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50+ Types of Engineering Degrees: Which Is Right for You?

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Apr 22, 2020 10:00:00 AM

General Education

 

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Engineering is one of the most popular and lucrative STEM fields out there. You likely know several people who are majoring in or planning to major in a specific engineering field. But what types of engineering can you choose from? And how do they differ from one another?

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the types of degrees in engineering available, as well as what types of engineering jobs you could get with that degree. We'll also go over salary info, job growth rates, and how you can find the ideal engineering major for you.

 

What Are the Different Types of Engineering?

Engineering is the application of scientific and mathematical principles to help find solutions to technical problems. This is done mainly by building and designing machinery, vehicles, engines, transportation systems, and various kinds of structures.

As you can see, engineering is an extremely broad term that can be applied to many different scientific and technological fields, such as architecture, medicine, and environmentalism.

While there are technically dozens, if not hundreds, of different types of engineering, this hugely popular field is most often divided into five main branches, each of which acts as an umbrella for multiple specializations.

According to The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, these branches are as follows:

  • Chemical engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Industrial engineering
  • Mechanical engineering

These are generally considered the "traditional" engineering categories from which many more specialized fields ultimately grew.

But these branches don't encompass all types of engineering, of course. In addition to these five main types, there are tons of engineering subfields as well as interdisciplinary engineering fields, which combine characteristics from some or all of the five branches.

 

What Types of Engineering Jobs Are There?

Most people who study engineering in college go on to become engineers. As an engineer, you can make quite a lot of money depending on your field of expertise.

In fact, engineering fields make up the bulk of our list of the best college majors as a result of their high salary potential and solid job growth rates (interestingly, many are also considered some of the hardest majors). This isn't surprising when we consider the fact that STEM as a whole has grown increasingly important in our modernized, technologically driven world.

The chart below contains more than a dozen types of engineering jobs, their median salaries, and their projected employment growth rates through the year 2028. Note that the current average job growth rate is 5%.

Jobs are listed in order of highest median salary to lowest. All data comes from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job

Median Salary (2018)

Job Growth Rate (2018-2028)

Petroleum engineers

$137,170

3%

Aerospace engineers

$115,220

2%

Computer hardware engineers

$114,600

6%

Nuclear engineers

$107,600

-1%

Chemical engineers

$104,910

6%

Sales engineers

$101,420

6%

Electrical and electronics engineers

$99,070

2%

Marine engineers

$92,560

9%

Materials engineers

$92,390

0%

Mining and geological engineers

$92,250

3%

Health and safety engineers

$89,130

5%

Biomedical engineers

$88,550

4%

Environmental engineers

$87,620

5%

Mechanical engineers

$87,370

4%

Industrial engineers

$87,040

8%

Civil engineers

$86,640

6%

Agricultural engineers

$77,110

5%

 

As you can see from this chart, engineers can bring in some pretty good money. And what's really great is that you only need to have a bachelor's degree to be able to qualify for these jobs!

But you'll also notice that these different types of engineering can vary a lot in income and projected growth. For example, whereas marine engineers will benefit from faster-than-average growth over the next decade, there's less demand for nuclear engineers, a field which is currently experiencing a negative growth rate.

Clearly, engineering isn't a single consistent field: it's filled with many different branches and subdisciplines, all of which have their own pros and cons in terms of annual salary and projected employment growth.

Overall, though, engineering is a great field to major in, especially if you're hoping to make a good income down the line. Next, we'll look at the many types of degrees in engineering you can get at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

 

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50+ Types of Degrees in Engineering You Can Get

There are tons of different types of degrees in engineering you can earn in college and graduate school. This list contains more than 50 examples of engineering majors, organized by the five engineering branches (which are also majors in and of themselves).

Not all schools offer all these exact majors and specializations, so be sure to check each college you're interested in to see what types of degrees in engineering it offers. As a general rule, tech schools, such as Caltech, MIT, and Georgia Tech, will typically offer a much wider array of engineering majors and degrees.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it should hopefully give you an idea of the different types of engineering you could study in college and what kinds of specializations you can select. You might also consider checking out our picks for the best engineering schools.

 

Chemical Engineering

This type of engineering uses the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to design and manufacture products through chemical processes.

  • Biochemical engineering
  • Biomedical engineering/bioengineering
  • Biomolecular engineering
  • Genetic engineering
  • Materials science and engineering
  • Metallurgical engineering
  • Nanoengineering
  • Paper science and engineering
  • Plastics engineering
  • Textile engineering

 

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is a professional discipline that entails the design, construction, and maintenance of the natural world and man-made structures, such as bridges, dams, and sewage systems.

  • Architectural engineering
  • Construction management
  • Ecological engineering
  • Environmental engineering
  • Geotechnical engineering
  • Mining engineering
  • Structural engineering
  • Transport/transportation engineering
  • Water (resources) engineering

 

Electrical Engineering

As its name suggests, this type of engineering focuses on technology, specifically the design and production of electronic devices.

  • Computer engineering
  • Electrical power engineering
  • Electronic(s) engineering
  • Network engineering
  • Optical engineering/optical sciences and engineering
  • Power systems engineering
  • Software engineering
  • Telecommunications engineering

 

Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineering is all about efficiency and optimization in areas such as business, finance, production, and management.

  • Financial engineering
  • Fire (protection) and safety engineering
  • Management science/engineering
  • Manufacturing/production engineering
  • Operations research
  • Safety engineering
  • Supply chain management/engineering
  • Systems engineering/science

 

Mechanical Engineering

This original branch of engineering involves designing, manufacturing, operating, and testing machines and other devices.

