Engineering Degree Guide | Requirements & Salary 2023

Written by James Mielke
Published on December 19, 2022 · Updated on January 17, 2023

Engineering Degree Guide | Requirements & Salary 2023

Written by James Mielke
Published on December 19, 2022 · Updated on January 17, 2023

What is Engineering?

Engineering is a broad term that encompasses several core areas, dozens of subfields, and requires the use of math and science to solve problems. In addition to being one of the most popular academic options, its graduates also earn higher-than-average salaries. The main branches of engineering include areas such as mechanical, chemical, electrical, and civil engineering. But because engineering is home to so many specific fields, choosing the degree that's right for you can be challenging. 

Throughout this engineering degree guide, we hope to clear up some of the questions you may have about engineering and help you find the academic path that's right for you. We highlight the following:

  • Various popular engineering careers
  • Different types of engineering degrees available
  • Top engineering schools
  • Frequently asked engineering questions from our readers

Continue reading to learn more about this essential, lucrative, and growing field.

Engineering Careers

Engineering careers cover a broad spectrum of disciplines and specialty areas, giving graduates endless choices for work. Jobs also exist at every degree level, ranging from roles as technologists and technicians for those with associate degrees to engineering professorships for graduates of doctoral programs.

Given the vast array of disciplines within engineering, most students focus on a particular area. These can include the following options:

  • Civil engineering
  • Industrial engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Petroleum engineering
  • And many more

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for engineers will grow by 4% over the next decade, though these figures vary according to specialty area. While jobs for nuclear engineers are set to contract by 11%, BLS projects that roles for chemical engineers will expand by an impressive 14%.

What Can I Do With An Engineering Degree?

Pursuing an engineering degree leaves you with marketable, transferable skills in demand by countless companies. This pathway also offers good salaries with opportunities for growth with advanced education. 

The best engineers possess a solid mix of skills, including analytical thinking, problem-solving, clear communication, and the ability to work in teams. They also stay up-to-date on emerging issues and solutions within their chosen fields.

Some of the top-paying careers for graduates of an engineering degree include:

Petroleum Engineer

  • Median Salary: $130,850
  • Career Outlook: +8% (2020-2030)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Mechanical Engineer
  • Median Salary: $95,300
  • Career Outlook: +2% (2020-2030)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Materials Engineer
  • Median Salary: $98,300
  • Career Outlook: +6% (2020-2030)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Industrial Engineer
  • Median Salary: $95,300
  • Career Outlook: +10% (2020-2030)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Chemical Engineer
  • Median Salary: $105,550
  • Career Outlook: +14% (2020-2030)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree

Engineering Degree

Engineering degrees exist at every academic level, providing varied opportunities for entrance into this growing field. For students who first want to test the waters, an associate degree provides the foundational knowledge required for entry-level technical roles. Meanwhile, seasoned professionals can opt for master's and/or doctoral degrees in engineering programs to continue building their careers. 

In this section, we take a closer look at each level of engineering degree available to provide the information students need to make an informed and confident decision.

Functioning as the entry-level option, Associate Degrees in Engineering typically require two years of full-time study and can be completed at community colleges. Graduates can pursue technical roles in varied areas of the discipline. Some of the topics covered in these 60-credit programs can include:

  • Introduction to Engineering
  • Engineering Statistics
  • Numerical Methods for Engineers
  • Introduction to Electronic/Computer Engineering

In addition to engineering-specific coursework, learners engage in general education classes in areas such as English, history, math, and science that help fulfill requirements for a bachelor's degree should they choose to pursue this option in the future.

Pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering requires four years of full-time study. However,  learners who have already completed an associate degree can graduate in just two more years. A bachelor's degree provides foundational knowledge about the discipline and prepares graduates for entry-level engineering roles. Given that most positions require at minimum a bachelor's degree, these programs remain a popular option. Some of the classes taken in these programs, which typically are made up of 120 credits include:

  • Introduction to Engineering Problem Solving
  • Engineering Computing
  • Principles of Chemistry
  • Engineering Mathematics

Many colleges and universities also provide concentrations within engineering programs, including civil, chemical, aerospace, and industrial engineering, among others. Concentrations vary from school to school, so students should review several engineering departments to find options that best suit their needs.

