Engineering is similar to the medical field in the sense that there are many different areas of specialization. If you want to work in the field, you will have to pick a specialty, as there are many types of engineering jobs. From agricultural engineering to chemical engineering, there is a wide range of career paths that allow you to further pursue your interests.
This gives rise to the question: “how many types of engineers are there?” In this guide, we’ll be comparing and contrasting the different engineering jobs, including their responsibilities, educational requirements, salaries, and more.
Types of Engineering Jobs: Salaries, Pros and Cons, and Career Paths
Median Salary: $130,850
As you may have already assumed, petroleum engineering is all about oil. Indeed, petroleum engineers are those who are tasked with producing hydrocarbons, which compose many types of oils and gas. Their work involves exploring sources of oil and natural gas, as well as implementing the processes of extraction.
Petroleum Engineering: Pros and Cons
Petroleum engineering is the highest-paying of all types of engineering on the market. There is also a huge demand for petroleum engineers, creating some 1,700 jobs each year from 2021 to 2031, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This is not to say this career doesn’t come with some drawbacks. Petroleum engineers tend to work really long hours, sometimes in shifts of 80 hours or more if you work on a drilling rig. As such, petroleum engineering is often considered among the toughest engineering professions.
How to Become a Petroleum Engineer
You’re unlikely to get a petroleum engineering job without a degree in engineering. Petroleum engineering is obviously the best degree to pursue. However, it isn’t unheard of for holders of mechanical or chemical engineering degrees to make the cut for this profession. A fair number of relevant jobs require more advanced degrees.
Median Salary: $122,270
As the name implies, aerospace engineering deals with flight. Aerospace engineers design, develop, and construct aircraft and spacecraft. Aerospace engineering can be broken down further into two more specific engineering disciplines.
First is aeronautical engineering, which deals with aircraft that fly within the Earth’s atmosphere. The second is astronautical engineering, which is concerned with spacecraft that fly beyond our planet’s atmosphere.
Aerospace Engineering: Pros and Cons
A key benefit of being an aerospace engineer is that this is one of the branches of engineering that pays very well. In fact, aerospace engineers have the second-highest average salary of any engineering discipline, second only to petroleum engineering.
The biggest con associated with aerospace engineering is the limited number of places at which you can find work. Working for the government is the main option if you want to work as an astronautical engineer. You may also work at one of maybe a dozen private firms that specialize in building and testing aerospace equipment, but job opportunities are limited and highly competitive.
How to Become an Aerospace Engineer
If you want to work in this field, your best bet is to earn at least a Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering. You might also consider attending one of the programs that allow you to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s in just five years. To be competitive within the job market, you should also consider earning a PhD in Aerospace Engineering.
As with the other majors mentioned, you will be well served to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam after graduation. Follow this up by getting your professional engineering license after you’ve acquired the requisite four years of work experience.
Median Salary: $120,380
Nuclear engineers specialize in the processes, research, and systems surrounding the safe use of nuclear energy. Most nuclear engineers dedicate their work to power generation. Others focus on researching and testing innovative uses for nuclear materials in medicine or industrial processes.
Nuclear Engineering: Pros and Cons
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of working as a nuclear engineer is that professionals in this field are paid well. In addition, the work is oftentimes exciting and engaging because the field is still highly innovative.
A significant con of the nuclear engineering industry is that there is a -11 percent job growth rate, as estimated by BLS. In addition, this job can be highly dangerous as there is a risk of getting exposed to radiation.
How to Become a Nuclear Engineer
Professionals who want to work in nuclear engineering can do so with just a bachelor’s degree in the field. However, if you specifically want to work in nuclear research, then a master’s or PhD would be most appropriate.
Since this job involves a wide variety of safety regulations, you can expect to undergo comprehensive onsite training before starting to work independently. In addition, nuclear engineers can obtain general engineering licenses or an industry-specific license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Median Salary: $109,020
A software engineer spends most of their time creating computer programs or applications. The daily activities of a computer engineer include various other duties. Among these are making patches or updates, finding and fixing bugs, and much more.
