What Can You Do With a Mechanical Engineering Degree?

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By Staff Writer

Published on July 27, 2021

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Mechanical engineering degrees offer a rigorous curriculum rooted in STEM courses and project-based, collaborative learning.

Successful students tend to have a natural inclination towards math and science, boasting solid critical thinking and analytical skills.

Read our interview to learn what it takes to become a mechanical engineer.

Mechanical engineering students are prepared to enter a growing field that offers many lucrative career opportunities.

Graduates work in diverse areas, including manufacturing, automotive research, and aeronautics.

While a bachelor's degree provides above-average salaries, additional academic and professional training can greatly increase earning potential, expanding job options to more specialized roles and management positions.

Find the Best Online Master's in Mechanical Engineering Programs. Read our Master's in Mechanical Engineering Program Guide.

What is the Salary for a Mechanical Engineer?

Mechanical engineering graduates enter a field with expanding career options and exceptional earning potential.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mechanical engineers earned a median annual salary of $88,430 in 2019.

A worker's experience, specialization, and education often dictate their earnings. Mechanical engineers entering the field for the first time typically earn annual salaries of $60,000-$65,000.

Those with a decade of experience see their average pay grow to more than $90,000 a year. Experienced engineers in management positions can earn well over $100,000 per year.

Average Annual Salary for Mechanical Engineering Careers
Job Title Entry-Level (0-12 months) Early Career (1-4 Years) Midcareer (5-9 Years) Experienced (10-19 Years)
Mechanical Engineer $62,760 $68,370 $79,740 $90,980
Mechanical Designer $53,080 $55,750 $57,790 $65,570
Biomedical Engineer $61,980 $66,470 $80,770 $89,510

Source: PayScale

Where Can You Work With a Mechanical Engineering Degree?

Mechanical engineers possess a broad set of intellectual and technical skills and work especially well in collaborative environments across many industries and locations.

Top Industries for Mechanical Engineers

Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services

This industry includes firms that provide services like the design and construction of residential and commercial buildings, bridges, and other types of infrastructure. Related services include landscaping and environmental engineering assistance.

Average Annual Salary: $97,460

Machinery Manufacturing

Manufacturing companies in this sector build the machines used to perform specific tasks or create products. For example, an engineer working in this area may design a machine that shapes metal furniture frames.

Average Annual Salary: $85,620

Scientific Research and Development Services

Many mechanical engineers discover new technologies or innovative uses for existing technologies. They may also develop new manufacturing processes. Most of these professionals work in academia or corporate research.

Average Annual Salary: $105,340

Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing

Aerospace and defense firms manufacture airplanes, helicopters, rockets, satellites, and missiles. Although not directly employed by the government, aerospace contractors often work closely with federal agencies.

Average Annual Salary: $104,160

Federal Executive Branch

The federal government hires mechanical engineers for projects like developing space probes for NASA, building stamping machines for government mints, responding to emergencies, and assisting with military and civilian infrastructure projects.

Average Annual Salary: $98,960

Source: BLS

Top Locations for Mechanical Engineering Jobs

Although mechanical engineers can find employment across the country, Michigan, California, and Texas employ the largest number of these professionals in the U.S.

Additionally, mechanical engineers in New Mexico and the District of Columbia tend to make the highest wages, taking home average salaries above $110,000 annually.

State

How to Start Your Career in Mechanical Engineering

The path towards a mechanical engineering career begins with a postsecondary education. Engineering programs introduce students to the theoretical and practical knowledge required to succeed in the field.

Get started on your degree with our Student Guide to College Planning.

During undergraduate coursework, internships, and cooperative education, students expand their skills and gain an introduction to the field. Practical experience and labs are particularly important in engineering programs.

Although individuals qualify for many jobs after earning a bachelor's degree, many professionals often seek additional education and specialized training.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering?

Full-time learners seeking a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering can graduate in four years, completing about 120 credits.

In addition to general education requirements, major-specific courses include manufacturing systems, dynamics and vibrations, and solid-state mechanics.

Mechanical engineering students often choose to tackle a concentration, such as design and manufacturing, robotics and mechatronics, or energy and the environment.

