Science and engineering encompasses the development of hypotheses and theories concerning the natural world and the application of ideas to create useful processes, programs, and products. Students enrolled in a program focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) develop a skill set grounded in algebra, calculus, and applied statistics. They also learn to use software and hardware to analyze data and conduct research. Because STEM fields are interconnected, learners pursuing these disciplines benefit from diverse degree options and job opportunities.

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As the national push for STEM academics and career training indicates, science and engineering jobs are among the fastest-growing positions in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that STEM occupations, as a whole, will increase by nearly 11% from 2016 to 2026, exceeding the growth of non-STEM careers by over 3%. Engineering and science positions also come with exceptional pay potential. According to the BLS, 93 of 100 STEM careers boast greater salaries than the national average for all vocations, with engineers, IT managers, and natural science managers earning the highest wages.

This guide explores careers you can pursue by earning a science and engineering degree. You also will gain insight into academic programs and the diversity among degree options. The guide concludes with a list of resources for academic preparation and professional development within science and engineering.

Science and Engineering Employment by State

Employment prospects and salary potential for science and engineering careers vary based on industry and location. The map below details employment for civil engineers by state. The BLS reports that civil engineers earn an average annual salary ranging from $54,780 (the lowest 10%) to $142,560 (the top 10%). In general, salaries are highest in Alaska, followed by California, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

The state with the highest employment levels for civil engineers is California, trailed by Texas, New York, and Florida. The top four metro areas for employment of these professionals are New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston. For those interested in nonmetropolitan areas, southwest Montana and central Kentucky provide lucrative opportunities.

Employment Data by State for Civil Engineers

Educational Paths to a Career in Science and Engineering

STEM degrees comprise some of the most popular academic credentials in the United States. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports that approximately 28% of men and 13% of women earning bachelor's degrees in 2016 pursued science and engineering degrees. According to the National Science Foundation, this percentage rises at the doctoral level, where nearly 75% of Ph.D. students are enrolled in science and engineering programs.

Your career options in science and engineering greatly depend on your academic attainment. Associate and bachelor's degree-holders qualify for entry-level jobs in administrative and support positions. At the master's level, students gain the research and analysis skills to work as architects, project managers, and certified engineers. Engineers and scientists who want to occupy dedicated research and postsecondary teaching positions must earn a doctoral degree.

Associate Degrees

Civil Engineering Technicians

Although it is possible to become a civil engineering technician with a high school diploma and on-the-job training, the majority of technicians hold an associate degree or a higher credential. Two-year programs in civil engineering teach students core mathematics skills and fundamentals of the physical sciences. Learners explore engineering design and soil/material testing. They also learn about the construction process, including methods, equipment, project layout, and cost estimations. Civil engineering technicians apply this knowledge to examine major infrastructure projects such as bridges, pipelines, buildings, and airports.

Drafters

Students who wish to become professional drafters should enroll in an academic program, typically at a community or technical college, that results in a diploma, certificate, or associate degree. These programs center on the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software. Students learn how to interpret engineering drawings and create technical sketches. They delve into complex design concepts like dimensioning principles, geometric tolerancing, and fixture design and tooling. Drafting programs also train students in fundamental engineering systems, including mechanics, fluid power, and manufacturing processes. After completing their studies, drafters often earn professional certificates from the American Design Drafting Association.

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

Also known as geomatics, the surveying and mapping field entails taking measurements of land and creating maps using geographic data. Some schools offer this training as part of a geographic information systems associate degree. Learners study algebra and trigonometry, required math skills for performing survey calculations and plotting global positioning systems (GPS) coordinates. They also develop CAD skills and learn tools for terrestrial and aerial surveying. Surveying and mapping technicians can obtain voluntary certifications from organizations like the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing and the National Society of Professional Surveyors.

Bachelor's Degree

In general, students who plan to obtain a professional engineering license must earn their degree from an institution accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Civil Engineers

Bachelor of civil engineering programs train students in core topics like differential calculus, linear algebra, and physics. Learners also delve into thermodynamics and mechanics of deformable bodies. Many civil engineers ultimately earn their master's credentials to gain access to senior engineer and management positions.