Software Engineering: Pros and Cons
Chief among the pros of being a software engineer is the pay. Software engineers get paid very well, especially as they gain more experience in their careers. This is one of the main reasons why software engineering is not only one of the most lucrative types of engineering but is also one of the best tech jobs for the future.
Another pro of software engineering is, physically, it isn’t very labor-intensive. Much of your work will be done in a comfortable office space on a computer. Lastly, it’s a high-demand job, meaning you won’t have to worry too much about there not being jobs available.
Perhaps the biggest con of working as a software engineer is that sometimes the job can be mentally stressful. Issues like a bug in a program often require quick thinking, lest the end consumers get frustrated with the software or application.
How to Become a Software Engineer
Becoming a software engineer doesn’t have as big of a barrier to entry as the other careers on this list. If your self-taught skills are strong enough, you can have a career in software engineering. With useful resources such as coding bootcamps, you can expedite your path to becoming a software engineer.
Median Salary: $105,550
Chemical engineers primarily devote their time to developing manufacturing processes for chemical components. This discipline is concerned with manufacturing and using chemicals in fields that involve a specialized understanding of chemical elements and processes. These include the pharmaceutical and energy sectors, among others.
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Chemical Engineering: Pros and Cons
Chemical engineering is one of the better-paying engineering jobs. The discipline racks up an average pay in the low six figures, with around 10 percent of chemical engineers earning a wage of $150,000 annually.
Chemical engineers also have their pick of industries to work in. It’s hard not to marvel at the sheer variety of places chemical engineers can end up. There are obvious destinations, like the pharmaceutical industry. However, the less obvious ones include architecture and manufacturing. Chemical engineers also work on developing new cleaners, stains, solvents, paints, paint removers, lipsticks, and many other products.
Naturally, there are a few cons associated with this engineering discipline. Depending on where you end up as a chemical engineer, your job could have its fair share of dangers. Any time when you are mixing chemicals, there’s a chance that you’ll cause an explosion or inadvertently mix the wrong components.
How to Become a Chemical Engineer
Like most types of engineering, the chemical engineering career journey usually starts with earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering. As the ranks of college-goers continue to swell, it’s becoming more important for you to distinguish yourself. Arguably the most straightforward way to do this is by completing one or more internships while studying.
Doing so will help you choose a specialty early and begin building expertise and industry contacts in it. You should also look into completing the Fundamentals of Engineering and professional engineering certification exams when you’re eligible to do so. The former can be taken after you graduate. The latter requires at least four years of relevant work experience.
Median Salary: $101,780
An electrical engineer’s job involves designing an electrical system or electrical equipment. Electrical or electronics engineers work with computers, cell phones, and any device or item that transmits energy.
The daily responsibilities of an electrical engineer may include testing electrical systems, solving issues with electrical systems, designing a system or piece of equipment, and assessing a system or piece of equipment for safety.
Electrical Engineering: Pros and Cons
One of the main pros of this career in engineering is that the pay for electrical engineers is definitely attractive. It’s also a fairly flexible job. In addition, there are various industries where you could apply your skills.
Unlike software engineering, you may need to use your hands more and get out of the office every once in a while. However, that’s not to say that electrical engineering professionals don’t spend time at a computer. Electrical engineers use programs to design and map out systems and equipment. A con of electrical engineering is the inherent dangers involved with working with electricity.
How to Become an Electrical Engineer
Electrical engineers need to have a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, at the very least. Master’s degrees are often encouraged.
Median Salary: $97,410
A biomedical engineer uses the analytical methods of other types of engineering and applies them to solve problems in medicine and biology. Biomedical engineers, for example, are the ones responsible for developing advanced mechanical devices and other health care innovations.
