Whether you want to help send a rocket to space, build the next generation of electric vehicles or create a revolutionary robot, a mechanical engineering degree could be the start of your journey. It's a good fit for those who love to design, create, tinker and explore — and have a strong interest in math and science.
Common courses for mechanical engineering include:
- Mechanics and materials
- Fluid mechanics
- Mechanics of solids
- Design and manufacturing
- Single-variable calculus
- Multivariable calculus
As you progress in your degree, you can choose from electives (such as jet engine propulsion or neuroengineering) and specialize your knowledge.
Everything from the sensor in an air-conditioning unit to the type of material that's chosen for a prosthetic limb falls under the domain of mechanical engineers. And because they can start as generalists with a wide-ranging skill set, mechanical engineers can typically choose from a variety of job opportunities and industries.
Something to Consider
While you may be able to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in four years, some schools offer extended five- or six-year programs that you can complete to earn both a bachelor's and master's degree. This could be quicker and less expensive than returning later to school for a master's degree.
Some schools also offer cooperative-education programs, which allow you to alternate between classroom education and hands-on experience working for an employer in the field. While this can extend the time it takes to finish your degree, you'll generally be paid for the work, and you'll graduate with valuable work experience that could make it easier to find a full-time job.
Regardless of the path you choose, look for a school that offers an ABET-accredited degree program. It may be a requirement to become a licensed professional engineer later, and employers may prefer graduates who have a degree from an accredited program.
A mechanical engineering degree gives you versatile skills and can lead to a job in many industries. However, no matter which industry you're interested in, you may also want to continue your education after graduation.
In particular, keeping up with the latest software and learning how to create designs and simulations could be important. You could also look for ways to carve out a niche for yourself, such as becoming an expert in 3D printing.
Where You Could End Up Living
While you might be able to find work as a mechanical engineer anywhere (there are even remote, work-from-home opportunities), there tend to be more mechanical engineers in certain states.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2018, the top five states were:
- Michigan (43,890 jobs)
- California (27,330 jobs)
- Texas (20,820 jobs)
- Illinois (17,320 jobs)
- Pennsylvania (16,590 jobs)
If you're looking for the best pay, the metropolitan areas with the highest annual mean wages in May 2018 were:
- Anchorage, Alaska ($147,570)
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California ($129,000)
- Tyler, Texas ($121,740)
- Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas ($121,330)
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California ($117,770)
However, higher pay can also come with more competition. For example, there are only 250 mechanical engineers in Anchorage, Alaska and only 80 in Tyler, Texas.
Salary and Occupation Outlook
The BLS also found the median pay (the middle point, not the average) for mechanical engineers was $87,370 in 2018. The pay can vary depending on your industry, though.
For example, the median annual pay for mechanical engineers in machinery manufacturing was $80,310, while those working in scientific research and development services earned $99,870.
There is a positive outlook for mechanical engineers in general, and as of 2016, there were 288,800 mechanical engineering jobs in the United States. The BLS estimates that the job numbers will grow 9 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is 2 percent higher than the expected growth for all occupations.