Do you have a knack for math and science? Enjoy solving complex problems? Have a drive to create new things or improve existing ones? If this sounds like you and you’ve been contemplating a career change, engineering may be the right path for you.
Engineering, as a vocation, focuses on using math, science, technology, and modeling to plan or create new constructs. These constructs can be either physical, mechanical, computer-based, or even social. Engineering is a larger term that can touch a broad range of disciplines, including tech-based computer engineering and electrical engineering, to those that impact people and communities like environmental engineers or civil engineers.
Today, there is a major demand for engineers of all kinds. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates a need for nearly 140,000 new engineering jobs by 2026. With that in mind, making the leap to becoming an engineer can lead to a rewarding and well-paying career for the curious-minded.
If you’re planning to make a career change to become an engineer, there are a few steps you can take to earn your degree, learn and refine the skills needed to succeed, and understand the wide variety of specializations to consider within the field.
Does an Engineer Need a Degree?
If you’re thinking of changing careers and becoming an engineer, you will most likely need to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in engineering. However, not all types of engineers require a formal engineering degree to enter into the field.
You may have attended a trade or vocational school to become a licensed electrician and decide you want to make the leap to becoming an engineer. People with this type of experience may have fewer barriers to becoming an electrical engineer or software engineer without a college degree. Practical experience and experimentation on your own or in a formal work setting can help develop the skills needed to break into these disciplines.
However, having at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering can make it a lot easier to become an electrical or software engineer since many of these engineering jobs now require prospects to have completed a program through a college or university approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), as well as obtain formal licensing.
On the flipside, construction engineering, manufacturing design, chemical engineering, and civil engineering are some of the disciplines where it’s all-but mandatory to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering in order to get hired.
What Does It Take to Be an Engineer?
While an engineering degree can prepare you for a career with scientific and mathematical principles and using modeling, there are some things you can’t teach. A passion for applying these principles, critical-thinking skills, and a drive to innovate and improve the lives of others are some of the intangible qualities that can make an engineer successful.
Additionally, all engineers who work with the public — such as mechanical or industrial engineers — must be licensed. Although laws for licensing differ from state to state, some of the most common steps to getting a professional engineering license include earning a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited college or university approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and completing a minimum of four years of experience in their respective engineering field.
In many cases, the first step of formal training to becoming an engineer is going back to school for engineering and earning a bachelor’s degree.
What Degree Do You Need to Become an Engineer?
The degree you’ll need to become an engineer depends on the area of specialization you want to pursue. Many engineers only require a bachelor’s degree in order to kick start their career, as well as completing the requisite licensing and certifications within their particular state. However, some engineers may consider going back to school for a master’s degree to further advance their careers.
While all engineering programs are initially grounded in advanced maths (like calculus or trigonometry) and sciences, the further along you go in your academic career, you’ll take courses that more specifically correspond to the area of engineering you’re studying.
While engineering itself is a broad career path, it’s home to a diverse array of specializations. Some career and degree designations for engineers include:
- Computer Engineering focuses on the design and development of digital hardware systems, as well as the software that works with that hardware. For instance, smartphones, alarm systems, x-ray machines, and surgical tools. Students working toward their computer engineering degree balance math, science, and electrical engineering principles to design hardware and software that helps make life easier for people across all walks of life.
- Electrical Engineering is one of the broadest categories of engineering and grounds users in the study, design, and use of electrical systems. An electrical engineering degree can give future engineers a firm foundation that applies to a host of other engineering disciplines, including computer engineering.
- Construction Engineering Technology, as a degree and field, focuses on both design and safety principles within the construction industry. It educates future construction engineers on creating mechanical and electrical systems that work together in construction projects. It also trains them on aspects of the job such as drafting and design. This degree can prepare students for a wide range of jobs, including field engineer, project manager, or quality and safety controller.
- Manufacturing Design Engineering focuses on using computer-based tools and modeling to create various products. Not only do students learn what’s involved in the creation of different products, but they also build an awareness of production and design best-practices, as well as ergonomics and safety principles.
Becoming an Engineer After Leaving the Military
It’s never too late to change careers. While some individuals may have had prior trade experience as an electrician, former members of the military may consider exploring a career in engineering as they move back into civilian life. You may have served in the military and picked up practical field expertise in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as a Navy submarine mechanic or Air Force turbine mechanic. Your years of practical expertise can make for a more seamless transition to the engineering field.
It may take a few years to earn your degree and get the required certification, but there are a number of programs available to veterans who want to pursue a career in STEM, including the GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and tuition assistance for current and former members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, to name a few. As a Yellow Ribbon-approved institution of higher learning, National University offers a variety of scholarships and tuition assistance to active-duty members of the military, as well as veterans and their dependents.
Earn Your Engineering Degree and Change Careers
If you’re planning to switch careers, engineering can be a rewarding path for people who love math, science, and problem solving. National University’s College of Professional Studies Engineering & Computing program offers a quality education with flexible options for those planning to go back to school to prepare for a career switch. National University’s curriculum allows working professionals to enroll in four-week courses, offering a convenient, flexible schedule. Students can continue to earn a paycheck while pursuing a degree that will help them switch careers.
Students can complete their engineering degree completely online or in a more traditional learning environment on our California campus. Get to know more about National University’s Engineering & Computing degree programs and areas of specialization and take an insider’s glimpse into our program on our engineering and computing resources pages.