials may cause the immune system to defend the body against corrosive materials. 

 

Preparing for Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering in High School

 

If you are confident that you want to be pursuing bioengineering or biomedical engineering, talk to your school counselor so that they can steer you in the right direction. They may be able to help you choose electives and course tracks that will best prepare you for the coursework you’ll face in college. Plus, colleges like to see that you’ve actively looked to educate yourself in your chosen major.

 

Since bioengineering and biomedical engineering are very similar in terms of the biological concepts you will be learning, it is a good idea to become familiar with biology, regardless of which major you want to pursue. Consider signing up for AP Biology, since it will help you analyze the integration of biological systems to help you understand the body more deeply. 

 

You should also familiarize yourself with other STEM classes since colleges will want to see that you are passionate about STEM. Taking AP STEM courses is always a good idea since it will show colleges that you have challenged yourself in high school and are ready for the academic rigor of college classes.  

 

Aside from these suggested courses, you should look into both STEM and non-STEM extracurriculars. STEM extracurriculars, such as a robotics team, will show that you are interested in engineering, which is important when applying for one of these majors. But joining non-STEM extracurriculars, like piano, taekwondo, or tutoring, is also important since it will show colleges that you are well-rounded and have a lot to offer.

 

If you want to know how your high school classes and extracurriculars will impact your odds of admission, check out CollegeVine’s chancing engine and school search tool. After you input your GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars, you’ll get an estimate of your chances of acceptance at hundreds of schools across the country. Our chancing engine will even offer tips to help you improve your profile!

 

 

The College Experience: Bioengineering vs. Biomedical Engineering

 

When creating your school list, look at the different courses offered within each major and see if the classes interest you. After all, you will be at the school for four years, so make sure you are signing up for a degree that is going to be enjoyable, not just work!

 

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Schools that offer Bioengineering vs. Biomedical Engineering Majors

 

Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering are not always offered at the same schools. Below is a list of schools that offer bioengineering and biomedical engineering as majors so that you can narrow your school list.

 

Schools That Offer Bioengineering

Schools That Offer Biomedical Engineering

California Institute of Technology

Arizona State University

San Diego State University

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Stanford University

Colorado State University

University of California, Berkeley

Yale University

University of California, Los Angeles 

George Washington University

University of Hawaii, Manoa 

University of Florida

Syracuse University

Northwestern University 

Oregon State University

Purdue University

University of Pennsylvania

Tulane University

Rice University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Washington

Boston University

 

Examples of Classes a Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering Major Would Take

 

Below are some courses that can be classified as bioengineering and/or biomedical engineering:

 

Note: these courses were taken from a variety of schools and do not depict courses offered at just one university

 

Bioengineering Related Courses:

  • Biotransport and Bioreaction Processes
  • FDA Regulatory Processes and Technical Communications
  • Machine Learning and Data Driven Modeling
  • System Integration in Biology, Engineering and Medicine
  • Engineering Principles for Drug Delivery
  • Physical Chemistry of Biomacromolecules
  • Engineering of Bioconjugates
  • Polymer Chemistry 
  • Applied Tissue Engineering

 

Biomedical Engineering Related Courses:

  • Biomedical Transducers
  • FDA Regulatory Processes and Technical Communications
  • Signals and Systems
  • Microcomputer Applications
  • Machine Learning and Data Driven Modeling
  • System Integration in Biology, Engineering and Medicine
  • Introduction to Microscale and Nanoscale Manufacturing

 

As you can see, many of these courses overlap between bioengineering and biomedical engineering since it is important that students in both majors are aware of different biological systems as well as their interactions with one another. Furthermore, both the bioengineering and biomedical engineering industries function similarly and have comparable processes for approving new technology.

 

In addition to these courses, it is important to get involved in other extracurriculars. Try to join one major related club (to gain valuable advice from mentors), one club that gives you experience in engineering, one research lab, and one social club that helps you destress. 

 

For example, you could join a Biomedical Engineering Society, a design team that forces you to think analytically in a biotech setting, an electrical and bioengineering research lab, and a dance team to destress.

 

After College: Bioengineering vs. Biomedical Engineering

 

There are a multitude of opportunities that exist for people that get either a bioengineering degree or a biomedical engineering degree. Some people choose to continue in academia and pursue a master’s degree, PhD, or even a MD. Others choose to go directly into industry or research full time. Overall, the job prospects for both types of engineering are plentiful and salaries prove to be competitive.  

 

If you are interested in going into industry after college, it is a good idea to attend as many info sessions and career fairs as possible. Some large companies to look out for are Medtronic, Genentech, Amgen, Abbot, Moderna, Pfizer, and Boston Scientific, to name a few.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Ultimately, different career paths are available for bioengineering and biomedical engineering majors. A bioengineer can work in research, gene therapy, tissue engineering, drug delivery, or pharmaceuticals while a biomedical engineer can work in research or medical devices. With that said, both majors allow for a variety of career options. 

 

It is important to reemphasize that the lines between bioengineering and biomedical engineering are blurred since the fields are so related. Furthermore, you can earn a bioengineernig degree and enter a career path in biomedical engineering! By seeking out specialized extracurricular activities or minors, you can easily apply your knowledge of one major to prepare yourself for a career in the other. 

 

So, if at any point in your college experience you realize you want to switch to a different field, either bioengineering or biomedical engineering, know that it is possible to do so regardless of the degree you have!

 

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Short Bio
My name is Thamira Skandakumar and I am from Vancouver, Washington. I am a current fourth year at UCLA studying Bioengineering with a minor in Electrical Engineering. In the summer, I will be moving out to San Diego to work at Medtronic in their Ventilator division.

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