Is It Worth Getting a Degree in Mechanical Engineering?

So, you heard that mechanical engineering is one of the hardest degrees to earn. But you may have heard, too, that mechanical engineers are some of the best-paid professionals. Does this mean you should major in mechanical engineering and dedicate the next four years of your academic life to studying very hard?

A bachelor’s in mechanical engineering is worth it for degree-seeking students who would like to enjoy a good return on investment (ROI). As of this writing, the average mechanical engineering program tuition is $29,484. The average starting salary of mechanical engineering majors is $68,621 per year.

Because mechanical engineering is a part of the STEM field and involves lots and lots of math and science, too, majoring in it is not for everybody who would like to become college degree holders one day.

Keep reading if you are thinking about enrolling in a mechanical engineering program.

In this post, you will learn so many different things about mechanical engineering — from some of the most common misconceptions about it, just how difficult majoring in it can be, the different things you can do with the degree, to which colleges and universities you should consider applying to.

engineering degree

Myths About a Degree and Career in Mechanical Engineering

It’s not uncommon for some college-bound students to assume right away that mechanical engineering is a degree reserved for male math whizzes with an extroverted personality. Others avoid majoring in the discipline of study for fear that it will kill their social skills and creativity.

A lot of things make earning a degree in mechanical engineering alluring. They include better career opportunities, higher starting salaries and the fact that degree holders get to offer solutions to real-world problems.

However, there are also some myths and misconceptions about majoring in mechanical engineering and working as a mechanical engineer that can cause degree-seeking students to stay as far away from it as possible. Due to this, some may lose the opportunity to have a great college experience and future profession, too.

See which of the following are leaving you having second thoughts about majoring in mechanical engineering:

Mechanical degree holders can fix everything

It’s true that mechanical engineering majors have great problem-solving skills. However, it doesn’t mean right away that they can solve each and every problem on the face of the planet.

Needless to say, mechanical engineers don’t carry a toolbox and try to make the world a better place all the time.

There is no creativity in mechanical engineers work

Most people assume that fine arts and literature majors are the only ones that require creative thinking. Since mechanical engineers have to come up with new ideas and concepts, having an imaginative and ingenious mind is crucial, especially when planning innovative solutions that require thinking out of the box.

Socializing is the least of a mechanical engineer’s concerns

Many college-bound teens are terrified of the thought of earning a mechanical engineering degree for fear of ending up extroverts who spend most of their waking hours in front of a computer. But just like other majors or occupations, there are both introverted and extroverted mechanical engineering students and professionals.

Mechanical engineering is a predominantly male program and career

While it’s a fact that most of those who major in engineering are males, more and more women are pursuing the discipline, too. As a matter of fact, according to recent data, 49.5% of mechanical engineering undergraduates at MIT were females. Some of the top engineering degrees for women include mechanical, chemical, biomedical and civil.

mechanical engineers

How Do I Know If a Mechanical Engineering Degree is Right for Me?

Mechanical engineering majors need to possess certain traits and qualities in order for them to carry out their coursework and, after graduation, their profession. Some of the most important ones are good communication, interpersonal, technical, analytical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

First things first: you have to be good and passionate in math if you want to major in mechanical engineering.

As a part of the STEM field, it goes without saying that mechanical engineering involves a lot of mathematics, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus and statistics.

But just because you love numbers doesn’t mean right away that the right major and profession for you is mechanical engineering — you will also have to possess certain attributes necessary not only for successfully completing a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering program but also for becoming a successful mechanical engineer.

Take a look at these questions and answer each one with a “yes” or “no”:

  • Do you love solving problems?
  • Are math and science some of your most favorite subjects?
  • Were you always told you have good communication and team-playing skills?
  • Are you willing to work at construction, drilling or manufacturing sites from time to time?
  • Have you always been naturally curious, creative and innovative?
  • Do you possess an optimistic and can-do attitude?

If you gave a “yes” to most or all of the questions above, then you should leave mechanical engineering at or near the top of your college major list.

That’s because you may have what it takes to succeed as a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering student as well as work as a professional mechanical engineer after earning a license — we will tackle this important matter in a few, so don’t stop reading now if you are planning on majoring in mechanical engineering.

