In today’s world, technology generates solutions and innovations in every major market. An enormous demand exists for top-notch, bold engineers and the engineering technicians who help bring their designs to fruition. Increasingly, thought leaders, sales people in the technology sectors across all industries, and even entrepreneurs need at least some relevant engineering knowledge in addition to business acumen. Ambitious engineering students have a lot of career options. Beginning an engineering degree program can lead to a number of questions regarding degree levels and specializations, online options, program details, career paths and more. This guide to engineering schools and programs has been created to inform students, current and prospective, about what to expect in engineering programs, how to pursue a degree and what may lie beyond graduation.
Engineering is a vast academic discipline, and students majoring in this course of study have many specialties to choose from. It is possible for a student to earn an associate degree in general engineering studies, then move on to a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, only to follow that with a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science.
Some basic engineering principles may carry throughout the diverse specialties. However, there is enough differentiation that students should find a suitable focus aimed at one of the discipline’s many branches. Associate degrees in engineering may concentrate on technical courses with a smaller ratio of general foundational coursework than in four-year degree programs. Bachelor’s degrees extend from this foundation, requiring students to complete a broader core curriculum with basics like calculus, differential equations, physics, basic engineering, chemistry and computers and programming. Graduate students tend to focus heavily on one area of engineering.
Students face important decisions when enrolling in an engineering program, and they need to determine the qualifications required for different professional paths. Associate degrees in engineering can provide a starting place for graduates interested in technician-level positions. In contrast, a bachelor’s degree is the usual prerequisite for engineering roles in specialties ranging from agriculture to nuclear energy. In addition to educational qualifications, practical experience is valued in engineering, and prospective students can ask colleges about the possibility of working in the field through internships or cooperative programs.
Learning via the Internet seems to make philosophical sense for studying engineering. After all, distance learning is a byproduct of engineering achievement in online communications and networking. And with the advanced online learning management systems available today, testing and class participation functions as well as calculation-heavy engineering assignments can be executed on a mass scale without sacrificing one-on-one attention.
An online bachelor’s in engineering is a broad interdisciplinary degree that can prepare students for careers in a wide variety of fields including electrical or mechanical engineering, decision analysis, project management, management science, and risk management. Programs are usually offered fully online, allowing busy students and professionals the flexibility to take courses at their convenience. Students access course lectures and reading material through email and a course management system such as Blackboard. Programs are about 120 credit hours and students can complete a bachelor’s degree in four to five years, if they are attending full time. In addition to required classes such as English and mathematics, students take several courses that cover the fundamentals of science and engineering. Students may also choose from a variety of electives in specific engineering disciplines, such as civil, electrical, or mechanical, or in non-engineering fields such as law, medicine, business, or entrepreneurship.
Associate degree programs in engineering may share elements of the curriculum with their bachelor’s degree counterparts, as both load up on math and science. After mastering the basics, students may choose courses reflecting a specific academic emphasis. Associate degrees typically offer a firm grasp of core engineering coursework, whether students intend to transfer their credits toward a bachelor’s degree for continued studies or they plan to enter the workforce, often in an introductory-level position. Below are a few common subjects offered in an associate degree program in engineering:
|Calculus with Analytic Geometry||A study of calculus and its application in real world engineering scenarios.|
|Differential Equations||Expressing and modeling physics and engineering problems through equations with one or more variables.|
|Electricity & Magnetism||A review of the four Maxwell Equations and the Lorentz Equation, introducing basic principles of light, heat, radiation, sound and magnetism.|
|Introduction to Engineering||Primer on basic engineering concepts underpinning chemical, mechanical, electrical and civil engineering.|
|Materials Engineering||A study of matter and an exploration into its molecular nature for use in applications in built structures and other uses.|
The first few years of Bachelor of Science degrees in this discipline usually cover basic engineering principles that are commonly found in most associate programs, while taking the specialty focus further. Advanced coursework in baccalaureate programs reflects the engineering specialty chosen. For instance, chemical engineering majors almost certainly take elementary through advanced levels of organic chemistry – easily adding up to four courses alone. The following courses illustrate some of the subjects that students well into their engineering majors may take.
