Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering (Four Years)

Mechanical engineers generally need at least a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology, according to the BLS. In addition, students are advised to seek out programs accredited by entities recognized by the U.S. Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), including the gold standard in engineering: the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

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Mechanical engineering undergraduate programs are available at multiple degree levels and require different time commitments. For example, some programs allow students to earn an associate degree while working toward a bachelor’s degree. There are varying formats for these degree programs, as well. These include traditional campus-based pathways and programs that combine online and brick-and-mortar coursework. There are even fully online programs in mechanical engineering at the bachelor’s level.

Admissions Requirements – Mechanical Engineering Bachelor’s Programs

Requirements for bachelor’s programs in mechanical engineering differ from school to school. A student’s high school grade point average (GPA) can be a crucial qualifier, but so can a student’s score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). In addition, a high school transcript can help paint a picture of a student’s past interests and successes and may indicate their potential for future success. Some admissions materials that may be required for mechanical engineering schools include:

  • Completed application and fee
  • Official high school transcripts with a competitive GPA in math and science courses (e.g., calculus, physics, geometry, chemistry)
  • SAT or American College Testing (ACT) scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • An interview
  • An essay (500-600 words)

Typical Courses – Mechanical Engineering Bachelor’s Programs

Students in a bachelor’s program often complete many core science and math classes before taking upper-level mechanical engineering coursework in areas including:

  • Computer-Aided Drafting
  • Dynamics
  • Heat Transfer
  • Applied Fluid Mechanics
  • Statics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Behavior of Materials

Featured Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers an online mechanical engineering bachelor of science in engineering (BSE) program, preparing students for careers in heating and cooling systems, robotics, automotive research, and more. Students will learn how to manufacture, operate, and design components, systems, and devices.

Comprising 120 credits, the program includes courses such as system dynamics and control; engineering profession; applied experimental statistics; advanced mathematical methods for engineers; structural mechanics; computer-aided engineering; heat transfer; mechanical design principles; and mechanical engineering design.

Graduates of this program will be ready to take roles such as automotive engineers, biomedical engineers, energy engineers, engineering managers, mechanical engineers, and supply chain engineers.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $714 per credit

Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering (Two Years)

A master’s degree is not necessary to enter the mechanical engineering field. Still, as mentioned above, it can lead to more significant opportunities concerning breakthrough innovations, coveted research grants, or leadership positions. In fact, CareerOneStop (2023)—a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor—reported that 22 percent of people working as mechanical engineers had a master’s degree, compared to 54 percent with a bachelor’s.

In their search for programs, students may find differing program pathways. A master’s degree, for example, typically takes at least two years of post-bachelor’s work to complete. Still, there are also combined bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, which may take five years of full-time, accelerated study. Additionally, other dual degree programs combine a master’s and an MBA. Finally, students can also consider online master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, particularly if they work full-time, live in rural areas, or have inflexible schedules.

Admissions Requirements – Mechanical Engineering Master’s Programs

As with bachelor’s degrees, enrollment requirements for master’s degrees in mechanical engineering vary, but the admissions process for graduate-level education is generally more rigorous. Often, students must apply to a university’s graduate school and the engineering department itself. Students also should consider the options available in these programs. For example, they may be able to choose between a non-thesis or thesis program. Some of the typical admissions requirements for master’s-level mechanical engineering schools include:

  • Completed application(s) and processing fee(s)
  • A statement of purpose
  • Official transcripts with proof of specific course prerequisites
  • Letters of recommendation
  • GRE scores; Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for ESL students
  • A bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field
  • A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0

Typical Courses – Mechanical Engineering Master’s Programs

Many master’s degree programs require core coursework in four-to-six areas to help students build advanced knowledge. Examples of these core classes include:

  • Material Issues in Mechanical Design
  • Metals and Alloys
  • Advanced Composite Materials
  • Materials Engineering

After completing the initial core coursework, students may specialize in their classes or select electives that allow them to customize their degrees. Just keep in mind that degree requirements vary from school to school, and while some schools require students to complete a certain number of math courses for their program, others may instead focus on greater breadth across the curriculum. Available Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MSME) concentrations include:

  • Manufacturing and Materials Processing
  • Robotics and Controls
  • Solids/Mechanics of Materials
  • Thermofluids

Featured Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering

Pennsylvania State University

Penn State’s online master of science in mechanical engineering (MSME) program is identical to its resident program offering the same courses and is taught by the same graduate faculty members active in research. Upon graduation, graduates will receive a diploma identical to the one earned by the on-campus students. The program allows students to gain advanced knowledge for analysis, design, and research in mechanical engineering. They will study topics such as the foundations of fluid mechanics, heat transfer, automatic control systems, the principles of turbomachinery, engineering optimization, and solid mechanics.

