An engineering major is one of the most difficult college majors out there. The major involves a lot of math, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. There are a ton of different types of engineering majors available to students.
Engineering is currently the 4th most popular major in the United States – trailing business, health professions, and social science majors. Our complete guide to engineering majors will cover the following:
- What is Engineering?
- Different Types of Engineering Majors
- Common Classes
- Types of Engineering Jobs
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is Engineering?
There are many different definitions of engineering. There are so many definitions due to the fact that we have different types of engineering. To answer the question, “what is engineering,” we need to look at engineering in its simplest form. Engineering is the use of science and math to solve real-world problems.
Engineering has been around for a long time – the world has always needed individuals who are able to solve real-world problems. Some great engineers include Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Elon Musk. Do you have what it takes to become the next great engineering major?
Different Types of Engineering Majors
Aerospace engineering is the study aircrafts. Students will learn about the design, construction, and control of various aircrafts. While aerospace engineering used to only apply to airplanes, the field has evolved to cover anything that operates above the ground.
Students will learn the basics of flight and how to apply their knowledge to make aircrafts better and safer.
Aerospace engineering majors should be curious and creative. There is no “manual” on how to build new planes or aircrafts. Students should want to challenge current standards and push the boundaries. Aerospace engineering majors should also be detail oriented. When dealing with aircrafts and flying, you want all your bases covered.
Architectural engineering is relatively new when compared to other engineering majors. Students who major in architectural engineering will be learning about the design of buildings and building systems.
Students will be using various knowledge from different engineering disciplines to design, construct, and maintain the best buildings.
Architectural engineering is often confused with civil engineering. The two engineering majors are similar with a couple of differences:
- Civil engineers tend to work on more broad projects like transportation and infrastructure while architectural engineers focus mainly on buildings.
- Architects are usually more involved with the pre-construction processes while civil engineers are involved for all phases of a project.
Architectural engineering majors should enjoy thinking about and designing buildings. Students who choose this major should enjoy projects and working with others – this is the basis of your profession. Students should also have strong leadership and management skills.
Biomedical engineering has become a more popular major throughout the years. Biomedical engineering is also known as bioengineering. This major combines biology and engineering. Biomedical engineering is used heavily by people who work in the medical and healthcare fields.
People who choose this type of engineering major will be able to have a great impact on others. Some examples of things biomedical engineers have developed over the years include artificial organs, prosthetic limbs, and breakthrough drugs.
Students who want to become biomedical engineering majors should have interests in biology, math, and science. Students should be caring and want to help others. This is the perfect major for someone who may want to become a doctor someday.
Chemical engineering was number 2 on our list most challenging engineering majors. Chemical engineering majors will work with math and science to study different chemical processes. Students will study kinetic systems, heat transfer systems, and energy conservation processes.
Chemical engineers create new innovations that alter our everyday lives, a lot of which fly under the radar. Some examples of projects that a chemical engineer would be working on include sanitation, fertilization, renewable storage systems, and re-usable resources.
Chemical engineering students should enjoy researching and investigating. A lot of projects involve making new discoveries or doing things differently than before. Students should also be creative and able to think outside the box.
Ranked number one on our list of hardest engineering majors was civil engineering. Civil engineering is one of the oldest types of engineering. Civil engineers will learn how to design and build cities and everything that a city includes – roads, bridges, highways, sewage systems, tunnels, building, etc.
Civil engineers will have no shortage of employment opportunities as civil engineering majors have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
Students working towards a civil engineering degree should have strong math skills. Students should be comfortable working with geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. Students need to have strong leadership and communication skills as they will be leading projects when they graduate.
Computer engineering involves skills from both electrical engineering and computer science. Students who choose this type of engineering will research, design, and develop computer hardware.
Students may also work on learning and developing computer software but that is mostly handled by software engineer. Some hardware that students may study or work on include processors, memory chips, data storage systems, and networking components.
If you look at all of the different types of engineering, computer engineering involves the most technology (along with software engineering). Students should have an interest in technology and have the desire to create/modify existing technologies.
Electrical engineering students will study different pieces of equipment, devices, and systems that utilize electricity. The field is extremely broad and encompasses many different sub-topics. Most people organize electrical engineering into a couple of different branches:
- Power generation and transmission systems
- Battery and control systems
The field is always changing, like most types of engineering. As technology evolves, the ideas and concepts within electrical engineering also change.
Electrical engineers should be great problem solvers and critical thinkers. Something will always come up when solving various problems within the field – it is important to be to think critically about these problems.
Environmental engineering is a unique field. Students who major in environmental engineering will focus on improving the quality of the environment and help to protect people from the environment. Students studying this type of engineering will use engineering, biology, and chemistry to solve complex issues.
Environmental engineering students will try to tackle problems like waste disposal, recycling, and water treatment issues. The field is both challenging and rewarding.
