Careers in science and engineering involve analyzing complex problems to develop solutions. Professionals may work in labs to find cures for diseases or in corporate offices developing cityscapes.
This guide breaks down available career paths and the overall job outlook for science and engineering careers. You can also explore available degrees, common program requirements, and continuing education opportunities. Read on to learn more.
Career Paths in Science and Engineering
Many fields, including education and heavy industry, rely on professionals with strong science and engineering skills. Careers in science and engineering offer some of the most lucrative job opportunities in the U.S.
Careers with a science and engineering degree are classified as STEM careers. Common majors include aerospace, biological, chemical, mechanical, and petroleum engineering. Many students also pursue majors in biology, chemistry, mathematics, statistics, and pharmacology.
The following section explores 10 possible career paths for science and engineering majors. Each section provides a brief overview of what jobs in the given area entail.
Science and engineering professionals use principles of mathematics, geometry, and art to design living spaces, create blueprints for skyscrapers, and collaborate with officials to build entire cities. You need at least a bachelor's degree to qualify for most architecture jobs.
Careers in aeronautics involve designing aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, or missiles. Qualifying candidates must hold a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or a related area. Professionals in this field typically work in manufacturing or research and development, and many aeronautical engineers are employed by the federal government.
Careers in biology use science and engineering to design medical equipment, devices, instruments, and software to fix biological issues. Most positions require a bachelor's degree, and professionals typically work in healthcare or pharmaceutical manufacturing settings.
Chemistry professionals use math, physics, and chemistry to design effective processes to produce chemicals, fuels, food, and pharmaceuticals. Most of these positions require a bachelor's degree.
Professionals in civil engineering design, build, and supervise infrastructure projects and systems. Common industries for civil engineers include engineering services and construction. You can qualify for entry-level positions with an associate degree, but career advancement typically requires a bachelor's degree.
Drafting involves converting an engineer's or architect's design into a technical drawing using architecture software. The field requires strong math, interpersonal, time management, and technical skills. Entering this field usually requires an associate degree in drafting.
Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing processes for electrical equipment. Engineeringand electro-mechanical technicians offer support to engineers and need an associate degree. However, full engineering positions that allow for career growth usually require a bachelor's degree.
Environmental scientists identify, control, and eliminate sources of pollution and hazards to the environment and/or public health. Environmental engineers use principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to build infrastructure in compliance with environmental standards. Entry-level positions require an associate degree, but you must earn a bachelor's degree to qualify for most career advancement opportunities.
Industrial engineers create and maintain effective systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to produce products or deliver services. Technician positions typically require an associate degree, but you must earn at least a bachelor's degree to qualify for most industrial engineering jobs.
Science and engineering professionals in this field design, build, and test mechanical or thermal sensors and devices. Successful workers must possess strong math and problem-solving abilities. Entry-level technician positions require an associate degree, but you must earn a bachelor's to qualify for full mechanical engineering positions.
Science and Engineering Career Outlook
Most science and engineering careers require at least some college education. As such, plan ahead and budget for your postsecondary education. Fortunately, many STEM careers are in demand across the country.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 3% job growth for architecture and engineering jobs between 2019 and 2029. This field requires professionals with strong mathematical and technical skills to develop infrastructure, robots, and oil or gas extraction techniques. According to the BLS, these professionals earn a median annual salary of $81,440.
Additionally, the BLS projects 5% job growth for life, physical, and social sciences positions between 2019 and 2029. Several industries require skilled scientists, including biomedical research, psychology, energy management, and environmental protection. According to the BLS, these scientists earn a median annual salary of $68,160.
How to Start a Career in Science and Engineering
Achieving success in science and engineering requires strong research, mathematical, technical, communication, and problem-solving skills. While you may already possess abilities in some of these areas, pursuing a college education allows you to elevate your knowledge and skills.
The type of degree you should earn depends on your career goals. An associate degree opens the door to some entry-level positions, like engineering technician and drafter. These roles typically involve providing support to managers or engineers by compiling reports, converting sketches into technical drawings, and verifying project calculations.
If you want to qualify for full engineering positions or career advancement opportunities, you must earn a bachelor's degree. Earning a degree requires a significant financial investment, so research your career to select a program that aligns with your goals.
You can pursue several rewarding careers with a science and engineering degree. Read on to learn more about engineering degrees and related careers.
An associate degree typically requires about 60 credits and takes approximately two years of full-time study to complete. Schools offer programs on campus and online, allowing you to select a format that works for your schedule. Consult BestColleges' college planning resources for more information on selecting a program.
The major you pursue depends on your career goals, but common options include drafting, biology, chemistry, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. Curricula vary depending on your major. However, in general, an associate degree develops basic math, science, and technical skills.
