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How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

By Andrea Delgado

Published:

Are you fascinated by the inner workings of machines and have a passion for problem-solving? If so, pursuing a career as a mechanical engineer might be the perfect fit for you. In this article, we will explore essential mechanical engineer educational requirements, a mechanical engineer job description, and a list of mechanical engineering skills you need to succeed in this dynamic and rewarding profession.

Career Summary

Mechanical Engineer Salary

Mechanical Engineer Salary

The salary range for mechanical engineers can vary significantly depending on different factors.

Here is a general overview of a mechanical engineer’s salary range from entry-level to executive positions according to data from glassdoor.com:

  • Entry Salary (US$71k)
  • Median Salary (US$88k)
  • Executive Salary (US$130k)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income of mechanical engineers in the United States is higher than the national average income for all occupations, which was around US$61,900 in May 2022.

What does a Mechanical Engineer do?

Mechanical engineers are professionals who design, develop, and analyze mechanical systems and devices. They apply their knowledge of physics, mathematics, and engineering principles to create innovative solutions for various industries. Their work involves designing and improving machinery, conducting tests and simulations, and collaborating with multidisciplinary teams to ensure mechanical systems’ functionality, efficiency, and safety.

Mechanical Engineer Career Progression

The career progression for mechanical engineers often follows a trajectory of increasing responsibility and specialization. Ultimately, career progression in mechanical engineering is driven by a combination of experience, continuous learning, leadership abilities, and a track record of successful projects and contributions to the field.

Here is a general outline of the career progression in mechanical engineering:

  • Entry-level Mechanical Engineer: As a fresh graduate or with limited experience, you’ll work on a variety of mechanical engineering projects and tasks under the guidance of more experienced engineers.
  • Mechanical Engineer: After gaining some experience, you’ll work independently on creating detailed designs of mechanical components, systems, or products. You may oversee the work of junior engineers.
  • Engineering Manager: In this supervisory role, you’ll be leading a team of engineers and coordinating projects from conception to completion. You’ll be responsible for ensuring project timelines, budgets, and quality standards are met.
  • Director of Engineering: This high-level leadership role entails overseeing the mechanical engineering function within an organization. This includes setting strategic direction, driving innovation, and ensuring the achievement of business goals.
  • Vice President of Engineering/Chief Engineer: This is the highest position within the field of mechanical engineering. They lead the development and implementation of innovative technologies, drive overall engineering strategy, and shape the company’s technical vision.
Mechanical Engineer Career Progression

Pros:

  • Ability to apply technical knowledge and problem-solving skills to design innovative solutions.
  • Good career prospects and growth potential, with opportunities for specialization or leadership roles.
  • Chance to make a tangible impact by contributing to the development of new technologies and improving existing systems.
  • Possibility to work on cutting-edge research and development projects.
  • Satisfaction from seeing ideas come to life and witnessing the tangible results of your work.

Cons:

  • Long working hours and potential for overtime, especially during critical project phases.
  • Exposure to potentially hazardous work environments, requiring strict adherence to safety protocols.
  • Challenges in balancing competing priorities and managing multiple projects simultaneously.
  • Potential for high levels of stress, particularly when dealing with complex problems or unexpected setbacks.
  • Limited creativity and autonomy in certain roles, as adherence to industry standards and regulations is crucial.

Useful Skills to Have as a Mechanical Engineer

  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Software
  • Analytical and Problem-Solving Skills
  • Mathematics and Physics
  • Materials Science and Mechanical Properties
  • Familiarity with Industry Standards and Regulations

Popular Mechanical Engineer Specialties

  • Robotics
  • Aerospace
  • Automotive Engineering
  • Manufacturing
  • Energy

How to become a Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical Engineer 5 Steps to Career

To become a mechanical engineer, follow these steps and mechanical engineer educational requirements:

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a related field. This program typically takes four years and provides a solid foundation in engineering principles, mathematics, physics, and computer-aided design (CAD).

Average Costs of Obtaining a Degree as a Mechanical Engineer

The costs of obtaining a degree as a mechanical engineer can vary depending on several factors such as the country, type of institution, and whether you attend a public or private university.