|Heat Transfer||Study of heat movement and motion: conduction, convection and radiation and comparisons with thermodynamics.|
|Basics of Fuel Cells||Fuel cell construction, efficiency and chemistry. Examination of fuel cell application in vehicles.|
|Advanced Organic Chemistry||Studying structure and theory of organic reaction, molecular orbital theory, reaction effects, isotope effects, carbine and free radicals.|
|Biomanufacturing and Biosafety||Understanding biomanufacturing engineering work namely with mammalian cell cultures along with the surrounding regulatory landscape.|
|Optoelectronics||A study of optoelectronics in commercial and communication applications, including LEDs and lasers.|
|Nuclear Power Engineering||Exploring nuclear reaction, fission and fusion, radiation doses, radioactivity and nuclear power.|
|Operating Systems||Understanding operating system design, data structures, algorithms and systems programming.|
Master’s programs in engineering are typically one to two years long — longer if attended part-time. Potential degrees include a research-focused Master of Science in Engineering (M.S.) or a more professionally focused Master of Engineering (M.Eng) degree. M.Eng coursework is designed for graduates looking to enter engineering management or applied engineering careers, seeking roles as executive manager, team leader, technical supervisor or plant manager. Most notably, M.Eng degrees may not entail writing a thesis, while M.S. programs usually require one. M.S. studies contain more research-heavy coursework that often presages the student’s eventual progression toward a PhD program.
Whether it’s an M.S. or an M.Eng, there is an engineering grad program to fit the needs of most students and their post-graduate goals. The following courses are a sample of those that students may take whether pursuing an M.S. or an M.Eng. This sample list does not demonstrate any particular academic track or engineering master’s degree focus.
|Numerical Linear Algebra||An overview of matrix computations, numerical solutions of linear equations, direct methods, iterative methods and least squares. A review of their applications in industry.|
|Control Design Techniques||Examination of root-locus and frequency response techniques for control system analysis. Studies on how to build control systems.|
|Product Design and Development||Design and developing of products from prototype to launch phase. Covers each phase of product development, e.g. planning, concept, product architecture, industrial and manufacturing design.|
|Advanced Biomedical Engineering Analysis of Biomedical Systems||A quantitative exploration into biomedical engineering issues through varied applications on the bodily, organic, tissue, cellular and molecular levels.|
|Applied Solid State: Physics of Renewable Energy||A review of solid state physics with an examination of the materials and devices often found in industrial applications and an exploration into their limits.|
|Applied Electrodynamics||Pulse propagation in dispersive media, wave propagation in conductors and plasmas, scattering of radiation, waveguides and transmission lines.|
Doctorate degrees in engineering require their recipients to endure some of the most rigorous coursework and research demanded of any graduate student. Programs can typically be completed in four to five years, depending on students’ other commitments. PhD candidates can expect a core curriculum with extensive research and study in one of many areas pertaining to their dissertation.
While engineering PhD programs may welcome candidates with undergraduate majors or careers in areas outside the focus of the doctorate, many programs tend to favor students with proximate experience to the PhD emphasis. Certain engineering programs explicitly list undergraduate majors or work experience that prospective PhD students could pursue to improve their chances of acceptance.
Top math and science high school and returning students who have definitive career goals may choose a program based on a number of factors — their own short- and long-term education goals, the school’s course offerings, its reputation, the stature of its faculty members, and its job placement track record, among others. Primary factors in the engineering college selection process include the following:
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the following two organizations as accrediting bodies for engineering and engineering technology programs:
ABET. Since January 2003, CHEA has recognized ABET’s scope of accreditation regarding baccalaureate and master’s programs in engineering; engineering technology programs at the associates and bachelors level; computing programs at the bachelor’s level; and applied science for associates, bachelors and master’s degree programs in the U.S. and abroad.
Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE). CHEA recognizes ATMAE as an accrediting body for U.S. national and regional programs for the associates, baccalaureate, and master’s degree levels in technology, applied technology, engineering technology, and technology-related disciplines.
If tuition is a serious concern, state schools may provide an affordable choice for students who are willing to limit their choice of schools to the university system of their home state. Private colleges and universities are typically at the higher end of the tuition scale.
