Online mechanical engineering colleges

Mechanical engineering may potentially call up images of T-squares, slide rules and antique technology from the pre-computer age, but the truth of the matter is that today's mechanical engineers inhabit a profession that's anything but low-tech. Vital and sensitive medical devices, energy-efficient air conditioning systems, 3-D printer components, longer-life batteries and many other bits of cutting-edge technology rely on the work of mechanical engineers to make them a reality.

If you're thinking about attending one of the dozens of campus-based and online mechanical engineering schools and colleges in the U.S., take a look at this table of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and find out how many mechanical engineering programs are available on campus and online in your region:

Region No. of institutions with mechanical engineering degree programs No. of institutions with online mechanical engineering degree programs
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 82 2
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 22 2
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 50 8
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 34 2
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 119 12
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 103 9
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 108 7
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 42 4
Total (all 50 states) 560 66

Entry-level mechanical engineering degrees

You can start training for a career in mechanical engineering as soon in your collegiate education as you like, provided your chosen school has course options for early undergraduates. Here's a quick rundown on what you can expect when you study at traditional and online mechanical engineering colleges as an undergraduate:

  • Associate degrees - Most associate degrees for aspiring mechanical engineers are Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees in mechanical engineering technology, designed to teach the skills necessary to install, test, operate, troubleshoot, maintain and document mechanical systems. Coursework may include physics, math, materials science, manufacturing processes, production design, computer-aided drafting (CAD) and the basics of electronics, among others. Associate degrees in engineering with a focus on the mechanical side of the discipline, while somewhat uncommon, can also be found.
  • Bachelor's degrees - The four-year bachelor's degree is the traditional entry-level degree for most engineering fields, and campus-based and online mechanical engineering schools all over the country offer bachelor's degree options in the discipline. Students learn fundamental concepts of mechanical engineering such as solid material mechanics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, manufacturing design, behavior of materials under stress, applied statistics, differential equations and more. Bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering technology can also be found, for those who want to continue their focus on the applied side of the science.
  • Non-degree study - Subsections of the broader field can be learned in certificate form on campus as well as online at mechanical engineering colleges and schools around the country, on topics such as thermal energy systems, sustainable energy engineering and motorsports engineering technology. Many certificates available at the undergraduate level are designed for students already enrolled in engineering programs, although some may accept a broader range of applicants, and most take between 15 and 24 credit hours to complete.

Enrolling in online mechanical engineering programs can be a great way to continue your education if traditional, campus-based study might interfere with your personal or professional responsibilities. Most online degrees at mechanical engineering schools allow students to work largely at their own pace, which can be a lower-stress approach than one that requires you to show up on campus for several hours each class day.

Advanced-degree mechanical engineering programs

Mechanical engineering positions that require elevated levels of knowledge or experience may seek candidates who have education beyond just a bachelor's degree. Here's some information on your options for advanced degrees from traditional and online mechanical engineering schools and colleges:

  • Master's degree programs - The true depth and breadth of specialized fields of understanding within mechanical engineering programs can be seen in the discipline's Master of Science (M.S.) degree plans on campus and online. Mechanical engineering schools may offer graduate study courses in biomechanics, automotive systems, acoustics and noise control, multi-scale engineering, energy infrastructure, green building and carbon sequestration, among other advanced subjects.
  • Doctoral degree programs - Those seeking highly advanced senior engineering positions, independent research leadership roles or full professorships at most universities are often expected to go on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in mechanical engineering. Doctoral programs typically include an intensive research component, take anywhere from four to seven years to complete and culminate in the composition and defense of a lengthy dissertation project.
  • Graduate certificates - Members of the mechanical engineering profession can continue to educate themselves on the finer points of specialized areas of the discipline even without enrolling in a full-fledged degree program. Subject matter for graduate certificate study includes advanced manufacturing, medical devices, design and production management, robotics, mechatronics, electric power generation, renewable energy and micro-electro-mechanical systems.

If you're a working engineer looking to enhance your skillset without disrupting your career, dedicated online mechanical engineering schools and colleges that offer fully online or hybrid programs may be your ticket to the advanced degree you're looking for. Many institutions understand that graduate degrees for many mechanical engineers function as professional development work, so online programs and other flexibility measures are fairly common.

