Here are the top 10 most popular engineering degrees in the US
- Engineering is one of the most highly-paid career choices someone can make.
- There are various fields of specialization, but there is a significant overlap between them.
- While there is no "perfect" choice of engineering discipline, all of them will lead to gratifying careers.
Deciding what the best engineering degree for you is no easy choice, but looking at which degrees are the most popular might be a good start. Many different career paths are available depending on which engineering field you choose. For instance, if you want to design and develop aircraft systems, you'll want a degree in aerospace engineering. If you want to create new and improved medical devices, you'll be most prepared if you focus on biomedical engineering.
But what is the best engineering major for you? There are so many different engineering majors that deciding between them can be challenging.
Each year, around 140,000 to 200,000 students in the U.S. obtain a bachelor's degree in engineering. Specific fields within the discipline graduate a lot more than others, too. For example, electrical engineering is far more popular than ocean engineering when getting an engineering degree.
College Factual has compiled a list of which engineering majors are the most popular in the U.S. and which schools are the best for each major. Do you have a specific college in mind and wonder how it compares to others? You can check out College Factual's Engineering section for more rankings on engineering schools and degrees.
1. Mechanical engineering (ME) is always in demand
Perhaps the most popular engineering degree is mechanical engineering. Between 40,000 and 60,000 bachelor's degrees are given in mechanical engineering every year, almost twice as many as in the next most popular field.
Mechanical engineers work to design, create, and enhance machines. In this major, you study how machines function and the energy required to keep them running. Machine engineers are responsible for designing and constructing cars, producing machinery, etc. You will discover the mechanics behind roller coasters and what makes airplanes fly. You can learn the mysteries of mechanical devices with this major.
Every school will have its requirements, but you can expect to take courses like fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, chemistry, statistics, dynamics, differential equations, thermodynamics, materials science, and circuits and electronics.
The average mid-career salary for mechanical engineers is about $90,000 a year. The job outlook for mechanical engineers is good, with a projected 9% growth rate in the future. Some of the most popular colleges for the discipline include Georgia Tech, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan. It's no wonder that this is the most popular engineering degree.
2. Electrical engineering (EE) is another popular choice
In contrast to other engineering fields, electrical engineering is a more recent branch of engineering. It is the branch of engineering that deals with electricity and electronics. It is also the second most popular engineering major, with around 15,000 to 30,000 undergraduate degrees handed out each year.
Using logic and reasoning to determine the pros and cons of different findings, solutions, or ways of approaching problems is one of the most critical skills for jobs in EE. Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in documents related to one's career, paying close attention to what others are saying, taking the time to comprehend the points being made, asking questions when necessary, and refrain from interrupting at the wrong times are all required skills.
Typically, candidates for electrical engineering degrees must hold a GED or have completed high school. Numerous schools may also require minimum GPAs and SAT/ACT scores. Certain EE occupations can need a specific amount of education or additional certifications on top of that.
The field is expected to have a 7% growth rate from 2016 to 2026—around the same as the all-occupation growth rate. Engineering services, research and development, and manufacturing are the top three industries that hire the most electrical engineers. The average mid-career salary for this occupation is around $100,000. Want the opportunity to work with lots of other students in your major? Check out the most popular schools for electrical engineering, including the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
3. Civil engineering is another good choice
Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines, and it involves designing and creating roads, bridges, water systems, buildings, and other constructions. It's also among the most popular, with 12,000 to 21,000 students graduating yearly. As the world population grows, civil engineering majors will be in demand as more and more infrastructure needs to be built or redesigned to optimize environmental considerations.
Civil engineering covers all aspects of construction. You will learn how to design, plan, and run large construction projects, such as bridges, structures, buildings, highways, dams, airports, tunnels, and water supply systems. Civil engineers use new technology to do exciting projects and help build the world we live in today. If you study civil engineering, you might work on unique projects like the Sears Tower or the English Channel Tunnel.
Bridge engineering, calculus, analytical geometry, geology, physics, building materials, construction management, hydraulics, surveying and measuring, earthquake engineering, civil engineering ethics, transportation engineering, and reinforced concrete design are just a few classes you might be required to take. This major lets you focus on geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering, structural engineering, transportation, highway engineering, and water resources engineering. The job outlook for civil engineers is good. The field expects a 9% growth rate from 2016 to 2026. By mid-career, civil engineers make a median salary of around $90,000. This may rise as more government money is committed to infrastructure development.
The civil engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the most popular in the country. At the same time, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Georgia Institute of Technology are also top-rated.
4. Computer engineering (CE) is another popular engineering field
Consider computer engineering if you decide whether to manage in electrical engineering or computer science. This discipline uses the combined skills learned in the former two to design and develop hardware, software, and hardware-software integrations.
Relative to all majors, computer engineering may seem like a unique path, but among engineering majors, this discipline is one of the most popular, with over 18,000 new graduates each year. Computer engineers had a median annual salary of around $128,000 yearly.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Carnegie Mellon top the list of the most popular schools for computer engineering majors. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Georgia Tech, and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor are also popular.
5. Chemical engineering is also pretty popular
Chemical engineers use math, science, and other engineering skills to solve problems related to producing, storing, and transporting chemicals, food, fuel, and other products. Around 13,000 students receive undergraduate degrees in chemical engineering every year.
The number of jobs in chemical engineering is expected to grow by 7% from 2016 to 2026. The median annual salary for chemical engineers is about $105,000.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of California-Berkeley are some of the country's most famous universities for chemical engineering. Georgia Tech and CalTech are also very popular.