Engineering majors should know, however, that the amount of salary earned upon graduation may provide a good return on investment when weighed against tuition costs. These costs, while certainly an important consideration, should not necessarily deter an excellent student with a serious chance at acceptance from any of the top engineering colleges, particularly if she or he plans to pursue a career in one of the engineering fields with a better-than-average employment outlook over the next decade.
Top engineering schools attract and retain faculty who have won awards, not just Nobel Laureates but “early career faculty” — those with promising academic careers ahead, who have garnered awards from organizations such as the National Science Foundation.
After all is said and done, the objective of attending the best engineering colleges is to embark on a promising career after graduation or to be accepted into a good graduate or doctoral program with opportunities for research, publication and/or visibility. Schools that are affiliated with top engineering firms may provide the possibility of internships and employment upon graduation.
|College Rank||College Name||#Programs||Tuition||Total Enrollment||City||State|
|2||Missouri University of Science and Technology||59||$7,848||8,086||Rolla||Missouri|
|3||North Carolina State University at Raleigh||52||$5,153||40,165||Raleigh||North Carolina|
|4||Colorado School of Mines||52||$12,584||6,709||Golden||Colorado|
|5||University of Southern California||52||$42,162||40,515||Los Angeles||California|
|6||University of Arizona||51||$8,364||42,779||Tucson||Arizona|
|7||Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus||51||$15,124||49,025||University Park||Pennsylvania|
|9||University of Wisconsin-Madison||49||$8,592||46,756||Madison||Wisconsin|
|10||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||49||$8,852||33,248||Blacksburg||Virginia|
|11||University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||48||$12,440||44,453||Ann Arbor||Michigan|
|12||Stevens Institute of Technology||48||$40,300||7,208||Hoboken||New Jersey|
|13||Columbia University||47||#N/A||27,257||New York||New York|
|14||Michigan Technological University||47||$13,095||6,945||Houghton||Michigan|
|15||Purdue University-Main Campus||46||$8,893||44,644||West Lafayette||Indiana|
|16||University of Minnesota-Twin Cities||46||$11,650||64,349||Minneapolis||Minnesota|
|17||Carnegie Mellon University||45||$43,160||12,175||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania|
|18||University of Colorado Boulder||44||$7,672||36,946||Boulder||Colorado|
|19||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||43||$11,847||47,146||Champaign||Illinois|
|20||Texas A & M University-College Station||42||$5,297||51,417||College Station||Texas|
|21||Colorado State University-Fort Collins||42||$6,307||33,712||Fort Collins||Colorado|
|22||Kansas State University||42||$6,936||24,378||Manhattan||Kansas|
|23||University of Cincinnati-Main Campus||42||$8,805||38,041||Cincinnati||Ohio|
|24||University of California-San Diego||42||$11,220||31,089||La Jolla||California|
|25||Arizona State University||41||$9,208||79,274||Tempe||Arizona|
|26||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||41||$41,600||6,744||Troy||New York|
|27||Johns Hopkins University||41||$42,280||25,376||Baltimore||Maryland|
|28||University of Akron Main Campus||41||$8,004||32,183||Akron||Ohio|
|29||University of Massachusetts-Lowell||40||$1,454||18,354||Lowell||Massachusetts|
|30||University of Florida||40||$4,060||58,082||Gainesville||Florida|
|31||The University of Tennessee||40||$7,224||32,981||Knoxville||Tennessee|
|32||Auburn University||38||$7,296||26,840||Auburn University||Alabama|
|33||Ohio State University-Main Campus||38||$8,856||64,425||Columbus||Ohio|
|34||Worcester Polytechnic Institute||38||$39,450||5,724||Worcester||Massachusetts|
|35||University of Oklahoma Norman Campus||37||$3,849||30,642||Norman||Oklahoma|
|36||Oregon State University||37||$6,228||28,188||Corvallis||Oregon|
|37||Iowa State University||37||$6,408||31,501||Ames||Iowa|
|38||University of Toledo||37||$7,598||25,597||Toledo||Ohio|
|39||Illinois Institute of Technology||37||$33,100||8,654||Chicago||Illinois|
|41||Wayne State University||36||$9,381||36,749||Detroit||Michigan|
|42||New Jersey Institute of Technology||36||$11,758||10,622||Newark||New Jersey|
|45||Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus||35||$6,676||23,017||Atlanta||Georgia|
|46||Clemson University||35||$11,524||22,338||Clemson||South Carolina|
|47||California Institute of Technology||35||$36,387||2,274||Pasadena||California|
|49||Cornell University||35||$41,325||21,437||Ithaca||New York|
|50||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||34||$40,460||11,271||Cambridge||Massachusetts|
Engineering careers branch out into dozens of professional extensions and move in step with global demand by employers for graduates majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM subjects. Civil, industrial, electrical, mechanical, mineral/geological and chemical engineering are just a few the opportunities for challenging and rewarding work.
