Engineering is a broad practice that focuses on the planning, design, creation, and testing of various products and processes. It’s broken down into four primary disciplines, including civil, chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering as well as several other major practices, such as computer, architectural, environmental, and geotechnical engineering. These broader disciplines are broken down into hundreds of specialties.
The practice of engineering has been around for centuries and today it’s recognized as an ideal career option for those with a high aptitude in mathematics, design, and applied science. While exact salary levels vary based on education, experience, and specialty, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows a median annual salary for engineers of over $91,000. Additionally, job growth for engineers is expected to continue to rise over the upcoming decade.
Earning an Online Engineering Degree
Fortunately, earning a degree in engineering no longer requires students to obtain in-person classroom training. In fact, there are many colleges and universities across the country that offer online programs for those wishing to obtain a degree in engineering or one of the many engineering specialties. In most cases, these degree programs can be taken completely online without any in-person training necessary.
There are several types of degree programs available online, including:
- Associate Degree: Ideal for entry-level positions. It takes between 2 to 3-years of full-time studies to earn an associate degree.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering is the most popular degree path for students. It takes between 4 and 5 years of full-time studies to complete.
- Master’s Degree or MBA: Requires the completion of a bachelor’s degree program. It takes an average of 2 years to complete.
- Ph. D. Degree: Those wishing to boost their professional career can enroll in a Ph. D. in engineering program. The length of time it takes to complete a doctoral program varies greatly based on the program and specialty.
Civil Engineering Degrees
Civil engineers focus on the design, development, construction of various structures and infrastructure features, including hospitals, airports, bridges, and dams. They must consider how various stressors, such as loads, gravity, and winds, will affect these structures and ensure the overall design and construction is safe and structurally sound. Civil engineers are often on-site to oversee and monitor construction.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for civil engineers is $87,060. It’s predicted job growth over the next decade is 2%, which is slightly lower than the national average. However, with the need to continuously upgrade and replace infrastructure features, civil engineering offers a high level of job security.
You can obtain an entry-level position as a civil engineering technician by earning an associate degree in engineering, but more advanced, higher-paying jobs require the completion of a bachelor’s civil engineering degree. Additionally, many professional engineers in senior-level positions have taken steps to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in civil engineering.
As a civil engineering student, you can expect to take high-level courses in physics, mathematics, and design when taking any civil engineering degree program. While earning a civil engineering degree is not hard, it does require extensive studies, and a high level of critical thinking, problem-solving, and mathematical aptitude.
There are dozens of subspecialties under the broader civil engineering degree programs. Popular subspecialties of civil engineering, such as architectural engineering, geotechnical engineering, and environmental engineering, are considered as a separate degree program by many colleges and universities and will be discussed later in the article. However, there are additional subspecialties of civil engineering that students can select as elective courses to elevate their civil engineering degree or in some cases, take as a separate degree program, such as:
Structural engineering is one of the most popular types of civil engineering degrees. A structural engineer focuses solely on the planning, development, and construction of various structures, such as schools, apartment complexes, and bridges. Unlike architectures, which focus on the style and functionality of the design, structural engineers are primarily concerned with the safety features of the design. These engineers must analyze various stressors, such as weight loads, weather, and gravity to ensure these external factors don’t jeopardize the structural integrity of the building or structure.
Transportation engineers are responsible for the design, planning, and development of transportation infrastructures, such as highways, railway systems, canals, mass transit systems, and airports. They must ensure these complex systems remain safe despite various external stressors, such as winds, temperatures, and weight loads. These engineers typically work for major development or construction companies or governmental agencies at the local, state, and federal levels.
Urban engineers typically work directly with municipalities and other governmental agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. They are responsible for the planning and design of urban development projects, such as roadways, sidewalks, sewer systems, parks, and mass transit.
Earthquake engineering or seismic engineering is a specialized civil engineering degree program that specifically deals with the design and construction of earthquake-resistant structures. These engineers must have an in-depth understanding of seismic activity and how it affects various types of structures, such as buildings, roads, and dams. Earthquake engineers typically work in regions that are more prone to seismic activity.
Rather than deal with the planning and development of various structures, forensic engineers are called in after a structure has failed, such as a bridge or building collapse. Their job is to determine the cause of the structural failure and to provide solutions to prevent further failures. Forensic engineers often work for major construction companies, private corporations, or governmental agencies.