Biomedical Engineering: Pros and Cons
When it comes to the perks of being a biomedical engineer, the high average salary is one of the main highlights. Biomedical engineers also have a high degree of job satisfaction because the work is often engaging and challenging, and gives professionals the opportunity to have a real impact on people’s lives.
On the other hand, one of the cons of working in biomedical engineering is that you are required to have a wide breadth of knowledge and will need to work on highly critical tasks. Though there are many safety regulations for professionals in this field, biomedical equipment and materials can sometimes be dangerous to work with.
How to Become a Biomedical Engineer
To become a biomedical engineer, professionals will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in the field or a closely related subject. Similarly to the other branches of engineering, obtaining an advanced degree can help you further your career and unlock higher-paying job opportunities.
Median Salary: $97,090
A geological engineer can work anywhere that large amounts of earth need to be extracted, explored, processed, or otherwise dealt with. Their responsibilities can include auditing tunnels for safety and designing underground or open-pit mines.
In addition, these professionals work on developing means for transporting valuable minerals to processing facilities, handling conservation, sustainability, and reclamation efforts, and surveying or preparing technical reports. Geological engineers often work on large-scale projects that directly influence the communities around them. As such, this role comes with a great deal of social responsibility.
Geological Engineering: Pros and Cons
There are several substantial pros to geological engineering. First, is that your job should be relatively secure. Geological engineering is slated to grow at least as much as the average for all occupations over the course of the next decade.
There are two potential cons to being a geological engineer. The first is that the pay is on the lower end for engineers. The second could be a pro or con, depending on your personality. Geological engineering typically occurs onsite. This means you could be working in offices or remote wildernesses. You might need to travel a fair bit or be on location for multiple weeks at a time.
How to Become a Geological Engineer
Geological engineers need to at least have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant discipline. In the United States, any engineer wanting to market their skills professionally must pass two additional tests. These are given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.
Median Salary: $96,820
Environmental engineering involves combining elements of a variety of scientific disciplines to solve environmental problems. The main goals of an environmental engineer are to ensure the ongoing health of humans and other living organisms and to increase the health of the overall environment itself.
Environmental Engineering: Pros and Cons
There are quite a number of pros associated with environmental engineering. For one, it seems to be one of those engineering disciplines that people feel really strongly compelled to pursue.
With all the talk about climate change, environmental engineers often feel a sense of grand purpose associated with their chosen field. This might also be why the discipline has relatively high job satisfaction ratings.
A lot of environmental engineering takes place in the lab or in an office. However, there is a real chance that you’ll get to spend time outdoors, getting fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. On the other hand, it’s always possible that job sites are remote, dangerous, or require your presence for long weeks at a time. This aspect of the job could be a pro or a con, depending on your personality and the specifics of your situation.
Relative to other engineering disciplines, environmental engineers don’t get paid that well. If you love the work, this will probably not matter. However, it’s worth bearing in mind as you undergo the process of taking out loans to finance your education.
How to Become an Environmental Engineer
If you’re interested in becoming an environmental engineer, you must attain at least a bachelor’s degree in the field. Educating yourself up to the level of a master’s degree or a PhD will increase your career prospects and eventual pay.
Some colleges offer programs that will allow you to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years. Others have partnerships with companies that will allow you to complete internships and gain relevant experience. To advance as quickly as possible, you’ll need to complete the Fundamentals of Engineering exam after graduation. Take the professional engineering exam after gaining at least four years of relevant work experience.
Median Salary: $95,300
Mechanical engineers design and develop physical products. They tend to be the broadest of the types of engineering careers. That is, they design a wide variety of things. Car engines, refrigerators, HVAC systems, printers, airplanes, and much more are all the work of mechanical engineers.
This broad role encompasses everything from the design to the building phases of a product. A mechanical engineer’s duties include designing product blueprints, finding efficient ways of manufacturing products, running simulations, and testing products.
Mechanical Engineering: Pros and Cons
You can apply many of the pros of being a software engineer to a mechanical engineering career. In this career path, you also work in a comfortable office much of the day. You may, however, get to leave the office sometimes, depending on your specific job.
