Mechanical engineering is a broad discipline that applies the principles of engineering to the design and construction of machines and their parts.
Both computer scientists and mechanical engineers design, develop, and test tools that make our lives and work easier—one just happens to do it in the digital realm and the other in the physical one. Read on to learn more about both fields, including important education and career information.
Systems engineers monitor the performance of systems and continually assess all stages of operations to ensure that a problem is solved. The systems engineer will also work throughout each stage of the given system or process, often focusing on performance, testing, scheduling, and costs. Learn more about systems engineers.
Environmental engineers help identify and develop solutions to environmental problems to protect the population from harm or enhance the general quality of life. Learn more about a typical day in the life of an environmental engineer.
The application of design concepts, problem-solving, and machines to medicine. In particular, this field promotes the development of diagnostic, therapeutic, and medical monitoring tools (e.g., prostheses, MRIs, EEGs, micro-implants).
Involves the conversion of raw materials or chemicals into more useful (or economically valuable) forms. Some applications include nanotechnology, fuel cell development, and corrosion studies.
Deals with the development and upkeep of physical environments, especially as it relates to the construction, design, and maintenance of structures. Projects in this field include bridges, roads, canals, buildings, dams, and parks.
Comprises the control and design of computing devices and their functionalities. Three popular subfields include software, hardware, and network engineering.
Encompasses the research and applications of electronics, electricity, and electromagnetism. Telephones, broadcasting equipment, power grids, and other systems using transistors or integrated circuits are typical areas of expertise in this discipline.
Concerned with the intersection of engineering and business, utilizing the problem-solving capabilities of engineers coupled with the planning, administrative, and leadership competencies of effective management.
Combines knowledge of physics, materials, and power to the development, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems (e.g., aircraft, watercraft, transport systems, robotics, weapons).
Involves the improvement of complex engineering systems over their life cycles, especially through modeling or simulations. Systems can include industries (e.g., work-flow or optimization processes), spacecraft design, and microchip development.
These are some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding distance-based education in engineering. For additional information about program admissions requirements, common coursework, and types of online engineering degrees available, check out the sections below covering online bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, and graduate certificate programs.
Mechanical engineering is a broad discipline that applies the principles of engineering to the design and construction of machines and their parts.
Applying to engineering school is an essential first step on the path to becoming an engineer, no matter what specialty the student plans to pursue. The application process for both undergraduate and graduate students can be nerve wracking, since the results can have such a big impact on the trajectory of one’s career. However, with a bit of planned research and preparation, it is possible to apply for and obtain admission at top engineering schools for the best possible chance at a successful career.
Civil engineers can work on a variety of different projects and in different capacities. It is an interesting career to pursue for those who are passionate about design, have a strong foundation in math and science, work well with others, and want to impact big projects in their community and even abroad.
Electrical Engineering deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism in all forms.
The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) reports that there were 99,173 bachelor's degrees in engineering awarded in 2014, a 6 percent jump over the previous year. Nearly one-quarter of these degrees were in mechanical engineering (23.9 percent), the most popular subspecialty, followed by civil (12.4 percent), electrical (11.4 percent), and computer science (9.4 percent).
Admissions Requirements - To gain admittance to an online bachelor's program in engineering, these are some typical admissions requirements:
Types of Online Bachelor Degrees in Engineering - These are the most common types of bachelor's degrees in engineering awarded in the United States:
Top Schools Offering Online Bachelor's Programs in Engineering - There is a growing number of quality bachelor's degrees in engineering offered online. This featured selection has been chosen according to the following criteria:
1. Arizona State University : Arizona State University's (ASU) online bachelor of science in electrical engineering (BSE or BSEE) program prepares students for careers in energy production, healthcare technology, or sustainable development, to name a few fields. With exciting coursework in areas such as electromagnetic fields, microprocessors, and solid-state electronics, ASU's esteemed faculty uses web-based instruction and a variety of digital simulation tools to impart the valued skills of electrical engineering. Furthermore, ASU ranked #8 among U.S. News & World Report's (2016) "best online bachelor's programs" and the reputable Fiske Guide to Colleges (2016) highlighted its outstanding engineering programs (electrical, civil & environmental, and materials science), adding that ASU is a founding member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Finally, ASU is the largest public university in the world with 42,000 students and accepts 80 percent of applicants.
