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Engineering courses: Classes to engineer your future

Here's a list of the types of engineering courses available, what they cover, and how they can prepare you for your future.
Written by Melissa Sartore, Contributor on

Knowing which engineering courses to take helps you get the best return on investment from your engineering degree. An engineering curriculum integrates theoretical principles and practical training to prepare you for a career in the field. The curriculum often comprises engineering science, systems, and design courses.

Engineering degrees begin with core courses to introduce you to foundational concepts, such as applied math and basic science courses. Then, engineering majors often focus on a particular branch of engineering, which will determine their required and elective courses. The main branches of engineering — mechanical, civil, chemical, electrical, biological, and computer — can be broken down into even more specific subfields. 

How to choose engineering courses

The first step in choosing engineering courses takes place when you choose a major. For part of your engineering degree, you will have to take a few core courses that are required for your major. Many core engineering classes — like thermodynamics, materials science, and structural analysis — are required for most of the different branches.

However, engineering departments offer many specialized courses to help you focus on aspects of your major that match your strengths and career goals. Mechanical engineering majors, for example, take courses in computational fluid dynamics and solar thermal systems design. Civil engineering majors, on the other hand, study environmental engineering systems and transportation systems engineering.

Engineering courses that will prepare you for career advancement

Engineering degrees include required and elective coursework. Required coursework corresponds directly to your major and incorporates core classes and specialized courses alike. 

Specialized classes fall under one of the six main areas of engineering: mechanical, civil, chemical, electrical, biological, and computer. Electives in an engineering program are also usually specialized classes. They allow you to take engineering courses that best meet your career goals. You can often take electives from other departments, challenging you to explore new ideas and build new skills.

Core engineering courses

Calculus I and II

Typical difficulty level: Medium

What you'll learn: Calculus classes focus on immediate and consistent rates of change. Calculus courses cover the different branches of calculus: subdifferential, integral, multivariable, fractional, and differential geometry. 

What to expect: Calculus coursework integrates lectures about theories, principles, and concepts with assignments that require you to apply them to problems and scenarios. You will work independently and as part of a group to solve problems and explain the solutions to the class. 

Who will this course most benefit? Calculus is required for all engineering students. The mathematical skills gained in calculus coursework establish the foundation for future engineering coursework.

Computer-aided drafting

Typical difficulty level: Medium

What you'll learn: Computer-aided drafting (CAD) coursework introduces you to the technology used to create, modify, analyze, and optimize engineering designs. You learn how to manually draft and use 2D and 3d software for drafting and design. 

What to expect: A class in CAD drafting blends lectures, discussions, demonstrations, and hands-on learning. You'll practice 2D and 3D designs using CAD software, both individually and as part of group projects.

Who will this course most benefit? Mechanical, civil, and architectural engineers use CAD to create 2D and 3D visualizations of projects.

Statistics

Typical difficulty level: Medium

What you'll learn: Statistics covers probability, distribution models, and sample collection. Statistics classes train you to analyze data, identify patterns, conduct studies, and create simulations. Topics include regression, probability, confidence intervals, and hypothesis testing. 

What to expect: Statistics students solve both theoretical and real-world statistics problems. You'll also use statistics software to analyze data sets.

Who will this course most benefit? Engineers across the discipline need to know statistics, especially civil, mechanical, and industrial engineering majors. 

Introduction to circuits and electronics

Typical difficulty level: Medium

What you'll learn: This course covers the principles of electronic systems design. You learn to formulate and solve equations related to time and frequency and the behavior of circuits that store energy. Topics include lumped circuit models, nodal analysis, digital abstraction, and small circuit models. 

What to expect: Design and lab components constitute a large portion of the class. Students also must complete additional homework and assessments.

Who will this course most benefit? Coursework in circuits and electronics benefits electrical engineering, computer engineering, biomedical engineering, and electronics engineering majors. 

Thermodynamics

Typical difficulty level: Hard

What you'll learn: Thermodynamics is about the energy transference from one place or form to another. In this class, you'll learn how to identify and categorize energy systems, the functions of energy transfer, abstract concepts of thermodynamics, and how to apply laws of thermodynamics to system analysis.

What to expect: Thermodynamics classes include lab work. Groups conduct experiments during lab activities, create reports based on their findings, and may present their work to the class. Students also complete reading assignments, homework, and exams.

Who will this course most benefit? Knowing thermodynamics is essential for mechanical engineers. The laws of thermodynamics, thermodynamic systems, and the properties of thermodynamics guide mechanical engineers as they design engines, power plants, and comparable devices and facilities. 

Fluid mechanics

Typical difficulty level: Hard

What you'll learn: Fluid dynamics is the study of how liquids and gases move. Topics include pressure, hydrostatics, and buoyancy. You'll also study open systems and control volume analysis, viscous fluid flows, conservation for moving fluids, and lift and drag on objects. 

What to expect: Fluid dynamics classes blend lectures with exercises that require you to apply principles and methods of the discipline. Assignments involve sample sets, while lab work gives you opportunities to conduct experiments on fluids and gases. 

Who will this course most benefit? Fluid dynamics courses benefit civil, mechanical, and chemical engineers. It also has applications in biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, and mechatronics engineering.

Top elective engineering course examples, by specialty

Mechanical engineering

  • Transportation planning
  • Embedded system design
  • Lasers and their applications

Elective mechanical engineering classes hone critical thinking, analytical, and computational skills. Mechanical engineers must design, develop, and test products and systems using CAD, advanced mathematics, and engineering principles.

Electrical engineering

  • Electricity and magnetism
  • Advanced optics
  • Artificial intelligence

Electrical engineering classes teach you how to design electrical systems. After introductory coursework in electrical theory, circuitry, mechanics, and computer programming, electrical engineering classes give you the chance to apply that knowledge to electrical equipment. Electrical engineers work with motors, navigation systems, communication systems, and power generation equipment. 

Civil engineering

  • Sustainable roadway design and construction
  • Geotechnical engineering
  • Plastic design of steel structures

Civil engineering can be broken down into specialization areas like architecture, construction, environmental engineering, and hydraulic engineering. By learning about transportation and infrastructure, for example, you can pursue careers in transportation system development, analysis, and management.

Chemical engineering

  • Applied electrochemistry

  • Metabolic engineering

  • Integrated envirochemical engineering

Chemical engineers develop and design chemical manufacturing processes for the development and use in foods, fuels, drugs, and other products. Because chemical engineering spans manufacturing, pharmaceutical, construction, and agriculture industries, elective courses can prepare you for careers in those areas. For example, you can learn about how chemicals interact with electricity, how metabolism influences and is influenced by different chemicals, or the relationship between the environment and chemical engineering.

Biological engineering

  • Nanomechanics of materials and biomaterials
  • Microbial genetics and evolution
  • Air pollution and atmospheric chemistry

Biological engineers use engineering principles to analyze biological systems. Elective coursework gives you the opportunity to explore topics that can prepare you for biological engineering careers in the pharmaceutical field, agriculture, and robotics.

Computer engineering

  • Software for embedded systems
  • Autonomous robots
  • Digital integrated circuit design

Computer engineering combines electrical engineering with computer science. Elective classes in computer engineering train you to work with specific types of computer hardware and software, teach you how to make technologies interact, and help you develop innovative processes and products. 

In conclusion

Because engineering branches into so many different subfields, figuring out where to start and what direction to head in can prove challenging. By learning about the different areas of engineering, you can get an idea of what engineering courses to take to prepare you for your career. 

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