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Engineering Careers in the United States

A career in engineering can be as diverse as it is specialized. Engineering is a broad area not only with many disciplines, but it also can be applied in many industries. In general, engineers apply scientific and mathematical principles to commercial applications. They are involved in designing and developing new products as well as testing, producing, and maintaining them.

Most engineers specialize. There is a wide array of specialties and subspecialties. The Occupational Outlook Handbook describes the prominent engineering specialties. The largest number of engineers are employed as electrical and electronics engineers. Civil engineers, industrial engineers and mechanical engineers round out the four largest disciplines.

In the United States, there is an acute need for engineers, even in the current economic recession. The demand has moved the U. S. government to allow international students studying engineering (as well as science, technology, and math) in the U. S. to extend their optional practical training by 18 months.

However, the demand is not equal across disciplines. Three engineering disciplines are projected to grow significantly through 2016—environmental engineering, biomedical engineering, and industrial engineering—adding new jobs at a rate faster than average. When taking a retiring workforce into account, the most job openings projected through 2016 will be for mechanical engineers. Finally, employers competing for chemical engineers have helped chemical engineering top the list of highest starting salaries of recent college graduates—for three years in a row.

One of the great things about engineering is that it can be applied in many areas—energy, construction, transportation, electronics, medicine, to name a few. The environment is a hot topic around the globe. Engineers, not just environmental engineers, are involved in “green” work. For instance, mechanical engineers are working on wind turbines, while electrical engineers are helping to distribute that wind power to homes and businesses. Many engineers are working towards solving the world’s energy and environmental problems.

If your interest in a career in engineering is peaked, you should consider something very important. Unlike many other careers, you must study engineering or engineering technology in college or graduate school in order to be an engineer. You can find engineering and engineering technology programs at many different types of schools from large, public universities to small, private colleges; in urban settings and rural settings. The choice is yours.

One thing to look for at any school though is its accreditation. It is extremely important that you attend not only an accredited college in the U. S., but also that the engineering or engineering technology program is accredited by ABET (www.ABET.org). To be a professional engineer (PE), you must be a graduate of an ABET accredited engineering or engineering technology program.

Since engineering is about applying scientific and mathematical principles, you may want to consider engineering and engineering technology programs that emphasize hands-on learning where students apply engineering and engineering technology knowledge and skills.

Cooperative education (co-op) programs, like at Wentworth Institute of Technology, provide a student with the opportunity to link their studies with the workplace. Co-op programs let you apply your knowledge in a business setting.

The Projects Program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute requires students to complete a significant project or research in conjunction with industry or faculty. This is another prime example of applying your knowledge and skills.

As you consider a career in engineering, here are a few resources to help you explore the different disciplines.

  • Sloan Career Cornerstone (http://www.careercornerstone.org/)
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook (http://stats.bls.gov/oco/)
  • TryEngineering (http://www.tryengineering.org/)
  • ABET (http://www.abet.org)
  • ASEE Engineering K-12 Center (http://www.engineeringk12.org/)

Editorial provided by Gregory Denon, Director of Career Services at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

Bureau of Labor Statistics
National Association of Colleges and Employers

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