After working as an engineer for a time, some professionals decide to return to school to earn a master's degree. These popular programs take between 12 and 24 months to complete and provide the credentials needed to enter managerial and administrative roles after graduation.

At this level, most programs focus on specific specialty areas within the field. This means coursework can vary based on the type of engineering a student wants to study.

Because many professionals continue working while completing their master's degree, several schools provide online learning options. Students looking for a traditional path can also find in-person options, as well as hybrid degrees that combine both learning styles.

Doctorates in Engineering represent the highest educational level a student can complete, and it will qualify graduates for jobs in the highest echelons of the discipline. Students looking to continue working in the professional side of the field typically choose an EngD, while those interested in research and/or academic roles usually pursue a PhD program. PhD programs typically last between four and six years and provide the training and qualifications needed for myriad high-level roles.

In addition to coursework, students complete a dissertation or capstone project, depending on their chosen path. As with other degree levels, learners can select from concentrations based on their interests and desired career path.

Online Engineering Degree

For many, an online engineering degree provides the flexibility and choice they want in an academic program. Whether pursuing an associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree, distance learners can complete coursework, interact with peers and professors, and work on assignments from the comfort of their homes.

Online engineering degrees frequently benefit non-traditional and working students, but they do not represent the best choice for everyone. Students who perform best in structured learning environments and enjoy face-to-face interactions may decide in-person learning best suits them.

While many online engineering programs exist, we're highlighting two to give prospective students an idea of what to expect.

North Carolina State University

Students can choose from 18 different online master's in engineering programs at NCSU, making it easy to find an option suited to their interests and career aspirations. Some of the available programs include electric power systems engineering, engineering management, and industrial engineering. Most require 30-33 credits, with some mandating GRE scores and others waiving this requirement.

Arizona State University

Long recognized as a world leader in online education, Arizona State University offers 40 online engineering options at undergraduate and graduate degree levels. At the bachelor's level, learners can choose from programs such as electric power and energy systems, engineering management, and software engineering. Students seeking graduate programs can select from several degrees, including sustainable engineering, electrical engineering, and materials science and engineering. 

Engineering Areas and Specializations

There are several specializations within engineering, but we are going to highly the three most popular: civil engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering.

One of the oldest engineering disciplines, civil engineering deals primarily with the design, construction, and maintenance of essential infrastructure. From power grids and sewer systems to airports and highways, civil engineers tackle jobs in both the public and private sectors.
Electrical engineering is a broad field whose practitioners are concerned with the complex world of electronics, electrical equipment, and electricity as it powers our lives. These professionals work on everything from microchips to powerplants while working in a diverse set of fields. Some electrical engineering subfields include computer engineering, telecommunications, and IT engineering.
As one of the most expansive fields in engineering, mechanical engineers play a critical role in the design, testing, and manufacturing of just about anything that moves. Mechanical engineers work in fields spanning from healthcare to the aerospace industry, utilizing a professional toolbox of math and physics knowledge along the way.

Top Colleges for Engineering in the U.S.

Top 5 engineering colleges in the U.S.

1. Texas A&M University

Based in College Station, Texas, Texas A&M University is home to a number of undergraduate and graduate engineering programs. TAMU offers degrees in aerospace, biomedical, chemical, electrical, civil, mechanical, and nuclear engineering, with options for bachelor's, master's, and PhD tracks. In addition to traditional on-campus programs, many of TAMU's graduate-level degrees are available online.

2. University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is an elite private institution that offers some of the best engineering programs in the United States. USC is home to undergraduate and graduate programs in aerospace, astronautical, biomedical, chemical, environmental, and computer engineering. While undergraduates must complete coursework on campus, USC's Viterbi School of Engineering offers more than 40 graduate programs entirely online.

