Mechanical engineers use physics to design, analyze, manufacture and maintain mechanical systems. Due to the highly technical work in the profession, most individuals need to have at least a bachelor's degree to find entry-level work. Additionally, students should look for programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Mechanical engineers who want to perform extensive research in the field might benefit from having a master's or even a doctoral degree. Graduates of any of these degrees can pursue licensure.
A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for entry into a bachelor's program. A bachelor's degree in a related area and a minimum undergraduate 3.0 GPA is required for entry into a master's or Ph.D. program. Students in either of the graduate programs must submit a thesis prior to graduation.
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Students enrolled in this program learn about different topics, such as heat engineering for travel in outer space, computational science and bioengineering. Students in these 4-year programs also learn how to design elements while keeping in mind a variety of concerns, like manufacturability and heat transfer.
Programs cover a variety of mechanical engineering topics, including the following:
- Computer-aided design
- Engineering materials
- Material failure
- Signal processing
Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering
These programs teach students about numerical modeling, thermodynamics and heat transfer so that they can apply this knowledge to a wide variety of fields. Students also learn about the factors that lead to failure - often through computer simulations - and how to prevent failure from occurring in actual practice. At this level, students are allowed to gear their coursework toward the goal of completing a final project. Thesis, coursework-only and distance-learning options are all available; completion of a program takes 18-24 months.
Graduate-level study is designed to prepare graduates for careers in advanced engineering applications as well as for matriculation into doctoral programs. As preparation for these paths, programs include teaching in:
- Composite materials
- Computational modeling
- Electromechanic systems
- Impact dynamics
- Structural fatigue analysis
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Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering doctoral students prepare for careers in research and academia by offering custom programs that are tailored to students' research interests in biotechnology, energy-efficient buildings and the physics of air flow. Programs offer training in elasticity, structural stability and alternative energy harnessing. Research in this field aims to solve practical problems, like minimizing home energy usage and investigating the use of hydrophobic materials as a method of drag reduction. Including the research and writing of a thesis, a doctorate takes 4-5 years to earn for students entering with no higher training than a bachelor's degree.
Other areas of study that students might pursue include the optimization and design of aerospace systems, energy conversion and cellular mechanics. Though these programs allow for a great amount of flexibility in coursework, training is generally available in:
- Fluid dynamics
- Engineering optimization
- Nonlinear vibrations
- Machine design
- Sustainable system design
According to May 2015 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, roughly 278,340 mechanical engineers were employed in the United States. In addition to pursuing graduate-level education in aeronautical, biomedical or general mechanical engineering, bachelor's degree program graduates were qualified for employment as:
- Analyst consultants
- Assistant engineers
- Mechanical engineers
- Product engineers
- Process engineers
Jobs within the mechanical engineering field are found in the federal government as well as in the engineering services and research and development industries. Other than working as analysts and consultants-for-hire, job titles available to master's degree program graduates include the following:
- Systems engineer
- Mechanical engineer
- Robotics engineer
- Product design engineer
The 2014-2024 BLS job outlook reports showed a prediction of five percent growth in opportunities for mechanical engineers, which is about as fast as the national average. Increased interest in the development of new transportation technology and nanotechnology-based materials is expected to spur growth in this field. Mechanical engineers take home a median annual income of $83,590, according to the May 2015 BLS reports.
Continuing Education Information
Licensure, though not always required, is available for professionals interested in working directly with the public. The National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors administers the required comprehensive, national exams. In order to earn the Professional Engineer (PE) credential, applicants must first pass the fundamentals of engineering exam and complete a period of supervised work experience. After these two prerequisites are met, candidates are eligible to sit for the professional engineer exam.
Though state requirements vary, continuing education requirements for licensed Professional Engineers needed to be completed every 1-2 years. Continuing education credits can be earned from graduate certificate programs in a variety of mechanical engineering sub-disciplines; these programs are found at many colleges.
Even though it may not be possible to find a degree program under the title of mechanical science, there are both undergraduate and graduate degree programs that provide training in mechanical engineering. Students are introduced to the fundamental concepts of the field at the bachelor's degree level, and they can go on to pursue more advanced engineering coursework and independent research in a master's or doctoral program.