Are you an analytical problem-solver with sharp critical thinking skills, a curiosity about what makes things work, and a passion for innovation? If the answer is yes, you might be interested in a career in engineering — a diverse, dynamic field that challenges teams and individuals to develop safer, faster, and better solutions to some of our world’s most urgent challenges.
There are numerous types of engineering, from civil and chemical engineers to industrial, electrical, and mechanical engineers. Additionally, each of these categories contains its own subfields, from transportation and aerospace to textiles and information technology.
If that sounds confusing, don’t worry: that’s why we created this handy guide, which will help you compare more than a dozen different types of engineering fields. We’ll cover key points you need to know, including salary expectations, educational requirements, and more. If you’ve ever thought about pursuing a career as an engineer — or, if you’re an experienced engineer who wants to advance their career even further — continue reading to learn more about some of the most popular options, along with a few of the engineering degree programs that are available at National University.
What is an Engineer?
For reasons you’ll see in just a few moments, it’s difficult to answer the question “What is an engineer?” without also asking another question: “What type of engineer do you mean?” For example, an electrical engineer will have different tasks, responsibilities, and qualifications than a civil engineer — comparisons that are described in detail below.
To make this seemingly simple question even more complex, there are numerous subcategories of engineering within each of these broader areas, creating additional nuances and layers of distinction within engineering specialties. For example, the category of “mechanical engineer” includes subcategories like “aerospace engineer,” “marine engineer,” and “automotive engineer” — all of whom have completely different duties and skills, despite all technically being classified as ‘mechanical engineers.”
So how many types of engineering are there, and what does each one do? We’ve highlighted 15 of the most popular examples below, including information about the job duties, typical salaries, and the educational requirements associated with each. Where data is available, we’ll also discuss how much certain engineering fields are expected to grow over the coming decade.
15 Different Types of Engineering Jobs
“Engineering” is such a broad term that it’s almost meaningless in today’s high-tech, highly specialized world without additional specification. For instance, the roles and duties of a structural engineer are completely different from those of a pharmaceutical engineer — both of which are completely different from environmental engineering, to provide just a few examples.
To help you make sense of the numerous career paths and which one best aligns with your interests, we’ve compiled a list comparing 15 different types of engineering jobs. We’ll look at the five main branches of engineering — civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and industrial engineering — then provide some examples of popular subfields and specialties within each of those branches. If you think a career in engineering might be right for you, this list is the perfect starting point.
Civil engineers work on infrastructure projects, such as the design and construction of airports, bridges, water, and sewage treatment plants, roads and streets, tunnels, and other critical systems that our society needs to operate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), civil engineers earned a median salary of approximately $88,050 as of 2021, with the top 10% earning “more than $133,320” annually. Additionally, the BLS expects this field to grow by 7% over the 10-year period from 2021 to 2031, which is slightly faster than the 5% national average for all occupations.
Most civil engineering jobs require, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree. However, it’s important to be aware that some employers or positions may require a master’s degree and/or additional qualifications, such as a California PE license — a topic we’ll discuss more later on in this guide. For now, let’s take a closer look at some branches or subfields of civil engineering, which include environmental engineering, structural engineering, and transportation engineering.
Structural engineers are responsible for analyzing and designing construction plans, evaluating and reviewing other engineers’ calculations, and overseeing progress at construction sites. According to the employment website Indeed.com, “The average salary for a Structural Engineer is approximately $90,000 per year in [the] United States,” though that figure may be higher or lower in your area. For additional professional development resources, we recommend exploring the Structural Engineers Association of California website or researching the equivalent association in your state.
As a transportation engineer, you’ll plan and design the construction of roads, subway systems, airports, and other transportation systems. Your roles might include calculating land needs, estimating costs, and ensuring these systems are adequately maintained.