Construction Managers

To become construction managers, students need to earn a relevant bachelor's degree and cultivate work experience. Optional certification through organizations like the Construction Management Association of America represents another avenue for career advancement. Bachelor's programs in construction management teach theories and practical methods for project lifecycle management. Coursework typically covers architectural graphics, design of temporary structures, and statics and strength of materials. Students learn to interpret project plans and deliver quality material takeoffs. They also develop the skills to prepare cost estimates and create schedules that adhere to industry standards.

Environmental Engineers

These engineers apply scientific and technological concepts to solve environmental challenges at the programmatic and infrastructural levels. In addition to obtaining an ABET-accredited college degree, environmental engineers must earn state licensure if they want to provide public services. Bachelor's programs in environmental engineering generally cover core concepts in organic chemistry, probability and statistics, and project management. Students also explore microbial principles and mass/energy balances. As working engineers, they apply skills and knowledge to tackle environmental issues such as air pollution, water treatment, and resource extraction and usage.

Master's Degree

Master's programs train students in the fundamentals of architectural design and construction technologies. Learners delve into sustainable energy landscapes; water, sanitation, and health; and civic agriculture. They also learn to use geographic information systems and create 3D plans with light detection and ranging applications (LIDAR).

Urban and Regional Planners

Students must earn a graduate degree and, if they live in New Jersey, a state license if they wish to become urban and regional planners. Planners may also pursue voluntary certification through organizations like the American Institute of Certified Planners. Master's programs in urban and regional planning provide interdisciplinary training that synthesizes engineering principles with social-policy planning and urban design. Students examine planning history with respect to zoning, land use, and the needs of diverse communities. They can pursue concentrations in areas like historic preservation, environmental hazard mitigation, and housing and economic development.

Architects

To pursue architecture careers, students must first obtain a degree from an institution accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. They then need to complete a three-year paid internship before sitting for the architect registration examination and earning their state license. Learners who enroll in a master of architecture program learn theories of urbanism and city planning. They examine building materials with regard to climate, comfort, and cost. Some schools allow architecture students to focus their training on areas like preservation studies, sustainable real estate, and computer rendering and design.

Landscape Architects

Aspiring landscape architects should earn a degree from a higher education institution accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board. They also typically complete a post-degree internship before sitting for the landscape architect registration examination and earning state licensure. The Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards oversees these exams and provides information on state-specific requirements.

Career Paths in Science and Engineering

Engineering and science careers span industries like business management, construction, urban design, and healthcare. According to the BLS, civil engineers commonly work for architectural firms and government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. However, they earn the highest salaries when employed by private corporations.

Your career opportunities vary based on your academic credentials. Many entry-level positions require candidates to possess a bachelor's degree. Occupations that center on public services or government-affiliated programming often require state licensure. Science and engineering professionals may pursue voluntary training through certificate/certification programs to demonstrate skill mastery and relevant experience. These credentials are particularly valuable to engineers, who often specialize in areas like material sciences, biochemistry, and industrial-organizational engineering.

Careers Requiring an Associate Degree

Drafters

Using CAD software, professional drafters turn an architect's or engineer's designs into detailed technical drawings that include specific physical dimensions and needed materials. Drafters typically pursue specializations in areas like civil, mechanical, or electrical engineering. They collaborate with engineers and architects using building information modeling systems.

  • Median Annual Salary: $55,550
  • Minimum Degree: Associate degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 7%
  • Number of People Employed: 207,700

Source: BLS

Civil Engineering Technicians

These technicians work with licensed civil engineers to design and plan infrastructure such as bridges, utility networks, and highways. They may also work on residential, commercial, and industrial projects. Civil engineering technicians collect data and complete routine reports to help engineers monitor project status. They also test soil samples and observe traffic patterns to assess pre-construction field conditions.

