What Can You Do With an Engineering Degree?

by Genevieve Carlton
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An engineering degree can lead to more than a dozen fulfilling career paths in the public and private sectors.

What can you do with an engineering degree? Engineers reinforce bridges, design spacecraft, and develop new materials, all while making sure to follow environmental regulations. They also create computer processors, research environmental solutions, and fuel the energy sector.

Engineering programs train graduates for high-paying, in-demand careers. As problem-solvers, engineers work in many different industries, including manufacturing and technology.

This page lists engineering careers and highlights the diverse job opportunities for graduates with engineering degrees.

Engineering Careers

Engineering majors choosing their specialization area may wonder, "What can you do with an engineering degree?" Engineers work in many industries, including aerospace, biomedical manufacturing, agriculture, and infrastructure.

This section introduces the many career paths in engineering. For each career, we list the median salary, required degree, and common job responsibilities. Most of these roles require a bachelor's degree. A graduate degree can help engineers advance into supervisory roles.

Aerospace Engineer

Median Salary (2020): $118,610
Required Degree: Bachelor's in aerospace engineering

Aerospace engineers develop planes and spacecraft. They design prototypes, conduct safety tests, and oversee the manufacturing of aircraft and aerospace products, including satellites. These engineers also analyze designs to improve safety and quality.

Most aerospace engineering careers take place in office settings. Aerospace manufacturing, engineering services, instrument manufacturing, and the federal government employ aerospace engineers.

Agricultural Engineer

Median Salary (2020): $84,410
Required Degree: Bachelor's in agricultural engineering or biological engineering

Agricultural engineers use engineering principles to solve agricultural issues. These professionals design agricultural machines, develop storage processes, and improve the environmental impacts of production. They also conduct safety testing on equipment.

Most agricultural engineers work in offices or agricultural settings. The federal government, colleges, consulting, and engineering services most commonly employ these engineers.

Biomedical Engineer

Median Salary (2020):$92,620
Required Degree: Bachelor's in bioengineering or biomedical engineering

These professionals apply engineering techniques to solve medical problems. They develop devices and equipment to improve patient health outcomes or diagnose conditions. Biomedical engineers also test and maintain biomedical equipment.

Most biomedical engineers work in medical equipment manufacturing, engineering research and development, or healthcare. A master's in biomedical engineering can help professionals advance their careers.

Chemical Engineer

Median Salary (2020): $108,540
Required Degree: Bachelor's in chemical engineering

Chemical engineers create manufacturing equipment and products that use chemicals. They research chemical compounds, create safety procedures, and analyze manufacturing processes.

The primary employers for these engineers include research and development organizations, engineering services, and manufacturing. Most chemical engineers work in offices, laboratories, or industrial plants.

Civil Engineer

Median Salary (2020): $88,570
Required Degree: Bachelor's in civil engineering or civil engineering technologies

Civil engineers design and maintain public infrastructure like roads, bridges, and dams. They also work on private sector infrastructure projects. These engineers examine reports and surveys to plan projects. They also conduct environmental testing and apply for permits for their projects.

While most civil engineers hold bachelor's degrees in civil engineering, some employers prefer candidates with master's degrees in the field.

Computer Hardware Engineer

Median Salary (2020):$119,560
Required Degree: Bachelor's in computer engineering; other majors include electrical engineering or computer science

These professionals develop new computer products or systems. They design memory storage devices, processors, and other computer hardware. Computer hardware engineers also test devices and modify plans based on their research.

Careers in computer hardware engineering require an understanding of computing systems and software. The industries that employ computer hardware engineers include computer systems design, electronic component manufacturing, and computer equipment manufacturing.

Electrical and Electronics Engineer

Median Salary (2020):$103,390
Required Degree: Bachelor's in electrical engineering or electronics engineering

Electrical and electronics engineers create products, systems, and equipment that transmits or uses electricity. Electrical engineers design motors, communication tools, and power systems. Electronics engineers develop electronic products and software.

Careers in electronics engineering or electrical engineering typically take place in office settings. These engineers work in telecommunications, electric power generation, manufacturing, and the federal government.

Engineering Manager

Median Salary (2020):$149,530
Required Degree: Bachelor's in engineering or engineering management

Engineering managers oversee engineering projects. They create plans and timelines for projects and evaluate technical designs. Engineering managers oversee engineers and technicians to deliver successful projects.

Most engineering managers bring several years of experience to their work. Some also hold master's degrees. They work in offices and field settings, including factories, laboratories, or industrial plants.

Environmental Engineer

Median Salary (2020):$92,120
Required Degree: Bachelor's in environmental engineering; other majors include civil or chemical engineering

These professionals apply engineering to environmental challenges. They research solutions to pollution, waste disposal, and public health issues. Environmental engineers also design pollution control systems and inspect facilities. Some advise organizations on decontamination projects.

