Advertiser disclosure

Engineering Major Overview

Whether you’re driving to work, taking your daily medicine, or playing a game on your phone, there’s an engineer out there who made that possible. Nearly every aspect of our society is touched by engineering, which makes this discipline an excellent field of study. Engineers use math and science to find solutions to important issues and figure out new ways of doing things. They’re innovators, creators, and most importantly problem solvers. If this sounds exciting, read on to learn more about becoming an engineering major. 

Related: What is a STEM degree, and why you should study one

What is an engineering major?

Engineering involves the design and creation of engines, machines, and structures. If that sounds like a vague definition, it’s because the field is extraordinarily broad in scope and applies to many different industries. In fact, there’s hundreds of engineering subfields dealing with everything from highways to microchips. Most engineering majors concentrate in a specific area. While there’s countless specializations, engineering is often divided into five main branches:

1. Civil engineering

In this subfield, you’ll design infrastructure such as dams, bridges, tunnels, roads, airports, subway systems, and water supply systems. Students in this field explore concepts such as construction materials, surveying, and structural analysis. Popular specializations within civil engineering include architectural, environmental, and hydraulic engineering. 

2. Chemical engineering 

This subfield involves the use of chemistry and biology to create products such as drugs, food, and fuel. Students in this field take courses ranging from biology and chemistry to math and physics. Common subfields include cellular, biomedical, and materials engineering. 

3. Mechanical engineering

This subfield involves the design and production of mechanical systems. This discipline is very broad, meaning that mechanical engineers design everything from vehicles and airplanes to household appliances like refrigerators and ovens. Students in this field study topics like thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, and stress analysis. Common specializations include aerospace, automotive, and robotics engineering.

4. Electrical and electronic engineering

This subfield focuses on the creation of devices that either use or produce electricity. Electrical engineers mainly focus on large-scale projects like power station generators and satellites. Meanwhile, electronic engineers design small objects like microchips, lights, and computers. Professionals in this field may specialize in areas such as data, power, or web engineering.

5. Industrial engineering 

This discipline lies at the intersection of engineering and business. Industrial engineers work to reduce wastefulness in production processes. For instance, they help businesses by determining how many workers are needed for a project, how long the project will take, and what kind of budget is required. Popular subfields include financial, manufacturing, and supply chain engineering. 

Related: How to pick a major

Coursework to expect

As you probably guessed, coursework varies between the different subfields of engineering. However, you can count on most concentrations requiring a variety of math, science, and lab courses. Starting out, students generally take introductory classes that provide a broad overview of the field. These classes are valuable in helping students figure out their niche within the field. As they advance, students complete courses specific to their concentration. Upperclassmen sometimes work on capstone projects that demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have gained throughout their studies. 

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as an engineering major: 

  • Calculus 
  • Linear Algebra and Statistics 
  • Physics 
  • Integrated Circuit Design 
  • Engineering of Systems
  • Biochemistry
  • Materials Science
  • Engineering Economics and Sustainability
  • Structural Analysis 
  • Mechanics of Materials 

Also see: Top college majors for the future

Opportunities after graduation 

Engineering majors can expect to enter a healthy job market after graduation. Engineering is one of the most in-demand college majors, and it’s not hard to see why. Engineers are needed in almost every sector of society, from pharmaceutical production to vehicle design. As technology continues to progress, the work of engineers will become increasingly important. If you’re pursuing a career in this field, you can count on performing valuable work that has a chance to better our society. Not to mention, engineers are some of the most highly paid professionals. In 2016, engineers had a median annual wage of $91,010, which is more than twice the median wage for all workers. In the next section, we’ll highlight some specific professions. 

Jobs you can get with an engineering degree

Engineering majors enjoy a truly wide variety of employment opportunities spanning various industries. Of course, career paths vary depending on the specific subfield that you study in college. Below are just a few engineering professions, along with median annual salaries according to the 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related: Top engineering summer programs for high school students

1. Agricultural engineer

These engineers work to make farming safe, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. They analyze agricultural problems and figure out new ways to improve land use, increase crop yields, and conserve resources. 

2020 Median Pay: $84,410 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (Slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Aerospace engineer

Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. They often specialize in specific products ranging from helicopters and commercial airplanes to missiles and rockets. They’re employed by manufacturing firms, engineering services, and the federal government. 

2020 Median Pay: $118,610 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 8% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Biomedical engineer

Biomedical engineers analyze and solve problems related to healthcare. For instance, they may design artificial body parts, test new drug therapies, or design software to run medical equipment. Their work draws on aspects of electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering. 

2020 Median Pay: $92,620 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 6% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Environmental engineer

This line of work involves developing solutions to environmental problems. Environmental engineers seek to improve recycling, waste disposal, and pollution control. They may also work to address issues such as unsafe drinking water, climate change, and environmental sustainability. 

2020 Median Pay: $92,120 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4% (Slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. Computer hardware engineer

These engineers design computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. They often work closely with software developers to ensure that hardware components function correctly with the latest software. 

2020 Median Pay: $119,560 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 2% (Slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related: What are the fastest growing careers?

How do I know if this major is right for me? 

If you’re considering a major in engineering, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you enjoy math, science, and technology? 
  • Are you passionate about designing and creating? 
  • Do you ever wonder how aspects of everyday life could be improved?  
  • Are you a natural problem solver? 

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then an engineering major could be right for you!

Also see: STEM major overview