Should You Major in Engineering?

Engineering is a great field for students who excel in math and science, are innovative, and love figuring out how things work. Although it’s an extremely challenging course of study, it’s also a popular and fast-growing one. In fact, many universities have entire schools dedicated to engineering.

 

What should you expect as an engineering major? And what can you do with your degree? Here’s a comprehensive guide to this field of study.

 

Overview of Engineering

 

Although general engineering majors do exist, more commonly, you’ll be expected to choose a specific type of engineering. There are many different concentrations, such as:

 

  • Architectural engineering
  • Biomedical engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Environmental engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Software engineering

 

For every concentration, you can expect to take a number of STEM-related courses, including advanced calculus, linear algebra, statistics, physics, and others, along with lab work. Often, you’ll also be required to take humanities and social science courses, particularly ones with a writing-intensive component. That’s because engineers need to be able to effectively communicate their work, ideas, and findings.

 

Individual majors will require coursework specific to their concentration. For example, chemical engineering majors will probably need to complete organic chemistry, thermodynamics, kinetics, material science, and other courses.

 

Introductory classes tend to be quite large, and many can be “weeder” classes that aim to “weed out” the prospective engineers who aren’t truly prepared for the field. Upperclassmen will take more specialized courses that may be smaller, though there is usually little discussion; courses are generally lecture- or lab-based. 

 

Keep in mind that internships and co-ops are extremely important for future engineers, and some colleges may even require them as part of the curriculum. This is why many engineering programs are five years long, rather than four.

 

The earning potential for engineering graduates is quite high, even without a graduate degree. However, if you choose to earn a master’s or doctorate, you can increase your potential salary even more and open up other possibilities for careers, such as teaching at the collegiate level.

 

If you want to learn more about the different types of engineering, see our post on the easiest and hardest engineering majors.

 

What Can You Do With An Engineering Degree?

 

Here’s a list of potential career paths for engineering majors. Keep in mind that there are many more types of engineers; this is simply a selection of careers. One of the perks of studying engineering is that it’s a pre-professional path, so you know exactly what your job will be after graduation.

 

1. Mechanical Engineer

Median Salary: $71,139 ($54,000-99,000)

Projected Growth: 4% (as fast as average)

 

Mechanical engineers design a wide range of products, such as motors, thermal sensors and tools, and more; develop solutions to solve problems; and generally study energy and how to best use it. Their work intersects areas like research, manufacturing, and energy.

 

2. Software Engineer

Median Salary: $86,222 ($62,000-127,000)

Projected Growth: 22% (much faster than average)

 

One of the fastest-growing engineering professions, software engineering is the magic behind computer programs, including apps. The roles of software engineers intersect with those of developers, but engineers go a step beyond programming and ensure that their programs are system-compatible. They are also instrumental in updating, maintaining, and generally keeping software running smoothly.

 

3. Electrical Engineer

Median Salary: $76,160 ($59,000-113,000)

Projected Growth: 3% (as fast as average)

 

As the name implies, electrical engineers are responsible for working with electrical equipment and power generators, such as portable devices, motors, and much more. These professionals research, design, develop, test, and maintain this equipment.

 

4. Environmental Engineer

Median Salary: $65,904 ($51,000-98,000)

Projected Growth: 3% (as fast as average)

 

The high-demand field of environmental engineering focuses on devising scientific solutions for improving the environment. By analyzing air, soil, water, and other resources, environmental engineers develop technologies and other tools for improving areas like recycling, consuming and generating energy, radiation protection, waste disposal, and water treatment.

 

5. Biomedical Engineer 

Median Salary: $66,674 ($50,000-96,000)

Projected Growth: 5% (faster than average)

 

Biomedical engineering sits at the intersection of engineering, biology, and medicine. Primarily tasked with improving patient care, they work on researching, designing, and developing technologies ranging from MRIs to prosthetics. 