Also, mechanical engineering is one of the most varied engineering careers possible. There are numerous industries in which you can find work as a mechanical engineer. Perhaps one of the biggest cons is that mechanical engineering is on the lower end of the pay spectrum among the wide range of engineering jobs.
How to Become a Mechanical Engineer
A mechanical engineer needs a bachelor’s degree from an accredited mechanical engineering school. A master’s degree is often encouraged as well. Lastly, a professional mechanical engineer must also get a license in the state they want to work in.
Median Salary: $95,300
Industrial engineers use their skills to make manufacturing and industrial systems as efficient as possible. They ensure that industrial processes are not only efficient but also cost-effective. They do so by designing plans for large systems, managing inventory, increasing worker and machine efficiency, and much more.
Industrial Engineering: Pros and Cons
Industrial engineers have the benefit of being able to translate their skills to a variety of industries and different areas in a company. They also tend to coordinate teams of people and have the potential to move into management positions. So if you enjoy leadership, you may enjoy industrial engineering.
The biggest con of industrial engineering is that the pay is the lowest average for the engineering jobs we’re discussing. Yet, the pay is great when you compare it to most other jobs. In addition, you may be able to unlock a higher average salary when you gain more career experience and get professional certifications in the field.
How to Become an Industrial Engineer
An industrial engineer needs a bachelor’s degree and, preferably, a master’s degree. Although a license isn’t required, it is recommended. Licenses in electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering are a good way to advance your career. So, getting them as soon as possible is often the best course of action.
Median Salary: $88,050
In many ways, civil engineering is what most people think of when they think about what engineers do. Civil engineers are involved in the planning of public works like roads, bridges, dams, and other large projects. Civil engineers are the folks that make our environment inhabitable and usable in the modern world.
Civil Engineering: Pros and Cons
Civil engineers can find job opportunities all over the country, which is a major perk of this engineering profession. Another positive side of this job is that it often includes a nice balance of working both indoors and outdoors. While some work may be done in an office, onsite visits are also required.
A potential downside of working as a civil engineer is that the responsibility and pressure can often be too heavy. This role often involves working with large stakeholders such as government organizations, large construction firms, and even labor unions. Between tight construction timelines and labor disputes, completing a civil engineering job is sometimes more complicated than it first seems.
How to Become a Civil Engineer
Anyone who wants to work as a civil engineer will need to obtain a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Further, many states require civil engineers to obtain a professional license before offering services. If you want to advance to senior-level positions within the field, obtaining an advanced degree and certifications in civil engineering are necessary.
Median Salary: $82,640
Agricultural engineers combine elements of mechanical, electrical, chemical, and civil engineering to achieve farming and food production goals. Much of the work of an agricultural engineer involves using and optimizing machinery and various types of farming tools and equipment.
Agricultural Engineering: Pros and Cons
Anyone with the word ‘engineering’ in their title is likely to be responsible for a wide variety of different tasks, and this definitely applies to agricultural engineering. This broad role involves tackling a range of projects, from troubleshooting equipment malfunctions to assessing the purity of water sources.
Depending on your constitution, this facet of the job could either be a pro or a con. You could view it as a waste of time or an exciting chance to broaden your horizons. Similarly, agricultural engineers don’t make as much as most engineering professionals. How important this ultimately turns out to be is up to you.
How to Become an Agricultural Engineer
The best way to become an agricultural engineer is to study agricultural engineering in school. Typically, a bachelor’s degree is almost always sufficient to enter the field. Keep in mind that more training increases your chances of moving to a higher pay scale.
Median Salary: $79,921
Automotive engineering deals with the study, planning, and production of automobiles. Most automotive engineers have a strong background in mechanical engineering. However, this specialization requires professionals to have industry-specific expertise in safety, development, electronics, fuel efficiency, and more.
