Becoming an Engineer: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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An engineer's median annual salary can range from $71,000-$130,000, depending on the specialty. Is it worth the educational and licensing requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an engineer is right for you.
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An Engineer Career: Pros and Cons

Engineers work in a variety of fields like mechanical, industrial or biomedical engineering, across almost all industries. Below are listed a few pros and cons to help you decide if becoming an engineer is right for you.

Pros of Becoming an Engineer
Above-average salary (Median annual salaries ranged from $71,000 for agricultural engineers to $130,000 for petroleum engineers)*
Ability to work in a wide variety of industries (manufacturing, information technology, mining, environmental studies, energy, etc.)*
Job growth for some specialties is projected to be high (27% between 2012 and 2022 for biomedical engineers and 15% for environmental engineers)*
Research projects can keep engineers employed during economic slowdowns*

Cons of Becoming an Engineer
High stress due to regulatory pressure and time deadlines*
Extensive education requirements for some specialties*
Continuing education needed to keep current with advances in technology *
Project-based work can lead to frequent relocation*
Extensive licensing requirements*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Overview

Job Description

Engineers are often tasked with creating new products. As an engineer, you'll oversee the development of a product from its conception to prototyping, testing and finally manufacturing. Engineers also maintain and repair existing products, and sometimes they're asked to fix defects or improve existing products. All of this takes a mix of scientific and technological skill.

Specializations

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists seventeen different engineering specialties in a variety of industries. Each of these specializations also has sub-concentrations. Engineering specializations include industrial, electrical, mechanical, aerospace and biomedical. Additionally, you might also choose to go into civil, chemical, computer, nuclear or environmental engineering.

Salary Info

Engineers' salaries vary as widely as the specializations, but they generally make good wages. According to the BLS, in 2014 electrical engineers made a median annual income of about $91,000. That same year, industrial engineers made a median annual of income of $81,000, and mechanical engineers made a median of $83,000.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

Most engineer positions require at least a 4-year undergraduate degree in engineering, science or mathematics. Many jobs demand a graduate degree in science, technology or engineering.

Licensing

If you're an engineer that provides firsthand services to the public (such as civil engineers), you'll need to meet specific licensing requirements. First, you'll need to complete an ABET-accredited engineering program, after which you can sit for you're your Fundamentals of Engineering exam. Then, you'll complete four years of work experience before you can sit for the Principles and Practice of Engineering. Completing these requirements will award you the professional engineer (PE) designation.

Real Job Postings

Employers are looking for dedicated engineers who are experts in their fields. Usually applicants are required to have a mix of education and experience. For an idea of what employers are currently looking for, browse through these sample job postings from March 2012:

  • A California medical equipment manufacturer advertised for a staff engineer to lead a project team that was tasked with creating a new type of balloon catheter. Applicants were required to have a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering or at least eight years relevant experience.
  • A construction and technical services company in Virginia needed an educated and experienced engineer to apply engineering principles to military combat systems. Applicants were told to anticipate some travel.
  • In Colorado, an information technology company requested engineering applicants who held a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering or Computer Science. Also required was an understanding of applied programming patterns and the ability to develop using C# and Java.
  • A Nevada casino wanted an engineer with general maintenance skills and the ability to read blueprints. Applicants were cautioned that sometimes they'd need to work on location in noisy, smoky casino conditions.
  • An engineering company in Rhode Island advertised for an engineer who could identify product defects, analyze the problem and propose solutions. The company required a Bachelor of Science in Electric Engineering and ten years of experience.
  • In Pennsylvania, a manufacturing company was looking for an engineer to troubleshoot, refine and improve manufacturing efficiency. Applicants were required to hold a degree in engineering or technology and have excellent math skills.

How to Maximize Your Skills

You can stand out to potential employers by earning a bachelor's degree in your chosen engineering specialty. If degrees aren't offered, take classes in your concentration. You may want to take your education further and earn a graduate degree in science or engineering. Many employers are looking for engineers with several years of either education or experience.

Get Certified

In the U.S., engineers who provide services to the public must be licensed PEs, but even if you don't plan on working directly for the public, you could become a PE to enhance your resume. If you want to boost your resume even more, several professional associations and engineering organizations, like the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which offer the Professional Specialty Certification (PSC) to those who hold a master's degree and a PE license, have at least ten years of experience and pass an oral exam, if applicable.

Alternative Fields

Computer Scientists

Like engineers, computer scientists develop new technology, although, the educational requirements for this career are much steeper. Most computer scientists hold a Ph.D. in computer science. Their job outlook is good; the BLS projected a 19% growth in employment during the 2010-2020 decade. In 2011, computer scientists made a median income of over $101,000 annually.

Mathematicians

Mathematicians use applied and theoretical mathematics to solve problems in a number of areas including business, economics, science and engineering. Mathematicians working for the government must hold at least a bachelor's degree in mathematics. Most other industries require that they hold a Ph.D. in mathematics. The BLS predicts that employment of mathematicians will grow by about 16% during the decade spanning 2010-2020, which is about the same as all other occupations. Mathematicians made a median annual wage of over $101,000 in 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Engineering Technology
      • Master of Science in Engineering Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Information Technology/Multiplatform Software Development
      • BS in Information Technology/Multiplatform Software Development
    Associate's
      • AAS in Information Technology - Multiplatform Software Development
      • AAS in Information Technology - Multiplatform Software Development
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD-TIM - Engineering Management
      • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
    Master's
      • MSTIM - Engineering Magagement
      • MBA - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    4. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. University of Delaware

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Software Development With No Declared Minor or Concentration
      • B.S. - Software Development: Computer Programming Concentration
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Software Development
  • Campus Locations:
    7. Universal Technical Institute

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Diesel Technology
      • Automotive Technology
      • NASCAR Technology
  • Campus Locations:
    8. Lincoln Tech

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Electrical/Electronics
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Biotechnology Enterprise and Entrepreneurship
      • Master of Science in Biotechnology
      • Master of Science in Bioinformatics
  • Campus and Online Programs
    10. The Art Institutes

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Software Development for Creative Technologies (BS)
    Associate's
      • Drafting Technology & Design (AS)

Featured Schools

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Engineering Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • BS in Information Technology/Multiplatform Software Development
  • AAS in Information Technology - Multiplatform Software Development

Which subject are you interested in?

Northcentral University

  • PhD-TIM - Engineering Management
  • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • MSTIM - Engineering Magagement
  • MBA - Management of Engineering and Technology

What is your highest level of education?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

University of Delaware

  • Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering

What is your highest level of education completed?

Herzing University

  • B.S. - Software Development With No Declared Minor or Concentration
  • B.S. - Software Development: Computer Programming Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Software Development

What is your highest level of education?

Universal Technical Institute

  • Diesel Technology
  • Automotive Technology
  • NASCAR Technology

What is your education level?

Lincoln Tech

  • Electrical/Electronics

What year did you graduate High School / Receive GED?