Is Mechanical Engineering Hard in College?

Mechanical engineering is one of the hardest degrees to earn. That’s because it involves a lot of difficult math and science courses. It also entails advanced technical and lab classes. Among some of the top engineering schools, the graduation rate for mechanical engineering students is 89.88%.

According to US News, mechanical engineering is one of the top 10 majors with the best starting salaries — fresh bachelor’s in mechanical engineering holders can earn up to $68,621 annually.

In addition, a whopping 89% of all professional mechanical engineers are satisfied to very satisfied with their jobs.

But before you get to enjoy these perks, you will have to get your hands on a mechanical engineering degree, which isn’t easy since the discipline of study is a part of the STEM field. In order to succeed as a student majoring in mechanical engineering, you will need to have a strong foundation in math and science and solid study skills.

According to a National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) research, mechanical engineering majors spend, on average, five more hours on studying than students who are committed to other majors.

The research adds that you will have to study around 19 hours per week as a mechanical engineering student.

Unfortunately, facing the challenges that come with being a mechanical engineering major doesn’t begin and end with earning a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering — in the US, professional mechanical engineers who offer services directly to the general public must possess a state license.

In order to be able to apply for the said license, graduates should have a mechanical engineering degree from a program that’s accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

They must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). After being employed for at least four years, mechanical engineering majors should then take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam in order to become Professional Engineers (PEs).

mechanical engineer

What Can You Do With a Mechanical Engineering Degree?

A bachelor’s in mechanical engineering allows the holder to apply as a mechanical engineer as well as other types of engineer where having a related degree is a prerequisite for candidates. Mechanical engineer majors are commonly found in aerospace, construction, materials, and research and development industries.

Just because you are working on a mechanical engineering degree doesn’t mean right away that you will work as a mechanical engineer after graduation.

For example, my friend’s daughter received her BS in Mechanical Engineering from UMBC and now she works in the Department of State.

Believe it or not, armed with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, you can cross over into other types of engineering jobs — petroleum, aerospace, biomedical, etc. But it’s a good idea to have a clear-cut career path beforehand, which will enable you to choose the right minors for the benefit of a more marketable transcript and resume.

In any case, here are just a few of where an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering can take you:

Petroleum engineer

  • Median annual salary: $130,850
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

Some of the highest-paid engineers are petroleum engineers. Basically, they are tasked with designing and developing methods for extracting crude oil and natural gas. They work in offices and at well and drilling sites.

Aerospace engineer

  • Median annual salary: $122,270
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

What aerospace engineers primarily design include aircraft, missiles, various systems for national defense, spacecraft and satellites. The majority of aerospace engineers are employed by manufacturing companies and the federal government.

Nuclear engineer

  • Median annual salary: $120,380
  • Job outlook in 10 years: -8%

Basically, nuclear engineers are those who design and develop processes, systems and tools for taking advantage of the benefits offered by nuclear energy and radiation. The work setting of nuclear engineers tends to vary by industry.

Sales engineer

  • Median annual salary: $103,710
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

Sell scientific and technological products or services to businesses — this is what sales engineers do. Since their income as well as job security depends on successfully making a sale, sales engineers have to be good at what they do.

Materials engineer

  • Median annual salary: $98,300 
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

As the name suggests, materials engineers are professionals who develop, process and test materials used for creating all kinds of products. They usually work in offices but also spend a great deal of their time in laboratories or factories.

Biomedical engineer

  • Median annual salary: $97,410
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 6%

Simply put, biomedical engineers design and create medical equipment and devices. Other than a degree in biomechanical engineering, a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering also allows the degree holder to qualify as a biomedical engineer.

chemistry engineers

Mining engineer

  • Median annual salary: $97,090
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 4%

In a nutshell, mining engineers are responsible for designing ways how to safely and effectively extract minerals, with the use of mines, for manufacturing and utility purposes. Most of them can be found where mining operations are.

Mechanical engineer

  • Median annual salary: $95,300
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 7%

Naturally, bachelor’s in mechanical engineering holders can work as mechanical engineers — professionals who are tasked with designing, developing, building and testing various mechanical and thermal sensors and devices.