Here are some average cost estimates:

  • Tuition Fees: In the United States, the average annual tuition fees for a mechanical engineering degree at a public university for in-state students range from $10,000 to $13,000. Out-of-state students can expect to pay significantly higher tuition fees, often in the range of $28,000 to $33,000 per year. Private universities tend to have higher tuition fees, typically ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 or more per year.
  • Books and Supplies: The cost of books and supplies for a mechanical engineering degree can vary but the rough estimate is $800 per year. This can fluctuate based on the required textbooks, lab equipment, and software needed for coursework.
  • Living Expenses: The cost of living expenses such as accommodation, meals, transportation, and personal expenses will depend on factors like the location of the university and your lifestyle. However, the estimate is about $10,000 per year.

The good news is that scholarships, grants, and financial aid programs might be available. This can help offset some of the expenses. Research and compare the costs of different universities and explore available financial assistance options to make informed decisions about managing the expenses associated with obtaining a degree as a mechanical engineer.

Can I Become a Mechanical Engineer through Online Education?

Yes, it is possible to pursue a mechanical engineering degree through online education. Many universities and institutions now offer online programs in mechanical engineering, allowing students to complete their coursework remotely. However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Accreditation: Ensure that the online program you choose is offered by an accredited institution. Accreditation ensures that the program meets quality standards and that your degree will be recognized by employers and other institutions.
  • Hands-on Components: Mechanical engineering typically involves hands-on laboratory work and practical experience. While online programs can offer virtual labs and simulations, it may be necessary to attend on-campus sessions or complete internships to gain the practical skills required for the field. Check the program’s requirements to understand any in-person components.
  • Self-Motivation and Time Management: Online education requires self-discipline, as you’ll need to stay motivated and manage your time effectively to complete coursework and assignments. It’s important to have strong self-motivation and organizational skills to succeed in an online learning environment.
  • Networking and Collaboration: Mechanical engineering often involves teamwork and collaboration. While online programs can provide opportunities for virtual collaboration, they may be different from the in-person interactions that occur in traditional classroom settings. It’s important to seek networking opportunities, participate in online discussions, and connect with fellow students and professionals in the field to enhance your learning experience.
  • Licensing and Professional Requirements: If you plan to pursue professional licensure as a mechanical engineer, check the specific licensing requirements in your jurisdiction. Some licensure boards may have specific guidelines or restrictions on the acceptance of degrees earned through online programs.

Overall, online education can be a flexible and convenient option for obtaining a mechanical engineering degree, especially for individuals who have other commitments or prefer a more flexible learning environment. It’s essential to carefully research and select a reputable online program that meets your educational goals and aligns with your career aspirations.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a Mechanical Engineer?

If you’re looking to learn skills to become a Mechanical Engineer, there are several web resources available that can provide valuable knowledge and guidance.

Here are some useful online platforms and websites to explore:

  • Engineering Toolbox: This website provides a wealth of technical resources, tools, formulas, and reference materials. It covers a wide range of topics relevant to mechanical engineering, such as mechanics, thermodynamics, materials, and more.
  • ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Learning & Development: ASME offers a variety of professional development resources, including webinars, online courses, and technical publications. These resources cater to both aspiring and practicing mechanical engineers, covering different aspects of the field.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare: MIT OpenCourseWare provides free access to lecture notes, assignments, and exams from actual courses offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their Mechanical Engineering section offers a wealth of educational materials, allowing you to delve into specific subjects of interest.
  • Engineering.com: This online platform that offers news, articles, forums, webinars, and resources for engineers across different disciplines, including mechanical engineering. It covers a wide range of topics, provides engineering-related content, and offers a community for professionals to connect and share knowledge.

Gain Practical Experience

Seek internships, co-op programs, or entry-level positions to gain hands-on experience in the field. These opportunities allow you to apply classroom knowledge to real-world engineering projects and develop practical skills.

Internship Opportunities for a Mechanical Engineer

Internship opportunities for mechanical engineers are abundant and provide valuable hands-on experience in the field.