Automotive Engineering: Pros and Cons
Automotive engineering is a great career for people who like working with their hands. In addition, certain aspects of automotive engineering allow professionals to use their creativity to design products and solve problems.
One of the cons of working in this specialization is that it often involves working within an industrial setting. This can mean working in a noisy, fast-paced environment. However, some job responsibilities can also be carried out within an office.
How to Become an Automotive Engineer
The first step in becoming an automotive engineer is to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. However, it is possible to enter this profession without a formal degree, but you will need to start as a mechanic and work your way up. With this, you should also make sure that you have the necessary design skills and knowledge of physics to fulfill your job responsibilities fully. Professionals who want to enter this field should also obtain their engineering licenses.
Median Salary: $71,890
Generally speaking, structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering. Structural engineers are the civil engineers who create the designs for the structures that underlie larger projects found in other types of engineering. These professionals may also carry out inspections of existing structures to analyze their safety and durability.
Structural Engineering: Pros and Cons
Structural engineers work on a variety of different types of projects, so it can be an exciting career path. In addition, you can find work opportunities around the country and have the opportunity to impact the communities that you work within by helping ensure structures are safe.
Since these engineers need to work onsite, there is often traveling involved in this position, which can either be considered a pro or a con, depending on your personal preferences.
Similarly to civil engineers, another con is that projects in this field can become overly complicated since multiple large stakeholders are generally involved.
How to Become a Structural Engineer
The base requirement to work as a structural engineer is a bachelor’s degree in the field. Once you start your career as an engineer in training, you can gain experience until you are ready to take your professional engineering exams. Eventually, you should also get a structural engineering certification from the American Society of Civil Engineers to advance your career.
Other Types of Engineering Careers
Finally, we’ll close with a list of all the other types of engineering careers that we couldn’t fit into our already expansive list. Be sure to check out these lesser-known fields and other sub-disciplines within the engineering sphere. If the different types of engineering careers we listed above didn’t pique your interest, you will certainly find a suitable option below.
- Biomechanical Engineering
- Architectural Engineering
- Computer Science Engineering
- Mechatronics Engineering
- Robotics Engineering
- Microelectronic Engineering
- Materials Engineering
- Paper Engineering
- Sustainability Engineering
- Systems Engineering
- Manufacturing Engineering
- Marine Engineering
- Photonics Engineering
- Nanotechnology Engineering
- Mining Engineering
- Ceramics Engineering
- Geomatics Engineering
- Health and Safety Engineering
- Marine Engineering
- Computer Engineering
- Systems Engineering
- Big Data Engineering
- Computer Hardware Engineering
- Environmental Engineering
- Materials Engineering
- Mining and Geological Engineering
As you can see, although these different types of engineering careers vary widely in their responsibilities, they do share some DNA. All of them have to do with designing something and testing it to ensure it works well. Many of these professionals also involve working closely with other types of engineers.
Types of Engineering Jobs FAQ
Currently, the type of engineer with the highest salary is a petroleum engineer. Petroleum engineers earn an average of over $130,000 per year. However, this is closely followed by aerospace engineering at $122,000 and nuclear engineering at $120,000.
Which is the most in-demand engineering discipline?
The types of engineering jobs that are most in demand are software engineers and chemical engineers. According to BLS, software engineers have a projected job growth rate of 25 percent over the next decade. Meanwhile, chemical engineers should see a growth rate of 14 percent in their profession.
Is a bachelor’s degree necessary to become an engineer?
Most engineering disciplines require a bachelor’s degree to qualify for a job, with a master’s degree often recommended for career advancement. However, there are disciplines that you can break into without a degree, such as software engineering. With the rise of coding bootcamps, it’s become easier for aspiring software engineers to launch a career in the field.
What are the four main engineering categories?
The four main engineering categories are civil, chemical, electrical, and mechanical. These four engineering categories have generally been used to subdivide a wide variety of engineering fields. However, as technology advances, roles such as big data engineer and software engineer do not necessarily fit into one of these categories.
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