Mechanical Engineer

These engineers use computer-aided software to design thermal and mechanical products that tend to specific issues. These products include elevators, air conditioning systems, and medical equipment. Professionals test these products for efficiency and make adjustments when necessary. Pursuing a professional engineering license may help these professionals advance into leadership positions.

Salary: $88,430

Mechanical Designer

These designers plan mechanical devices and collaborate with other professionals throughout the sketching, building, and testing processes. Potential end products include robotic, automotive, and refrigeration equipment. Daily tasks involve building blueprints and detecting areas where projects need alteration during and after testing. These professionals should excel at drawing and using computer-aided design software.

Salary: $60,300

Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineers create medical devices and equipment, such as artificial organs and diagnosis tools. Their responsibilities include researching healthcare issues and possible solutions and examining products to ensure they run safely. Engineers may also help medical professionals understand how these devices work and publish articles on their advancements.

Salary: $91,410

Sources: BLS and PayScale

What Can You Do With a Master's in Mechanical Engineering?

Master's students typically complete the required 30-60 credits in 1-2 years.

Master's programs in mechanical engineering feature specialized coursework and research in topics like advanced aeronautics, CAD, and fluid mechanics.

Students interested in supervisory positions often complete graduate business administration classes.

Senior Mechanical Engineer

Senior mechanical engineers participate in the research and development of products while working to improve mechanical systems. These specialized professionals typically have strong computer skills and hold a master's degree in mechanical engineering.

Salary: $98,410

Mechanical Engineering Manager

Mechanical engineering managers often serve as project managers, team leaders, and lead engineers. Coordinating between management, project engineers, and clients plays a significant role in their day-to-day work, so strong written and verbal communication skills are essential in these positions.

Salary: $111,790

Source: PayScale

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering?

Mechanical engineers interested in obtaining a doctoral degree typically have two academic paths they can pursue.

Those interested in the academic work of teaching and research often pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and typically graduate in 4-7 years.

Students interested in pursuing a highly specialized engineering degree to augment practice-based career options can choose a doctor of engineering science (Eng.Sc.D.).

Research Engineer

These engineers are experts in the field and often tackle sizable research projects. They employ both scientific and interpersonal skills, engaging with research while effectively relaying information to upper management, clients, and other engineers. Research engineers boast strong analytical and technical skills and often work closely with other professionals.

Salary: $82,780

Principal Mechanical Engineer

Principal mechanical engineers offer mechanical solutions to technical issues in their work environment. These highly skilled engineers engage with daily production issues, working closely with research and development and management to ensure effective production methods.

Salary: $119,690

Source: PayScale

Discover other career paths in science and engineering.

How to Advance Your Career in Mechanical Engineering

Gaining additional education provides a straightforward path towards a more competitive resume.

Beyond education, taking advantage of networking opportunities and actively participating in professional organizations often opens doors.

Licensure and Certifications for Mechanical Engineers

In the United States, mechanical engineers offering services directly to the general population may need to hold a state license.

While engineers working in the private sector and manufacturing are not required to become licensed professional engineers (PEs), PE licensure boosts credentials.

Each state sets specific licensure regulations, ensuring that public-facing engineering projects prioritize public safety.

All licensure candidates must earn a four-year degree and work under a licensed professional engineer for at least four years before they can apply. Candidates must also pass two intensive competency exams.

The National Society of Professional Engineers sets national licensure standards and a code of ethics for engineers, regardless of their practice area. Engineering licenses remain valid only within the state in which they are granted.

Professionals can also pursue voluntary certifications, such as credentials issued by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, to boost their resumes and signal expertise to potential employers.

Resources for Mechanical Engineering Majors

Organizations like the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers offer many resources to professional engineers and students alike.

Typical benefits include professional certification and access to continuing education courses.

Professional Organizations

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers: Established in 1880, ASME promotes the art, science, and practice of mechanical engineering and allied sciences. In addition to administering a professional certification program, the society provides free and online access to continuing education resources, establishes equipment and process standards, and organizes research events on topics like nuclear power and fluid engineering.


Institution of Mechanical Engineers: IMechE represents more than 120,000 mechanical engineers working in 140 countries around the globe. The institution hosts a library of digital resources for engineering professionals; offers advice and financial support to students; and provides in-person and customized training programs for individuals, teams, and organizations. IMechE also publishes Professional Engineering magazine.


