Engineering degree programs have long provided a pathway to stable, rewarding and challenging jobs for passionate problem solvers, but the upside to engineering careers doesn't end there. All throughout history, engineers have found themselves at the cutting edge of culture and technology, designing and building the products and technologies that make civilization possible.
Engineering disciplines contain some of the most important STEM careers on the job market today, from the civil engineers who build our bridges and roads to the environmental engineers who work to ensure that human endeavor stays compatible with the natural world. Here's some info about the degree programs available at campus-based and online schools in engineering and how they can prepare you for a few of the hottest jobs in the field.
The value of engineering degrees
The world will always need skilled engineers, and engineering firms are constantly on the lookout for candidates who can contribute to their mission. Earning an engineering degree is a time-tested way to demonstrate that you're qualified to meet the challenges of an advertised position.
Degrees from certain engineering programs may carry more weight than others, particularly among employers hiring for competitive positions. Here's a list of the top 5 schools for undergraduate engineering degree programs in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Stanford University
- University of California - Berkeley
- California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech)
- University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
The list of top schools for engineering graduate degree programs is strikingly similar to the above; Carnegie Mellon University, which tied for No. 6 on the undergraduate list, slots in at No. 4 among graduate programs and bumps Cal Tech down one spot.
Job outlook and salary for engineering careers
The unemployment rate for engineers is extraordinarily low -- just 2 percent in 2012, according to U.S. News & World Report -- and some of the careers available for aspiring engineers are projected to see monumental employment growth over the next several years. Here are some growth projections for the engineering disciplines expected to grow the fastest between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Biomedical engineering: 28.6 percent
- Petroleum engineering: 25.5 percent
- Civil engineering: 19.7 percent
- Environmental engineering: 15.3 percent
- Mining and geological engineering: 12.0 percent
What's more, salaries for positions in these fields are typically somewhat higher than the national average yearly wage. Here are some mean annual engineering salary figures for 2014, as reported by the BLS:
- Petroleum engineers: $147,520
- Computer hardware engineers: $110,650
- Aerospace engineers: $107,700
- Nuclear engineers: $104,660
- Chemical engineers: $103,590
- Mining and geological engineers: $100,970
- Biomedical engineers: $91,760
- Mechanical engineers: $87,140
- Civil engineers: $87,130
- Environmental engineers: $86,340
A bachelor's degree is often all that's required for entry-level positions in these fields, although the salary expectations for professionals in the first few years of their careers may not be quite as high as the overall averages listed above. Here are some average entry-level salaries for a few of the above disciplines, as reported by Michigan Technical University using data from Payscale.com:
- Biomedical engineers: $60,698
- Civil engineers: $55,220
- Chemical engineers: $66,281
- Mechanical engineers: $61,523
- Computer hardware engineers: $66,945
- Environmental engineers: $54,751
Although entry-level jobs don't often require engineering licenses or other additional certification, some engineers may need licensure to advance upward in the ranks of their fields. Advanced education, whether in engineering, business administration or another related body of knowledge, can help you remain competitive when applying for upper-tier engineering careers.