What Can You Do With an Engineering Degree?

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Engineering concerns the research, design, and use of machines, engines, and structures. Engineering impacts every part of modern life. Engineering is responsible for your car, your smart phone, and the roads you drive. An engineering degree can start you on the path to a career designing highway systems, developing communities, building innovative medical technology, working in research and development to create new mechanical tools, even working as an entrepreneur. Earning an engineering degree can be an arduous task, but it is one that pays great dividends if you have the interest, skills, and work ethic.

An engineering degree gives you an education in math, science, and technology, and prepares you to work in several potentially well–paying fields. If you have an interest in how things work, enjoy devising mechanical or technological systems, or want to play a part in developing the physical devices and structures that people interact with on a daily basis, a degree in engineering might be right for you.

An engineering degree gives you a lot of options, both educationally and professionally. Some possible areas of focus include civil engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, or medical engineering. The area that you choose to specialize in, as well as the degree level that you obtain, will help determine your career path, as well as your salary potential.

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 in order 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

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.
 
Engineering is one of these professions. If you plan to use your engineering degree in order to become a licensed professional engineer (PE), you will need a degree with program–specific accreditation.
 
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the preferred accreditation group for the field of engineering. ABET is a nonprofit accrediting agency for programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. It provides quality assurance for 4,005 programs at 793 colleges and universities in 32 countries. One of the first steps in your path to becoming a professional engineer should be to seek out a program that is ABET-accredited. This will be an important credential as you advance toward your engineering license and as you compete on 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 Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?

What Kinds of Engineering Degrees Are There?

Associate Degree in Engineering

As with most associate programs, your engineering degree will typically require 60 credit hours, or roughly two years, to complete. Here, you’ll study introductory level subject matter, including basic engineering principles, physics, calculus, and differential equations. This two–year degree can qualify you for immediate work in the field, though with some limitations. You'll qualify to work as a mechanical technician, a tester of consumer goods, or as a research assistant, for example. However, you wouldn't be eligible to earn your PE license. Earning an associate degree is a great way to gain basic technical skills and qualifications for working in the field, but if you plan to become an engineer, you'll need to earn your bachelor's degree.

What Engineering Courses Will I Take in an Associate Program?

  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering  Construction
  • Information Systems
  • Physics

Bachelor of Engineering

Earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering is a popular option, a necessity for advancing beyond technician status, and the basic threshold for becoming a professional engineer. This is typically a 120–credit program, and will require a minimum of four years to complete. Your bachelor's degree in engineering will open the door for work in an array of growth industries, including energy, transportation, computer science, healthcare, and architecture. In addition to introductory courses in math and life sciences, you’ll dive into several areas of specialization, including civil engineering, mechanics, aeronautics, medical technology, and telecommunications. This should help you determine your true area of interest. Your bachelor’s degree in engineering (from an ABET–accredited program) is an absolute necessity if you plan to work as a professional engineer. You'll also need this to sit for your license exam.

Another note here: Some schools may offer five–year programs that merge bachelor’s and master's studies, known as accelerated bachelor’s degree programs. This can be a great way to save time and money if you do plan to continue into a master's degree program in engineering. Find out if your school offers this option, and check out our article on Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree Programs Online.

What Engineering Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor’ Program?

  • Chemistry Lab
  • Computer Aided Design
  • Engineering and Programming
  • Engineering and Technology
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Measurement Systems
  • Principles of Electricity
  • Thermodynamics

What’s the Difference between a BA and a BS in Engineering?

Your primary focus on math, the sciences, and technology will be largely the same in either program. However, with your bachelor of arts (BA) in engineering, this focus will be paired with a selection of liberal arts and humanities courses. Absent these requirements, a bachelor of science (BS) in engineering will give you the opportunity to dive a little deeper into certain math and science sub-disciplines.

If you are interested in an engineering program, then check these rankings:

Master of Engineering

Though some schools offer more generalized master of engineering programs, chances are pretty good that your degree will be in a specialized area of your choosing. In most cases, your master’s degree program will focus on advancing knowledge, skills and research in a selected sub–discipline like civil engineering, aeronautical engineering, chemical engineering, or electrical engineering. If you're hoping to combine your technical talents with leadership skills, you might complete a degree in engineering management. Whatever course of study you choose, you'll divide your time between math- and science-intensive course lectures and hands-on laboratory experience. Most master’s programs in engineering also require the completion of a senior thesis. Typically a two-year program, your school may offer the option of rolling your undergraduate and graduate studies into a single five- or six-year program. This could be a great way to save time and money.

What Engineering Courses Will I Take in a Master’ Program?

  • Computer Integrated Manufacturing
  • Energy Systems Design
  • Engineering Management
  • Experimental Engineering
  • Intro to Aerospace Engineering
  • Mechatronics
  • Methods of Applied Mathematics
  • Robotics

Ph.D. of Engineering

If you wish to work primarily as a researcher or as a college–level educator, you’ll likely need to earn your Ph.D. in engineering. This program requires you to hold a master's degree in engineering or a closely-related field, and can take an additional three to six years of work to complete. This terminal degree provides a rigorous program in your areas of specialization. Typically, you will also design and pursue your own research focus with the support of a mentor. Upon completion, you'll be qualified to help advance inquiry and research in your field as part of a private enterprise, a government-sponsored project, a nonprofit think tank, or within a university system.

What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?

If you wish to become a practicing engineer, you must hold a state–issued license. In order to become a licensed professional engineer (PE), you must have first 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 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 up 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.

It’s also worth considering certain certifications specific to your area of specialization. Systems design, information technology, and technical maintenance certifications can help strengthen your credentials and your value to prospective employers. As always though, be sure that any certifications you pursue are issued by reputable and recognized programs or institutions.

What Can You Do with an Engineering Degree?

You may be asking yourself, “What can I do with an engineering degree?” Fortunately, you have a lot of options. Your engineering degree can be the key to an array of exciting engineering careers. Here are a few of the top careers in your field:

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn with an Engineering Degree?

Though opportunities abound at every level, engineering is a field in which your level of degree attainment will have a direct impact on the jobs for which you qualify and the salary you’re likely to command. It can also depend a great deal on your chosen area of concentration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on earnings for these leading engineering jobs. The following data reflects median annual salaries as of 2018:

Career Median Salary
Surveying and Mapping Technicians $44,380
Civil Engineering Technicians $52,580
Industrial Engineering Technicians $55,460
Drafters $55,550
Mechanical Engineering Technicians $56,250
Surveyors $62,580
Electrical Engineering Technicians $64,330
Landscape Architects $68,230
Agricultural Engineers $77,110
Architects $79,380
Industrial Engineers $87,040
Mechanical Engineers $87,370
Environmental Engineers $87,620
Biomedical Engineers $88,550
Health and Safety Engineers $89,130
Civil Engineers $86,640
Mining and Geological Engineers $92,250
Materials Engineers $92,390
Marine Engineers and Naval Architects $92,560
Electrical and Electronics Engineers $99,070
Chemical Engineers $104,910
Nuclear Engineers $107,600
Computer Hardware Engineers $114,600
Aerospace Engineers $115,220
Petroleum Engineers $137,170

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are There Professional Engineering 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 you take. Look for engineering associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration. Below are a few of the most widely recognized and influential of these professional associations.

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