Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering: Which Is Right for You?
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- Overview of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering
- Preparing for Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering in High School
- The College Experience: Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering
- After College: Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering
- Final Thoughts
The field of engineering has diverse career options and specialties. As technology advances, new specializations continue to emerge in order to develop ways to engineer new products that improve our lives. Two popular types of engineering are mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.
While these fields have some overlap, there are also some differences between them. Read on to learn more about mechanical engineering and electrical engineering so you can decide which one is best for you.
Overview of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering
Engineering requires a lot of analysis and data reviewing, so you’ll need an analytical mind and the ability to problem solve. Since engineers typically work in groups, you’ll also need both written and oral communication skills in order to collaborate with every member of your team.
In both high school and college, you’ll probably take many of the same courses to prepare for either of these engineering fields. Both fields will require you to learn about electrical systems as well as how devices work.
Now, let’s get into some of the differences between mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.
Mechanical engineers study systems and objects in action. To do this, they need to learn about inertia, force, movement, materials, and more. In order to know the best and most efficient ways to do their jobs, mechanical engineers also need to stay up to date on technology. Many times, mechanical engineers will have some kind of specialty, such as:
Mechanical engineers often use computer-aided design programs to create specific parts or even entire machines that help to improve their industry in some way. Once a part or machine is designed, mechanical engineers test its function to make sure it works correctly.
A mechanical engineer may also try to figure out why a machine or device is failing to operate correctly. This type of mechanical engineer may design and build turbines, elevators, cars, batteries, medical devices, and more.
To be a successful mechanical engineer, you need to know the tried and true methods of building something, as well as the intricacies of electrical engineering and computer engineering.
An electrical engineer studies and creates electrical systems. They may design a refrigerator or work on the system that runs an entire power plant. Electrical engineers also create new ways to use and generate power, which could include focusing on renewable energy. Other specialties include:
Electrical engineers are also responsible for maintaining electrical systems, and like mechanical engineers, figuring out why they may not be working correctly. You may discover you like to focus on one aspect of electrical engineering, such as creating electrical systems for medical devices or designing wiring.
Preparing for Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering in High School
If you decide in high school that you want to pursue engineering as a career path, there are a few steps you should take in order to prepare yourself for the college admissions process as well as college coursework. Mechanical engineering and electrical engineering are closely intertwined with one other, so the high school preparation for both fields is similar.
First, colleges like to see that you’ve put a lot of effort into your foundational knowledge. This means working hard in your math and science (STEM) courses and trying to take as many high-level courses as possible, such as Advanced Placement or gifted/honors.
It is also a good idea to take some electives that could prepare you for college, such as:
- Applied Engineering
- Computer Science
- Independent Study
- Computer-aided-design (CAD)
Building your knowledge base is vital, but you should also explore extracurricular opportunities. Consider tutoring younger students who may need extra help in math or science, or find an internship that relates to engineering in some way. You should also add in some non-STEM extracurriculars, such as painting or playing a musical instrument, to show the admissions officers that you are well-rounded.
The College Experience: Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering
When you start looking for a college, make sure you choose a program that has a great reputation for engineering. There are many excellent universities, but some of the best schools for engineering include:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- California Institute of Technology
- Stanford University
- Princeton University
- Harvard University
- University of California, Berkeley
- Columbia University
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Duke University
- University of Pennsylvania
In order to pick a school that’s an ideal fit, you must also consider size, location, diversity, and other factors that are important to your college experience. CollegeVine’s school search tool can help you find schools based on these criteria.
You can also use our admissions calculator to find out your estimated chances of acceptance at a given college or university. This tool factors in your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to calculate your odds of admission at hundreds of schools across the country.
Within college engineering programs, both mechanical and electrical engineering majors typically take a lot of the same core classes. As you advance, however, the programs will begin to differ and become more specialized.
Let’s take a look at some of the differences between these programs.
After you’ve completed your core classes, you’ll start taking more specialized classes. These classes will provide you with more practical knowledge that will be invaluable once you enter the workforce after graduation. These courses may have certain prerequisites, so make sure to pay attention to what is needed for each one. Classes you may take include:
- Circuit Analysis
- Fundamentals of Mechanical Design
- Materials Science
Like mechanical engineering, once you’ve completed your core classes, you’ll begin to narrow in on your chosen focus within the broader field of electrical engineering. Depending on your focus, you may have some of the same advanced classes as the mechanical engineering majors. Your course load could include:
- Circuit Analysis
- Electric Power Engineering
- Control Systems
- Computer Engineering
- Mechatronic Systems
After College: Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering
Once you’ve finished your undergraduate degree, you can continue on to get your graduate degree. This is a good idea for anyone who wants to move into a management position someday, as the information presented in a graduate or MBA program will give you the tools you need to manage others. Additionally, earning a graduate degree could put you on track to become a college professor in either field.
If you’re not ready to get a graduate degree, you can also seek out a job within your chosen field. Take a look at the overall outlook for both mechanical and electrical engineering positions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the amount of mechanical engineering jobs is expected to increase by 4% by 2029, which is about the average growth speed. Note that if you sell any services to the public, all states and the District of Columbia will also require you to be licensed.
As far as salary expectations go, mechanical engineers earned a median salary of $90,160 in May 2020.
The BLS predicts that electrical engineering jobs are also projected to grow at a similar rate, around 3% by 2029. As an electrical engineer you’ll usually work in an office, but may be required to visit job sites from time to time if equipment needs maintenance or repair.
If you become an electrical engineer, your median salary earnings will be around $100,830.
Since both majors are so similar, deciding between mechanical engineering and electrical engineering can be a tough choice. If you are still uncertain about which one to choose, reach out to a trusted faculty member at your school or speak with your school counselor. You may even want to consult with a professional engineer to get their input, if possible.
No matter what you decide, you’ll end up in a field that affords you the opportunity to innovate and grow, both personally and professionally, throughout your career.