Education and Training Requirements

High School

Engineers must have a high school diploma. They also need an excellent academic background in biology, chemistry, mathematics (algebra, calculus, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics), and physics. Computer science, design, and English classes are helpful. Other areas of study may be beneficial or required for different specialties.

Postsecondary Training

All engineers must have a bachelor's degree in engineering, and workers in some engineering specialties may need a master's degree. Civil engineering, electronics engineering, and mechanical engineering are the most common engineering majors. Engineering students usually concentrate their studies in their specialty, but because most engineering programs include courses in general engineering, life science, mathematics, and physics, engineers can work in branches other than their specialty. Standard engineering programs also include computer and design studies, and may include non-engineering, liberal arts studies.

An alternative to the traditional engineering degrees are engineering technology programs offered at many two- and four-year schools. The focus of these programs is on the practical side of engineering, such as design and production, and students spend less time on science and theory. Workers with a degree in engineering technology are not considered equal with engineers, but they may fill many of the same positions. They are not, however, permitted to become licensed as professional engineers.

Most entry-level engineering jobs do not require graduate education, but a master's degree, or in some cases a doctorate, may be required for government posts, high-level research and development positions, or teaching jobs.

ABET is the official accrediting agency for postsecondary engineering and engineering educational programs. Visit http://www.abet.org for a list of accredited programs.

Other Education or Training

Keeping up with industry developments is key to success as an engineer. Professional associations often provide continuing education opportunities. For example, the National Society of Professional Engineers provides webinars for student members. Recent webinars included Career Success in Engineering: A Guide for Students and New Professionals, Ethics and Professionalism for Students and Young Engineers, How to Get Your First Job, and Engineering Your Career with a High Quality Social Network Web Seminar. The Society of Women Engineers offers conference sessions, webinars, and other education resources on topics such as leadership, career development, and special issues for women in engineering. The American Society for Engineering Education offers continuing education opportunities for engineers via its annual conference and other events. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Engineers whose work may affect the life, health, or safety of the public must be registered must be licensed in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Those who are licensed are called professional engineers (PE). To qualify for a license, one must have a bachelor's degree from a school accredited by ABET, the accrediting board for engineering and technology, four years' relevant work experience, and pass a state examination. States often recognize licenses from other states. New engineers may qualify for licensing in two stages. First, they may take the Fundamentals in Engineering examination after graduating from college. They are then considered engineers in training (EIT) or engineer interns (EI). Once they achieve the work experience requirement, and EIT or EI then takes the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. In most states engineers must meet continuing education requirements to maintain their license. The exams are offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (http://www.ncees.org).

There are many certification opportunities for engineers, but certification is generally not mandatory. Available certifications vary among specialties.

Other Requirements

Engineers in some specialties, such as aerospace engineering or nuclear engineering, may require security clearance from the federal government to work for defense contractors.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring engineers should participate in an internship or co-op during college to gain valuable experience. Participating in these programs will also help you to build a professional network, which could lead to a job offer after graduation.

Engineers must be strong team workers and possess good oral and written communications skills. They must be highly organized and capable of balancing many priorities and completing work on schedule. Other important traits include creativity, good problem-solving skills, patience, determination, an analytical personality, and a willingness to continue to learn throughout one's career. Engineers who work in management need strong leadership, comminication, interpersonal, and organizational skills.