Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering

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Choosing an engineering specialty is an important decision that requires careful thought. Prospective students want to choose a field they are passionate about, which will also lead to a successful career. Many engineering students who enjoy working with machines waver between two options: mechanical engineering or electrical engineering?

Both fields have a lot to offer, but each has its own unique benefits and contributions. Here we will compare and contrast these two majors to help prospective engineering students make an informed decision.

The most crucial factor to consider when choosing a major should be interests and strengths. In simple terms: do you prefer working with your hands or with computers? Do you like designing mechanical systems or electrical circuits?

For those with a natural affinity for mathematics and physics, mechanical engineering may be the right choice. In contrast, those who are more interested in electronic devices and programming may lean towards electrical engineering.

Like other engineering fields, the work of mechanical and electrical engineers is broadly defined and includes an extensive range of specialties. Both fields design, develop, and test products and systems. Mechanical engineers generally focus on creating and perfecting thermal sensors for automotive, aerospace, and manufacturing use. By contrast, Electrical engineers develop and supervise the manufacturing of a wide range of electrical equipment for telecommunications, computer hardware, and electric utilities.

Another commonality shared by these two engineering fields is a steady occupational outlook. In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that mechanical engineers held about 284,900 jobs, while electrical engineers held 303,800. Both professions are expected to grow slower than the average for all occupations between 2021 and 2031. Annual salaries for these two engineering fields are well above the national average at $95,300 and $101,780, respectively.

Read on to learn more about the similarities, differences, and overlap in mechanical and electrical engineering and a step-by-step guide to frequently asked questions.

Similarities, Differences, and Overlap: Mechanical Engineering & Electrical Engineering

Similarities

Most undergraduate engineering programs, whether mechanical or electrical, will have a similar curriculum in the first few years. Students will take mathematics, physics, and basic engineering principles classes before moving on to more specialized coursework. Many online engineering programs offer mechanical engineering and electrical engineering degrees, so students can choose which field they want to study as they progress through their coursework.

Both mechanical and electrical engineers need to have a bachelor’s degree accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). There are many ABET-accredited online degree programs available in both disciplines which are featured in the side-by-side chart below.

Differences

There are some key differences between mechanical and electrical engineering programs. Electrical engineers typically take more courses in electronic devices and circuits, while mechanical engineers learn more about mechanical systems and materials science. However, both majors will take courses in thermodynamics, mechanics, manufacturing processes, control systems, and fluid dynamics.

Many students choose to specialize in a particular mechanical or electrical engineering area. Common mechanical engineering specializations include aerospace, automotive, biomedical, and materials science and engineering. Popular electrical engineering specializations include computer engineering, electronics engineering, and power systems engineering.

Overlap

Both mechanical and electrical engineers are in high demand across various industries. Automotive, aerospace, and manufacturing companies are some of the biggest employers of mechanical engineers. Electrical engineers often work in the computer industry, telecommunications, or utilities. There are many different specializations within each field, so it is essential to do your research to find the right fit for you. Both mechanical and electrical engineering offer a variety of specializations that can lead to exciting and lucrative careers.

Keep reading for a side-by-side comparison of these two careers, including online mechanical and electrical engineering programs.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Mechanical Engineering & Electrical Engineering

Mechanical engineering tends to focus more on the physical components of machines, while electrical engineering focuses more on electronic components. For example, a mechanical engineer might design the engine of a car, while an electrical engineer might design the electrical system.

Here is a side-by-side comparison detailing the similarities and differences between mechanical and electrical engineering.

Mechanical Engineering Electrical Engineering
Definitions

The design and development of automated systems, such as engines, robotics, and manufacturing equipment.

The design and development of electrical systems, such as electrical power grids, computer networks, and consumer electronics.

Types of Degrees
  • Bachelor of Science (BS, BSE)
  • Master of Science (MS, MSE)
  • PhD
  • Bachelor of Science (BS, BSE)
  • Master of Science (MSE, MSEE)
  • PhD
Common Courses
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Materials science
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Mathematics
  • Electricity
  • Magnetism
  • Circuit design
  • Signal processing
  • Telecommunication
Degree Specializations & Concentrations

Mechanical design, thermal engineering, manufacturing engineering, aerospace, and automotive engineering.

Power systems, signal processing, and telecommunications.

Top-Employing Industries
  • Architecture, engineering, and related services (21 percent)
  • Machinery manufacturing (15 percent)
  • Transportation equipment manufacturing (10 percent)
  • Computer and electronic product manufacturing (7 percent)
  • Scientific research and development services (5 percent)

Source: BLS 2022

  • Engineering services (21 percent)
  • Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution (9 percent)
  • Navigational instruments (7 percent)
  • Research and development; physical and life sciences (5 percent)
  • Semiconductor manufacturing (4 percent)

Source: BLS 2022

Post-Graduation Careers
  • Auto research engineer
  • Heating and cooling systems engineer
  • Robotics engineer

Source: BLS 2022

  • Flight systems engineer
  • Maritime engineer
  • Manufacturing engineer
  • Process engineer

Source: BLS 2022

ABET-Accredited Hybrid and Online Engineering Degree Programs

The Bottom Line: Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering

Mechanical and electrical engineering are both vital fields that play a major role in the design and construction of machines and systems. Both disciplines require a strong knowledge of math and science and offer a wide range of degree specializations.

There are many similarities and key differences between mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. Both disciplines involve the design and construction of machines and systems, and both require a strong foundation in math and science. Students interested in either engineering field should consider their career goals and interests carefully before choosing a program of study.

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