Computer Engineering Degrees
Computer engineering involves the development of computer hardware and/or software interfaces. While some computer engineers specialize in both hardware and software engineering, many engineers focus on just one specialty. Many people confuse computer science and computer engineering, but they are two separate practices. Computer scientists primarily focus on troubleshooting computer software after the development phase, whereas computer engineers are part of the development and often the troubleshooting process.
If you are debating between enrolling in a computer science course or a computer engineering program, it’s always best to choose the computer engineering major. This is because in most cases you can obtain a job as a computer scientist with a computer engineering degree but not vice versa. Obtaining a degree as a computer engineer can increase your job opportunities and advance your career.
A bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or electrical engineering with a concentration in computer science is required for even entry-level computer engineering positions. If you want to advance your career into a supervisory position a master’s degree or Ph. D. in computer engineering will be required. Fortunately, there are several university programs available online for bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph. D. in computer engineering degrees.
While computer engineering is a growing specialty, there are a few subspecialties available. Many of these required elective coursework within your primary bachelor’s or master’s degree program rather than a stand-alone degree option.
- Robotics: Focuses on the design of robotics technology starting with the circuit breaker through to completion.
- Coding: Specifically focuses on the coding process of software development.
- Processor Design: Focuses on the design of CPU processors and the architectural design of processors and related components.
- Speech Processing: The design and development of hardware and software solutions that expand speech recognition technologies.
Electrical Engineering Degrees
The practice of electrical engineering focuses on the design, development, and analysis of electronic equipment, such as power grids, communication systems, and hydropower equipment and technologies. Early electrical engineers were responsible for the creation of some of today’s leading technologies, such as the telephone, telegraph, and mobile devices. Today electrical engineers work to expand this technology and improve upon current systems.
Students wishing to start a career as an electrical engineer need to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program. Even entry-level positions will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a concentration in electrical engineering. However, most universities today offer a specialized electrical engineering program versus a standard engineering course.
Electrical engineering students can expect to take high-level mathematics classes and advanced electronic courses, such as signal processing, electrical circuit theory, and electrical systems. Many electrical engineering programs can be completed online with no in-person training necessary.
Electrical engineering offers some of the highest salaries in the engineering industry, with a median annual salary of $101,250. Engineers who advance their educational studies to include a master’s or Ph. D. degree can expect to move into supervisory positions and increase their salary level. The job growth for electrical engineering stands at 3%, which is on par with the national average, but as these technologies continue to advance, the demand for highly trained electrical engineers may increase significantly.
Electrical engineers spend most of their day in the office planning and drafting designs and troubleshooting real and potential design problems. They may also need to oversee the actual construction of products and structures to ensure overall safety and structural integrity. In addition, electrical engineers often attend planning meetings and play a prime role in the development process.
Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering will open the door for many entry-level electrical engineering jobs within the industrial, medical, and telecommunication industries. However, there are also a variety of subspecialties of electrical engineering. While there are some specialty degree programs available, most students can enroll as an electrical engineering major with a concentration in one of the subspecialties or take specialized elective courses, such as electronics engineering to advance their careers.
While there are dozens of subspecialties available, here’s a look at some of the most popular subspecialties of electrical engineering.
Electrical engineers that specialize in power engineering assist with the planning, design, and development of processes, structures, and equipment that work to generate and/or distribute electrical power. They may be involved in the construction of power grids, generators, and transformers. Power electrical engineers often work for power companies as well as major developers and contractors and governmental agencies on the local, state, and federal levels.
Electronic engineering is a popular subspecialty of electrical engineering. Interested students can obtain an online bachelor’s or master’s degree in electronics engineering. This field of electrical engineering focuses on the design, development, testing, and study of electronic circuits and related components, such as transistors and inductors. Electronic engineers work for major industrial companies, computer development corporations, and governmental agencies.
Telecommunication engineers specialize in the design, development, and analysis of telecommunication technologies, equipment, and processes, including cable, telephone, and broadcasting. These engineers must have an in-depth understanding of coax cables, fiber optics, and carrier systems and how external stresses can affect the safety and effectiveness of these telecommunication systems. They typically work for large telecommunication and energy companies as well as governmental agencies.