According to Salary.com, “The average transportation engineer salary in the United States is $61,091 as of September 2022, but the range typically falls between $55,867 and $66,407.” And according to Zippia.com, the top five highest-paying states for transportation engineers are West Virginia (#5), Pennsylvania (#4), Vermont (#3), Oregon (#2), and California (#1), where the average salary is closer to $89,500.
The role of environmental engineers is to find solutions and increase efficiency around local, state, and even global environmental issues, including but not limited to air pollution, water pollution, recycling, sustainability, and climate change. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental engineers earn a median salary of over $96,800 annually and, like other types of civil engineers, are required to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. The highest-paid industry for environmental engineers was to work for federal government organizations (excluding the U.S. Postal Service), with a median salary of over $110,000.
Mechanical engineering is a subfield of engineering that deals with machinery, equipment, and mechanical sensors, such as combustion engines or steam turbines. As a mechanical engineer, you might be designing new mechanical prototypes, testing and redesigning heating systems, or investigating the causes of equipment failures and breakdowns during the course of your workday. It depends on what type of mechanical engineering career you pursue, as we’ll explore in just a few moments. Some fields that we’ll cover include aerospace engineering, automotive engineering, and marine engineering.
According to the BLS, “Mechanical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology.” Additionally, all U.S. states require mechanical engineers to be licensed.
The BLS reports that mechanical engineers earn a median salary of $95,300, based on the most recent data available. The top-earning 10%, however, “earned more than $136,210,” with the highest median salaries found in the scientific research and development services industry.
Aerospace engineers are responsible for tasks and duties like developing and testing various aerospace equipment and products; establishing design criteria and quality standards; ensuring that projects are completed safely and on time; evaluating project proposals; and complying with regulations, such as environmental protection regulations. Like other types of mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers need to possess a bachelor’s degree in a pertinent field, though some employers may require more advanced degrees, particularly for senior roles.
Data from the BLS indicates that aerospace engineers earn a median salary of more than $122,200 annually, with the top 10% earning over $168,300. The BLS also reports that the top-paying industry for aerospace engineers is “research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences,” with median annual earnings of over $128,000.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, marine engineers — who are also referred to as marine mechanical engineers or marine design engineers, depending on the employer — are responsible for “design[ing], build[ing], and maintain[ing] ships, from aircraft carriers to submarines and from sailboats to tankers.” The BLS reports that the median salary for marine engineers is over $93,300 annually, with most positions in this field requiring a bachelor’s degree at minimum.
If you’re fascinated by technology and passionate about cars, consider merging your interests by exploring a career in automotive engineering — a branch of mechanical engineering that deals with the design, development, testing, and manufacturing of vehicles. As an automotive engineer, you’ll be responsible for tasks and duties like creating designs and technical specifications for new vehicles; analyzing their safety and environmental impacts; determining and resolving the causes of mechanical failures; and estimating costs for various vehicle design concepts. According to Payscale.com, the average salary for an automotive engineer is approximately $79,900 annually.
Electrical engineering is a broad subdiscipline of engineering that deals with the full spectrum of electrical and electronic parts and components, from radar, navigation, and communication systems to the electrical systems inside cars and airplanes. Electrical engineering jobs generally require a bachelor’s degree or higher, though a master’s degree will enable you to move into more competitive and specialized roles.
Electrical and electronics engineers earned a median salary of more than $101,700, with the top 10% earning nearly $163,000 annually, according to BLS data. The highest paying industries for electrical engineers are “research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences” ($125,080); “semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing” ($107,190); and “navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing” ($102,110).
Information Technology (IT) Engineering
Some typical job duties for an information technology engineer or IT engineer include, but are not limited to, identifying and implementing improvements to an organization’s computer systems; configuring systems and testing their performance; diagnosing and resolving systems-related issues; developing new software; and, potentially, managing other IT staff members.
The BLS does not provide salary information specific to IT engineering but does report salary, job outlook, and educational requirement data for a wide range of IT-related professions, which you can begin exploring here. According to Salary.com, “The average IT Engineer salary in the United States is $95,879,” though the figure can range anywhere from around $85,800 to $110,200.
