Guide to getting a bachelor in mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineering is one of the most versatile engineering degrees on the market today, allowing you to work in a wide variety of disciplines including aerospace, automation, biotechnology, design, energy, and robotics.
Between 2019 and 2020, 47,598 mechanical engineering degrees were awarded to graduates in the United States. Approximately 415 U.S. colleges and universities offer accredited mechanical engineering degrees.
Mechanical engineers use their knowledge, creativity, and various analytical tools and software to shape ideas into reality. This is one of the few professions where you can truly turn nothing into something and see your ideas come to life.
Whether you end up designing complex systems with computer-aided engineering (CAD) or working with flight hardware in the aerospace industry, mechanical engineers have a tremendous range of opportunities and growth potential.
Start your search by exploring the best mechanical engineering schools in the country.
What can you do with a mechanical engineering degree?
This versatile field offers many career opportunities. As a mechanical engineer, you can work in fields such as:
- design engineering and CAD
- autonomous systems and robotics
- cyber security
- production and manufacturing
- human health
- structural analysis
- aerospace automotive
- control systems
Mechanical engineering is in many ways the root from which all the other engineering disciplines branch. Mechanical engineers are thus sometimes referred to as ‘jack-of-all-trades’ engineers.
Should you get a bachelor in mechanical engineering?
If you are looking for a lucrative career you can enter with a bachelor’s degree and are a detail-oriented individual who loves to design and build, this degree may be an excellent choice. The average mechanical engineering graduate earns approximately 31% more annually than their peers right out of college.
For individuals interested in machines, engines, and other mechanically functioning equipment, the ‘pure’ mechanical engineering path may be most suitable. If you’re fascinated by physics, mechanics, or artificial intelligence (AI), you can shape your career path to include subdisciplines such as robotics and automation.
The table below illustrates the earning power of mechanical engineers 3 years after graduation.
Bachelor of mechanical engineering
The above table provides a snapshot of earnings 3 years after graduation. We compare the earnings of all bachelor degree recipients to those who graduated from this specific program.
The table below is a longer-term estimate of mechanical engineering degree performance, based on census data comparing people’s major, age, and salary.
The estimated data shows that the degree performance of younger engineers is comparable to generic bachelor’s degrees up to age 34. Between ages 35 and 54, mechanical engineering degrees strongly outperform generic bachelor degrees.
When comparing all age ranges, mechanical engineering degrees outperformed generic bachelor’s degrees in many age brackets.
The data shows that a graduate with a bachelor in mechanical engineering earns significantly more than their peers as they become experienced and established in their careers.
Overall, the economic comparison data paints a clear picture of the increased earning potential mechanical engineering graduates have over the average bachelor’s degree holder.
Additionally, mechanical engineers can count on excellent job security, with a 98% employment rate 3 years after graduation.
How to pick a mechanical engineering program
When picking a mechanical engineering program, it’s important to choose a college or university that offers a degree accredited by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
ABET is the gold standard for STEM-related fields and puts you in the best position for obtaining a job upon graduation. When looking at mechanical engineering programs at various colleges and universities, make sure the very first filter in your search is ABET accreditation.
Can you get a mechanical engineering degree online?
Compared to the average bachelor’s degree that’s offered online 24.1% of the time, mechanical engineering degree programs are almost always completed exclusively on campus.
Bachelor of mechanical engineering
The above table shows the percentage of programs available either completely in person or fully online. Figures that do not add up to 100% indicate the existence of hybrid programs.
Due to the amount of hands-on work, lab work, group projects, and in-person training required in a standard mechanical engineering program, it is essential that students take these hands-on courses in person.
Examples of classes that cannot be completed online include:
- group projects involving physical builds and assembly
- learning manufacturing processes such as casting aluminum
- operating machine shop equipment such as lathes and milling machines
- performing hands-on lab work in physics courses
Mechanical engineering is as old as the first human machines. Some of the first machine elements in ancient Greece and China were the screw, wheel and axle, and inclined plane and pulley system. These made the creation of the first simple machines possible.
The best bachelor of mechanical engineering programs
Below you can find our ratings of comparative earnings, costs, and payback rates of different mechanical engineering programs.
How much does a mechanical engineering degree cost?
The average cost of tuition and fees for a mechanical engineering degree ranges from $15,946 at a public college or university to $29,961 at private institutions.
While an ME degree may cost a pretty penny, the earning potential of mechanical engineering graduates ranges from approximately $65,428 from a public university to $68,201 for private university graduates.
Ten years after graduation, mechanical engineers in the top 10% of their field can expect to earn over 6 figures, with an average salary of $131,350 seen in senior-level engineers.
See above how cost and earnings vary depending on the type of institution. Payback refers to how many years it takes students to cover the median costs while earning the median salary. Payback is calculated by subtracting the median earnings of a high school graduate from the median earnings related to this degree.
Financial aid and scholarships for mechanical engineering majors
To earn a mechanical engineering degree with as much cost savings as possible, it is highly recommended that you apply to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program as well as any scholarships offered by your chosen college or university.
Most financial aid for mechanical engineering degrees is awarded based on merit and financial need as determined by FAFSA. Once you’ve completed your FAFSA application, meet with the financial aid office at your school to explore the full range of options available to you.