Here are some common avenues for finding internship opportunities:

  • University Career Services: Many universities have dedicated career services departments that connect students with internship opportunities. They may have partnerships with local companies or access to job boards specifically tailored to engineering internships.
  • Company Websites: Explore the websites of engineering companies, manufacturers, research institutions, and other organizations that hire mechanical engineers. Many of them have dedicated internship programs and provide information on how to apply.
  • Professional Networks and Organizations: Join professional engineering networks or local engineering associations. These networks often offer job boards or resources for finding internships and can provide networking opportunities with industry professionals.
  • Job Search Engines: Utilize popular job search engines, such as Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and SimplyHired. These platforms allow you to search specifically for mechanical engineering internships, filter by location or company, and apply directly through their portals.
  • Career Fairs: Attend job or career fairs hosted by universities, engineering organizations, or industry-specific events. These events bring together employers and job seekers, providing opportunities to connect with companies offering internships.
  • Personal Network: Leverage your personal network, including professors, classmates, or professionals in the field. They may have insights or connections to internship opportunities that can benefit your search.

Join industry-related professional organizations, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) or the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). Networking within these communities can provide valuable connections, mentorship opportunities, and access to resources.

Develop Technical and Soft Skills

To excel in the field of mechanical engineering, it is crucial to hone a combination of technical and soft skills.

Here are some key skills to develop as a mechanical engineer:

  • Proficiency in CAD Software: Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is vital for creating and visualizing engineering designs. Familiarize yourself with industry-standard software such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks, or CATIA. Mastering CAD skills allows you to create detailed 2D and 3D models, perform simulations, and optimize designs.
  • Computer Simulations: Developing skills in computer simulations enables you to analyze and predict the behavior of mechanical systems. Gain proficiency in software like ANSYS, MATLAB, or COMSOL to perform structural, thermal, and fluid dynamics simulations. This skill is crucial for evaluating design performance, identifying potential issues, and optimizing mechanical systems.
  • Project Management: As a mechanical engineer, you may be involved in leading or participating in projects. Developing project management skills, including planning, organizing, and coordinating tasks, is essential. Familiarize yourself with project management methodologies like Agile or Waterfall, and learn to effectively manage resources, timelines, and budgets.
  • Technical Knowledge: Deepen your understanding of mechanical engineering principles, including mechanics, thermodynamics, materials science, and manufacturing processes. Stay updated with industry advancements and emerging technologies relevant to your area of interest. Continuously expand your technical knowledge through self-study, online courses, or specialized certifications.
  • Problem-solving and Critical Thinking: Mechanical engineers are tasked with solving intricate problems and finding innovative solutions. Sharpen your problem-solving skills by cultivating a systematic approach, analyzing data, and thinking critically to identify root causes and develop effective solutions. Foster your ability to think creatively and adapt to changing requirements.
  • Continuous Learning: Mechanical engineering is a field that constantly evolves. Embrace a mindset of lifelong learning and seek opportunities to expand your skill set. Stay updated with the latest advancements, trends, and technologies by attending workshops, conferences, and professional development programs. Stay curious, embrace new technologies, and never stop expanding your knowledge.

By honing these mechanical engineering skills, you can position yourself for success in the field. These skills enable you to tackle complex engineering challenges, contribute to innovative solutions, and thrive in a dynamic and ever-evolving industry. These mechanical engineering skills will help you develop a strong portfolio while showcasing your projects, designs, and engineering accomplishments. Tailor your resume to highlight relevant skills, experiences, and achievements.

Obtain Professional Licensure (Optional)

Obtaining a Professional Engineer (PE) license is a valuable step that can significantly enhance career prospects for mechanical engineers. While it is optional, acquiring a PE license demonstrates a higher level of expertise, professionalism, and commitment to the field. The requirements for licensure vary depending on the country or state, but they typically involve completing an accredited engineering degree, gaining relevant work experience under the guidance of a licensed engineer, and successfully passing a licensure exam.

