Mechanical Design Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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

Mechanical design professionals use computer-aided drafting and design software (CADD) to create a range of products, from refrigeration units to robotic manufacturing systems. A degree in mechanical design can prepare you for positions such as drafter, detailer, associate engineer or design engineer. You may be able to find work in automotive, aerospace, transportation and government industries. While employment growth was expected to be slow in this field from 2010-2020, opportunities could be best for those who are knowledgeable of advancing technologies in the mechanical design field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

As a mechanical design student, you'll learn to understand the entire design process, from initial inspiration to finished product. Along the way, you'll study topics such as robotic automation and programming, the theory and practice of machines and machine shops and geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Those seeking entry-level design jobs People who want to be mechanical engineers
Common Career Paths (With approximate mean annual salary) - Mechanical drafter ($52,000)*
- Mechanical engineering technician ($53,000)*
Mechanical engineer ($84,000)*
Time to Completion Two years or less full time 4-5 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements Capstone design project Senior design project
Prerequisites Some high school algebra usually required Most programs expect applicants to have taken certain courses in high school, such as trigonometry and physics
Online Availability No Yes, in a hybrid format

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

Associate Degree in Mechanical Design

Associate degrees in mechanical design provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the foundational engineering and design topics you'll need to pursue entry-level design positions. These topics include physics, analytical math, machine part design and computerized drafting.

The curricula of these programs are usually designed to favor the practical over the theoretical. This means that a lot of your time will be spent in labs utilizing 2-D and 3-D drafting software as well as other cutting edge design software. While this degree will not prepare you for engineering positions, it will allow you to pursue technician and associate positions within the design field.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You can finish your studies in two years or less
  • Many of these programs are offered at community colleges or technical schools, where the tuition is often cheaper than 4-year institutions
  • Completing this degree will put you in academic position to pursue your bachelor's degree at a later date

Cons

  • This degree will not prepare you to be a mechanical engineer
  • Employment for all drafters, including mechanical, was expected to be slower than average at six percent from 2010-2020*
  • Tasks normally completed by drafters may be performed by other technicians, which could reduce demand for drafters*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

In associate degree programs, students learn how to solve basic design problems and analyze design data. You can learn how to prepare engineering drawings and use technical language. In addition to the core mechanical design courses, many programs also feature a capstone design project as a degree requirement. Below are listed some sample course topics.

  • Manufacturing processes
  • Trigonometry
  • Technical drafting
  • Materials strength
  • Automation fundamentals
  • Applied mechanics
  • Machine design

Online Course Info

Programs in this major that are completely online and offered by accredited institutions are generally not available. Because these programs require a large amount of lab time, it's necessary that you attend an on-campus program so that you can take advantage of the institutional resources needed to become familiar with the software and equipment you'll use in your career.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

One way to stand out with your associate degree in mechanical design is to pursue industry certification. An example of available certification is that offered by the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA). The ADDA provides a voluntary certification process designed to allow you to showcase your specific design and drafting skills and knowledge. While it isn't required by the industry, certification might allow you to separate yourself from the competition.

In addition, the BLS reports that mechanical drafters who are familiar with new software could see better job opportunities. To prepare while earning your degree, you can seek out courses or training programs in Building Information Modeling software or SolidWorks Enterprise PDM.

Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Design

At the bachelor's level, mechanical design training is often available through mechanical engineering degree programs. The programs are designed to provide you with a thorough understanding of mathematical, scientific and general engineering principles so that you can identify and solve real engineering problems. Towards that end, you'll study the mechanics of fluids, solids and transfer processes, the creation and utilization of energy, the design of automated control systems and the operation of industrial manufacturing plants.

Bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). While this accreditation is voluntary, you should keep it in mind when researching engineering programs because a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution is required to acquire your license.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Most programs have a senior project requirement that allows you to apply what you've learned in the classroom to a real world engineering problem
  • By designing the systems and machines that harness the resources of the world, engineers contribute to society in a meaningful way
  • You'll have access to job opportunities in government, industry, research organizations and more*

Cons

  • Job opportunities for mechanical engineers were only expected to increase by nine percent between 2010 and 2020*
  • Mechanical engineers are often called upon to visit job sites, risking exposure to inclement weather and other dangers
  • You'll need to acquire a license, which requires completing two exams, if your job includes offering engineering services to the public*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

In bachelor's degree programs, you'll learn how to design a system or process and conduct experiments. Your coursework covers advanced math, chemistry and physics. Along with mechanical engineering requirements, you'll also take humanities and liberal arts courses. Most programs also feature a design project, conducted in your senior year. Below are listed some sample course titles you'll likely encounter.

  • Thermodynamics
  • Differential equations
  • Vector calculus
  • Heat transfer
  • Materials science

Online Course Info

There are both individual courses as well as entire bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering available online. In these programs, you'll watch recorded lectures or take courses through video-streaming. These programs are generally available in a hybrid format that requires you to visit campus for lab work. While these programs offer you the flexibility to study while you work, you can expect the same curriculum as full-time, on-campus students.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

As a mechanical engineer, you'll need to stay on top of the ever-changing technology in your industry. One method to learn about emerging technologies is to pursue undergraduate research opportunities. Look for apprenticeship options that allow you to work with faculty researchers in new mechanical engineering technologies. Summer programs and internships may also be useful for learning about advancing technologies in the field of mechanical design. You can also participate in student competitions offered by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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