Most industries are incorporating increasingly complex technological solutions to manage their operations and growth, and engineering lies at the core of creating and implementing these innovations. Engineers are the ones building that new sales database software and that sustainable plastics replacement. They deliver the technology and discoveries that support so many industries, from aerospace, transportation, computer science, medicine, construction, telecommunications and energy to finance. Below are some types of engineers that illustrate the expansive range of potential careers.
Aerospace engineers design and test aircraft, missiles, satellites, spacecraft and other prototypes for use in the aerospace industry. They also conduct research, lead research teams, direct the implementation of new technology and work in an advisory role, usually for government agencies or large defense or private space companies. Aerospace engineers often require security clearances to engage in research, design and development of classified technology.
Agricultural engineers are employed in a range of fields related to biological harvesting, including farming, aquaculture and forestry. They can work to improve methods of growing or harvesting food, improving livestock maintenance, or protecting or maintaining fish stocks. Agricultural engineers can work in a variety of settings. For example, they may conduct research in offices or laboratories or implement new technology and research in the field.
Biomedical engineers work toward the improvement of patient care and medicine through the analysis, research and development of products and systems, such as medical devices, instruments and software. They can work for drug companies, hospitals, research institutions, universities and government organizations to test and evaluate the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of various medical devices and equipment. They often work in close conjunction with scientists, doctors, researchers and administrators to bring new devices to market, test new instruments or to improve existing medical materials.
Chemical engineers use the principles of chemistry, physics, biology and math to address problems related to food, fuel, medicine, agriculture and many other applications. They work to improve both manufacturing techniques and product design for industrial and medical innovations, from the testing phrase to implementation. They can work in a supporting role for virtually every industry, from developing new plastics for manufacturers to creating new compounds for green fuels.
Civil engineers work on large construction and infrastructure projects such as the building of bridges, airports, dams, roads, tunnels and water-treatment facilities. They are hired to design, construct, monitor, supervise, plan and implement these large-scale projects. Although much of what they do is in support of public-works projects, they can also be hired by private entities for the creation of similar commercial projects.
Electrical engineers work to design, develop, test, manufacture and implement new electrical equipment, such as navigation and radar systems, power-generation equipment, motors and communications systems. Electrical engineers work for a wide range of both public and private entities to develop and test emerging technology, or to supervise the application of that technology. They also work as consultants and advisers on a range of projects.
Environmental engineers work to improve processes related to recycling, waste disposal, public health and pollution of the air and water. They conduct studies to assess various environmental issues and use the data to develop and implement new technology to treat or contain problems. They develop solutions using knowledge of soil and water science, biology, chemistry and engineering, and often collaborate with environmental scientists, planners and other experts involved with environmental problems and sustainability.
Industrial engineers work to reduce waste in production and manufacturing. Their job is to improve efficiency regarding employees, machines, materials, information and energy in the creation and distribution of products and services. Industrial engineers work both in the office and at the sites where their findings will be implemented. They can work for individual entities or farm their services out to several corporations.
Nuclear engineers work with nuclear energy and radiation in a variety of ways. Many work to find new uses for radioactive materials in the industrial and medical fields, for example, creating new medical treatments. Some research and develop instruments, machines, systems, or processes for harnessing nuclear power. Others work as safety monitors for nuclear facilities.
The main tasks of a petroleum engineer are designing, developing, and/or improving methods for extracting oil and gas from underground deposits. These engineers must have an understanding of both mechanics and natural resources. While most of their work is done in an office or laboratory, time is also spent at drilling sites.