Network engineers design, develop, and maintain a wide variety of network infrastructures, ensuring efficiency, connectivity, and optimal performance. For example, on a day-to-day basis, you might be responsible for handling tasks like installing routers and VPNs, upgrading systems and scheduling updates, backing up data, and making sure that networks are secure. According to data posted on Indeed.com, the average salary for a network engineer is over $90,100, with some of the highest-paying cities including New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
If you’re interested in computing, consider channeling your interests into a professional role as a computer engineer. In this type of career, you’ll be handling tasks and responsibilities like designing and testing computer hardware, making design modifications based on detailed analyses, and ensuring that hardware and software work together smoothly for businesses and consumer products.
According to BLS data, computer hardware engineers earn a median salary of approximately $128,170 annually, with the top 10% earning salaries above $208,000. The BLS projects a 5% growth in employment in this field during the period from 2021 to 2031, which is the same pace as the national average for all occupations.
Chemical engineering is an interdisciplinary area of engineering that applies principles not only from chemistry as you might expect, but also from areas like biology, mathematics, and physics. Chemical engineers develop innovative solutions that help the fuel, food, and drug industries — among countless others — address some of their most critical challenges. For example, chemical engineers might have roles in conducting research, troubleshooting issues, designing equipment, or implementing safety protocols. A bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum degree required for positions within this field, along with relevant work experience and passing scores on professional exams like the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.
Chemical engineers earn a median salary of $105,550, according to BLS data, with the top 10% earning over $187,400. The BLS also reports that the field of chemical engineering is expected to grow at a rate of 14% during the coming decade — “much faster than [the] average” of 5% — painting an optimistic economic portrait of the industry’s future.
As a pharmaceutical engineer, you’ll work to enhance the safety of pharmaceutical drugs, applying your knowledge to issues that range from manufacturing equipment to the labeling of bottles. Like other chemical engineering professions, pharmaceutical engineering jobs generally require you to hold a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field — in this case, a major such as chemistry or biochemistry.
Based on data compiled by Zippia.com, the average salary for pharmaceutical engineering jobs is approximately $84,600 in the United States. However, this figure can vary depending on your geographic location: as Zippia.com also reports, the top five best-paid states for pharmaceutical engineers are New Mexico (#5), California (#4), Michigan (#3), Massachusetts (#2), and in first place, Washington, where the average salary is over $121,000.
As a textile engineer, you’ll apply your research skills and knowledge of engineering to advance the performance and development of various textiles and materials, such as fabrics that need to be breathable, waterproof, elastic, or heat-resistant. For example, you might be responsible for testing and analyzing the qualities of natural versus synthetic fibers, discussing raw materials with suppliers, or implementing quality control procedures. According to Salary.com, the average salary for a textile engineer is approximately $83,200, “but the salary range typically falls between $75,827 and $91,586” (as of September 2022).
Biochemical engineering deals with researching and developing new, more efficient, more sustainable ways of converting biological materials (such as molecules or cells) into essential products we need to drive our society, from textiles and paper products to food and petroleum.
The BLS does not report on biochemical engineering but does provide data for the closely related fields of bioengineering and biomedical engineering. Not only do professionals in these fields earn a median salary of over $97,000 — the industry is also growing at a “faster than average” pace, with the BLS projecting a 10% change in employment during the period from 2021 to 2031.
Industrial engineers are responsible for developing and implementing strategies that increase the efficiency of processing plants, manufacturing plants, and other complex systems, finding ways to, as the BLS says, “integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy.” In plain English, that translates to day-to-day tasks like implementing improved quality control protocols; meeting with vendors and clients to discuss key issues like technical specifications; and ultimately, determining how the speed and cost-efficiency of manufacturing processes could be enhanced.
