Study Mechanical Engineering: Bachelor, Associate & Online Degree Info

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

Undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering provide students with knowledge of how things work and the methods needed to design, build, test, and make improvements to products, machines, and other items. Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering specialties. The field involves components of thermodynamics, mechanics, fluid mechanics, and the conversion of energy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of mechanical engineers is expected to grow 9% from 2010 through 2020 (www.bls.gov).

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals with strong mathematical skills who desire to work in technical or supportive roles in the mechanical engineering field Individuals with strong analytical skills who are eager to design and test machines
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) -Mechanical Engineering Technician ($53,000)*
- Mechanical drafter ($52,000)*
-Mechanical Engineer ($84,000)*
- Aerospace Engineer ($104,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 60 units of course work
- Hands-on projects
- Approximately 120 units of course work
- Laboratory and research projects
- Attendance at seminars
Prerequisites - High school diploma -High school diploma or associate's degree
- Satisfactory college admission scores
Online Availability Rare Yes

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

Associate's in Mechanical Engineering

Students enrolled in a mechanical engineering associate's degree program complete basic mechanical engineering courses in addition to a core general education curriculum. The curriculum of these programs emphasizes mathematics and physical science, and prepares students for a variety of educational, practical, and professional engineering roles. In a mechanical engineering associate's degree program, you learn to identify and solve basic engineering problems, test products, communicate thoughts in both written and oral formats, and use technology to enhance productivity.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Earned credits may transfer to a bachelor's degree program, shortening the time required to earn a bachelor's degree*
  • Curriculum provides a strong foundation in basic engineering skills that apply to a career in many different specializations of the field
  • Degree can lead to a career with high earning potential*

Cons:

  • A bachelor's or graduate degree in mechanical engineering is commonly required to work as a mechanical engineer*
  • A specific mechanical engineering program may be difficult to find at the associate's degree level; mechanical engineering technology, rather than mechanical engineering, is most often the major offered in community college engineering programs
  • Programs may not allow for specialization in a specific area of mechanical engineering

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Coursework and Requirements

Coursework in mechanical engineering associate's degree programs focuses on training you to apply mathematical and scientific principles to problem-solving and design projects. It also provides instruction aimed at helping you develop skills in business management and project preparation, utilize specific computer programs and software, and acquire skills in the logical design of mechanical parts. You typically also complete courses in engineering, chemistry, electricity, technology, math, and physics.

Online Degree Options

Online associate's degree programs in mechanical engineering are rare. However, the curriculum of a mechanical engineering technology degree programs may include online courses. Credits eared by completing online mechanical engineering technology courses may be used towards the requirements for a 4-year degree in mechanical engineering.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Because working as a drafter is a career available to associate's degree holders, consider honing your drafting skills. Advanced technical drafting or modeling courses can hone your drawing skills, and help you stand out against your competition when applying for a job as a mechanical drafter.

Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering

Bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering focus on providing students with a broad knowledge of engineering as well as comprehensive technical training in mechanical engineering. In addition to a traditional 4-year program, students may enroll in dual, 5-year bachelor's and master's degree programs, or even 6-year programs that allow students to gain work experience while completing their courses.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Graduating from one of these degree programs can lead to a career in a high-paying field*
  • Students completing one of these programs graduate from one of the broadest and most versatile engineering disciplines*
  • ABET-accredited programs are widely available; graduating from an accredited program may be a prerequisite for employment or make graduates stand out against competition*

Cons:

  • Mechanical engineering, as well as other engineering disciplines, is highly-competitive field, which may make it difficult to find employment after graduation**
  • Mechanical engineering programs involve an intense, demanding course of study**
  • Employment of mechanical engineers is expected to grow slower than the average for all occupations during the 2010-2020 decade*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salt Lake Community College

Common Coursework and Requirements

Students enrolled in mechanical engineering bachelor's degree programs complete classes in topics such as solids and fluids, thermodynamics, instrumentation, and system synthesis. Most curriculum also include group design projects or research projects. Some programs allow students to specialize in areas like marine engineering, electro-mechanical systems, energy conversion, fluid mechanics, heat and mass transfer, industrialized systems or materials processing.

Online Degree Options

Online mechanical engineering programs are available. The courses in these programs are the same as their on-campus counterparts. Note, however, that an online program may not include hands-on lab classes.

Stand Out with this Degree

To stand out with your degree, consider completing courses in the latest software tools related to engineering. A class in Advanced Visualization Process, for example, provides you with extensive knowledge about using computer programs in mechanical engineering practices. This type of knowledge can make you more attractive to employers.

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