Advances in automotive technology have a way of driving broader innovations, and automotive technology degrees keep the advances rolling. From the way that millions of people travel to work each day to the way that billions of dollars in consumer products reach their destination; from the vehicles that perform highly specialized industrial tasks to the infrastructure that makes public transportation possible, automotive technology is at the very heart of our economy, culture, and way of life.
This means that there are more careers in automotive technology than you might suspect. Opportunities abound in automotive services, including repair technicians, body and glass specialists, and salespersons. But the automotive field is extremely broad and varied, including opportunities for management and leadership in the retail sector, mechanical engineering in the manufacturing sector, and the development of new alternative fuel solutions in the research sector, to name a few options of many. Pursuing an automotive technology degree, whether you choose an associate degree in automotive technology or a master’s degree in automotive technology, can prepare you for one of these exciting, lucrative positions.
An automotive technology degree is a step towards a career in this field, be it as a manager, mechanic, researcher, salesperson or specialist focused on improving the future of automotive technology. Certificates and degrees in automotive technology offer an array of options for interested students. Automotive technology degrees and programs often include courses on service and maintenance, mechanical design, collision science, alternative fuel systems, shipping logistics, and more.
If you have a mind for mechanics, a passion for the way we get from point A to point B, and a desire to contribute to the safety, efficiency, and technological evolution of automobiles both on our roads today and in the future, you should consider pursuing a degree or certification in automotive technology. (Note: The name of your program may be some variant on automotive technology, and may depend on your area of focus. Some relevant degree programs may include automotive repair, automotive engineering, and mechanical engineering.)
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education–recognized accreditor for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency–based education, or other education models that operate under a for–profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
Your automotive degree could lead down a wide array of paths. Depending on your chosen path, you may benefit from, or even require, a degree with specialized programmatic accreditation from one of the following agencies:
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
- The Department of Education recognizes the ACCSC as the preeminent nationwide accrediting group for both degree and certification programs. If you are seeking an automotive technology degree, your school should already be regionally accredited by one of the six accrediting groups listed above. However, accreditation from the ACCSC indicates that your program also meets recognized standards of quality and credibility within your chosen field. This certification is valued, but not mandatory as long as your school is regionally accredited.
If you are completing a certification program, accreditation from the ACCSC takes on an added level of importance. In many cases, your certification program may be unaffiliated with a regionally accredited institution. Accreditation from the ACCSC can provide assurance of reputation, program quality, and the legitimacy of the certification you will ultimately earn, as well as access to student loans.
- Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation
- In the absence of ACCSC accreditation, a certification program may be accredited by the Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation. While the ASE Education Foundation is not recognized explicitly by the Department of Education, it was created by ASE, a leading group of industry professionals. This means that programs accredited by the ASE Education Foundation adhere to standards set forth by the automotive industry and therefore also hold credibility in the professional sphere.
- The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
- ABET is the preferred accreditation group for your field. ABET is a nonprofit accrediting agency for programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology, providing quality assurance for 4,005 programs at 793 colleges and universities in 32 countries. If you plan to become a professional engineer within the automotive technology sphere, one of your first steps should be to seek out a program that is ABET–accredited. This will be an important credential as you seek your license and as you compete in the job market.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
To learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out this article on accreditation: Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
Now that you have a better understanding of accreditation, let’s look at some of your automotive technology degree options.
What Kinds of Automotive Technology Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Automotive Technology
An associate degree in automotive technology can help improve your appeal to prospective employers in a competitive field. While it is possible to begin entry level work as an auto–mechanic, body work specialist, or equipment technician without an associate degree, each of these areas is growing more sophisticated and advanced all the time. This two–year, 60–credit program can both help you land a good job in your field and better prepare you to succeed within. Courses will largely focus on different aspects of automotive technology, offering introductory education on repair, maintenance, transmission, heating and cooling systems, suspension, engine repair, and more. You will likely also engage in a great deal of hands–on learning. Many schools will require you to procure your own toolkit for this part of your coursework. Once you’ve earned your associate degree in automotive technology, you should have all the basic knowledge and qualifications to begin working at the service, maintenance, repair, or manufacturing level. This can also give you a boost in the competition for managerial work in sales or distribution. Opportunities for greater advancement also exist in each of these areas if you choose to parlay your associate degree into a bachelor’s degree program.
What Courses Will You Take in an Auto Mechanic Associate Program?
- Engine Repair
- Power Trains & Transmissions
- Service & Maintenance
- Suspension & Steering
- Wiring & Electrical Systems
Now that you know what to look for in an associate degree in automotive technology, check out our ranking:
Bachelor of Automotive Technology
A bachelor’s degree in automotive technology can open the door to management and leadership opportunities in the field. In addition to honing practical skills in service, maintenance, and repair, you’ll have the chance to dive deeper into the technology and research behind automotive innovation as well as learn how principles of organizational leadership and advanced analytics can apply to the automotive field. This is also typically where you’ll begin to hone your focus on an area like safety, mechanical engineering, alternative fuel science, or distribution logistics, to name a few common specialization options.