  • Median Annual Salary: $52,580
  • Minimum Degree: Associate degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 9%
  • Number of People Employed: 74,500

Source: BLS

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

Surveying and mapping technicians gather geographic data and make maps of the Earth's surface. They use electronic tools to collect survey measurements and other forms of descriptive data. They also create maps showing elevation, boundaries, water locations, and other terrain features and collaborate with cartographers and photogrammetrists to update maps and ensure accuracy.

  • Median Annual Salary: $44,380
  • Minimum Degree: High school diploma (associate degree preferred)
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 11%
  • Number of People Employed: 60,200

Source: BLS

Careers Requiring a Bachelor's Degree

Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers work for the private sector and in government roles to design, prototype, and assist in the production of satellites, missiles, spacecraft, and aircraft. They often specialize in areas like robotics, structural design, or instrumentation and communication. They also determine the safety of proposed projects with regard to engineering principles and environmental guidelines.

  • Median Annual Salary: $115,220
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 69,600

Source: BLS

Biomedical Engineers

Synthesizing engineering principles with biological and medical sciences, biomedical engineers design healthcare software and medical devices and equipment. These professionals are responsible for medical breakthroughs like artificial joints and complex diagnostic machines. They may install medical equipment and train clinicians and other personnel on proper use. They may also author technical reports and operation manuals as well as conduct research into animal and human functions.

  • Median Annual Salary: $88,550
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 7%
  • Number of People Employed: 21,300

Source: BLS

Civil Engineers

Licensed civil engineers design, develop, and maintain private and public sector infrastructure projects. They work on buildings, airports, bridges, dams, roads, and sewage and water treatment systems. They gather data and analyze long-term project plans, taking into account federal regulations and potential environmental risks. They also submit cost estimates, materials reports, and project timelines to government agencies.

  • Median Annual Salary: $86,640
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 11%
  • Number of People Employed: 303,500

Source: BLS

Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical engineers design and oversee the manufacturing of communication systems, power generators, radar and navigation systems, and electronic motors. They also design electrical systems for cars, aircraft, and buildings. Electronics engineers design and develop a broad array of consumer and industrial electronic products. Both groups of engineers collaborate with project managers to ensure the safety, cost-effectiveness, and timely completion of projects.

  • Median Annual Salary: $99,070
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 7%
  • Number of People Employed: 324,600

Source: BLS

Industrial Engineers

Industrial engineers reduce waste in production processes by designing and implementing more efficient systems that integrate workers, materials, machines, and energy. They create systems to oversee cost analysis, production planning, and quality assessment. They also review engineering specifications and production schedules to strengthen process flows.

  • Median Annual Salary: $87,040
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 10%
  • Number of People Employed: 257,900

Source: BLS

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineers develop, manufacture, and evaluate mechanical and thermal devices, including component parts like sensors and engine subassemblies. Many of these engineers specialize in areas like automobile research, robotics, and heating and cooling systems. Using CAD software and analysis tools, they redesign and upgrade components to solve specific problems. They also test prototypes and investigate equipment failures, adjusting design features as needed.

  • Median Annual Salary: $87,370
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 9%
  • Number of People Employed: 288,800

Source: BLS

Biological Technicians

Biological technicians occupy assistant positions, helping medical scientists and biologists conduct field experiments and laboratory tests. They prepare and maintain laboratory equipment like test tubes, scales, and microscopes. They also manage the collection, use, and storage of biological samples. Technicians may apply their skills in diverse occupational settings, including pharmaceuticals, microbiology, and industrial production.

  • Median Annual Salary: $44,500
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 10%
  • Number of People Employed: 82,100

Source: BLS

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists analyze the ways substances interact at the molecular and atomic levels. They test the quality of manufactured goods and design new or improved products. Chemists usually pursue a concentration in areas like organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and forensic chemistry. They may also pursue careers as theoretical chemists, working to develop methods to predict the results of chemical experiments.