To become any kind of industrial engineer, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. You’ll also generally need four or more years of relevant work experience, and passing scores on professional exams like the FE exam noted earlier.
Like mechanical engineers, industrial engineers earn a median salary of approximately $95,300, according to BLS figures. However, this field has a more robust career outlook — 10% projected growth in employment from 2021 to 2031— when compared with both mechanical engineering (2% projected growth) and the national average for all occupations (5% projected growth).
Three popular subfields of industrial engineering include systems engineering, supply chain engineering, and manufacturing engineering. Read on to learn more about each of these industries.
Systems engineers earn an average salary of $81,796, according to Payscale. Systems engineers design, test, and install various operating systems and software to enhance the efficiency of organizations. To be an effective systems engineer, you’ll need to have strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills, excellent written and verbal communication skills, and exceptional analytical and organizational skills — along with a bachelor’s degree and, for certain senior positions, potentially a master’s degree.
Supply Chain Engineering
The COVID-19 pandemic brought home to many the importance of an uninterrupted supply chain. Supply chain engineers work to develop and implement supply chain strategies, working with departments like sales and customer service to identify bottlenecks or other challenges — and execute swift solutions. According to data compiled by Glassdoor, supply chain engineers earn an average salary of more than $81,000 annually.
According to Payscale, “The average salary for a manufacturing engineer is $72,694” in the United States. The role of a manufacturing engineer is to design and operate more efficient and competitive systems, such as robots, computer networks, and specialized machinery designed to handle or move heavy equipment.
How To Become an Engineer
Think you’re interested in becoming one of the types of engineers discussed above, or exploring a related career path? Then it’s important to seriously consider the academic and professional steps you’ll need to take — along with some of the skills you’ll need to possess — in order to succeed in your chosen field.
For example, you should think about the minimum degree requirements you’ll likely need to meet depending on the career type you choose, which, as you saw in the last section, can vary significantly across specialties. You should also look into the requirements for becoming licensed or certified in your discipline in your state.
For example, in order to become licensed as an engineer in the state of California, simply holding a relevant degree isn’t enough — you’ll also need to apply for a California Professional Engineer (PE) license, which covers civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering professions, among others. For detailed information, review California’s Professional Engineer Application, or contact the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists (BPELSG). The licensing board and requirements vary from state to state, making it crucial to think about where you intend to work — not just in what sector or industry.
Here are three additional factors to consider if you’re planning on a career in engineering, including some traits you should work to cultivate; a recap of the various careers you can pursue; and what sort of degree program most closely aligns with your goals.
Qualities that Successful Engineers Possess
Whether you intend to pursue a career in mechanical, civil, industrial, chemical, or electrical engineering, you’ll need to possess certain traits and qualities that will empower you to thrive and flourish. To maximize your professional success in any engineering field, here are a few of the characteristics or skills you should focus on cultivating:
- Ability to work on teams and implement feedback
- Attention to detail
- Creative thinking and a passion for innovation
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Exceptional interpersonal skills
- Robust science and math skills
- Strong written and verbal communication skills, especially for successfully conveying highly technical information
- Technological competence
The Different Types of Engineering Jobs
As we’ve discussed throughout this article, there are numerous specialties and subfields to explore within the broader industry of engineering. From industrial engineering roles in systems and supply chain management, to civil engineering careers, to chemical engineering positions as a biochemical or pharmaceutical engineer, there are dozens of diverse paths that students can explore with their bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited program. Many of these fields are in high demand, with particularly rapid growth expected to occur in subfields like chemical and industrial engineering.
Choosing an Engineering Discipline of Study
Your choice of engineering career will impact your choice of engineering degree program. For example, if your goal is to become any type of electrical engineer, you should enroll in an electrical engineering program to ensure that you learn the specialized knowledge and skills you’ll need for your subdiscipline.
It’s also important to be aware that some academic programs combine elements of related engineering studies, such as the BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at National University, which prepares students for marketing, manufacturing, and design careers in AI, robotics, and related fields. Finally, you should also take care to select an accredited program, an important subject that you can learn more about here.