Students who go into environmental engineering should have a passion for helping the environment. Students will have the opportunity to work on projects they are passionate about after they graduate with their environmental engineering degree.
Industrial engineers are put in charge of something that sounds so simple but is so difficult – figure out how to do things better. Students working towards a degree in industrial engineering will learn how to reduce costs, increase efficiency, improve products or services, and improve workplace safety.
The field is very broad with a ton of potential industries for someone to go into. Some examples of industries that utilize and industrial engineering major include:
Students majoring in industrial engineering should be critical thinkers. Industrial engineers will be given a problem and told to fix it – usually with very little guidance. Students need to enjoy solving complex problems while being able to think about different ways to arrive at the solution.
Machines are a part of our everyday lives. Students who major in mechanical engineering will learn about these machines and how they effect our lives. Mechanical engineering students will learn about the science behind these machines and how they function.
As well as learning about machines and how they function, students will also learn about various control systems that are used in machines. Examples of control systems include heating and cooling systems.
Mechanical engineers should be fast learners and able to learn on the fly. Learning something in the classroom and being able to apply it in the field are two different things. Students need to be able to take their classroom knowledge and utilize it in the real-world.
Mineral engineering involves the science behind mining precious minerals. Students will learn about planning a mining operation, safety precautions, and the actual mining process. Mineral engineers will be involved in the whole mining process – from planning to excavation.
Students will learn the best ways to ventilate the mine, keep team members safe, and manage their team in all situations. Mineral engineering majors will also learn how to design the blasts that take place to open up the mines.
Mineral engineering is a unique type of engineering. It is very niche and requires a specific type of person with specific interests. Students interested in this type of engineering should enjoy the outdoors and want a life that is not your typical “9-5.”
Nuclear engineering is another unique type of engineering. Students who major in this type of engineering will study the process involved in harnessing energy from nuclear reactions.
Nuclear engineering can include developing nuclear equipment such as reactor cores, monitoring nuclear power plants, monitoring safety practices at nuclear sites, and gathering data to prevent nuclear accidents.
Students who wish to major in nuclear engineering should have strong math and science skills. The courses that a nuclear engineering student will take will be advanced. The field is always evolving with technology so students should enjoy working in a changing environment.
Ocean engineering is the study of man-made systems in the ocean and other bodies of water. Students will study the design and operations of these man-made systems and learn what makes them viable in such a hostile environment.
This field often times gets confused with oceanography. The two fields are different as ocean engineering deals with the man-made aspects of the oceanwhile oceanography deals with the naturally occurring aspects.
Students wishing to pursue a degree in ocean engineering should enjoy the outdoors and the ocean/other bodies of water. Post-graduation opportunities may include moving to the middle of the ocean to work on and maintain a rig – make sure you enjoy being out on the water.
Petroleum engineering overlaps with other types of engineering including mechanical, chemical, and civil engineering. Petroleum engineering students will learn how to evaluate potential oil and gas fields, oversee drilling activities, and design treatment facilities.
Petroleum engineering does not only involve the extraction of oil – it also involves coming up with new ways to complete this task. Conventional techniques are not always practical, so new techniques and technology will be needed.
Students majoring in petroleum engineering should enjoy following current events. Individuals in the field of petroleum engineering must keep current with technological, political, and economic problems on a daily basis.
Common Engineering Classes
Every school will establish their own course requirements for their engineering students. The type of engineering degree you are working towards will also dictate the engineering courses that you will be taking.
Engineering majors can expect to take relatively similar entry level courses before they get into their specific engineering major courses. Some entry level courses that engineering students can expect to take include:
- Fundamental of Engineering
A lot of schools use these courses to “weed-out” students who may not be fit for an engineering degree. If you are successful in these entry level courses, you should be fine when you get to your major specific courses.
Types of Engineering Jobs
Students with an engineering degree are some of the most sought-after individuals in the job market. If you look at unemployment rate by major, civil engineering, computer engineering, and electrical engineering have 3 of the lowest unemployment rates.
On top of being easily employed, engineering majors are also some of the highest paid majors. When looking at college majors and average income, 5 different types of engineering majors made the top 10 highest paid. Check out some common jobs for engineering majors. All data was pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Every engineering major will be challenging. Students will need to be good with math and science. According to our research on the most challenging engineering majors, civil engineering and chemical engineering were the most difficult engineering majors for students.
This question depends on your definition of best. If you want to make the most money, electrical engineering is your best bet. If you want to ensure that you will be employed when you graduate from college, civil engineering is your best bet.
It is best to pick an engineering major that interests you. Employers are always looking to hire bright people with any engineering degree
If you decide to start as an engineer in college and decide you want to switch majors hallway through, what should you switch to. Many students will switch to something like computer science or business. You should talk with your counselor or career coach to see if any of your credits will transfer towards another major. For a complete list of majors, check out our list of college majors.