Additional online bachelor's programs offered at ASU:
Dr. Umit Ogras completed his PhD in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon in 2007, and worked at Intel Corporation's CAD Laboratories from 2008 to 2013 as a research scientist. He's interested in digital system design and embedded systems, as well as multi-core architecture and electronic design automation emphasizing multiprocessor systems-on-chip (MPSoC). He has received numerous awards, including the Strategic CAD Labs Research Award; the IEEE Donald O. Pederson Transactions on CAD "Best Paper Award" (2012); the IEEE VLSI Transactions "Best Paper Award" (2011); and the European Design and Automation Association's (EDAA) Outstanding PhD Dissertation Award (2008).
2. University of North Dakota : The University of North Dakota (UND) offers an online bachelor of science (BSE) in mechanical engineering. This 129 credit program comprises online coursework and on-campus labs. These in-person labs take place during the summer in Grand Forks, ND and typically last 5-14 days, depending on the number of class credits. UND assists all students in finding lodging during these brief stays. This convenient online program has boasted employees of companies such as 3M, Boeing, and Intel among its students, who pursued their bachelor's degrees while they continued working. U.S. News & World Report (2016) ranked UND among the top 100 public universities in the nation.
Additional online bachelor's programs offered at UND:
Dr. George Bibel is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of North Dakota. Professor Bibel began his engineering career at Standard Oil Co and was eventually promoted to head of the pressure vessel, piping, and tankage group. Bibel also worked with NASA Lewis from 1988 to 1997 as a university researcher or Summer Faculty Fellow. Professor Bibel is author of two books: Beyond the Black Box: The Forensics of Airplane Crashes (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), and Train Wreck: The Forensics of Rail Disasters (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012); and is working with a certified Boeing/Airbus pilot on a second book about airplane crashes. Beyond the Black Box was developed into a seminar presented at Boeing. Bibel has introduced an innovated course on engineering disasters and is frequently interviewed on cable news and other national media (New York Times, Popular Science, NPR All Things Considered and Marketplace) about airplane crashes and train wrecks. Professor Bibel has also written "Listen Up and Fly Right (New York Times, 2008); Fasten Your Seat Belt, Yes, YOU (International Herald Tribune, 2008); Why Can’t Modern Technology Prevent Train Wrecks? (Huffingtion Post, 2012) and Train Wreck (Huffington Post, 2014). Professor Bibel received his BS and PhD from Case Western Reserve University and his MS from the University of Michigan.
3. Regis University: Regis University's ABET-accredited online bachelor of science (BS) in computer science imparts the fundamentals of computer engineering-particularly software development-with a combination of web-based coursework and intensive projects. In classes such as data structures, algorithms & analysis, and discrete mathematics, students gain proficiency in multiple computer languages, paradigms, and platforms, putting their newfound skills to practice by creating viable web designs, apps, software, and other business-ready tools. Finally, Regis's BS was rated #58 among U.S. News & World Report's (2016) top online bachelor's programs.
Additional online bachelor's programs at Regis:
Professor Pamela Smallwood earned her MS in computer science from Arizona State University before joining Regis University in 2000. She has worked for Park College, the University of Dayton Research Institute, and the U.S. Air Force, as well as with the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC). She's currently a reviewer and co-editor of the Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges. Finally, Professor Smallwood has received two teaching accolades at Regis University: a 2004 Special Recognition Award and a 2000 Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching.
While there are a number of entry-level online bachelor's degrees in engineering, a majority of current program offerings are post-baccalaureate and designed with working professionals in mind.
The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) reports that there were 51,690 master's degrees in engineering awarded in 2014, a 4 percent increase from the previous year and an all-time high. Among these, 12.7 percent were electrical engineering degrees-more than any other subfield-followed by mechanical (12.6 percent), computer science (12.2 percent), and "other" engineering types (10.5 percent). Also, there was a notable jump in students studying computer science and electrical/computer engineering over previous years.