Admission requirements for the program include a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or its equivalent with a GPA of 3.0, official transcripts from each institution attended, three references, a current resume, a statement of purpose, and TOEFL or IELTS test scores for international applicants. GRE test scores are not required for admission.

Made up of 32 credits, the program includes courses such as principles of turbomachinery; foundations in sustainability systems; two-phase heat transfer; solid mechanics; linear system theory and control; mechanism design and analysis; and foundations of fluid mechanics.

  • Location: University Park, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,121 per credit

Step 3: Build Mechanical Engineering Experience (One to Four Years)

Experience is integral to becoming a mechanical engineer. Not only can it be a starting point to formulate new ideas or concepts, but it also can be central to building the skills needed to work on more complex projects. Additionally, as mentioned in the introduction, having at least four years of professional experience is imperative for obtaining professional engineer (PE) licensing.

Experience can unlock opportunities in other ways, too. For example, mechanical engineers who know how to use the most up-to-date software tools—including those in computational design and simulation—or learn about three-dimensional printing can find their skills in demand.

To learn more about common courses and specializations offered in mechanical engineering programs, please see our guide to What is Mechanical Engineering & What are Its Branches?

Step 4: Seek Professional Engineer (PE) Licensure in Mechanical Engineering (Timeline Varies)

For mechanical engineers, PE licensure can indicate a high level of competence to clients, supervisors, and colleagues, although this credential is not always necessary to work in the field. Graduates of mechanical engineering schools should check with their state licensing board for more details on regional requirements. It’s essential to add that only licensed PEs can work as consulting engineers or private practitioners, and the PE designation is also necessary for employment in many governmental positions where the safety and welfare of the public is concerned. Here is a general overview of how to obtain PE licensure:

  • Take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam. Students close to completing their undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering can take this exam. Reference materials and exam preparation are available online. The FE is offered in the mechanical engineering field and six other engineering fields.
  • Gain experience. Four years of experience under a qualified supervisor is the minimum requirement.
  • Take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. This eight-hour exam is the last step to obtaining licensure. The PE is available in three different mechanical engineering fields: HVAC and refrigeration, machine design and materials, thermal and fluids systems, and other engineering disciplines.

Pass rates for the PE vary by subject area. For example, the mechanical engineering testing fields mentioned above range from 68 to 77 percent for first-time takers, according to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.

Step 5: Seek Organizational Certification (Timeline Varies)

Numerous organizations are offering mechanical engineering certification. According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), certification can be a way to validate skills, increase marketability, garner respect, and build confidence and credibility. It can be a step that interests some professionals in the field. Below is a list of organizations that offer mechanical engineering certification:

  • ASME
  • Associated Air Balance Council
  • Association for Facilities Engineering
  • Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
  • Green Building Certification Institute
  • National Fire Prevention Association

Step 6: Consider a PhD (Optional, Four to Five Years)

Engineers seeking more education can look into PhD programs in mechanical engineering. These degrees may interest engineers who enjoy research, want to make significant advancements in the field, or want to teach future engineers. Before starting a doctoral-level program, students often need to find a PhD advisor to guide and support them throughout their program. A PhD is a rigorous degree, and the expectations should be clear to candidates beforehand. Some components of a PhD program can include a/an:

  • On-campus residency
  • Completion of a dissertation
  • The Teaching of undergraduate students
  • Oral examination

Career Outlook & Salary for Mechanical Engineers

Prospective mechanical engineers may be interested in learning the field’s average annual salaries. According to the BLS (May 2022), the average annual salary for 277,560 mechanical engineers across the U.S. is $100,820, significantly higher than the average mean wage for all occupations nationally ($61,900). Mechanical engineers working in architectural, engineering, and related services earned the highest salaries, followed by machinery manufacturing.

In more precise terms, here’s a breakdown of the annual wage percentiles of mechanical engineers in the U.S.:

United States (277,560 mechanical engineers employed): $100,820 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $61,990
  • 25th percentile: $76,980
  • 50th percentile (median): $96,310
  • 75th percentile: $122,680
  • 90th percentile: $151,260

Additionally, data from Payscale (2023), a site using self-reported salaries, indicates that mechanical engineers with project management skills, experience with plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, simulation software, or Fortran high-performance parallel programming language have the potential to make even more money.

Job Outlook for Mechanical Engineers

Job opportunities for mechanical engineers are expected to grow 2 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS (2022). This is slower than the average growth projected across all occupations during that decade (5 percent). However, it’s important to note that the growth rate can vary by sub-industry. For example, those working in nanotechnology, alternative energies, and remanufacturing may encounter more significant job opportunities.

Helpful Resources & Professional Organizations

Prospective mechanical engineers may want to consider membership in mechanical engineering associations. These groups may offer student memberships at a discount and provide opportunities for training and development, research, networking, and more. Here are the most prominent mechanical engineering professional associations and societies:

  • American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
  • American Society for Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
  • Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)
  • International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP)
  • National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)

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