M.S. Vs. PhD in Mechanical Engineering

Mar 22, 2019

There is a wide range of M.S. and PhD programs in mechanical engineering available that equip students with hands-on laboratory and research skills. Learn about some of the differences between the 2 degree programs, as well as how to apply.

Students wishing to become professional mechanical engineers, researchers, or educators in the field may pursue a Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy degree program in mechanical engineering from a wide range of institutions across the country. Due to the extensive nature of the field, most of these programs allow students to focus their studies and research in a particular area and usually require a culminating experience. Find out what sets the M.S. and the PhD apart below.

Overview of Mechanical Engineering Graduate Degrees

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering

Master of Science (M.S.) in Mechanical Engineering programs are available in on-campus and online formats, and may be taken full- or part-time. Most programs require a thesis or final research project, but some could offer a non-thesis track where students take additional coursework and/or an internship. M.S. programs may require as much as 45 credits that takes about 3 to 5 years to complete, or other programs, such as those that offer a non-thesis option, could be completed in as little as 1 to 1.5 years. Many programs offer various research areas and/or concentration areas, like biomedicine, computational engineering, robotics, acoustics, and thermofluids. Students may take coursework in research, mathematics, and various areas of mechanical engineering, including energy systems, dynamics, heat transfer, automatic controls, and more. Graduates of these programs may find careers in research, consulting, design and analysis, industry research and development, testing, and management.

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Mechanical Engineering programs are typically offered on campus and can be completed in 3 to 5 years. Students are usually required to complete qualifying exams, a final comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Some programs may also require doctoral students to complete teaching responsibilities. Many programs offer a range of research areas for students to choose from for further specialization, such as biomechanics, nanotechnology, soft robotics, air quality, and transdermal drug delivery. Coursework requirements vary based on a student's interests and educational background, as many programs offer an advanced entry route for students with a master's degree versus a direct entry route for those with a bachelor's degree. Graduates may pursue careers in advanced development, research, or postsecondary education.

Common Entrance Requirements

Applicants to both the M.S. and PhD programs in mechanical engineering must have at least a bachelor's degree, and usually this degree is in engineering, physics, or another closely related science. Some programs may require students to have prior coursework in subjects such as thermodynamics, design, fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and manufacturing. Most of these programs do require students to take the GRE, and scores must be from within the last 5 years of the student's application. In general, these programs require students to submit their transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and/or a resume with their application. Most applications are completed online and generally require a monetary fee.

Mechanical engineering students can earn an M.S. faster than a PhD, but can still complete a research-based thesis and specialize in a particular area of the field. PhD programs may come with additional responsibilities, such as teaching, and generally prepare students for more advanced careers in research and education.


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