While an associate's degree can land you a position as a mechanical engineering technician, you'll need a bachelor's degree to become a mechanical engineer. There is a significant difference in salary for these positions. Employment opportunities for mechanical engineers and mechanical engineering technicians are projected to increase about as fast as and slower than, respectively, the national average rate for all occupations.
Mechanical engineering is a diverse field that covers the design and production of mechanical systems and products. Education programs in this field are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and doctorates.
|Career Titles||Mechanical Engineer||Mechanical Engineering Technician|
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree||Associate's degree|
|Licensing Requirements||Fundamentals of Engineering & Principles and Practice of Engineering exams||None|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||5%||2%|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$85,930||$53,910|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Most mechanical engineering jobs require at least a bachelor's degree. Graduates of a mechanical engineering program may go on to jobs where they design engines and machines or even mechanical systems for entire buildings; others may choose to seek technical or administrative careers.
Mechanical engineers develop and test machinery, parts and manufacturing processes. These professionals can work in many industries within manufacturing or production, such as the automotive or energy industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this is one of the broadest engineering disciplines.
Mechanical engineers can be involved in every phase of product design, from drafting the blueprints to testing prototypes. During this process, they may work with other engineers and draftsmen. According to O*Net Online, mechanical engineers who work in centralized systems, such as gas and steam, may oversee installation and repair operations. Similar to other engineers, these professionals have a basic knowledge of computer programming and design software.
The BLS predicted that employment opportunities for mechanical engineers will increase 5% from 2014-2024. The need to create new products or improve existing ones and the emergence of new industries, such as renewable energy, will spur job growth. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for mechanical engineers was $83,590 in May of 2015.
Mechanical Engineering Technician
Mechanical engineering technicians assist mechanical engineers as they create and produce mechanical devices such as tools and machines. Their responsibilities include sketching and designing layouts, and recording, analyzing and reporting data. According to the BLS, mechanical engineering technicians can expect to see a 2% job growth from 2014-2024. As of May 2015, mechanical engineering technicians made a median annual salary of $53,910.
Similar to other engineering disciplines, most mechanical engineering jobs require at least a bachelor's degree. The non-engineering requirements of these curricula include sequences in calculus and physics. Coursework specific to mechanical engineering includes thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and machine dynamics. The capstone requirement for many programs is a senior design project, in which students create an original concept and present it.
While in school, engineering students may perform cooperative internships. Students are typically compensated while they learn the technical skills and gain work experience. Cooperatives also provide students opportunities to make professional contacts that may lead to future employment.
According to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), licensure is not required for all engineers, but individuals who are licensed will have more career opportunities. Becoming licensed involves graduating from an ABET-accredited degree program and passing two exams administered by the NCEES. The first is the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which mechanical engineering students may take near graduation. After passing the FE and working for four years, mechanical engineers may sit for the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam to complete the licensing process and become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE).
An associate's degree is required to become a mechanical engineering technician, while becoming an actual mechanical engineer calls for a bachelor's degree. Advanced degrees may prepare you for management or administrative positions. Licensure is not required at the technician level, nor is it for an entry-level position as a mechanical engineer, but it can enhance your standing and open up more employment opportunities for you.