Engineering is a time-old field that used to require years of apprenticeship in the industry but now requires years of school just to become licensed. However, could you become an engineer without an engineering degree?
If we are going to examine this question, we need to set some groundwork for who exactly we consider an engineer. For this endeavor, we will focus on the core of engineering professions: mechanical, civil, chemical, and electrical. Software engineers (in fact, all the students that are doing computer science studies) are engineers, but not in the classical sense – you can also get into this profession without a degree in the field. For these four main categories, we can generally lump the rest of the engineering fields in. Manufacturing engineering can be considered mechanical, geotechnical engineering can be considered civil, etc.
Now that we have our ground rules established, let's look for the answer to the question!
Can You Become an Engineer Without an Engineering Degree?
Focusing first on civil engineering, this is currently one of the harder fields to enter into without a degree in engineering. Most civil engineers need to be licensed as Professional Engineers (PEs) in order to be allowed to stamp official plans. In order to get this license, at least a bachelor's in engineering is required. With that said, it is still plausible that you could become a subset of a civil engineer without a degree. Most of these cases are going to require years of hard work at one company that allows you to increase throughout the ranks of the field without formal education. For example, construction worker to foreman to drafter to engineer. The occurrences of this advancement in civil engineering will be few and far between. The easiest entry to this profession would be simply to get a civil engineering degree. There is a good reason for such a high requirements - a person without appropirate knowledge can cause quite a mess during a construction project.
Mechanical engineers aren't quite as regulated of a profession as civil engineering when it comes to licensing. The quick answer is that you could become a mechanical engineer without a degree in that field, but again, a degree in something technical is usually required. This is a great news for any undergraduate student as it allows you to start working before you finish a university program. If you wanted to get into mechanical engineering without any college education you would need to demonstrate years of proficiency and skill in the field. Some companies will even encourage promising graduate and undergraduate students to apply for such a job. It will help the development of your skills while the company will get an experienced worker as soon as he or she finishes university courses. Even then, an employer might still require you to get a formal degree as part of the job. Compared to civil engineering, you can get into mechanical engineering without a degree in the field with ease, but the best way is still to get a degree.
[Image Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr]
Chemical engineering is perhaps the easiest field to get into without a degree in chemical engineering, but also the hardest degree to get into without a college degree. Part of why chemical engineering is easier without a chemical engineering degree is because of how far-reaching chemistry is. One could become a chemical engineer with a degree in chemistry, biology, or other life sciences. However, if you don't have some formal education in applied science, becoming a chemical engineer is going to be quite hard.
Lastly, electrical engineering. We saved this one for last because it is probably the easiest field to get into without a degree at all, assuming you can demonstrate proficiency. Electrical engineering is a field that can largely be learned through hard work and experimentation, to a greater extent than other engineering fields. Someone can get started building various things in their garage and eventually gain enough proficiency to be hired in the field. This isn't to discount the large advantage that presents itself with having an electrical engineering degree, rather it is to highlight that hard work can get you into this engineering field more than any other. This makes sense given that this specific field is dependent on the creativity of your projects and final technology that you can produce. Unlike other engineering sciences, where the final product has to adhere to certain quality standards, electrical engineering is all about inventing new systems, services, and products. One of the best careers for those who like to tinker but don't like to study.
Nowadays, you can find lots of engineering resources online. Many people prefer attaining advanced knowledge by reading content on a site. Even though this may help, some areas will be heavily regulated and will require an academic degree. Those of you who would like to skip the traditional learning process and going to a university (due to lack of free time) have in mind there are numerous accredited programs which you can complete online. Just make sure that your state (or country) recognizes the degree.
So, can you become an engineer without a degree? Well, yes ... but it is by far easier to just go get the degree. Engineers are just people who have honed their critical thinking and problem-solving skills beyond standards. If you want to become an engineer, don't let having a degree hold you back. Get out there and learn.
Are any of you engineers without a degree? Have you worked in one of these fields?
Comment below so others can hear your story!