The PE license grants mechanical engineers the authority to take legal responsibility for their engineering work. This includes the ability to stamp and sign engineering documents, oversee and approve designs, and provide expert guidance in matters related to public safety and the environment. By obtaining a PE license, mechanical engineers can gain a competitive edge in the job market, open doors to new opportunities, and potentially command higher salaries.

In addition to pursuing a PE license, mechanical engineers can also consider acquiring certifications that align with their areas of interest or specialization. These certifications serve as tangible evidence of their proficiency in specific domains and can further enhance career prospects.

Some useful certifications for mechanical engineers include:

  • Certified Energy Manager (CEM): Focuses on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable practices, allowing mechanical engineers to contribute to environmentally friendly and cost-effective solutions.
  • Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM): This certification offered by the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) signifies a high level of competence in engineering management principles, practices, and leadership.
  • Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE): Validates expertise in manufacturing processes, quality control, supply chain management, and lean principles, making mechanical engineers well-suited for roles in the manufacturing industry.
  • Six Sigma Certifications: These certifications, such as Six Sigma Green Belt or Six Sigma Black Belt, equip mechanical engineers with problem-solving methodologies and statistical analysis techniques to enhance process efficiency and minimize defects.

By acquiring such certifications, mechanical engineers can showcase their specialized knowledge and skills, increasing their marketability and expanding their career options.

In summary, while a PE license is an optional but highly beneficial credential for mechanical engineers, it is important to research and understand the specific licensure requirements of the country or state in which one intends to practice. Furthermore, pursuing relevant certifications in specific areas of interest can further augment a mechanical engineer’s expertise and career advancement opportunities.

Specialize and Pursue Advanced Degrees (Optional)

Consider specializing in a specific area of mechanical engineering, such as robotics, aerospace, or renewable energy, to carve a niche and expand career opportunities. Pursuing advanced degrees, such as a master’s or doctoral degree, can be a significant investment of time and resources but offers substantial benefits.

A master’s degree in mechanical engineering typically requires one to two years of full-time study, depending on the program and whether it includes a thesis or a coursework-based curriculum.

A doctoral degree in mechanical engineering is a more research-intensive and in-depth program, generally requiring three to five years of full-time study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Doctoral programs often involve conducting original research, completing coursework, and writing a dissertation. The cost of tuition and financial support options can vary, however, many doctoral students receive funding through research assistantships, teaching assistantships, or grants.

The benefits of pursuing advanced degrees in mechanical engineering are numerous. An advanced degree allows for specialization in a particular area of interest, providing in-depth knowledge and expertise that can differentiate you in the job market. It can open doors to higher-level positions, leadership roles, and research-oriented positions in academia or industry. Advanced degrees also offer opportunities for networking, collaboration with renowned researchers, and access to cutting-edge resources and facilities.

Moreover, an advanced degree may lead to increased earning potential throughout your career. Individuals with a master’s or doctoral degree in mechanical engineering tend to earn higher salaries compared to those with only a bachelor’s degree.

While pursuing advanced degrees requires dedication, time commitment, and financial resources, the potential rewards in terms of career advancement, specialization, and earning potential make it a worthwhile consideration.

What’s the Career Outlook for Mechanical Engineers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2021 to 2031, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 17,900 openings for mechanical engineers are projected each year, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire.

Mechanical Engineer Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineering opens the door to a world of exciting job opportunities across diverse industries.

Here are some thrilling roles where mechanical engineers make their mark:

  • Product Design and Development Engineer: As product design and development engineers, they unleash their creativity to bring new ideas to life. From sketching initial concepts to perfecting designs using cutting-edge software, they are the driving force behind innovative products.
  • Manufacturing Engineer: Manufacturing engineers are the superheroes of production. They optimize processes, harness automation, and ensure top-notch quality control. With a keen eye for efficiency, they transform factories into sleek, streamlined operations.
  • HVAC Engineer: Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) engineers create comfortable environments wherever they go. They engineer systems that keep us cozy in winter, cool in summer, and breathing fresh air year-round. Their mission is to bring comfort to every building they touch.
  • Automotive Engineer: Picture the fast-paced world of automotive engineering, where mechanical engineers craft sleek cars and powerful engines. They fine-tune performance, enhance safety, and turn their automotive dreams into reality.
  • Energy Engineer: Energy engineers are at the forefront of the sustainability revolution. They explore renewable energy sources, optimize energy consumption, and develop groundbreaking solutions for a greener future.
  • Project Engineer/Manager: Project engineers or managers lead teams, coordinate resources, and ensure smooth project execution. They bring ideas to life, from concept to completion, overseeing every detail with precision and finesse.
  • Research and Development Engineer: Research and development engineers venture into uncharted territories. They push boundaries, conducting experiments, and shaping the future with groundbreaking discoveries and inventions.
  • Consulting Engineer: Consulting engineers are problem-solving gurus. They provide expert guidance, untangling complex engineering challenges, and helping clients achieve remarkable results.

