How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

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If you consider yourself someone who is naturally inquisitive, has a passion for problem-solving, and enjoys studying the parts of things as much as the whole, mechanical engineering just may be the profession built for you.

Approximately 278,200 people were employed in this unique profession as of May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The agency projects the addition of 20,900 new mechanical engineering jobs between 2020 and 2030, creating opportunities for individuals interested in this field.

You may still wonder, though, what you actually need to do to begin a career in this branch of engineering. By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of how to become a mechanical engineer, including the importance of pursuing an advanced engineering degree like that offered by the University of California, Riverside.

What Does a Mechanical Engineer Do?

Mechanical engineering is a broad field. Mechanical engineers design and oversee the manufacture of a variety of products — from medical devices to vehicle batteries. They’re involved in multiple phases of production, including research, design, building, and testing. They also determine how mechanical and thermal devices can resolve issues with products.

Their work is behind the design of machines that produce power, including generators and turbines, as well as those that use power, including refrigeration and cooling systems. Many devices inside buildings, from elevators to conveyor systems, owe their design to mechanical engineers.

The following responsibilities comprise the key elements of what a mechanical engineer does:

  • Evaluating how mechanical and thermal equipment can resolve a problem
  • Using computers to design or modify devices
  • Creating and testing prototypes of designs
  • Testing equipment and revising as needed
  • Diagnosing problems with equipment and recommending solutions
  • Managing a device’s manufacture

Mechanical engineers generally work in offices, although they may visit work sites to check particular pieces of equipment. Roughly 20% of mechanical engineers work for firms that focus on architecture, engineering, or related services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Other top employers include machinery manufacturers (14%) and transportation equipment manufacturers (12%).

Becoming a Mechanical Engineer

The typical requirements for becoming a mechanical engineer focus on education, skills and interests, licensing, and experience. Following are some key steps to prepare for a role as a mechanical engineer.

How Do You Become a Mechanical Engineer?

Professionals aspiring to become mechanical engineers should first consider the educational requirements in terms of degree programs and course options.

There’s no question that academics are critical to any branch of engineering, and many of those who are in this line of work begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Additionally, earning a master’s degree in engineering can set you apart from other job seekers and help you advance to more senior positions.

Perhaps just as important as academic prerequisites, however, are your skills and interests. For example, if building things is a pastime of yours — whether it’s model cars or jigsaw puzzles — pursuing mechanical engineering makes a lot of sense. Because so many of their daily activities and responsibilities require taking things apart and putting them back together, a love for building will serve you well, making your career more enjoyable and your tasks feel less like work.

Other interests that many current or aspiring mechanical engineers have in common are robotics, technology, and mathematics, as well as research and development.

What Courses Should You Take?

Generally speaking, virtually all engineers have bachelor’s degrees. Universities offer many different academic programs that enable graduates to develop the hard and soft skills that are necessary to thrive in engineering. Common core classes include:

  • Mathematics
  • Physical science
  • Engineering and design
  • Fundamentals of engineering

Those researching how to become a mechanical engineer may discover that an undergraduate degree can suffice. However, you may want to consider continuing your educational pursuits by taking part in a graduate program.

A master’s degree in engineering with a concentration in mechanical engineering can provide you with a deeper level of expertise. It also may help you hone certain mechanical engineering skills that can broaden your professional horizons through the learning of specialized techniques. These skills may include:

  • Life cycle analysis
  • Six Sigma quality control
  • Mathcad software
  • Statistical analysis
  • Code analysis
  • Project management

Some of the online courses you can take with a specialization in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Riverside include:

  • Engineering in the Global Environment
  • Technology Innovation and Strategy for Engineers
  • Introduction to Systems Engineering
  • Principles of Engineering Management

These courses are multidisciplinary, combining several aspects of engineering to give you a broader understanding of the industry as a whole. Through online courses, you’ll also discover some of the different types of mechanical engineering, such as gaseous plasmas, thermofluid systems, control systems, and sustainable design.

Do You Need Any Special License to Work as a Full-Time Mechanical Engineer?

Those who are just starting out in an entry-level mechanical engineering job usually don’t need any type of registration or certification.

If you’re looking to start your own business and sell your services to the general public, however, licensure is required in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, according to the BLS. Otherwise known as PEs, professional engineers are described as such because they’ve satisfied and demonstrated certain learning outcomes that corroborate their expertise.

The PE designation provides greater career flexibility. For example, PEs may take on oversight-related responsibilities, with entry-level engineers reporting to them after completing a project. As previously referenced, they can also sell their services directly to the public rather than through an employer.

Licensure is another reason why it makes sense to pursue an engineering graduate degree. The course material helps prepare students for the engineering PE exam, which is offered by a number of professional organizations. Depending on the state in which you reside, you may need to renew your license on an annual basis.

What Experience Do You Need to Become a Mechanical Engineer?

No matter what occupation interests you, some experience is always better than none at all. Everyone has to start somewhere, however, and that’s part of the reason why entry-level jobs are fairly common in engineering.

Internships or co-op programs also enable aspiring mechanical engineers to put their book learning into practice in real-world settings. This makes the transition from online or in-person classes more seamless and provides a greater understanding as to why certain principles are included in an engineering education.

Volunteer programs can also round out your resume and may cause employers to take a second look at your application, particularly if your prior work experience makes you uniquely cut out for a newly created job or opening.

With additional experience and education, mechanical engineers can advance to administrative roles.

What Is the Salary of a Mechanical Engineer?

In addition to opening up new career opportunities, experience can influence salary. Generally speaking, the more experience you have, the higher the reward. Yet even those new to the profession can do well straight out of college.

The median annual wage for mechanical engineers was $95,300 in May 2021, according to the BLS. That’s considerably more than the median wage for all occupations, which was $45,760.

Some mechanical engineers can make a six-figure salary, as the highest 10% of earners in mechanical engineering roles made more than $136,210 in May 2021, according to the BLS. A variety of factors, such as location and education, can influence compensation.

Build Your Engineering Skills — And Your Career

If mechanical engineering sounds like a career path worth walking down, the University of California, Riverside’s online Master of Science in Engineering, with a concentration in mechanical engineering, can get you toward the finish line more quickly, enabling you to graduate in as little as 13 months. You can gain the skills you need to advance in mechanical engineering, with the convenience of online learning and flexible admissions and start dates.

Discover how our Master of Science in Engineering can help you reach your engineering career goals.

Recommended Readings

Best Mechanical Engineering Companies to Work For

How Will the Internet of Things Change Mechanical Engineering?

7 Unusual Careers That Begin with an Engineering Degree


Intelligent, Mechanical Engineering Program Guide

Investopedia, Six Sigma

National Society of Professional Engineers, What Is a PE?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Mechanical Engineers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mechanical Engineers