3. Purdue University

The Indiana-based Purdue University is home to a college of engineering that provides more than a dozen undergraduate engineering disciplines. In addition to areas spanning from aeronautics to nuclear engineering, students can choose a multidisciplinary option or a degree that blends engineering and business. In addition to undergraduate options, students also have access to a deep catalog of graduate-level options, many of which are available online.

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Consistently ranking among the best STEM institutions in the world, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers a long list of top engineering tracks for both undergrads and graduate students. Bachelor's degrees include topics such as aeronautics, biological, chemical, civil, medical, and mechanical engineering. Graduate programs are also available in those topics and more. In addition to standard degree tracks, MIT provides free, open-source engineering content.

5. California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, is counted among the world's best STEM research institutions in the world. Established in 1891, Caltech offers numerous undergrad and graduate programs in areas spanning from aerospace to environmental engineering. Caltech is home to standout facilities and is one of the most competitive schools for prospective students in the US.

Engineering College Financial Aid

Whether you're an undergraduate or graduate student, pursuing your engineering degree often requires a significant investment of both time and money. Thankfully, you have access to various financial aid options. And while many students take on low-interest federal student loans, other financial resources can help ease the financial burden of your engineering degree. 

Especially common for STEM degrees, there are countless scholarships available for engineering and STEM students. In addition, grants, work-study programs, and teaching assistantships can help cut costs. Continue reading as we spotlight three scholarships available to engineering students.

This generous scholarship is available to women pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Applications are due each year on April 15th, and winners receive a one-time $3,000 award.

Available to both undergraduate and graduate students, this award of $1,000-3,000 is designed to help students cover school-based costs. Applicants must be enrolled in a STEM program, and winners are chosen based on academic achievement and the quality of a short essay.

The Georgia Engineering Foundation offers a remarkably generous scholarship for Georgia citizens pursuing a degree in engineering. Applicants must be accepted or currently enrolled in an ABET-accredited engineering program. Interested students must demonstrate financial need.

How To Earn An Engineering Degree - Next Steps

Earn your high school diploma.

Search for schools that offer engineering programs that mirror your academic and career goals.

Apply for admission, being sure to include all required information and submitting an application free of mistakes.

Enroll at your chosen school and begin tackling engineering coursework.

Complete your degree while taking advantage of your school's career services and internship opportunities.

Engineering FAQ

  • Is engineering a good degree?
    • For students looking for a marketable degree that often comes with relatively high salaries, an engineering degree is a great choice. Engineering is ideal for students who excel in math and science. Some popular engineering disciplines include electrical, mechanical, civil, computer, and nuclear engineering.
  • Is engineering hard?
    • If you have a knack for STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—engineering is a solid choice. But just because you're gifted in this area doesn't mean that an engineering degree isn't challenging. Engineering students should expect a rigorous curriculum but are often rewarded with a strong earning potential after earning their diploma.
  • What's the most popular engineering degree?
    • Engineering is an umbrella term that can include disciplines such as chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, agricultural, biomedical, aerospace, and petroleum engineering. According to the National Science Foundation, mechanical engineering is the most popular field, followed by electrical and civil engineering. Between 2002 and 2012, aerospace engineering saw the most dramatic increase in the number of bachelor's degree graduates.
  • How long does it take to complete an engineering degree?
    • The time it takes to earn your engineering degree can vary dramatically. A full-time engineering student can complete their bachelor's degree in about four years. And while many master's degrees are designed to be completed in about two years, part-time graduate students may take longer as they juggle personal and professional obligations.
  • How much can I make with an engineering degree?
    • The earning potential for engineering graduates can vary depending on their specific engineering discipline, professional experience, level of education, and even geographic location. That said, some engineering disciplines offer higher salaries than others. Some of the top-paying engineering disciplines include petroleum, nuclear, and computer hardware engineering.