Admissions Requirements - Columbia University's reputable online master's degree in electrical engineering requires the following for applicants:
Types of Online Master's Degrees in Engineering -There is a wide variety of master's degrees in engineering:
Top Schools Offering Online Master's Programs in Engineering - Among all engineering degrees offered online, the vast majority of the programs available are master's degrees. This selection has been chosen according to the following criteria:
1. Johns hopkins University : Johns hopkins University (JHU) provides an online master of science (MSE) in systems engineering program, one of only three ABET-accredited online master's degree programs in the U.S. Students can choose among several emphases in systems engineering (SE), including biomedical, cybersecurity, project management, and software. This program-also offered as a graduate certificate-is designed for working professionals and prepares its students for careers in industry and government. JHU also provides a Systems Engineering Advising Corner for information on career planning, tips for current and prospective students, and technology within the discipline. With a 25-year legacy and graduating more than 150 students annually, this rigorous program is the "SE source of choice" of numerous defense and security entities. Finally, JHU ranked #12 among U.S. News & World Report's (2016) "best online graduate engineering programs." The Fiske Guide (2016) adds that Johns Hopkins' endowment is $2.6 billion-one of the top 25 in the country-making it a premier institution for scientific research. JHU is also among the most competitive programs admitting only 17 percent of applicants.
Additional online master's programs offered at JHU:
He has taught virtually every systems engineering class offered since joining the JHU faculty in 2005. He has worked with the Department of Defense, the Navy, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and in the private sector with nuclear technology (Cooper Nuclear Station). He currently is the chief systems engineer at ManTech Technical Support Group, a leader in the coalescence of national security and technology. Regarding Dr. Fidler's teaching, a student notes: "[He] is a double platinum instructor and I consider it a privilege to learn from someone that is clearly among the premier SE professionals worldwide."
2. Purdue University: Purdue University's online dual-degree program (MSE+MBA) is offered in conjunction with the Indiana University's (IU) prestigious Kelley School of Business. This 60-credit program-ideal for engineers interested in enhancing their business credentials-can be taken in a variety of engineering specializations, including aeronautics & astronautics, computer science, electrical & computer, industrial, mechanical, and interdisciplinary engineering. There are two required one-week residencies at the IU campus. Finally, Purdue ranked #4 among U.S. News & World Report's (2016) "best online engineering programs" and was picked as a "Best Buy" in the Fiske Guide to Colleges (2016), an indicator of a relatively lower cost university which boasts outstanding academic rigor.
Received his PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2003, he was appointed the director of the Rolls-Royce University Technology Center in High Mach Propulsion, the first institution of its kind in the U.S. He received the Elmer F. Bruhn Teaching Award from Purdue in 2011, and the C.T. Sun Research Award in 2005. His research specialties include aerospace propulsion systems, rocket engine combustors, atomization processes, and liquid propellant injection systems.
3. Ohio University : Ohio University (OU) provides an online master of engineering management degree, imparting skills to students such as project management, problem solving methodologies, effectiveness in leadership, process optimization, and other important competencies of the field. This 34-credit hour accelerated program can be completed in as few as 20 months, featuring coursework in engineering law, economic analysis, probability-based systems, designing experiments, and operations research, among other topics. Ohio University recently ranked #36 among U.S. News & World Report's (2016) best online graduate programs in engineering.
Other online master's programs at OU:
An associate professor in OU's online master of engineering management program-earned his PhD, MS, and BS degrees from Seoul National University. He was the senior researcher at the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology, and founded the company Intelligenceware, Inc. Additionally, Dr. Park was the Asian regional chair of the International RosettaNet Initiative and belongs to several engineering societies, including the Decision Sciences Institute (DSI), the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE), and the International Federation on Automatic Control (IFAC).
The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) reveals that in 2014, doctoral degrees reached a new high with 11,309 awarded, representing a 35 percent jump since 2005. These increasingly popular degrees mainly went to mechanical engineers (13.3 percent), followed by electrical/computer (11.6 percent), electrical (10.2 percent), and chemical (8.9 percent) subfields of engineering.
Admissions Requirements - These are the typical admissions requirements for online doctoral degrees in engineering:
Types of Online Doctoral Degrees in Engineering - Here are some of the most common types of doctoral degrees in engineering in the United States:
Please note that there is also a "degree of engineer" or "engineer's degree," although these are not commonly awarded in the United States. It's considered to be a practical, skills-based degree, falling somewhere between a master's and a doctorate.
Top schools offering online Doctoral degree programs in engineering - This selection of online doctoral degrees in engineering has been chosen according to the following criteria:
1. Colorado State University : Colorado State University's (CSU) online PhD in systems engineering-ideal for top-level executives and senior management-comprises 72 credits of web-based coursework with classes such as electrical power engineering, systems engineering architecture, and engineering risk analysis. Students have the option to attend live lectures in Fort Collins (or South Metro Denver) when they choose, although ultimately, they may be required to come to campus to present their dissertations. CSU's engineering programs have caught the attention of the widely respected Fiske Guide to Colleges (2016) for turning out more STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) graduates than any other Colorado campus. Finally, CSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC-NCA).