SME: This society supports manufacturing engineers by offering collaboration opportunities and human resource development. SME hosts an annual conference and a series of research seminars on subjects such as additive manufacturing applications and the aerospace and defense industry. The society also offers multiple professional certification programs for early-, mid-, and late-career engineers.


SAE International: This society serves engineers and related technical experts in the automotive and commercial vehicle industries. SAE publishes scholarly journals and technical papers, supports aspiring engineers through a scholarship program, and provides formal certification and free professional development opportunities on topics like powertrain technology and safety and accident reconstruction.


The International Academy for Production Engineering: Known today by the acronym for its original name in French (Collège International Pour la Recherche en Productique), CIRP represents engineering academics and researchers. The organization offers a wealth of resources for students and practitioners, including the Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology and a dictionary and encyclopedia of production engineering.

Open Courseware

UCI Open - University of California, Irvine: UCI offers a robust selection of online courses in varying formats, including on-demand and cohort-based classes. Mechanical engineering courses include intro to fluid mechanics, introduction to thermodynamics, and mechanical and aerospace engineering.


Mechanical Engineering OpenCourseWare - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Offering an extensive catalog of online mechanical engineering classes, MIT provides access to graduate and undergraduate courses. Focusing on disciplines like mechanics, thermodynamics, and nanoengineering, classes include hydrodynamics and introduction to heat transfer.


Open Learning Initiative - Carnegie Mellon University: Dedicated to the democratization of learning and improving academic experiences for teachers and students, CMU offers several engineering and STEM-based open courses. Classes include public policy analysis for engineers, mechatronics technology, and electric vehicle technology.


Stanford Online - Stanford University: Stanford Online provides free content, professional certificates, and executive education programs. This robust catalog of courses covers topics like aircraft and rocket propulsion, applied quantum mechanics, and applied aerodynamics.

Publications

Advances in Mechanical Engineering: This peer-reviewed, open-access journal publishes a wide variety of original research and review articles. The journal's editorial board accepts manuscripts from myriad research areas, inviting innovative insights related to the field of mechanical engineering. Recent articles covered automotive manufacturing and design, structural analysis of bicycle frame design, and applications of nanofluids.


Journal of Mechanical Engineering Research: JMER operates as an open-access, peer-reviewed journal covering mechanical engineering research in thermodynamics, robotics, and aerospace engineering. Dedicated to the dissemination of research to a global community, JMER is free to subscribers. Recent published research covered design and fabrication of a motorized rice hulling machine, modeling and simulation, and vibration in systems.


Frontiers in Mechanical Engineering: A relatively new journal, Frontiers in Mechanical Engineering offers an interdisciplinary approach to research within mechanical engineering. Boasting an editorial board of international experts, this open-access journal provides new and relevant information from a multidisciplinary perspective.


Mechanical Engineering Magazine: The flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, this magazine covers business, industry trends, and groundbreaking research. This publication is free with ASEM membership. Recent articles covered diversity in engineering, automation in farming, and economic issues involving manufacturing in China.


Journal of Fluid Mechanics: Published through Cambridge University Press, JFM is regarded as essential reading for professionals concerned with fluid mechanics. Offered in print and online, JFM contains research and reviews on topics like astrophysics, hydraulics, and aeronautics. Research covers experimental, theoretical, and computational investigations in the mechanics of fluids.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mechanical Engineering

Is mechanical engineering a good career?

Yes. A mechanical engineering degree can lead to careers in many fields, including manufacturing and aerospace. These careers provide strong annual salaries.

Where do most mechanical engineers work?

Mechanical engineers often find employment related to architecture, manufacturing, management, and research. They generally work in offices, although some may also engage in field work.

What kind of jobs can you get with a mechanical engineering degree?

Mechanical engineering graduates can work in manufacturing, scientific research and development, and governmental positions at NASA and the Department of Defense.

What mechanical engineering jobs pay the most?

According to the BLS, architectural and engineering managers earned a median annual salary of $144,830 in 2019.

Feeling first-day-of-college jitters? Learn what to expect and how to prepare for the first day of class. Looking for a good school in the Southwest? Check out our list of the top 10 online colleges in the southwestern United States. Students can make college life easier by bringing 10 documents that are essential for study, work, and other aspects of student life.

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