An associate degree qualifies you for some entry-level positions. Possible careers include drafter, as well as environmental, civil, mechanical, or industrial engineering technician. However, you typically need to earn at least a bachelor's degree to qualify for a promotion to an engineer position.
For more information on science and engineering careers and the education you need, explore BestColleges' guide on STEM careers. If you plan to further your education, make sure the associate program you choose includes the prerequisite courses you need to transfer into a bachelor's program.
A bachelor's degree can be completed in around four years of full-time study and requires at least 120 credits. However, some schools offer accelerated formats that allow you to complete your degree in less time. Read BestColleges' guide on bachelor's programs for more information about common requirements, costs, and majors.
Coursework varies based on your major, but programs may include the following classes.
- Engineering and ethics
- Logic design
- Electric circuits
Science students can major in fields like statistics, physics, chemistry, and biology. A bachelor's program develops technical skills and knowledge of engineering techniques, theories, and principles.
A bachelor's degree qualifies graduates for careers in healthcare, aeronautics, architecture, and manufacturing. Popular engineering careers include civil, environmental, industrial, and electrical engineer. BestColleges' guides on earning a bachelor's in electrical engineering and aeronautics provide more information.
Common science careers include chemist, laboratory manager, research scientist, and environmental scientist. Explore BestColleges' guides on environmental science, biotechnology, and chemistry careers for more information.
Science and engineering professionals can pursue many different master's degrees, including degrees in civil engineering, electrical engineering, and industrial engineering. Select a program that provides advanced training and knowledge in an area relevant to your target field.
A master's degree usually takes 2-3 years to complete. Program length depends on credit requirements, internship and thesis requirements, and whether or not you have previous college credits or work experience. Classes vary by major, but potential courses include project planning, construction law, computer architecture, manufacturing systems, and engineering electronics.
Many careers do not require a master's degree. However, earning a graduate degree often increases your career growth potential and salary. Graduates can pursue careers as civil engineers, environmental engineers, mechanical engineers, survey researchers, and urban planners. Consult BestColleges' guide on science and engineering careers for more information.
Earning a doctorate in any field requires a serious commitment of both time and money. A doctoral degree may lead to rewarding and lucrative career opportunities, but make sure that a terminal degree will help you achieve your career goals.
You do not typically need a doctorate for science and engineering careers, but pursuing this degree gives you the opportunity to hone your research skills and develop expert understanding of the technology and best practices in your field. For general information and advice on whether a doctorate is worth it, read this BestColleges article.
A doctorate often takes 4-7 years to complete, although program length depends on coursework, internship, and dissertation requirements. Science and engineering professionals can pursue Ph.D. programs in civil engineering, materials science and engineering, environmental engineering, zoology, and biology. Graduates can pursue teaching and research roles at colleges and universities.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Earning a certification or license demonstrates to potential employers that you possess expert skills in your field. Obtaining these credentials typically requires completing coursework, gaining experience, and/or passing an examination.
Most science and engineering careers do not require a certificate or license. However, in some fields, earning a certificate or license provides you with additional legal permissions and increases your competitive advantage.
Engineers often earn a professional engineer license. You can also pursue additional certifications in coastal, geotechnical, navigation, water resources, and ports engineering. Depending on their role, science professionals can also consider becoming a registered environmental professional, chemical hygiene officer, or certified environmental scientist.
Staying on top of industry trends is important for furthering your career. Taking free online courses is an affordable way to keep your skills fresh. Sites like Coursera and edX offer a variety of free online courses, many of which are hosted by top colleges and universities.
Additionally, the American Association for the Advancement of Science offers fellowship programs, giving young professionals the opportunity to conduct research and contribute to federal legislation.
Careers in science and engineering rely on technology and a knack for solving complex problems using math, science, and engineering. The tools of the trade evolve over time, so all professionals must keep their skills sharp.
One of the best ways to network with your peers is by joining a professional organization. Many organizations cater to specific fields, while others welcome science and engineering professionals in general. Several organizations also host conferences, giving you the chance to hear from industry experts and network in person.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are career options for science and engineering students?
- How do I start a career in science and engineering?
Science and engineering careers require strong math, science, technical, and problem-solving skills. If you plan to pursue a career in these fields, start by taking math and science courses in high school. For adults looking to start a career, you should work with a program advisor and complete common course prerequisites prior to enrolling in a program.
- What are the highest-paying jobs in science and engineering?
The highest paying jobs in science and engineering include petroleum engineer, physicist, computer hardware engineer, and aerospace engineer. The median pay for each of these occupations exceeds $115,000 per year.
- Is a science and engineering degree worth it?
Careers with a science and engineering degree offer several rewarding and potentially lucrative career paths. Most positions require at least some college education, so earning a degree is vital to launching a career in these fields.