Top Industries That Hire Mechanical Engineers

Embark on a journey through the dynamic realms where mechanical engineers thrive.

These industries eagerly seek their expertise and innovation:

  • Manufacturing: From sleek automobiles to cutting-edge electronics, mechanical engineers are the architects of the manufacturing world. They optimize production processes, fine-tune machinery, and transform ideas into tangible realities.
  • Automotive: Buckle up for the fast lane of automotive engineering. Mechanical engineers rev up their creativity, designing powerful engines, crafting aerodynamic bodies, and bringing futuristic concepts to life on the road.
  • Energy and Utilities: The energy and utilities sector turns to mechanical engineers to harness the forces of nature. They pioneer renewable energy systems, optimize power generation, and drive sustainable solutions to light up our world.
  • Aerospace and Defense: Take flight with mechanical engineers in the aerospace and defense industry. They soar to new heights, crafting next-generation aircraft, refining propulsion systems, and ensuring our safety amidst the clouds.
  • HVAC and Building Services: HVAC and building services beckon mechanical engineers to create comfortable, energy-efficient spaces. They master the art of temperature control, perfect air quality, and ensure that our environments embrace us with open arms.
  • Research and Development: In the realm of research and development, mechanical engineers push boundaries, unravel mysteries, and redefine possibilities. They pioneer breakthrough technologies, advance scientific knowledge, and shape the future.
  • Robotics and Automation: Join the mechanical engineers in the world of robotics and automation, where they breathe life into mechanical marvels. They create robotic systems, automate processes, and pave the way for a future of efficient, intelligent machines.
  • Environmental and Sustainability: Environmental and sustainability warriors seek mechanical engineers to engineer a greener world. They develop eco-friendly solutions, champion renewable energy, and spearhead initiatives to preserve our planet.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Mechanical Engineer?

The work-life balance of a mechanical engineer can vary depending on factors such as industry, company culture, and project deadlines.

Many mechanical engineers work regular full-time hours, typically around 40 hours per week. However, some projects or deadlines may require occasional overtime or longer hours.

While there may be periods of increased workload or tight deadlines, many mechanical engineers enjoy a reasonable level of flexibility in their schedules. However, this can vary based on the industry and the specific company’s culture. Some industries, such as manufacturing or construction, may have more demanding schedules, while others, like research and development or consulting, may offer more flexibility.

Should I become a Mechanical Engineer?

Deciding whether to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer is a personal choice that depends on various factors. Assess your interest in mechanical engineering and whether you enjoy problem-solving, designing, and working with machines. Evaluate your strengths in areas such as mathematics, physics, and analytical thinking, as these are fundamental to mechanical engineering.

Mechanical engineering offers diverse job opportunities across industries, providing stability and potential for growth. Consider the work environment that suits you best. Understand the typical work hours and demands of the profession.

Recognize the commitment required to obtain a mechanical engineering degree and the ongoing need for continuous learning and professional development. Consider whether a career in mechanical engineering aligns with your personal values, goals, and aspirations. Assess how the field can contribute to your overall sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Ultimately, the decision to become a mechanical engineer should be based on a combination of your passion for the field, aptitude for the subject matter, job market prospects, and personal preferences. Research, talk to professionals in the field, and consider your own interests and goals to make an informed decision.

Careers Related to Mechanical Engineer


Andrea Delgado

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