Mechanical Engineers


Requirements

Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in mechanical engineering as a career, you need to take courses in geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. Physics and chemistry courses are also recommended, as is mechanical drawing or computer-aided design, if they are offered at your high school. Communication skills are important for mechanical engineers because they interact with a variety of coworkers and vendors and are often required to prepare and/or present reports. English and speech classes are also helpful. Finally, because computers are such an important part of engineering, computer science courses are good choices.

Postsecondary Training

A bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering is usually the minimum educational requirement for entering this field. A master's degree, or even a Ph.D., may be necessary to obtain some positions, such as those in research, teaching, and administration.

In the United States, nearly 300 colleges and universities have mechanical engineering programs that have been approved by ABET. Although admissions requirements vary slightly from school to school, most require a solid background in mathematics and science.

In a four-year undergraduate program, students typically begin by studying mathematics and science subjects, such as calculus, differential equations, physics, and chemistry. Course work in liberal arts and elementary mechanical engineering is also taken. By the third year, students begin to study the technical core subjects of mechanical engineering—mechanics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, design manufacturing, and heat transfer—as well as such specialized topics as power generation and transmission, computer-aided design systems, and the properties of materials.

At some schools, a five- or six-year program combines classroom study with practical experience working for an engineering firm or a government agency such as NASA. Although these cooperative, or work-study, programs take longer, they offer significant advantages. Not only does the salary help pay for educational expenses, but the student has the opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge to actual work problems in mechanical engineering. In some cases, the company or government agency may offer full-time employment to its co-op workers after graduation.

A graduate degree is a prerequisite for becoming a university professor or researcher. It may also lead to a higher-level job within an engineering department or firm. Some companies encourage their employees to pursue graduate education by offering tuition-reimbursement programs.

Other Education or Training

Because technology is rapidly developing, mechanical engineers need to continue their education, formally or informally, throughout their careers. Conferences, seminars, and professional journals serve to educate engineers about developments in the field. For example, ASME provides conference sessions and courses on topics such as computational fluid dynamics, design, quality control, professional ethics, and materials science. The National Society of Professional Engineers provides webinars for student members of the society. Past webinars included “Career Success in Engineering: A Guide for Students and New Professionals,” “Ethics and Professionalism for Students and Young Engineers,” "Communicating Clearly," "Engineering Leadership: What, Why, and How," “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. Other organizations that offer continuing education opportunities include the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Many mechanical engineers become certified. Certification is a status granted by a technical or professional organization for the purpose of recognizing and documenting an individual's abilities in a specific engineering field. For example, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers offers the certified manufacturing engineer certification to mechanical engineers who work in manufacturing and who meet education and experience requirements.

Engineers whose work may affect the life, health, or safety of the public must be registered according to regulations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. In general, however, they involve graduating from an accredited school, having four years of work experience, and passing the eight-hour Fundamentals of Engineering exam and the eight-hour Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Depending on your state, you can take the Fundamentals exam shortly before your graduation from college or after you have received your bachelor's degree. At that point you will be an engineer-in-training. Once you have fulfilled all the licensure requirements, you receive the designation professional engineer. Visit the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying Web site, https://ncees.org, for more information on licensure.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Take as many math and science classes as possible and participate in internships, co-ops, and volunteer opportunities to gain experience in the field. Personal qualities essential for mechanical engineers include the ability to think analytically, to solve problems, and to work with abstract ideas. Attention to detail is also important, as are good oral and written communication skills and the ability to work well in groups. Computer literacy is essential.