Microelectronic electric engineers aid in the design and development of tiny, or micro, electrical components. Some of these components work as stand-alone features within an electrical unit, but the vast majority are part of a complex circuit system and must effectively work with other related components.
Signal processing engineers work with both analog and digital signals for telecommunication companies and related industries. They not only assist with the design and development of analog and digital systems, but they also assess and analyze system failures and correlating solutions. Unlike some of the subspecialties of electrical engineering, signal processing engineering requires a high aptitude in top-level mathematics.
Mechatronic engineering combines both electrical and mechanical engineering practices. These engineers assist with the planning, design, and development of machinery and equipment that also includes other components, such as software, hardware components, robotics technology, and electrical systems. Mechatronic engineers must have advanced knowledge of computer, mechanical, and electrical engineering and should take courses in all areas when obtaining their degree.
Mechanical Engineering Degrees
Mechanical engineers specialize in the design and creation of mechanical and thermal devices, tools, equipment, and sensors, including machines and engines. This is a very broad practice of engineering with various popular subspecialties, such as automotive engineering and aerospace engineering. The primary focus of mechanical engineering is thermodynamics and how it relates to creating safe and efficient machines, devices, vehicles, and technologies.
You can find positions for mechanical engineering technicians that only require an associate degree in mechanical engineering, but most companies require the completion of a bachelor’s degree program. A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, or one of its subspecialties, will also increase your career options. You will have no problem finding a variety of online programs for obtaining a mechanical engineering degree.
Mechanical engineering students can expect to take courses in mathematics, physics, kinematics, and material science. While earning a degree in mechanical engineering is not difficult, it helps if students have basic mechanical knowledge, such as an understanding of gears and pulleys, thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for mechanical engineers is $88,930. However, more specialized occupations in mechanical engineering, such as aerospace engineering ($116,500), offer substantially higher median salaries. The job growth outlook for mechanical engineers is between 3% and 4% depending on the specific specialty, but this career does offer exceptional job security.
Mechanical engineer’s work environment changes based on position. For example, automotive and aerospace engineers can expect to split their workhours between drafting designs in the office and overseeing the manufacturing and testing process. On the other hand, a biomechanical engineer will primarily work in a laboratory setting.
Most universities offer broad degree programs in mechanical engineering, as well as some subspeciality degrees, such as automotive engineering. Other specializes practices, such as biomedical engineering, require a master’s degree. Students wishing to focus on a subspecialty program should carefully select corresponding electives that will advance their careers. This is even true when earning a bachelor’s degree.
There are a number of subspecialties of mechanical engineering but below is a look at the four top concentrations in this field.
As the name suggests, automotive mechanical engineers focus on the design and development of motor vehicles, including automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles. Unlike other designs, which focus on cosmetics and style, automotive engineers are primarily concerned with safety issues pertaining to the vehicles. These engineers will plan, design, and test automotive products and vehicles to ensure both on-the-road and off-the-road safety despite external factors, such as wind, snow, weight, traction, and speed.
Aerospace engineers specialize in the design and development of equipment, technologies, and vehicles used for air transportation and space travel, such as airplanes, helicopters, satellites, missiles, and space shuttles. These engineers must be knowledgeable in atmospheric stressors, including stressors outside our atmosphere. Those obtaining a degree in aerospace engineering may find job opportunities with airplane manufacturers, private companies, or governmental agencies, such as NASA.
Biomedical engineers specifically work within the medical industry. They handle the design and development of machinery, devices, and technologies used within the medical field, such as MIR machines, micro-implants, and EKG equipment. Those seeking a career in the biomedical engineering industry must not only have a strong background in mechanical engineering but must also have an in-depth knowledge of medical practices and studies. You should expect to take additional courses, such as advanced biology and genetics when completing their degree program.
Biomechanical engineering is a highly advanced practice of mechanical engineering and typically requires a master’s degree for entry-level positions and a Ph. D. for supervisory positions. This branch of engineering combines the use of mechanical and biological engineering. Biomechanical engineers work to create products, devices, and processes that aid in the advancement of medical technology.
For example, the creation of biomaterials used able to be integrated with human tissues falls under the biomechanical engineering field. Students can expect to take advanced degrees in biology, physics, and engineering.
