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. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are roughly 312,900 individuals in the country employed in this unique profession as of 2018, with an additional 25,000 new jobs created between 2016 and 2016. Therefore, there are plenty of mechanical engineer jobs currently available and in the pipeline.

You may still wonder, though, what you actually need to do to pivot to this branch of the engineering field – if you’re already graduated with a bachelor’s degree – or if you’re required to enter a special engineering school. By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of the steps involved and how the continuing education available  at the University of California, Riverside can make the transition seamless.

How do you become a mechanical engineer?

When people first think about how to become a mechanical engineer and what’s needed to obtain an entry-level job, they likely first consider the educational requirements in terms of degree programs and course options. There’s no question that academics are very important to any branch of engineering, as many of those who are in this line of work got a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Perhaps more important than the academic prerequisites are your likes and interests.

For example, if building things is a pastime of yours – from model cars to jigsaw puzzles – pursuing mechanical engineering makes a lot of sense. As noted by the BLS, mechanical engineers develop, design and build all types of sensors, devices and engines that are used in homes, workplaces and industrial settings. Because so much of their daily activities and responsibilities require taking things apart and putting them back together again, a love for building will serve you well and make your career more enjoyable and feel less like a job.

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

What courses should you take?

Generally speaking, engineers all have bachelor’s degrees. Much like UC Riverside, 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 and fundamentals of engineering.

You may want to consider continuing your educational pursuits by taking part in a graduate program. Since most mechanical engineers have a bachelor’s degree, pursuing a master’s degree can separate you from the competition and ultimately give you a leg up on others when applying for job openings. An undergraduate may suffice when it comes to the academic prerequisites for how to become a mechanical engineer. However, with a Master of Science in Engineering, you’ll obtain a deeper level of expertise and hone certain mechanical engineering skills that can broaden your professional horizons through the learning of specialized techniques. These may include life cycle analysis, six sigma, MathCAD, statistical analysis, code analysis and project management.

Some of the online courses you’ll take with a specialization in mechanical engineering at  UC Riverside include Engineering in the Global Environment, Technology Innovation and Strategy for Engineers, Introduction to Systems Engineering and 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. You’ll also discover some of the different types of mechanical engineering through online classes, 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?

If you know someone who is a certified mechanical engineer, you may think that you need the same credentials. Not necessarily. Those who are just starting out with an entry-level job usually don’t need any type of registration or certification.

However, if you’re looking to start your own business and sell your services to the general public, 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 gives them more flexibility in terms of what they can do for a career. For example, PEs may take on oversight-related responsibilities, wherein entry-level engineers report to them after a project has been completed. 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 can prepare you 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 job or occupation that interests you – those inside as well as outside of the engineering field – some experience is always better than none at all. However, everyone has to start somewhere. This is part of the reason why entry-level jobs are fairly common in engineering.

Yet should you have the opportunity to take advantage of internships or co-ops, it’s wise to do so. These work-study programs 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 were taught in the first place.

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

How much does a mechanical engineer make in salary?

This is another area that’s influenced by experience; the more that you have, the higher the reward. Yet even those new to the profession can do well straight out of college. Based on the most recent figures available from the BLS, the median annual wage for mechanical engineers nationwide is $87,370. That’s considerably more than the median among all occupations ($38,640) and roughly $6,000 less than the typical engineer. However, mechanical engineers can make a six-figure salary, as the highest 10% in $2018 in 2018 maintained a salary of $136,550.

Some wonder: Is mechanical engineering hard? No, but it is challenging, which is what makes the career so professionally rewarding.

If mechanical engineering sounds like a career path worth walking down, UC Riverside can get you toward the finish line more quickly, enabling you to graduate in as little as 13 months. Download our brochure to learn more or apply now.

Recommended reading:

Unusual Careers that Begin with an Engineering Degree

Engineering Majors Breakdown: Electrical vs. Mechanical Engineering