Engineering is the use of science to design and build machines, structures and systems. There are multiple branches of engineering that you can study depending on your strengths, interests and goals. Choosing the type of engineering that fits your goals and ideals will help you stay motivated during your engineering education.
In this article, we explore how you can choose an engineering major that suits your interests and objectives.
What is an engineering major?
An engineering major is a student who has earned a degree in engineering. While engineering majors also take general education classes in unrelated subjects such as language and history during their undergraduate study, their primary emphasis will be on mathematics, physics, technology, scientific principles and the acquisition of skills specific to the branch of engineering they chose. In graduate study, engineering programs focus even more on advanced concepts, techniques and projects within their chosen engineering specialty.
Common engineering majors and programs
Here is a list of engineering majors you may consider:
Manufacturing engineering: These engineers take raw materials and design the process that turns them into a final product by using the most efficient ways possible. Manufacturing engineers design machines, factory lines and actual products. They can work in large facilities and factory floors and make products as varied as personal health products, sporting goods and robots.
Electrical engineering: These engineers are referred to as “double e’s,” and they work with circuits and electricity. Electrical engineers work on developing and distributing large amounts of electrical power and designing methods to efficiently do so. Electronics engineers focus more on circuitry, and the applications of their job are most needed in the computer industry.
Mechanical engineering: This is one of the broadest types of engineering. These professionals design, manufacture and maintain mechanical systems. Some aspects of your study will include fluid dynamics, technical drawing and thermodynamics. Mechanical engineers often work in transportation systems, nanotechnologies and robotics.
Aerospace engineering: This involves designing aspects of air and space travel, from actual spacecraft to components and systems that support them, such as satellite technology. These engineers can also design commercial and military planes.
Biomedical engineering: Those who study this field are often interested in both medicine, biology and engineering. They use their engineering skills to design tools and equipment that help healthcare professionals diagnose and treat people, such as imaging machines.
Civil engineering: These professionals put their skills to work to design aspects of our towns and cities. They design commercial structures, road systems, public transport systems, bridges and buildings.
Computer engineering: Computer engineers can specialize in anything from network security to game design. This field is divided into hardware and software. Those who engineer hardware make the physical components of computers while software engineers code and write the programs that make them work.
Systems Engineering: These engineers specialize in designing efficient systems to make products in such a way that they optimize resources and personnel. They make processes more efficient and ensure that they are safe.
Chemical engineering: This branch is dedicated to designing processes through which raw chemicals are transformed into products such as sports drinks, cosmetics, medicines and cleaning products.
Environmental engineering: This branch studies the way we affect the environment and creates methods to reduce the impact on air, water and soil. These engineers work to reduce pollution and increase the number of clean energy sources.
Agricultural engineering: This is for people who enjoy using engineering principles to improve methods of irrigation, ground preparation and farm machinery designs.
How to decide on an engineering major
There are many elements to consider when deciding on a specific engineering major, such as your personality, skills, future ambitions and employment prospects. Here are some steps to help you determine what engineering major to pursue:
Determine your relevant aptitudes.
Identify your passions.
Understand your compensation needs.
Consider your ideal work environment.
Set professional goals.
1. Determine your relevant aptitudes
Having a set of finely honed skills can help guide you towards an aspect of engineering at which you might excel. For example, someone who has a rational and orderly mind and has always organized their environment with precision and efficiency may make an ideal systems engineer. Make a list of the skills you already excel in and determine those that you’d like to learn. Then, research which types of engineering require the skills on both of your lists.
2. Identify your passions
You spend much of your life working, so finding a field and role that you genuinely enjoy can help you lead a fulfilling work life. Think about how you spend your free time and what recent activities, events or items you enjoyed the most. You can also outline social causes that matter to you, such as charity organizations you donate to or volunteer opportunities you’ve served in or want to in the future.
If chemistry class labs were always the best part of your day, and you’re passionate about improving medical technology that treats certain chronic conditions, becoming a biomedical engineer might be a good choice for you.
3. Understand your compensation needs
Salaries differ depending on the field you choose. Some engineering fields also offer more opportunities for salary growth while others present a narrow and stable range of high and low salaries. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks how fast a particular field is growing and what the prospects are for growth or decline in that industry. You can review salary and outlook data to determine which engineering fields are more lucrative or stable.
Financial and employment considerations can help you decide between the many fields of engineering to ensure you select a sector that has future job opportunities and potential for growth, should you want it.
4. Consider your ideal work environment
There are many differences in the common work environment and responsibilities across engineering disciplines. Some engineers work almost entirely in an office setting, sitting at a desk in front of a computer. If you like this type of work situation, then becoming a software engineer might be a good option for you. If you enjoy being around large machinery, having a less physically fixed workspace and watching products be created, manufacturing engineering might be something that interests you.
Also, some disciplines are more concentrated in certain geographical locations. You can be a civil engineer, biomedical engineer or systems engineer nearly anywhere. But if you want to live in a major metropolis like New York City, for example, you may not find opportunities for industrial engineering there. Similarly, if you enjoy software design and want to live at the epicenter of cutting edge software engineering, a move to California’s Silicon Valley should be an appealing thought.
Lastly, the work environment can also be determined by the work hours and employment types. Some fields of engineering lend themselves to one day becoming a freelancer or contract worker, such as software engineering. Others, like manufacturing engineering, will entail being hired by a company.
Consider these elements to determine which types of engineering best suit your ideal situation. You can write a list of must-have aspects and compare them to the different disciplines to help you narrow your choices.
5. Set professional goals
Narrowing the focus of your studies can lead you to a career that can help you achieve your life goals. For example, someone who has always had a passion for saving the earth by creating new systems of green energy might be well served by pursuing a degree in environmental engineering.
Consider writing out a list of goals you’d like to accomplish at five, 10 and 15 years into your career. These can include advanced educational opportunities, the times when you’d like to be in a leadership or managerial role or projects you’d like to work on. Use these long-term goals to determine the type of engineering that is more likely to fit your goals.