Compared to other engineers, most environmental engineers work for government agencies. They also work in engineering services and consulting.

Industrial Engineer

Median Salary (2020):$88,950
Required Degree: Bachelor's in industrial engineering; other majors include mechanical, electrical, or manufacturing engineering

Industrial engineers improve efficiency in industrial manufacturing and production. They develop systems to eliminate waste and improve process flows. Industrial engineers also design systems to improve planning, quality, and cost.

Many industrial engineers work in transportation equipment manufacturing, computer and electronic product manufacturing, machinery manufacturing, or another form of manufacturing. They usually work in offices and factories.

Materials Engineer

Median Salary (2020):$95,640
Required Degree: Bachelor's in materials science or engineering

These engineers research the materials used in different types of tools, equipment, and products. They evaluate substances to create new materials or devise new methods of using materials. Materials engineers must oversee materials testing, evaluate a material's performance, and investigate product failures.

Materials engineers most commonly work in transportation equipment manufacturing, engineering services, and metal manufacturing. These engineers may also find employment in factories, laboratories, or offices.

Mechanical Engineer

Median Salary (2020): $90,160
Required Degree: Bachelor's in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology

These professionals design and test mechanical devices. They research problems to develop mechanical devices, including engines or tools. Mechanical engineers also create prototypes, investigate equipment problems, and modify mechanical tools or systems.

Most mechanical engineers work in offices. Common mechanical engineering careers include roles in engineering firms, machinery manufacturing, and transportation equipment manufacturing.

Nuclear Engineer

Median Salary (2020): $116,140
Required Degree: Bachelor's in nuclear engineering

Nuclear engineers develop instruments and systems that use radioactive materials for power in industrial and medical settings. They design equipment for nuclear power plants, develop methods to eliminate nuclear waste, and test instruments that use nuclear material.

Most nuclear engineers work in offices, while some work in power plants. The most common employers for nuclear engineers include the federal government, scientific research, and manufacturing.

Petroleum Engineer

Median Salary (2020): $137,330
Required Degree: Bachelor's in petroleum engineering; other majors include mechanical, civil, and chemical engineering

Petroleum engineers build equipment and design ways to extract natural resources. They create the tools used to extract oil from underground deposits. Petroleum engineers research methods to remove more oil and gas from older wells. They also examine equipment to make sure it works as designed.

Petroleum engineering careers require strong surveying and testing skills. Most petroleum engineers find jobs in oil and gas extraction, mining, or petroleum products manufacturing. They work in offices and at drilling sites.

Engineering Certification and Licensure

In every state, professional engineers must hold licensure from their state licensing boards. This section walks through the process of earning certification and licensure as an engineer.


PE Licensure

A PE license recognizes engineers with the education and experience to practice professionally. Each state uses a slightly different process to license engineers. Generally, each engineer must hold a bachelor's degree in engineering from an ABET-accredited program.

After completing a bachelor's degree, each graduate takes the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and gains experience as an engineer in training (EIT). This period of supervised work experience strengthens an engineer's skills. After four years of supervised experience, engineers can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.

The PE exam tests engineers on fundamental concepts in their specialties. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), which administers the exam, offers tests in 16 disciplines, including chemical, electrical, environmental, and mechanical engineering. Engineers with PE licenses must complete continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials.


EIT Certification

Professionals hold EIT certification while making progress toward their PE licenses. The process and requirements vary by state. Each engineer must apply to their state board of engineering to receive EIT certification.

In most states, an EIT certification candidate must hold a bachelor's in engineering from an ABET-accredited program and pass the FE exam. The FE exam, offered by NCEES, tests candidates on the fundamentals of engineering.

Test-takers must complete 110 questions in six hours. NCEES offers exams in seven disciplines, including chemical engineering, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering. The exam costs $175.

After passing the FE exam, candidates apply to their state board for EIT certification. EITs then complete professional experience to receive their PE licenses.

Common Questions About Engineering Careers and Majors

Which Engineering Has the Highest Salary?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), petroleum engineers earn the highest median salary, followed by computer hardware engineers, aerospace engineers, nuclear engineers, and chemical engineers.

What Is the Hardest Engineering Major?

Every engineering major requires strong analytical, technical, and problem-solving skills. The hardest engineering major depends on the student's skills and interests. Many lists rank electrical engineering and chemical engineering among the hardest engineering disciplines.

What Is the Easiest Engineering Major?

All engineering majors can challenge students. The easiest engineering major depends on the learner's abilities. Some consider environmental engineering and architectural engineering among the easier majors.

Which Engineer Is Most In-Demand?

Industrial engineers report the highest demand, according to BLS projections for 2019-2029 job growth. Bioengineers and biomedical engineers also have faster-than-average projected job growth rates.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Header Image Credit: Jetta Productions Inc | Getty Images

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