Engineering Design Degrees: Master's, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in an engineering design degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's and master's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Engineering Design: Degrees at a Glance

As an academic field, engineering design is the study of manufacturing processes and systems, product design and the control and management of manufacturing. Students in these programs study all stages of product development, from the drawing board to the finished product. Entry-level workers will need a bachelor's degree in a major such as industrial design, engineering or architecture. With a master's degree, you can pursue teaching or research roles.

The job outlook for careers related to these degrees is mixed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some careers, such as industrial designers may see an average (10%) job growth between 2010 and 2020. Other related positions, such as industrial engineers could see a below average (6%) job growth over the same period, per the bureau.

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level design or engineering jobs - Those looking to pursue leadership roles in the design field
- Professionals who'd like to enter into research and development or teach at the university level
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Industrial designer ($64,000)*
- Industrial engineer ($80,000)*
- Postsecondary engineering teacher ($97,000)*
- Design executive (salary not available)
Time to Completion 4 years full-time Approximately 2 years after bachelor's degree
Common Graduation Requirements Capstone or design project Most programs will require a master's thesis or research project
Prerequisites - High school diploma
- Some programs may require completion of basic design courses before enrolling in the program
Bachelor's degree in engineering, design or related field
Online Availability No No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Bachelor's Degree in Engineering Design

The purpose of this program is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the entire range of relevant engineering concepts involved in a design process. You'll learn how to combine design processes and manufacturing systems in order to make a finished product, such as a toy, car seat or a new surgical implement. Your coursework will include standard classroom lectures, as well as lab work, where you'll practice with the latest in computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Upon graduating you'll be able to transfer your credits in pursuit of a graduate degree
  • You can start your engineering career after just 4 years of full-time study
  • With this program's reliance on cutting-edge technology, you should master many design and engineering programs by the time you're done

Cons

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many design professionals work evening and weekend hours meeting with clients and soliciting new business
  • Below average job growth has been predicted for some career paths related to this degree
  • This degree may not allow you to pursue some executive positions within the engineering design field

Courses and Requirements

In addition to your core engineering design courses, you'll also enroll in general education courses. Examples of these electives would include English, math, social science and writing intensive courses. Along with your coursework, you'll most likely have a senior capstone or design project as a degree requirement. Listed below are some sample course titles:

  • Statistics
  • Principles of material selection
  • Machine theory
  • Mechanical design
  • Production planning

Online Degree Options

Online bachelor's degree programs in engineering design don't exist. It's not uncommon to find various engineering disciplines offered in the distance-learning format. However, this field requires a significant amount of lab time in the curriculum. To learn the latest software you'll need to be on campus. Another reason is the teamwork factor. To excel in this field, you're going to have to work effectively and efficiently as part of a design team. There's no better way to learn those skills then by practicing with your fellow students and teachers.

Stand Out with This Degree

One way in which you might separate yourself from your fellow students is through internships. An internship allows you to establish contact with people in your field, add relevant work experience to your resume and showcase your design examples to prospective clients. The summer months may be the only time you'll have available, but you'll want to secure your internship before the school year ends. Design houses, engineering firms and even multimedia companies could be places to look for your internship opportunity.

Master's Degree in Engineering Design

These degree programs are structured for those individuals who want to lead product design and development teams. You'll begin by studying design methodology, product design and product strategies. In many programs your second year is dominated by the master's thesis. This thesis often takes the form of a design project. Non-thesis programs often offer students the opportunity to participate in design research in their final year. You'll want to be certain that your program is accredited by a professional organization, such as the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Employers are often looking for candidates with advanced degrees
  • Along with a teaching certificate, this degree may allow you to teach design at the high school and community college level
  • Will make you eligible for more jobs than the bachelor's degree

Cons

  • You could be in school for up to 6 years
  • In some instances you might be competing for jobs with people who have less education
  • These programs can be expensive and non-loan funding may be difficult to secure

Courses and Requirements

Most of these master's degree programs in engineering design are structured so that the bachelor's degree functions as the first step of the program. Once you begin your master's degree program, you'll most likely have another year of classes before beginning work on your master's degree design thesis. In that year of courses, you'll study product design and strategies for achieving those designs. The coursework will be largely design oriented, with a significant portion of team-based design work.

Online Degree Options

At this time there are no online master's degree programs available in engineering design. The structure of the degree program, with its emphasis on team-based design projects, makes it an unlikely fit for online learning. As an engineering design professional, you'll need to attend a campus-based program.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

If you're looking for a way to get ahead with your graduate design degree, you may want to consider joining a professional design organization. One example of these organizations would be AIGA. AIGA (formerly an acronym that stood for American Institute of Graphic Arts) is one of the leading design organizations, offering online courses and workshops, job listings and networking opportunities. Membership is open to both professional designers as well as students.

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