Students can earn an associate's degree in mechanical engineering (ME) or an associate's degree in mechanical engineering technology (MET). The main difference between these two options is that ME programs are designed for transfer into four-year bachelor's degree programs, while graduates of MET programs are ready for engineering technician jobs.
Both programs teach students how to use math and science principles to improve the efficiency and operation of mechanical systems, product development processes and related concepts. In addition to hands-on learning opportunities, students might participate in educational fairs or internships.
Applicants need to have a high school diploma or equivalent for admission. Students entering an MET program should have completed high school physics and chemistry courses, and at least three years of high school math courses.
Associates Degree in Mechanical Engineering
The curriculum for the associate's program in mechanical engineering develops students' analytical and problem-solving skills. Most programs emphasize foundational coursework in physics, chemistry, math and calculus to prepare students for upper-level classes required in the final two years of a bachelor's degree program in mechanical engineering. Courses in social sciences, behavioral science, writing and communication are required in addition to the core mechanical engineering classes. Some courses in this program include:
- Engineering graphics and dynamics
- Programming for engineers
- Circuit analysis
- Statics and differential equations
- Mechanics of materials
Associate's Degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology
The MET program offers a theory and practice based curriculum that provides students with hands-on training in drafting and design and instructs students on how the latest technologies are integrated into mechanical engineering. Students learn to assist mechanical engineers with collecting and analyzing data, performing experiments and troubleshooting technical problems using what they learn about dynamics, statics, thermal mechanics and fluid mechanics. At some schools, the coursework transfers into a four-year Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology degree program. The program educates students through lectures, research, and hands-on projects in various laboratories. Additionally, students are given opportunities to participate in work fairs, co-operative education and internships. The following are examples of courses:
- Elements of mathematics
- Mechanical design and computer graphics
- Computer-aided drawing
- Material technology and design principles
- Manufacturing and materials processing
- Measurement and control
Popular Career Options
Mechanical engineering careers focus on finding solutions to problems related to the operation of systems, tools and machines. Graduates of mechanical engineering associates degree programs are qualified for employment in many manufacturing industries. Common job titles:
- Mechanical engineering technician
- Engineering lab technician
- Product designer
- Machine designer
- CAD operator
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that mechanical engineering technicians could expect only a 2% increase in employment, while mechanical engineers, who typically need a bachelor's degree for entry-level jobs, will see 5% growth between 2014 and 2024. In May 2015, the BLS estimated that mechanical engineering technicians made an annual median salary of $53,910, and mechanical engineers earned $83,590.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates who would like to continue their education at the bachelor's degree level can enroll in a mechanical engineering program at the junior level. Some industries or fields require a graduate degree for career advancement. Certification is a way for technicians to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to their employer or potential employers. The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) offers several types of certification for engineering technicians. Education and experience requirements to qualify for certification exams vary. Professional certification through NICET must be renewed every three years, which requires completion of a minimum of continuing education or professional development activities (www.nicet.org).
Associate's programs in mechanical engineering technology are designed for aspiring engineering technicians, while associate's degrees in mechanical engineering often prepare students for transfer to 4-year schools. Though the job outlook for mechanical engineering technicians is below average, earning certification along with an associate's degree may bolster job prospects.