Other online engineering degrees offered from CSU:
Dr. John M. "Mike" Borky is an esteemed member of the global aerospace and defense (A&D) community, with five decades of experience in the field. He developed the model-based system architecture process (MBSAP) and spent five years as a visiting professor of aerospace engineering at UCLA, as well as seven years on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (including three years as vice chairman). He's held leadership positions with several A&D companies, including Raytheon, TRW, and Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, and has received two prestigious awards from the United States Air Force: the Oak Leaf Cluster and the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service.
Dr. Liuqing Yang earned her PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and worked at the University of Florida, Gainesville since 2004. She joined CSU in 2010 and has published more than 140 scientific journal and conference papers, many met with distinction. She won the 2006 "Best Paper Award" at the IEEE International Conference on ultra-wideband (UWB); a 2007 summer faculty fellowship with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR); and the 2009 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), among others. Finally, she's an active reviewer for more than 10 scientific journals, as well as a chair member for numerous professional conferences.
2. Michigan Technological University : Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech) offers an online PhD in mechanical engineering and engineering mechanics (ME-EM). Michigan Tech is tied for #40 in U.S. News & World Report's (2016) top graduate engineering programs online and 80 percent of its engineering PhD graduates are offered work in the industry. This school provides interdisciplinary collaboration on projects such as nanotechnology and alternative energy sources, with more than $13 million spent on engineering research, funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Defense, and others.
Additional online graduate degrees in engineering at Michigan Tech:
Dr. Bo Chen-the Dave House associate professor of mechanical and electrical engineering-is an expert on hybrid electric vehicles, monitoring and control networks, the smart grid, and mechatronics. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Davis, and has been awarded research funding from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and several partners in the industry. She's written over 70 peer-reviewed papers, receiving the
"Best Paper Award" at the 2008 IEEE/ASME International Conference on Mechatronic and Embedded Systems and Applications. Finally, she's served as the chair of several committees, including the Technical Committee on Mechatronics and Embedded Systems of IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society; the Technical Committee on Mechatronic and Embedded Systems and Applications of ASME's Design Engineering Division; and for a number of international conferences.
Dr. Ossama O. Abdelkhalik's expertise lies in optimization, ocean wave energy conversion, and space mechanics. At Michigan Tech, he teaches graduate courses on optimization, intermediate dynamics, space mechanics, advanced thermodynamics, and orbit determination methods, ranking among the top 10 percent of faculty evaluations in 2010. He's served as a conference chair for events organized by the American Astronautical Society (AAS), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE). Finally, he co-authored Space Mechanics for Engineers (2nd Edition, 2013).
3. University of Alabama at Birmingham : The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) offers an online interdisciplinary PhD in engineering, a collaboration between the Schools of Engineering, Medicine, Business, and Public Health, in addition to the College of Arts & Sciences. UAB offers two distinct tracks: computational engineering and environmental health & safety engineering. The former program focuses on computational fluid & structural dynamics and technology-aided geometry design among other cross-disciplinary topics. The latter emphasizes the complex interplay between humans and their environments, paying thought to the health of people and ecosystems. Finally, UAB's online graduate engineering programs tied for #40 on U.S. News & World Report's (2016) top list.
Additional graduate engineering degrees offered online at UAB:
Dr. Jason Kirby earned his PhD in civil engineering from the University of Alabama, where he has since taught nine discrete courses such as hydraulics, green building design, and engineering geology. He has received research funding from the Alabama Water Resources Research Institute (AWRRI); Xella International; and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Finally, in 2009, Dr. Kirby united practice to practical (and moral) considerations, leveraging his undergraduate CE 430 class to help a family left destitute by a flood by preparing hydraulic and hydrologic models which were ultimately used as evidence in the family's lawsuit.
Dr. Rosalia N. Scripa was awarded her PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Florida and has taught several courses at UAB, including introduction to engineering design, ceramic materials, and thermodynamics of materials. She has received research funding from NASA for her work with microgravity crystal growth, and serves on NASA's peer review panel for materials science research. Additionally, she serves several organizations such as Frontiers in Engineering Education; the Association of Women in Science Scholarship Program; and the Journal of Scientific Instruments.
Many of the graduate programs mentioned above also offer their programs as online graduate certificates. While these programs do not confer degrees, they can help post-baccalaureate and post-master's professionals attain a new specialty or deepen their skills.