  • Acoustical/sound engineering
  • Aeronautical engineering
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Astronautical engineering
  • Automotive engineering
  • Energy engineering
  • Marine engineering/naval architecture
  • Ocean engineering
  • Renewable energy engineering
  • Robotics engineering
  • Thermal engineering/science

 

Other Types of Engineering

Below are some types of engineering that don't exactly fit into any of the five major categories above.

  • Agricultural engineering
  • Applied engineering
  • Food engineering
  • Nuclear engineering
  • Petroleum engineering

 

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Which Type of Engineering Is Right for You? 4 Factors

As you saw above, there are tons of different types of engineering fields you could enter. But which is ultimately the best choice for you? Here are four factors to keep in mind as you consider what type of engineering you want to major in and use in your career.

 

#1: What Are Your Interests?

First, you should think about what your biggest academic and personal interests are.

For example, have you always been fascinated by how things are built? Maybe you often played with LEGO bricks as a child and can easily envision yourself helping construct and design public buildings and roads. In that case, civil engineering would be an excellent fit for you.

Or perhaps you're interested in computers and coding, in which case a career as a software or computer engineer would be a great choice.

Take some time to really ask yourself which of your interests you're most passionate about. It might even help to write down a list of your favorite hobbies and the most interesting classes you've taken in school. Afterward, compare those interests to the five major types of engineering and try to see how they align.

 

#2: What Are Your Strengths?

In addition to your interests, take some time to consider your biggest strengths. For instance, was chemistry a total breeze for you? Then chemical engineering might be a smart choice for a college major.

Or maybe you're a natural-born leader who's always managing projects and looking for ways to increase productivity. In that case, you might think about studying industrial engineering.

To figure out your strengths, look at your grades in different classes you've taken and make a list of what you believe to be your best skills. Then, try to match these to the five different types of engineering listed above.

 

#3: What Kind of Income Do You Want to Make?

Though there's no way to know for sure what your salary will be after you graduate from college, some types of engineering generally make more money than others. I suggest looking back at the chart in the second section of this article to remind yourself which engineering fields have higher and lower median incomes.

For your convenience, here again are the top five engineering fields based on median income:

  1. Petroleum engineering
  2. Aerospace engineering
  3. Computer engineering
  4. Nuclear engineering
  5. Chemical engineering

But what about starting salarywhat can you expect to make right out of college?

The following chart shows the best engineering majors for those who want to make a lot of money as soon as they graduate from college. "Starting salary" refers to the amount of money you can expect to make per year with 0-5 years of work experience. All data is from PayScale.

Engineering Major

Median Starting Salary (2019)

Petroleum engineering

$94,500

Electrical engineering and computer science

$88,000

Metallurgical engineering

$78,100

Nuclear engineering technology

$76,900

Welding engineering

$76,300

Chemical engineering/materials science

$76,100

Mining engineering

$74,900

Chemical and biomolecular engineering

$74,200

Computer systems engineering

$74,100

Aeronautics and astronautics

$73,100

 

As you can see, many engineering majors can lead you to an excellent starting salary right out of college, with petroleum engineering being the most impressive. (Note that this particular major's income is influenced significantly by the fluctuating price of oil, so it's not always this high!)

However, it's important to understand that these are just the starting salaries and don't necessarily tell you how much you can expect to earn over the course of a long-term career.

If you're thinking more short-term, this a good list to reference. But if you're more interested in long-term earning potential, it'll do you better to focus on the very first chart in this article.

 

#4: How Employable Will You Be?

The final factor to consider when choosing among the various types of degrees in engineering is how employable that field will be when you graduate. While all engineering majors can make you a decent amount of money, not all are as easily accessible in terms of finding jobs.

If you look back at the first chart in this article, you'll find that some engineering jobs have highly promising projected growth over the next decadewhile others don't.

The chart below lists the top five and bottom five engineering fields in terms of their growth rate. As a reminder, the current average employment growth rate is 5%.

Engineering Job

Job Growth Rate (2018-2028)

Top 5 Engineering Jobs

Marine engineers

9%

Industrial engineers

8%

Chemical engineers

6%

Civil engineers

6%

Computer hardware engineers

6%

Bottom 5 Engineering Jobs

Mining and geological engineers

3%

Aerospace engineers

2%

Electrical and electronics engineers

2%

Materials engineers

0%

Nuclear engineers

-1%

 

As the table shows, nuclear engineers and materials engineersdespite both having high salariesare currently experiencing very low employment growth. This means that should you major in one of these two types of engineering, you may find it difficult to land a job in your chosen field after graduation because there simply won't be that many positions available.

The point here is that you can't just look at engineering jobs based on income level—you have to really think about how easy it'll be for you to find a job eventually, too.

 

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Conclusion: Choosing Among the Many Types of Engineering

Engineering is a very broad term used to define any fields that entail using the principles of math and science to find solutions to everyday technical problems, whether that's maintaining a public building, designing a spaceship, or optimizing a computer.

There are five main branches of engineering:

  • Chemical engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Industrial engineering
  • Mechanical engineering

Within each of these branches are dozens of specializations you can study. As a whole, engineers make good money, and many engineering jobs are in fairly high demand.

When it comes to deciding which engineering field is right for you, be sure to look at the following four factors:

  • Your interests
  • Your strengths
  • Your desired income (both right after college and down the line)
  • Your employability and ease of finding a job in your chosen field

Overall, engineering is a great field to get into, with lots of unique options to choose from. Just be sure to take lots of time to figure out which type of engineering will work best for you!

 

What's Next?

Not sure where you should go to study engineering? Then take a look at our picks for the best engineering schools in the country. You can also get tips on engineering scholarships if you're not sure you can afford a college education.

Engineering is just one type of STEM degree you can get. Get advice on whether a STEM degree is ultimately the right choice for you.

Considering a career in engineering or another STEM field? Then check out this gigantic list of STEM careers to get some ideas on what you could pursue professionally.

 


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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.



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