What is a mechanical engineering degree?

Graduates with a mechanical engineering degree can work in automation, computer, and machinery manufacturing.

Mechanical engineers design, build, oversee, and operate machinery. With a mechanical engineering degree, you can work in the automation, computer, and manufacturing industries. You can qualify for technician, engineering, and management positions, along with several continuing education opportunities.

Advancements in technology and the complexity of the manufacturing process keeps well-educated and highly skilled mechanical engineers in demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% growth in this sector between 2020 and 2030. On this page, we examine the field of mechanical engineering and highlight some of the training paths available to you.  

What is mechanical engineering?

Mechanical engineering represents one of the broadest engineering disciplines. These professionals work in fields such as biotechnology, acoustics, transportation, and thermodynamics. They build household machinery, automotive equipment, robotics, and computers. 

Mechanical engineers typically need a bachelor's or master's degree, though some technician and entry-level mechanical engineering jobs are accessible with an associate degree. Training includes courses in mathematics, physics, materials science, and computer programming.

What do you learn in a mechanical engineering degree program?

While each mechanical engineering degree curriculum can look a little different, you can expect to see common elements in most programs. Among the many skills acquired in your training, you will likely develop the following:

  • Engineering process and principles
  • Computer-aided design
  • Mathematics
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Data analysis 
  • Product design and development
  • Leadership
  • Communication

Mechanical engineering course examples

Computer-aided mechanical design

Students in this course learn how to apply CAD to the mechanical manufacturing process. They explore various types of modeling and engineering simulations.

Instrumentation and measurements

In this course, students learn the principles for measuring physical quantities, along with acceleration, position, and force. They also learn how to use various instruments and how to handle their bias, sensitivity, and accuracy.

Thermodynamics

This course examines gas processes, including compression and combustion. Students learn how to apply thermodynamics to things like power production, refrigeration, and advanced cycles. 

Control system design

In this course, students learn about analog and digital controllers. They conduct laboratory work using different controls and learn to design and implement them for various uses.

How hard is a mechanical engineering degree?

A mechanical engineering degree can prove challenging for some students. Learners may struggle with the emphasis on mathematics and physics, particularly in the early years of their studies. After developing the fundamentals, however, students enhance their understanding with visual and practical lessons. 

The complexity of the training, the extent of research, and the scope of the projects increases within each subsequent degree level. As they progress, engineering students tend to be better equipped to handle the new challenges and demanding workload. In general, dedicated learners with problem-solving and creative skills can find success at any level. 

What kinds of mechanical engineering degrees are there?

Every mechanical engineering degree level has unique study options and postgraduate opportunities. The following sections detail the various mechanical engineering degree levels available. 

Associate degree in mechanical engineering

A mechanical engineering degree at the associate level typically takes students two years to complete. The training covers the principles of engineering, manufacturing, and materials science. Students may take courses in introduction to engineering design, applied mechanics, and introduction to thermofluids. 

Graduates can qualify for several entry-level careers, including drafters and mechanical engineering technologists and technicians. 

Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering

Students in mechanical engineering bachelor's programs build foundations in math and sciences, including mechanical, systems, and thermal-fluid sciences. They also develop an understanding of robotics, automation, and controllers. 

The courses offered vary by program, but some of the topics covered may include thermodynamics, manufacturing engineering, and energy systems. Professionally, these degrees can lead to various careers, including mechanical engineering, mechanical designer, and product developer.

Graduate certificate in mechanical engineering

A graduate certificate in mechanical engineering allows bachelor's degree-holders to advance and specialize their training. These condensed programs take approximately one year to complete and offer focused training in fields like manufacturing systems, aerospace, materials science, fluid dynamics.

The courses vary by program, but learners could encounter topics like computer-aided design (CAD) fundamentals, machining, and engineering design. Some possible career paths for graduates might include mechanical engineering and engineering management.

Master's degree in mechanical engineering

Students in a mechanical engineering degree at the master's level typically graduate within two years. Their training includes advanced design and manufacturing, energy and thermal science, and materials science. The program may include extensive research, theoretical training, and practical exercises. 

Many master's programs in engineering offer specializations, such as robotics, mechatronics, aeronautics, and thermal and fluid engineering. Specializations allow learners to focus on the fields that interest them most and improve their postgraduate chances in that area. Graduates can access many engineering careers, including engineer management and industrial production management. 

Doctoral degree in mechanical engineering

As the terminal mechanical engineering degree, a doctorate in this field grants access to most available careers. These programs typically take four to seven years to complete. After graduating, you can pursue postsecondary teaching, research, or engineering management positions. 

The training in a doctoral program emphasizes research and development. Learners strive to make valued contributions to their field in the form of research, theory, and innovation development. Students can specialize their studies in an area like biomedical engineering, automation and control, and design and applied mechanics. 

Accreditation for mechanical engineering programs

For engineering students to access federal financial aid, transfer credits, and full employment opportunities, they must attend a school with proper accreditation. Regional accreditation depends on school location and comes from one of the organizations approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Programmatic accreditation comes from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

In conclusion

Mechanical engineers help create all types of devices, equipment, and products. With a mechanical engineering degree, you can drive innovation and solve problems for organizations and consumers in most industries. Use this guide to help identify your ideal mechanical engineering degree level and specialization and know what to expect from each.

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