Admissions Requirements - Post-baccalaureate certificate programs online typically have the following prerequisites:
By contrast, post-master's graduate certificates online generally call for the following:
Top Schools Offering Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Engineering - Please note that the criteria for the selection of these programs was identical to the process of selecting online master's programs in engineering (above).
1. Stanford University : one of the top private universities in the world and #2 on U.S. News & World Report's (2016) top engineering programs-provides an online graduate certificate in management science and engineering. This four-course program allows students to tailor their class progression to their needs, offering electives in dynamic systems, simulation, and economic analysis, among others. Finally, the Fiske Guide (2016) explores Stanford's roots in rigorous science and engineering programs-the "fields characterized by human ingenuity"-underscoring this program's curricula which was designed for self-starting professionals seeking to understand the intersection of policy, management, and technology within their respective industries.
Dr. M Elisabeth Pate-Cornell-a specialist in engineering risk analysis and management-has focused her recent work on the broad-ranging applications of game theory in areas such as counterterrorism and nuclear proliferation. She's a member of several societies, including the National Academy of Engineering and the Academie des Technologies. She also served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to 2008 and has received several awards: the 2003 "Best Paper Award" from the Military Operations Research Journal; the 2002 Fellows Award from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS); the 2002 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Risk Analysis; and the 2002 Award for Meritorious Civilian Service from the U.S. Air Force.
2. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) provides an online graduate certificate in mechanical engineering with courses such as reliability engineering, modeling in materials processing, and corrosion of metals. Twelve of the credit hours can be applied to UIUC's online MSME degree. The Fiske Guide (2016) reports that UIUC boasts a 250,000-square-foot computer science center and a Technology Commercialization Center for students interested in marketing the innovations they discover through research. UIUC also has a stellar faculty, including Nobel laureates, National Medal of Science winners, and dozens of members of the esteemed National Academy of Sciences.
UIUS offers additional online graduate certificate programs in:
Dr. Kelly Stephani earned her PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, Austin and has been an assistant professor at UIUC since 2014. She's the director of the Computational Kinetics Group-an interdisciplinary group of researchers at UIUC-which collaborates with professionals not only within the university, but also at NASA and the Air Force. She received NASA's 2015 Early Career Faculty Award, and is also a member of the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).
3. University of Washington: The University of Washington (UW) provides several online certificate programs in engineering and one of the outstanding program options for aspiring civil engineers is the professional certificate in heavy construction management. This graduate certificate program features courses such as temporary structures, heavy construction estimating, and construction procurement systems. UW boasts an impressive rate of entrepreneurship with 65 companies having been started by UW faculty and students in the past five years. Also, among UW professors, there are 22 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 95 National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career award recipients, 2 MacArthur Genius Award winners, and 25 fellows at Sloan Research. Finally, the Fiske Guide (2016) highlighted UW's rigorous academics, world-class facilities, and outstanding engineering programs, particularly those in computer science and bioengineering.
Additional online graduate certificates in engineering at UW:
Dr. Ahmed Abdel Aziz, an associate professor in the Department of Construction Management and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been with UW for 12 years. He's the associate editor of the Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering (CJCE) and has advanced research in project delivery systems, project controls, economic modeling, and risk analysis.
Prior to enrolling in an online engineering program, students are advised to verify the accreditation status of the program or institution. This approval process in higher education was designed to ensure quality control among the most important aspects of a college and typically weighs factors such as condition of facilities; comprehensiveness of curricula; school finances; student outcomes; faculty eminence (i.e., number of publications or awards); and other factors used as measures of excellence.
For bachelor’s programs in engineering—both online and on-campus— the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the gold standard for programmatic accreditation. ABET comprises 35 member societies (e.g., American Society of Civil Engineers [ASCE], American Institute of Electrical Engineers [now IEEE], American Society of Mechanical Engineers [ASME], etc.) with more than 2,200 experts from government, industry, and education. The vast majority of ABET’s recognized programs are bachelor’s level. As of October 2015, there were only three ABET-accredited online master’s programs.
For programs which aren’t accredited by ABET—including most online master’s, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs—students are advised to ensure that their school has institutional accreditation, a school-wide approval granted to a university as a whole by one of six recognized regional entities:
Finally, for distance-based educational institutions, the U.S. Council of Higher Education and the Department of Education also recognize the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) as a valid institutional accreditation body.