Engineering combines multiple disciplines — primarily in the fields of math and science — to create products and services that solve problems and improve people’s lives. If you have the right skill set and wish to pursue engineering, you are in luck, as this field is in high demand and offers a promising career track.
There are various engineering disciplines, such as civil, mechanical, and computer engineering, among others. To pursue a career in engineering, you’ll first need to choose a specific field. This decision will significantly influence your educational path and subsequent career opportunities.
Steps to Become an Engineer
Step 1: Understand the Different Engineering Fields
The incredible diversity of specializations within engineering discipline are difficult to summarize.,However, if you’re interested in becoming an engineer, it’s essential to have a basic grasp of these various areas:
- Civil Engineering: This field is related to the construction and design of specific public structures, including roads, bridges, and other major infrastructure projects.
- Mechanical Engineering: This subtype teaches you how to create large physical systems, including manufacturing machinery, tools, appliances, and more.
- Software Engineering: Software engineers create computer programs and work to apply those programs in a variety of contexts.
- Electrical Engineering: Electrical engineers work with electricity and related components to apply electricity to various mechanical uses.
- Chemical Engineering: This field deals with mixing and creating new chemicals and then applying those chemicals safely and securely to multiple mechanical or productive uses.
Step 2: Meet Educational Requirements
An engineering bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum educational requirement in this field. Most people need increased specialized training when learning how to become an engineer, as the field typically requires extensive academic and practical knowledge. As a result, you may find that you will benefit from a master’s degree in engineering.
Step 3: Choose an Accredited Program
Anyone seeking an engineering degree must ensure their program is accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering & Technology (ABET) or another equivalent organization. An ABET-accredited institution will meet the minimum accepted standards for your degree.
Step 4: Gain Practical Experience
One of the most important things you can do when getting your foot in the door with an engineering job is to gain practical experience. There are multiple avenues for you to do so.
- Internships are formal programs that you take in graduate or undergraduate school. These programs may allow you to work for an engineering company and perform supervised work.
- Co-op programs are combinations of academic and practical experience, usually taking place in a lab or formal business setting, just like a traditional internship.
- Entry-level positions may be an excellent way to allow you to get started in engineering. This work typically involves administrative responsibilities, serving as an assistant, or handling data entry. These positions often enable you to get real-world experience and discover your talents in this field.
Step 5: Obtain Professional Licensure
All states require that engineers be formally licensed. As such, you will have to pass some sort of licensure exam. This can take place by passing the FE Exam (Fundamentals of Engineering) or PE Exam (Principles and Practice of Engineering). You will be cleared to begin formal engineering work by passing either of these exams. As you would imagine, getting your license means extensive studying for these tests. You also have to meet the relevant educational requirements.
There are numerous additional steps you can take when it comes to your Engineering education:
- Numerous Masters programs will allow you to learn more, gain a specialty, and ultimately increase the jobs you are qualified for.
- There are various engineering certifications you can obtain. These include Petroleum Engineering Certification (PEC), Software Engineering Master Certification (SEMC), Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) and more. These certifications allow you to demonstrate your professional education and experience in a certain area, giving you a chance to qualify for specific jobs and earn more money.
- Most states have some sort of continuing education requirements. You must take classes in your relevant specialty to retain your license. Doing so enables you to maintain your expertise in a specific subject.
Why Become an Engineer
If you want to learn more about how to become an engineer, you should also understand why you want to become an engineer. Fortunately, there’s good news: There are many good reasons to become an engineer.
First, becoming an engineer can provide financial stability and a lucrative salary. The highest-paying engineering jobs pay over $131,000 per year. This is an excellent salary, well above the normal salary in America.
Engineers also have a tremendous ability to innovate. If you are creative and want to improve systems or products, going into engineering will allow you to develop the knowledge and know-how that will enable you to make these improvements.
Finally, engineering is in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, extensive growth is expected in this field, including virtually all engineering subsectors. This means that individuals who go into this field can expect to work in an in-demand field that will see growing wages.
Where do Engineers Work?
Engineers work in a vast array of private and public settings, and the specific locations in which engineers work ultimately vary depending on the type of engineering that you may want to pursue.
Many engineers work in engineering firms. These firms are often hired to solve specific problems or design products or services. In some cases, specialty engineering firms will help already-existing businesses figure out how to improve processes, enhance efficiency, improve safety, or make more money. Engineering firms can run the gamut, including smaller firms that only employ a handful of people or multinational firms that can be found worldwide.
Governments across the planet also employ engineering. This is particularly the case for civil or transportation engineers responsible for designing and improving roads or other transportation systems. Engineers who work in these fields can often impact millions of people with their engineering decisions.
Many manufacturing plants or businesses employ engineers. In these instances, engineers become experts while working for a specific company, getting to know their processes and products inside and out. Engineers here can work to enhance how a product is made and ultimately help a business make more money.
Engineers are also often employed by research and development companies. Engineers often work to create new products, services, or processes in this capacity. Engineers who work in R&D often conduct experiments and do research into how to improve certain areas, coordinating team efforts and digging into the specifics of certain problems or questions.