Architectural Engineering Degrees
Unlike civil engineers or standard architects, who primarily focus on structural designs, architectural engineers also plan, design, and create systems within these structures, such as HVAC systems, lighting, acoustics, and fire safety. While style and functionality are important in the design, architectural engineers primarily focus on the safety features of the building. These engineers typically work on major construction projects, such as hospitals, theaters, shopping centers, and schools.
Many universities, such as Southeast Tech, offer a specialized bachelor’s degree program in architectural engineering. However, you can also earn a degree in the broader civil engineering program, but it’s important to take a variety of elective courses in architectural engineering technology, such as CAD. You will need to be proficient in these technologies to secure a job as an architectural engineer. You will also take high-level courses in mathematics, design, and applied science as part of your engineering major.
Engineers who want to increase their job prospects and move into supervisory positions should consider earning a master’s degree in architectural engineering or in civil engineering with a concentration in architectural design.
According to the BLS, architectural engineers can expect a median income of $80,750 with a 2% job growth predicted over the next 10 years. Most of the architectural engineer’s time will be spent in the office working on designs, but they may be required to oversee construction at the worksite and to ensure compliance. They may also act as a liaison between various parties, such as the general contractor, architect, and developer to ensure all safety measures are met.
Environmental Engineering Degrees
Environmental engineering involves the design and development of products, tools, equipment, and processes that focus on environmental factors, such as air pollution, wastewater treatment, and disposal of toxic waste. It’s a specialized practice under both civil engineering and chemical engineering. Environmental engineers either help to reduce the risk of environmental damage through the design and development process or are called in after an environmental disaster, such as an oil leak, to determine the cause and offer solutions to any identified environmental problem.
Environmental engineers earn a median income of $88,860, according to BLS statistics, and have a steady 3% job growth. You can earn an entry-level position as an environmental engineer technician with an associate degree, but most positions require a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, chemical engineering, or an environmental engineering degree from an accredited university.
University students who want to continue their education can earn a master’s degree in environmental engineering or a master’s degree in a civil engineering program with a concentration in water, coastal, or environmental systems. The later university degree option is recommended for students who want to solely work in the fields pertaining to waterways and environmental systems. If you are unsure of your future career path or if you want to leave your options open, it’s best to select the broader environmental engineering degree from an accredited university.
While each university has different degree requirements, students enrolling as environmental majors can expect to take classes in environmental studies, hydraulics, and various sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and geology.
Geotechnical Engineering Degrees
Geotechnical engineers focus on the behavior of various natural materials on earth, such as soil, oil, and water. These high-level engineers design and develop retaining structures, including dams, tunnels, and embankments in an effort to reduce the risk of disasters, such as avalanches, volcanic eruptions, tunnel collapses, or floods.
Geotechnical engineers must have an in-depth knowledge of various earthwork systems, soil mechanics, and materials and therefore often requires a master’s degree or higher even for entry-level positions. The median salary for geotechnical engineers varies greatly based on specialty and experience, but some occupations, such as petroleum engineering, offer a median annual salary as high as $137,720.
To begin a career as a geotechnical engineer, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in general engineering, civil engineering, or structural engineering. You can then become a graduate student and earn a geotechnical engineering degree. As an engineering student, you can expect to take high-level courses in biology, chemistry, advanced soil mechanics, and mathematics.
There is a variety of subspecialties under geotechnical engineering. While some universities offer these courses as specific degrees, you can also select these as elective courses or concentrations under your master’s degree in geotechnical engineering.
- Petroleum: This type of engineering focuses on the design and planning of oil and gas extraction, including tools, equipment, and processes.
- Geological: This is one of the most sought-after types of engineers. They assess ground conditions and soil mechanics for construction and mining projects.
- Nuclear: Nuclear power is used in various fields, including energy, medical, and environmental. These engineers assist with the planning and development of nuclear power plants and processes.
- Marine: Marine engineers focus on ocean technologies, watercraft structures, and energy, such as wind and water, production.
- Mining: Geotechnical engineers with a focus in mining help to ensure that mining structures, processes, and equipment can be safely used under various external stressors.
- Ceramics: Geotechnical engineers specializing in ceramics, study and analyze the effect of heating and cooling on ceramic materials to create safe, cost-effective products.