Q&A with mechanical engineering experts

Dr. Matt Gordon, mechanical engineering department chair at the University of Denver

Dr. Matt Gordon, mechanical engineering department chair at the University of DenverWhat are the most common educational paths into the mechanical engineering profession?

Certainly the mechanical engineering degree would be the most common, but any engineering degree or most science degrees including physics, chemistry, and biology would work.

How can a graduate who holds a bachelor's degree in a different subject transition into a career in the mechanical engineering field?

If the candidate has had at least a year of calculus and a year of physics (preferably calculus-based), there would be opportunities to pursue graduate studies in engineering.

What's something that prospective students should know about the job market for professional mechanical engineers?

Since the undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering is very flexible, students should know they will have many options in the job market from medicine to law to business and of course to engineering (any branch of engineering).

M. Loraine Lowder, Ph.D., assistant department chair and professor of mechanical engineering at Kennesaw State University

M. Loraine Lowder, Ph.D., assistant department chair and professor of mechanical engineering at Kennesaw State UniversityWhy would you encourage someone to consider a degree in mechanical engineering?

Engineers help people by solving problems. Mechanical engineering is arguably the broadest of engineering disciplines, and so by becoming a mechanical engineer, someone will be able to solve a wide range of problems. Additionally, mechanical engineers earn good money, work with great people, and enjoy job flexibility.

What are some circumstances under which a mechanical engineer might choose to go on and earn a Ph.D.? What degree do most working engineers have?

A Ph.D. is needed for engineering faculty positions and some research and development positions. Most working mechanical engineers have a bachelor's degree.

What's some advice you would give to a student who's thinking about enrolling in a mechanical engineering degree program?

1. Talk to an engineer or engineering student. They are typically willing to answer any questions.
2. Expect the curriculum to be rigorous. You'll need to develop strong study and time management skills.
3. An understanding of calculus and physics are going to be extremely important to your success. Take these courses as soon as possible to see if you enjoy them. If you do, engineering is likely a good choice.

Types of mechanical engineering careers

There are several mechanical engineering careers you might qualify for after graduation, and even a few related occupations in the industry that might employ you while you're still in school. Here's a chart of employment figures and salary averages for a few careers in the mechanical engineering wheelhouse, featuring data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Occupation title National mean annual salary
Projected job growth
Total U.S. employment
Entry-level education
Mechanical engineer $88,190 5 percent 277,500 Bachelor's degree
Machinist or tool and die maker $51,130 6 percent 477,500 High school diploma or equivalent
Mechanical engineering technician $56,390 2 percent 48,400 Associate degree
Drafter $56,610 -3 percent 204,400 Associate degree
Materials engineer $94,690 1 percent 25,300 Bachelor's degree
Engineering manager $141,650 2 percent 182,100 Bachelor's degree

Common misconceptions about mechanical engineering degrees

There are a few misconceptions out there about mechanical engineering degrees and the careers they can lead to after graduation. Here's a list of some common ones, along with the requisite correction and explanation:

Misconception: Mechanical engineers are a disappearing breed in a high-tech economy.

  • Fact: At the heart of this misconception is the mistaken notion that mechanical engineers became obsolete when people started putting computers in everything, which is just completely untrue. If it weren't for mechanical engineers, we wouldn't have the modern designs for turbines, engines, motor vehicles, home appliances and other machines that are the real-world basis of the Internet of Things (not to mention the factory machinery that helps produce the components of all those computers).

Misconception: You need an advanced degree to move from mechanical engineer to engineering manager.

  • Fact: The comfortable average annual salary for engineering managers ($141,750 in 2015) might suggest a high-priced graduate or post-graduate degree requirement, but the BLS reports that the position typically requires no more than a bachelor's degree and extensive experience working in the field. Now, that's not to say that a master's degree in engineering, management or business administration won't be preferred by some employers, but an advanced degree shouldn't be thought of as a requirement.

Misconception: It's easier to complete mechanical engineering programs online than in the traditional classroom.