» Read: Repaying your student loans
If you plan on taking student loans, it’s worth investigating student loan forgiveness programs such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. This is a government program available to individuals employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, non-profit organization, or tribal government and makes 120 qualifying monthly payments over 10 years.
What to expect from a mechanical engineering program
When you begin a mechanical engineering program, you can expect to complete core courses in physics, calculus, chemistry, and chosen electives. Junior and senior years usually dive deeper into coursework specific to mechanical engineering.
What are the admission requirements for mechanical engineering?
The specific requirements for mechanical engineering programs depend on the college or university you apply to but typically include excellent high school GPAs and top-percentile ACT or SAT scores. Engineering programs have different rates of admission for first-year students that depend on the school admission board.
How long does it take to get a degree in mechanical engineering?
The average mechanical engineering graduate can earn a degree in 4 years.
Most mechanical engineering students begin looking at summer internships at real-world engineering firms in their junior and senior years. Check if your college or university offers a career fair, as this is where juniors and seniors often find internships that lead to job offers post-graduation.
FE and PE exams
Many engineering students complete the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam in preparation for full licensure as an engineer.
Depending on which state you live in, you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) during the final year of an ABET-accredited engineering program or following graduation. Some states may allow you to take it prior to your final year. The FE is offered in 7 disciplines:
- electrical and computer
- industrial and systems
- other disciplines
As a mechanical engineering student, you are not restricted to the FE Mechanical exam. However, due to the challenging nature of the FE, it is recommended to choose the discipline you are most prepared to be tested in.
Full licensure as an engineer is earned following completion of the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. The PE can usually only be taken after 4 years’ work experience as an engineer.
Once you pass the FE, you are designated an engineer-in-training or engineer intern. This allows you to gain employment as an entry-level engineer. FE and PE licensure is required wherever mechanical engineers serve the public.
What type of courses are there in a mechanical engineering program?
Many mechanical engineering courses include a weekly laboratory, where concepts are taught in action. Specific courses in your mechanical engineering program may include:
This course examines the principles of thermodynamics and their application to engineering problems. A lab section is included, where students work on group projects applying the fundamentals of engineering thermodynamics.
This course examines the theory and practice of measurements and instrumentation. Students are taught how to define a measurement system for specific needs, including the identification, selection, and specification of instrumentation components.
This course covers the application of stress analysis, deflection analysis, dynamic analysis, and materials to the design of mechanical components and machines. Students are taught how manufacturing processes influence the nature of machine elements.
This course examines the effect of atomic and crystalline structures on the mechanical properties of various materials, including metal, polymer, ceramic, and biomedical materials. Other topics covered include how thermal processes influence the structure of solids and the use of materials in the engineering design process.
This course covers the application of basic physics and thermodynamics to the study of fluids. The conservation of mass, momentum, and energy are studied. Hydrostatics, incompressible flow, and fluid machinery are also examined through the application of basic laws.
What types of bachelor’s degrees are there in mechanical engineering?
Depending on the college or university you attend, and where you receive your mechanical engineering degree, your degree may be titled:
- Bachelor of Engineering (BEng or B.E.)
- Bachelor of Science (B.Sc. or B.S.)
- Bachelor of Science Engineering (B.Sc.Eng.)
- Bachelor of Technology (BTech)
- Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (B.M.E.)
- Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.Sc.)
Careers with a bachelor in mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineers begin their careers as engineers-in-training or engineer interns. The initial jobs they are eligible for often include the title ‘graduate’ (e.g., graduate mechanical engineer). Some engineering jobs are graded according to a level (e.g., level I, II, III, etc.). Newly-minted engineers thus begin with level I and move their way up with years of experience. This broad engineering field offers an extremely wide range of career opportunities.
Mechanical engineers interested in corporate research and development or seeking to enter leadership roles may opt for a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. This graduate degree can lead to $14,344 more in annual earnings over the bachelor’s.
Frequently asked questions
Is there a high demand for mechanical engineering?
Yes, there is high demand for mechanical engineering graduates. The employment of mechanical engineers is expected to grow by up to 7% in the next decade up to the year 2030. Over the next 10 years, approximately 20,200 mechanical engineering jobs are expected to become available each year.
Is mechanical engineering a good career?
Mechanical engineering is an exciting career that can be very lucrative for graduates compared to the average bachelor’s degree. Mechanical engineers get to use their creativity and skills to bring ideas to life in the real world, a reward few other careers offer.
Is mechanical engineering hands-on?
Yes, mechanical engineering tends to be one of the most hands-on engineering disciplines. If you prefer hands-on work, focusing on production and manufacturing is your best bet. Other mechanical engineering roles may include a lot of office work, especially where the focus is on design.
Do mechanical engineers work on cars?
Automotive engineering is a subdiscipline of mechanical engineering, but mechanical engineers are not the same as mechanics. Automotive engineers design and build car parts or entire vehicles. They may also focus on research and development related to specific aspects of vehicles, including aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, and safety features.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
Many mechanical engineering graduates become members of ASME. Established in 1880, there are over 90,000 ASME members in more than 135 countries, helping each other share ideas, network, learn, and engage with colleagues in the industry.
National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
The NSPE administers the FE and PE exams as well as overseeing engineering licensure. They publish a seasonal professional engineering publication entitled PE, as well as offering other news, research, a job board, and professional membership.
Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) – Mechanical Exam Information
The NSPE’s detailed explanation of the structure of the FE-Mechanical examination.