6. Biomedical engineering is only set to grow in the future
Biomedical engineers are researchers, inventors, and innovators. They combine their medical and engineering knowledge to design and improve medical devices and other systems used in healthcare. Around 7,000 to 13,000 undergraduate degrees in biomedical engineering are handed out each year.
The best way to think about biomedical engineering is like mechanical engineering mixed with chemical engineering and medical school. Biomedical engineers solve some of the most impactful problems today, like cures for diseases and designing prosthetic limbs, among many other unique projects.
The median salary of biomedical engineers is about $97,000 – and that's nothing to sneeze at (pardon the pun). That average will likely keep rising as the demand for biomedical devices grows.
Once again, Georgia Tech is one of the most popular colleges for biomedical engineering majors. Other famous schools are Arizona State University and Boston University.
7. General engineering could be an option for you
Students majoring in general engineering get a broad understanding of many different fields and a solid background in the subjects – including math and science– all engineers must master. Once getting a bachelor's degree in general engineering, many students go to graduate school to study a more specific field.
The courses you take will differ depending on the institution you choose to attend. Still, some fundamentals include chemistry, engineering, economics and ethics for engineers, engineering law, geology, geophysics, and introductions to computer programming, numerical methods, physics, and some business courses.
Pre-engineering is another essential option to prepare you to transfer into a four-year degree in many engineering-related specialties. Approximately 12,000 students get a degree in general engineering each year. Since the range of options for students with this type of degree is so diverse, it's hard to determine a meaningful average salary for majors.
Some of the most popular schools for studying general engineering are Arizona State University-Polytechnic, University of California-Davis, and East Carolina University.
8. Industrial engineering (IE) is another popular choice
Industrial engineers are the people you turn to when you want to optimize or improve the performance of an engineering process.
Students of industrial engineering concentrate on how users interact with production systems so that they may make the systems more user-friendly. Fewer resources are wasted, and more items are produced by finding ways to make these systems more effective for users. Students take calculus, design, mechanics, engineering, applied mathematics, ergonomics, and classes on how people affect the production process to gain these abilities.
Around 7,000 to 9,000 new graduates get their B.S. in industrial engineering each year.
The annual median salary of industrial engineers is $95,000 – slightly lower than other engineering fields but still significantly higher than most other occupations. The job outlook for industrial engineers is quite good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs in this field to grow 6% between 2016 and 2026. That's faster than both the all-occupation and the all-engineer growth rates. If you're interested in this field, you may want to look at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University, and the University of Michigan.
9. Aerospace and aeronautical engineering is a fascinating field
Are you interested in aviation or space exploration? If so, aerospace and aeronautical engineering may be an excellent match for you. Majors in this field study everything from aircraft testing to space vehicle design to missile testing.
And, yes, that includes rocket science. You will learn math and physics of aerospace and aeronautical engineering and how to evaluate projects to determine whether they are technically and financially feasible. Anyone passionate about space travel or aviation should major in this field. Depending on the college you select, different courses may be necessary. However, there are several courses that you might have to study, such as physics, mathematics, trigonometry, aerodynamics, aircraft structures, mechanics, and general engineering principles.
According to College Factual, the employment of aerospace engineers should grow by about 7% from 2016 to 2026. The pay isn't too shabby, either. The median annual wage for aerospace engineers in 2021 was just over $122,000. About 4,000 to 8,000 students annually are awarded undergraduate degrees in this field.
For those who like to be surrounded by many like-minded individuals, some of the most popular aerospace and aeronautical engineering schools are Embry Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Purdue University.
10. Systems engineering is another rewarding career
Professionals in systems engineering use complex mathematical and scientific techniques to create systems that address engineering challenges and finish projects. Software development and transportation network installation are examples of tasks. To learn the abilities necessary to solve any engineering problem, you will study courses in applied mathematics, problem-solving techniques, IT systems, project management, transportation systems, and more.
According to one source, systems engineering received between 3,904 degrees in 2020–2021, ranking it the 160th most popular primary nationwide over the previous year's total of 3,604 degrees, an increase in systems engineering degrees awarded by just under 8%. Professionals in the field of systems engineering frequently have full-time jobs in offices. Overtime can be frequent, depending on project deadlines.
Average salaries for systems engineers tend to hover around $$80,000 or 90,000. As you pursue a career in the sector, an internship or summer job in systems engineering will be helpful. You will be shown the practical application of modern experts' procedures when working on a project. When applying for jobs, the experience will help put you ahead of similar individuals.
So, what would you pick if you chose the best engineering degree from this list? Deciding on an engineering major is no easy task.
And that is your lot for today.
While people like to consider engineering a well-paying field, getting an engineering degree isn't worth it if you ultimately hate what you do at work. Make sure to research different engineering majors to start along the right path.
The best thing about different engineering degrees is that they all share the same basic principles. For most popular engineering degrees, the first year or two of classes and studying will all be the same, meaning you can switch majors without much hassle during these early years.
Getting your bachelor's in engineering is also not easy, with the major having some of the highest attrition rates of all college majors. When it comes to engineering, though, don't think you need to be the most intelligent person in the room. Getting an engineering degree is more about solving problems than memorizing differential equations or physics theories.
All the engineering degrees mentioned on this list will set you on a path to becoming one of the most capable people on the globe, capable of solving whatever problem you may face.
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