  • Fact: For some reason, this one remains persistent despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Online programs may be easier on your schedule, and are often easier on your wallet, but the academic rigor of the respective delivery methods is usually so similar as to be practically identical. In fact, the need to keep yourself on track and engaged in the material without the convenient motivation of mandatory classroom attendance may actually make online mechanical engineering programs more difficult than the campus-based variety.

How can I enroll in an online mechanical engineering degree program?

If you're ready to take the plunge into a mechanical engineering program, the best thing you can do is pick out a few schools and reach out to them directly for information on their enrollment requirements and admissions policies. Scroll through our listings below to get you started, then call or email a few admissions reps or registrars and find out what it might take to learn how to design and build the future.

1. National Center for Education Statistics, College Navigator, accessed September 27, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed September 27, 2016: Mechanical Engineers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm; Biomedical Engineers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/biomedical-engineers.htm; Environmental Engineers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/environmental-engineers.htm; Software Developers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Computer-and-Information-Technology/Software-developers.htm; Machinists and Tool and Die Makers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/machinists-and-tool-and-die-makers.htm; Mechanical Engineering Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineering-technicians.htm; Drafters, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/drafters.htm; Materials Engineers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/materials-engineers.htm; Architectural and Engineering Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/architectural-and-engineering-managers.htm;
3. May 2015 National Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed September 27, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm;
4. School pages, accessed September 27, 2016: Associate in Mechanical Engineering Technology (2MET), Penn State York, https://rap.psu.edu/penn-state-york-associate-mechanical-engineering-technology-2met; Associate of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology, University of Massachusetts Lowell, https://continuinged.uml.edu/degrees/undergrad/online-associates-mechanical-engineering-degree.cfm; Mechanical Engineering Associate of Science, Lone Star College, http://www.lonestar.edu/Mechanical-Engineering-AS.htm; Online Mechanical Engineering Degree, University of North Dakota, http://und.edu/academics/extended-learning/online-distance/degrees/mechanical-engineering/; Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) in Mechanical Engineering (ME), University of Michigan, http://me.engin.umich.edu/academics/ugsh/bachelors; Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology, University of Houston, http://www.uh.edu/technology/departments/et/undergraduate/met/; Certificates, School of Engineering and Technology, Purdue University, http://www.engr.iupui.edu/main/academics/undergrad/certificates.php; Undergraduate Majors and Certificates, College of Engineering, University of Wisconsin - Madison, https://www.engr.wisc.edu/academics/undergraduate-academics/majors-and-certificates/; Mechanical Engineering MS Degree, Stanford University, http://scpd.stanford.edu/public/category/courseCategoryCertificateProfile.do?method=load&certificateId=1235502; Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University, https://engineering.purdue.edu/ProEd/programs/masters-degrees/mechanical-engineering; Master's Program, Mechanical Engineering, Columbia University, http://me.columbia.edu/masters-program-1; Mechanical Engineering PhD, University of Central Florida, http://www.handbooks.graduate.ucf.edu/MechanicalEPhD/; Doctoral Degree, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan, http://me.engin.umich.edu/academics/gsh/doctoral#milestones; Degree Requirements, Mechanical Engineering, Wayne State University, http://engineering.wayne.edu/me/phd/requirements.php; PhD in Mechanical Engineering, Boston University, http://www.bu.edu/academics/eng/programs/mechanical-engineering/phd/; Graduate Certificates, Mechanical Engineering, Stevens Institute of Technology, https://www.stevens.edu/schaefer-school-engineering-science/departments/mechanical-engineering/graduate-programs/graduate-certificates; Graduate Certificates in Mechanical Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, https://www.uml.edu/Catalog/Graduate/Engineering/Mechanical-Engineering/Graduate-Certificates.aspx; Mechatronics Engineering Certificate Program, Rochester Institute of Technology, https://www.rit.edu/kgcoe/mechanical/prospective-students/mechatronics-engineering-certificate-program;
5. Interview, Dr. Matt Gordon, conducted September 21, 2016; Interview, M. Loraine Lowder, conducted September 22, 2016

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