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Best Colleges for Engineering Majors

 

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Location: Cambridge, MA

Acceptance Rate: 7.3%

Undergrad Enrollment: 4,602

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1520-1580/35-36

 

MIT was originally founded during the industrial revolution as a means of accelerating innovation, and today, the premier university stays true to its vision, remaining at the cutting-edge of research and education.

 

The School of Engineering grants both undergraduate and graduate degrees, including master’s degrees and doctorates. The undergraduate curriculum includes coursework in the arts, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and social sciences. After exploring an interest in their first year, students begin to specialize in a particular area in their second year, working with an advisor to plan their remaining focus. The school is home to departments including:

 

  • Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Biological Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Institute for Medical Engineering and Science
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Nuclear Science and Engineering

 

Students can take advantage of a number of special programs, such as the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and the New Engineering Education Transformation program.

 

Learn more about MIT and what it takes to get accepted.

 

2. California Institute of Technology

Location: Pasadena, CA

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Undergrad Enrollment: 948

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1530-1560/35-36

 

Located on the West Coast, Caltech is home to six academic divisions, primarily focused on STEM applications. With both undergraduate and graduate programs, the school is focused on innovation and technological solutions.

 

In the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS), undergraduate students can major in:

 

  • Applied Physics
  • Applied and Computational Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Engineering and Applied Science
  • Information and Data Sciences
  • Mechanical Engineering

 

Minors are available in aerospace, control and dynamical systems, computer science, information and data sciences, and environmental science and engineering. No matter what their specialty, students will complete core curriculum courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. The school encourages active research among its undergraduates.

 

Learn more about Caltech and what it takes to get accepted.

 

3. Stanford University

Location: Stanford, CA

Acceptance Rate: 4%

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,087

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1440-1550/32-35

 

Considered the “Ivy of the West,” Stanford is a highly selective and prestigious university with a number of notable programs across many different disciplines across seven schools, including three that admit undergraduates. 

 

Adjacent to Silicon Valley, it is widely known for its engineering and technology programs, with many research and mentorship opportunities across a huge array of specialties and concentrations. Stanford employs a multidisciplinary approach in programs such as:

 

  • Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Bioengineering 
  • Chemical Engineering 
  • Civil Engineering 
  • Computer Science
  • Environmental Systems Engineering
  • Management Science and Engineering 
  • Materials Science and Engineering 
  • Mechanical Engineering

 

There are also several interdepartmental major programs in Engineering, such as Architectural Design, along with a robust graduate program.

 

Learn more about Stanford and what it takes to get accepted.

 

4. Princeton University

Location: Princeton, NJ

Acceptance Rate: 5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 5,267

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1570/33-35

 

The fourth-oldest college in the United States, Princeton is currently ranked first in U.S. News. The world-renowned faculty and graduates have solidified the Ivy League institution’s reputation as a higher education leader.

 

The School of Engineering and Applied Science offers bachelor’s and graduate degrees. Combining research with a liberal arts education, the school has undergraduate departments in:

 

  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Chemical & Biological Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Operations Research and Financial Engineering

 

Aimed at preparing engineering, research, business, and public service leaders, the curriculum focuses on teaching students engineering principles and how to apply them to real-life problems.

 

Learn more about Princeton and what it takes to get accepted.

 

5. Harvard University

Location: Cambridge, MA

Acceptance Rate: 4.5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,788

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1580 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

People from around the world flock to Cambridge to pursue a degree at arguably the most famous university: Harvard. The country’s oldest institution of higher learning, Harvard leads in many areas.

 

One of its strengths is engineering. The John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) is a center for applying engineering principles to the world’s most pivotal challenges and issues, focusing on collaboration, community, and research. Harvard offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in:

 

  • Applied Mathematics
  • Bioengineering
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Environmental Science & Engineering
  • Materials Science & Mechanical Engineering

 

Meanwhile, graduate degrees are available in:

 

  • Applied Computation
  • Applied Physics
  • Design Engineering
  • Engineering Sciences (MS/MBA)

 

Learn more about Harvard and what it takes to get accepted.

 

There are many more schools that are great for history majors. See the complete list of best colleges for engineering.

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.