Industrial engineer

  • Median annual salary: $95,300
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 14%

Industrial engineers design solutions for the provision of a product or service that’s economical and high-quality. Besides a degree in industrial engineering, a bachelor’s in a related field also allows one to work as an industrial engineer.

Construction engineer

  • Median annual salary: $88,050
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

Also known as civil engineers, construction engineers are the ones who design, build as well as supervise infrastructure projects and systems. They usually work in offices at certain times and work at construction sites at other times.

Besides applying for a job with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering under your belt, you may also take your transcript and degree to graduate school in order to earn a master’s, which can be completed in about two years — or longer or shorter, depending on whether you will enroll full-time or part-time.

It goes without saying that a graduate degree in mechanical engineering will open more doors not only to higher-level career opportunities but also to higher-paying ones — master’s in mechanical engineering holders earn an average of $100,000 per year. However, earning a master’s in mechanical engineering requires more time and money.

Below are just some of the jobs a master’s in mechanical engineering can help you land:

  • Director of data and connectivity innovation
  • Lead mechanical principal engineer
  • Mechanical design engineer
  • Mechanical engineers for biotech
  • Research and development engineer
  • Robotics systems engineer
  • Senior mechanical prototyping engineer
  • Structural analysis engineer

Which Famous People Majored in Mechanical Engineering?

Many celebrities majored in engineering in college. Two of the most popular ones who earned a degree in mechanical engineering include a TV host and a musician. Mechanical engineering degree holders who work in related fields typically spend their time in offices and visit worksites from time to time.

Over 90% of engineering graduates, including mechanical engineering graduates, have jobs that are directly or closely related to their degree, a 2020 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) report says.

It’s very much likely due to this why it can be rare for you to hear a mechanical engineering major in show business.

However, as mentioned earlier, there are lots of famous people who majored in engineering in college — some of them dropped out, while others earned their diplomas. For instance, Ashton Kutcher, who is popular for TV shows such as That 70’s Show and Punk’d, was majoring in biomedical engineering but pursued an acting career instead.

But there are a couple of well-known individuals who have a degree in mechanical engineering. See which of the two mechanical engineering graduates seems familiar to you:

Bill Nye

Nye is best known for hosting the TV program Bill Nye the Science Guy, which ran from 1993 to 1998 and had a total of 100 episodes. In 1977, he earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, which is a division of the Ivy League school Cornell University.

Tom Scholz

Feelin’ Satisfied, More Than a Feeling, Amanda, Peace of Mind, Smokin’ — these are just some of the most popular songs of the American rock band Boston. Its founder and guitarist, Scholz, has not only a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering but also a master’s from MIT, which is ranked #2 in National Universities by US News.

engineer at work

Best Schools for a Mechanical Engineering Degree

The best schools where degree-seeking students can major in mechanical engineering are those that offer ABET-accredited engineering programs. This allows students to complete a mechanical engineering program that has met high standards and also become eligible to apply for a state license, if necessary.

Because earning a mechanical engineering degree is difficult but pays off in terms of career opportunities and earning potential, too, it’s a must that you opt for the best possible mechanical engineering program.

It’s a good thing that most of them come from highly ranked colleges and universities!

According to US News, the following institutions are some of the best when it comes to the quality of mechanical engineering programs offered:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology#1 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
Georgia Institute of Technology#2 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
Stanford University#3 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
University of California – Berkeley#4 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
California Institute of Technology#5 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor#6 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign#7 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
Purdue University#8 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
Carnegie Mellon University#9 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
Cornell University#10 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
University of Texas at Austin#11 in Mechanical Engineering Programs
Texas A&M University#12 in Mechanical Engineering Programs

Before adding an institution to your college list, check that its mechanical engineering program is accredited by ABET. Having ABET accreditation gives you peace of mind that the college or university has met the quality standards established by the profession for which it prepares its students.

Just Before You Enroll in a Mechanical Engineering Program

Mechanical engineering is not an easy program to complete. You will have to be good in math and science as well as possess discipline, commitment and solid study skills in order to succeed and earn a bachelor’s. But the increased career opportunities and earning potential can make everything worth it after graduation.

Read Next: Geography Degree: Good, Worth It, Job Prospects?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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