It bears noting that not every school offers a four–year, 120–credit program in automotive technology. This is because, for many popular professions in the field, an associate degree and/or certification will be enough to get your foot in the door. But if you’re looking to get on a path toward leadership or research & development, a bachelor’s degree can be a big help. This is especially true for associate degree holders who are already working professionals. If you have ambitions to work either behind the scenes or on the cutting edge of the automotive industry, a bachelor’s degree can make that possible.
What Courses Will I Take in an Auto Mechanic Bachelor’s Program?
- Alternative Fuel Systems
- Collision Science
- Drivability Diagnostics
- Heavy Equipment Design
- Manufacturing Management
- Mechanical Design
- Mechanical Engineering
- Transportation Infrastructure
What’s the Difference between a Bachelor of Applied Science, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Technology in Automotive Technology?
The differences between these degrees is minimal. In most cases, it will simply be a matter of which degree your chosen school confers. In each of these automotive technology degree programs, you’ll take a deeper look at the science and technology behind automotive design and innovation.
Master of Automotive Technology
The master’s degree in automotive technology is truly reserved for those who wish to achieve a specialized body of knowledge in automotive technology and design. This two–year engagement will combine advanced studies in the theory and science of automotive design with a thesis or final project. This will be your opportunity to dedicate intensive study to a concentration, whether your interest is greater fuel efficiency, refinement of major transportation infrastructures, improved ergonomics in personal car design, or even the advancement of self–driving cars. You may also choose at this point to transition from your undergraduate studies in automotive technology to an advanced degree program in engineering with a concentration in automotive technology. Whichever path you take toward your master’s degree in automotive technology, when you reach this specialized level in the field, you will have opportunities to be a direct contributor to the next frontier of innovation. You’ll also substantially improve your earning potential within the sector.
What Courses Will I Take in an Auto Mechanic Master’s Program?
- Alternative Fuel Systems
- Design & Manufacturing
- Dynamics & Control
- Electronics and Computer Software
- Materials and Commodity
- National Shipping Logistics
- Urban Transportation Systems
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
- Automotive Technology Certification
- Certification can be important both in building your skill sets and establishing credibility in your field. A certification in automotive technology can serve either as a substitute or a supplement to an associate degree. In some instances, a credible certification program will open many of the same entry–level pathways as an associate degree in automotive technology — though not necessarily with the same level of appeal to employers nor the added benefit of jump–starting your path to a bachelor’s degree.
That said, if you have already earned your associate degree, consider a certification program as an immediate follow–up. Many of these programs will either allow or even require you to begin working in the field as an apprentice. If you do pursue a certification in automotive technology or a related area, be sure that your program has been accredited either by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) or the ASE Education Foundation.
- Engineering Certification
- If you wish to become an automotive engineer, you must hold a state–issued license. In order to become a licensed professional engineer (PE), you first must have earned at least a bachelor’s degree from an ABET–accredited engineering program. Once you have acquired this degree, you’ll qualify to sit for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.
This license will qualify you to work in the public as an engineer. However, in order to earn the title of professional engineer (PE), you will need to practice in the field for another four years. This will qualify you to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.
Once you pass this exam, you are a fully–licensed PE, a status which will open a far wider array of professional opportunities. Some states may require a level of continuing education to retain this status, though this will differ from state to state.
What Can You Do With an Automotive Technology Degree?
Your automotive technology degree can be the key to a rewarding career in service, repair, design, manufacturing, engineering and a host of other related areas. Here are a few of the top careers in your field:
- Automotive Body and Glass Repairers
- Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics
- Diesel Service Technicians and Mechanics
- General Maintenance and Repair Workers
- Heavy and Tractor–Trailer Truck Drivers
- Heavy Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Service Technicians
- Material Moving Machine Operators
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With an Automotive Technology Degree?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides some basic salary figures for the top jobs in your field. The following figures reflect median annual salaries as of 2018.
|Automotive/Watercraft Service Attendants||$24,200|
|Painting Coating Workers||$36,810|
|Automotive Service Techs/Mechanics||$40,710|
|Automotive Body/Glass Repairs||$41,330|
|Automotive Body/Related Repairs||$42,730|
|Diesel Service Technicians/Mechanics||$47,350|
|Industrial Production Managers||$103,380|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Are There Professional Automotive Technology Associations or Societies I Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path in automotive technology that you take. Look for automotive associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- Automotive Industry Action Group
- The International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies (FISITA)
- Institution of Mechanical Engineers
- Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International)
- United States Council for Automotive Research