  • Median Annual Salary: $78,330
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 7%
  • Number of People Employed: 96,200

Source: BLS

Career Requiring a Master's Degree

Architects

Although job candidates may qualify for some architectural careers with only a bachelor's degree, many professionals earn their master's while they complete internships necessary to obtain state licensure. Architects design and build structures such as office buildings, houses, and factories. They oversee the entire project, including meeting with clients to determine objectives, estimating costs and timelines, and preparing structural specifications. They also supervise workers, manage contracts, and visit work sites to assess progress.

  • Median Annual Salary: $79,380
  • Minimum Degree: Bachelor's degree (master's degree preferred)
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 4%
  • Number of People Employed: 128,800

Source: BLS

Urban and Regional Planners

Collaborating with public officials and construction developers, urban and regional planners create land-use plans and programs for specific goals such as accommodating population growth, revitalizing neighborhoods and facilities, and creating new communities. They gather data and conduct field investigations to discern factors contributing to a community's growth or decline. Urban and regional planners also evaluate the feasibility of planning project proposals.

  • Median Annual Salary: $73,050
  • Minimum Degree: Master's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 13%
  • Number of People Employed: 36,000

Source: BLS

Mathematician and Statisticians

These professionals analyze data using mathematical and statistical methods to solve problems in industries like healthcare, engineering, business, and manufacturing. They develop and test new rules, theories, and concepts in geometry, algebra, and other mathematical fields. Mathematicians and statisticians also design new experiments and surveys to identify, collect, and interpret data.

  • Median Annual Salary: $88,190
  • Minimum Degree: Master's degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 33%
  • Number of People Employed: 40,300

Source: BLS

Careers Requiring a Doctoral Degree

Physicists and Astronomers

These scientists analyze how diverse forms of energy and matter interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers develop experimental concepts to study the origin of the universe or the nature of time. They often occupy academic roles in which they teach and conduct scientific experiments. Diverse specializations exist in these fields, including medical physics, plasma physics, cosmology, and optical and radio astronomy.

  • Median Annual Salary: 119,580
  • Minimum Degree: Doctoral degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 14%
  • Number of People Employed: 19,900

Source: BLS

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists examine the physical and chemical properties of biological processes, including aging, disease, growth, and cell development. They design and implement complex research projects to study how substances like nutrients, drugs, and hormones affect living tissue and other organic matter. Biochemists' and biophysicists' findings contribute to the development of medicine, the creation of alternative fuels, and the improvement of agricultural processes.

  • Median Annual Salary: $93,280
  • Minimum Degree: Doctoral degree
  • Job Growth Outlook (2016-26): 11%
  • Number of People Employed: 31,500

Source: BLS

Meet a Science and Engineering Professional

Briana Brownell

Briana Brownell

Data Scientist

Briana Brownell is a data scientist turned tech entrepreneur who has worked in industry for more than a decade. She has led advanced analytical data projects with top-tier companies in pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, banking, insurance, utilities, and retail. Currently, she is the founder and CEO of Pure Strategy AI.

Her technical specialties are unsupervised machine learning and cognitive technology. She pioneered methodology used globally by research teams and Fortune 500 companies to apply unsupervised learning methods to longitudinal data. Organizations use these methods to accurately track changes in data with minimal data collection costs. Ms. Brownell has published more than a dozen academic papers, spoken at conferences around the world, and given guest lectures at many colleges and universities.

Why did you decide to pursue a degree and career in science and engineering? Did you receive a degree in the field?

I was always interested in science as a kid, but what really intrigued me about it was when I started reading about quantum physics in high school. I read all the pop-science books about it that I could find. It was just so bizarre! I remember wanting to deeply understand what the universe was made of and how humans could figure out the laws that governed our universe.

I started out as a major in theoretical physics. But then as I got more advanced in mathematics, I discovered the elegance and beauty of pure math. So I switched majors to mathematics. I found that my training in mathematics, especially the way in which you learn to problem-solve in a very creative way, helped me immensely through my career.