Finally, many engineers work at consulting firms. Consulting firms exist worldwide and often apply their expertise to a specific area or industry, like manufacturing, healthcare, or transportation. Private companies or governments will bring on consulting firms to help them solve problems they don’t have the expertise to manage. Engineers who work for consulting firms will bring their experience to solve specific problems. These issues can run a full gamut: Sometimes, consulting firms may be brought in to help design products. Other times, consultants may be necessary to make system-wide improvements.
Engineers can work in various venues that you may not necessarily expect. For example, many engineers work in healthcare or education, often trying to help increase the effectiveness of products or find what equipment best facilitates learning. Some engineers even work in fields as random as professional sports, seeking to create products and equipment to enhance an athlete’s performance.
The average salary for engineering is very high. According to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics, the average engineering salary is expected to be over $91,000 — more than twice the median salary for the rest of the country. This means that a career in engineering will give you a very lucrative salary with excellent growth potential.
Highest Engineer Salary
As noted by Indeed.com, some engineering roles will earn a much higher salary than others. These include:
- Petroleum engineering ($124,247), which deals with the science of extracting, processing, and manufacturing oil.
- Aeronautical engineering ($97,651), which works with aircraft and in the aeronautical industry.
- Chemical engineering ($91,892), which manages the manufacturing and processing of chemicals for various uses.
- Electrical engineering ($91,866), which deals with the use of electricity and related components.
- Nuclear engineering ($88,686), which is engaged in a variety of aspects related to nuclear energy.
Highest Paying States
Like every other job, some states pay better than others. According to Zip Recruiter, the top five paying states for engineering are Washington State (119,974), New York ($112,027), California (109,964), Vermont (100,935), and Massachusetts ($100,387). It is important to consider that these states all have higher costs of living. If you are deciding where to work, you should keep those considerations in mind.
Engineer Career and Job Growth
As noted above, the demand for job growth in engineering is very positive. According to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics, more than 140,000 engineering jobs will be needed between 2016-2026. This growth is spread across numerous engineering fields. That being said, it is also worth noting that some engineering specialties are expected to grow more than others. These include civil engineers (32,200 needed), mechanical engineers (25,300), industrial engineers (25,100), and electrical engineers (16,200).
Understanding how to become an engineer means understanding the educational pathways that get you to this job.
Bachelor of Science in Engineering
A Bachelor of Science in Engineering usually takes four years to obtain, although it can be longer, particularly if you enroll in a more flexible college program. Common courses include basic chemistry, physics, biology, and math classes, with courses growing in difficulty as you get closer to graduating.
Master of Science in Engineering
A Master’s of Science in Engineering is the next level graduate degree. Accelerated programs will allow you to obtain your Masters in as little as a year, although 2-3 years is more likely for most. Obtaining your Master’s degree will allow you to increase your qualifications and obtain roles you would not otherwise be able to get. It will also enable you to obtain a higher salary.
A Master’s of Science in Engineering also allows you to specialize in certain areas. These can include mechanical engineering, computer engineering, chemical engineering, and much more.
Doctor of Engineering or Ph.D. in Engineering
A Doctor of Engineering or Ph. D. can take 3-5 years to obtain. It involves intensive study and the completion and defense of a dissertation or portfolio of work. You may want to get a doctoral degree to teach or pursue an intense research project. A Ph.D. will open doors in terms of funding and obtaining grants. It is also the highest level of educational qualification you can earn.
Graduate certificates or short courses for specialized skills can help you qualify for special products or upskill for new work. These programs exist in targeted areas of expertise, enabling you to work in a specific area. Such certificates are available in many areas, including construction, engineering management, system design, and even areas you wouldn’t normally expect, like real estate.
What degree do I need to become an Engineer?
At a minimum, becoming an engineer requires getting the appropriate education at a qualified and accredited educational institution. You will then need to gain practical experience and pass the relevant licensure test. In many cases, you may benefit from a graduate degree, such as a Master’s in Engineering.
What do Engineers do?
To learn how to become an engineer, you’ll need to understand your job responsibilities. These vary wildly, depending on the subsection of engineering that you enter. Engineers can create systems, improve processes, design infrastructure, refine chemicals, design programs, and more. Indeed, one of the engineering job requirements is having a creative spirit that you can apply to your specific subsection of this field.
How long does it take to become an Engineer?
The minimum it takes to become an Engineer is four years, as this is the time it will likely take you to earn your Bachelor of Science in Engineering. However, earning an advanced degree and passing your licensure test will most likely take you even longer. A timeframe of 5-6 years is much more likely. If you choose to pursue a Ph.D., it can take longer than a decade.
How much do Engineers make?
How much engineers make ultimately depends on various factors, including what state you practice in and what engineering specialty you enter. However, the average engineer makes $91,000, a very high number and one that has the potential to grow significantly throughout your career. This growth potential is enhanced by the continuing demand for individuals to enter the engineering career.
What Skills do I need to be an Engineer?
From a hard skills perspective, an engineer must have excellent analytical skills. You will likely need to be good at math, science, troubleshooting, project management, and more.
Soft skills are also necessary for this job. People in engineering careers must have excellent communication skills, the ability to work well with others, and a clear ability to prioritize projects and work assignments.
Are there internship opportunities for Engineers?
Internships are extremely useful and can allow someone who wants to learn how to become an engineer the chance to grow their skills and get their foot in the door at a local business. Internships can be found in many sources, including online databases, through one’s academic institution, or by calling local firms.