Engineering Degrees Offered by National University
National University offers a variety of accredited degree programs in engineering, including bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Whether you’re an undergraduate student interested in on-campus courses, a graduate student looking for an online program, or a transfer student looking to enroll at National University this year, you’ll find a program to fit your academic needs — along with financial aid and scholarship options, the option to complete accelerated coursework, and a robust network of resources and benefits for military veterans and service members.
Continue reading to learn more about a few of our most popular engineering programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Design Engineering, the Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and, for graduate students, the Master of Science in Engineering Management.
Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Design Engineering
The BS in Manufacturing Design Engineering at National University is an accredited undergraduate degree program that provides students with hands-on experience using computer-aided tools and techniques like simulation modeling to develop and design innovative new products. Students who graduate with the BS in Manufacturing Design Engineering at NU will emerge prepared for a wide range of engineering careers — or, ready to pursue further education in programs like our Master of Science in Engineering Management.
Students who enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Design Engineering are required to complete a total of 180 quarter-units, 69 of which must satisfy National University’s General Education requirements. Required coursework includes, but is not limited to, subjects such as Scientific Problem Solving; Legal Aspects of Engineering; Human Factors in Engineering; Product Design Optimization; and multiple courses in Computer Aided Engineering. To graduate from the program, students must complete a two-part Senior Capstone Project, which involves working on teams to develop and present a prototype product.
Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (BSECE)
The Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering, or BSECE, is another undergraduate program option at National University. Students have the flexibility to complete our ABET-accredited BSECE program and earn their engineering degrees 100% online, empowering busy working professionals and adult learners to attend lectures and complete labwork on their own hours, at their own pace. Students will graduate from the BSECE program prepared to pursue careers as systems engineers, network engineers, project managers, salesforce developers, electrical engineers, and more — or, pursue their academic studies further by exploring one of our online or on-site graduate degree programs.
Students must complete a minimum total of 180 quarter-units to graduate from the BSECE program at National University. Required coursework includes topics such as Discrete Structures and Logic; Circuit Analysis; Digital Logic Design; Linear Systems and Signals; Microelectronics; and Computer Architecture. Students are also required to complete coursework in calculus, physics, statistics, trigonometry, and programming languages like C++ as prerequisites to the major. The degree program culminates in a three-part Capstone Design Project, which you can read more about on the program page.
Bachelor of Science in Construction Management
While the BS in Construction Management is an offshoot of Civil Engineering, it provides students with a more holistic approach to the construction industry. Students will be able to pursue careers as construction executives, project managers, field engineers, planning and scheduling engineer, cost engineer, and cost estimator, as well as other positions in the field.
Students will learn how to apply modern methods and metrics for surveying, use appropriate technology to solve engineering problems and develop a thorough understanding of the construction industry.
Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM)
The Master of Science in Engineering Management, or MSEM, is a graduate degree program for students who wish to hone their engineering management skills and prepare for roles directing complex organizations. Students who enroll in the MSEM program are required to specialize in either Project Management or Systems Engineering.
The MSEM at National University is an accredited interdisciplinary program that integrates principles of economics, business, mathematics, engineering, and other areas, featuring required coursework that includes topics such as Engineering Management Concepts; Risk, Contracts, and Legal Issues; Skills Management; Quality Management; and Global Economic and Technological Trends. The program requires students to complete 58.5 quarter-units and culminates in a three-part capstone project, which you can read more about by visiting the program page.
Explore Online and On-Campus Degree Programs in Engineering at National University
National University offers an array of accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in engineering, providing on-site and 100% online options for graduate and undergraduate students. Students at NU can pursue programs in computer and electrical engineering, engineering management, manufacturing design engineering, and more.
Take the first steps toward a more challenging, more fulfilling career. Apply to National University online, or contact our admissions office to request more information about our accredited engineering programs.