What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?

After I graduated, like many folks who have an aptitude for mathematics, I started working in finance. My first job was as a prop trader on the NYSE. I loved the energy of it. But then, the global financial crisis hit and I left my job just months before the firm went under. It was a turbulent time.

After that, I started working in data science at a boutique consultancy. There, I had the opportunity to work with many fascinating research groups and companies solving all kinds of unique and interesting problems using data -- everything from marketing to customer experience to forecasting.

But I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And three years ago, I decided to take the leap and haven't looked back.

What are your favorite aspects of working in science and engineering?

I love the act of creation -- being able to design a software system or to create a new algorithmic methodology to solve a difficult problem. A lot of people don't associate creativity with science and engineering, but it's an intensely creative field; the kinds of problems that you need to solve are always unique.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of working in science and engineering?

It's challenging because it's very fast-moving, especially in data science and artificial intelligence. It's sometimes difficult to keep up when there are so many brilliant research teams working on different problems in the field and new results are coming out almost daily.

How much time do you spend on continuing education, either as a requirement for your profession or for your own personal growth in the field?

Continuing education is extremely important. In any area of technology, the pace that new frameworks and tools become available is quite brisk. The people who succeed are the ones who are continuously learning and growing.

What advice would you give to individuals considering pursuing a degree and a career in science and engineering?

We tend to think of scientists and engineers as being "lone geniuses," but that is so far from the truth! Teamwork is an essential part of the work, and you will spend a great deal of time working with others. So my advice is to learn how to work with others.

What are some of the skills someone considering pursuing a career in science and engineering must have to be successful?

For me, the three most important skills are creative problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills, and conscientiousness. Really, these are important regardless of your chosen career, but especially so in science and engineering. Most of the time, you will be working on a cross-functional team and so the skills that you need are ones that will make you successful in this kind of environment.

What can students do while earning their degree to best prepare themselves to enter the workforce?

I love to see students who have some kind of a project that they've completed through the course of their degree, especially when they are working on something that they are passionate about. That's my favorite interview question, and it helps me see the candidate at their best -- talking about something that they find particularly exciting. That driving curiosity is a marker for an excellent scientist or engineer.

Additional Resources

Academic programs prepare students for lucrative and growing science and engineering careers. Future scientists and engineers bolster these opportunities by engaging with professional organizations. Membership usually requires an annual fee but enables access to benefits like academic scholarships and research grants. Industry associations deliver networking events in forms of online communities, special-interest groups, and national conventions. They also offer professional development resources and continuing education programs.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Founded in 1848, AAAS is the world's largest multidisciplinary science and engineering organization, supporting members in over 91 countries. The association connects professionals through a peer-to-peer messaging platform and working groups that center on topics like medical sciences; statistics; and agriculture, food, and renewable resources. AAAS also offers early career guidance and fellowship opportunities.

American Chemical Association

ACS was chartered in 1876 by the U.S. Congress. The association advances the field of chemistry through research, policy advancement, and professional development. Members can access college-planning tools and internship programs. ACS delivers comprehensive career resources, including networking opportunities, online job postings, and career advancement advice. Members can also apply for student awards, research grants, and travel funding.

American Institute of Biological Sciences

Established in 1947, AIBS serves over 250,000 individual members. The institute funds research initiatives and publishes findings in scholarly journals and online forums. Students receive guidance about academic training, certification, and career entry. AIBS also operates leadership training and diversity fellowship programs.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

IEEE dedicates its mission to advancing technology for the betterment of humanity. The institute delivers online courses and certification training and provides career guidance, research funding, and student awards. Members collaborate through technical councils, regional partner associations, and working groups focused on topics like transportation technology and aerospace electronics.

National Society of Professional Engineers

Founded in 1934, NSPE supports more than 26,000 members. The society connects engineers through national conferences, regional meetings, and online special-interest groups. NSPE operates a variety of continuing education courses, including live events and online seminars. Engineering students benefit from leadership training and scholarship opportunities.