Engineering is similar to the medical field in the sense that you don’t just simply choose to be an “engineer,” just like you don’t simply choose to be a “doctor.” You have to pick a specialty, as there are many different types of engineering jobs.
This naturally gives rise to the question: ‘how many types of engineers are there?’ In this guide, we’ll be comparing and contrasting the different aspects of the different types of engineering careers, including:
- Job responsibilities
- Educational requirements
- Salaries (pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- Pros and cons
- How to get your foot in the door.
We have a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in and take a look at our list of engineering careers.
Types of Engineering and Salaries
Median Salary: $97,970
An electrical engineer’s job will typically involve designing an electrical system or electrical equipment.
Electrical or electronics engineers work with computers, cell phones, and basically any device or item that transmits energy. The daily responsibilities of an electrical engineer could include testing an electrical system, solving any problem that comes up, designing a system or piece of equipment, checking a system or piece of equipment for safety, and much more.
Electrical Engineering: Pros and Cons
For one, the pay for electrical engineers is definitely attractive.
Also, electrical engineering is a fairly flexible job. There are various industries that you could apply your skills in. Unlike software engineering, you may get to use your hands more and get out of the office every once in a while.
That’s not to say that you won’t spend time at a computer. Electrical engineers use programs to design and map out systems and equipment.
Also, 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, at the very least, and master’s degrees are often encouraged.
Median Salary: $100,690
A software engineer spends most of her time creating computer programs or applications. The daily activities of a computer engineer include various other duties, such as making patches or updates, finding and fixing bugs, and much more.
Software Engineering: Pros and Cons
Chief among the pros is pay. Software engineers get paid very well, especially as you gain more experience in your career. This is one of the main reasons 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.
Another pro of software engineering is the fact that 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 is that sometimes the job can be intense or mentally stressful. Issues like a bug in a program often require quick-thinking to fix, lest the end-consumer get frustrated with the software or application.
How to Become a Software Engineer
Becoming a software engineer doesn’t have quite as big of a barrier to entry as the other careers in 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 available, you can expedite your path to becoming a software engineer.
Median Salary: $85,880
A mechanical engineer typically designs and develops physical products. Mechanical engineers tend to be the broadest of the types of engineering career choices.
That is, they design such a wide variety of things. Car engines are the work of mechanical engineers. So are refrigerators, HVAC systems, printers, airplanes, the controls on an airplane, and much much more.
A mechanical engineer must be able to design product blueprints, find efficient ways of manufacturing products, run simulations, and test products.
Mechanical Engineering: Pros and Cons
You can apply many of the pros of being a software engineer to a mechanical engineering career. You work in a comfortable office much of the day, though you may 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 that you can find a mechanical engineering job in.
Perhaps one of the biggest cons is that mechanical engineering is on the lower end of the pay spectrum when it comes to engineering jobs.
How to Become a Mechanical Engineer
A mechanical engineer needs a bachelor’s degree from an accredited mechanical engineering school, and a master’s degree is often encouraged. A mechanical engineer must get a license in the state they want to work in.
Median Salary: $85,880
An industrial engineer will use their skills to make manufacturing and industrial systems as efficient as possible. They esure that industrial processes are not only efficient, but cost-effective. This is done 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 in this blog. Yet, the pay is great when you compare it to most other jobs.
How to Become an Industrial Engineer
An industrial engineer needs a bachelor’s degree and preferably a master’s degree as well. Although a license isn’t required, it is recommended. Licenses in electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering are typically a good way to advance your career, so getting them as soon as possible is often the best course of action.
Median Salary: $113,030
As the name implies, aerospace engineering is the type of engineering that deals with flight. That is, aerospace engineers design, develop, and constructs aircraft and spacecraft.
More specifically, aerospace engineering can be broken down further into two more specific engineering disciplines: aeronautical engineering, which deals with aircraft that fly within the Earth’s atmosphere, and astronautical engineering, which is concerned with spacecraft that fly beyond our planet’s atmosphere.
Aerospace Engineering: Pros and Cons
The most obvious pro of being an aerospace engineer is the fact that every aerospace engineer gets to go to space at least once.
Okay, that’s not true, but you do get to work in what is easily one of the coolest industries on (and off) the planet. And maybe it’s just a lifetime of reading science fiction, but I also think there is something profoundly noble about aerospace engineering’s project of extending human civilization out into the fire and void of empty space.
For this honor, you are also paid pretty well. At $113,030 aerospace engineers have the second-highest average salary of any engineering discipline, second only to petroleum engineering.
Probably the biggest con associated with aerospace engineering is the fact that there are a very small number of places at which you can find work. This has a few consequences.
First, you’re almost certainly going to end up working for the government or one of maybe a dozen private firms that specialize in building and testing aerospace equipment. Though we’ve seen a really exciting expansion of job opportunities in the form of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos can still only hire so many people to build rockets for them.
For this reason, you may well find yourself in an exceptionally hierarchical workplace once you do find employment. Moreover, when you have lots of talented people chasing a limited job pool competition can be extremely severe. Some people thrive in just this sort of environment, but those that don’t should think carefully about the day-to-day realities of being an aerospace engineer.
If you do take a government job, you should also be aware of how glacially slow government projects tend to move. I’d wager that for every hour you get to spend building or even thinking about rockets, you’re probably going to spend at least one hour in a meeting or filing a report.
How to Become an Aerospace Engineer
Your best bet is to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, though you might also consider attending one of the programs that allow you to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s in just 5 years.
As with the other majors mentioned so far, you will probably also be well served taking the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam after graduation and getting your professional engineering license after you’ve acquired the requisite 4 years of work experience.
Median Salary: $102,106
The work of chemical engineers is primarily devoted to developing manufacturing processes for chemical components. That is, chemical engineering is concerned with manufacturing and using chemicals in fields like pharmaceuticals, energy, and any other realm that involves specialized understanding of chemical elements and chemical processes.
Chemical Engineering: Pros and Cons
Chemical engineering has much to recommend it. It is one of the better-paying engineering jobs, with an average pay in the low six figures and as many as 10% of practitioners clearing $150,000.
Chemical engineers also have their pick of industries to work in. Most types of engineering tend to have broad applicability, 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, but less obvious ones include architecture, manufacturing, and developing new cleaners, stains, solvents, paints, paint removers, lipsticks, and basically everything else.
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 your mixing chemicals, especially ones that don’t tend to be mixed very often, there’s a chance that you’ll cause an explosion or inadvertently summon Cthulhu.
How to Become a Chemical Engineer
Like most types of engineering, the journey usually starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. As the ranks of college-goers continues to swell it is becoming more and more important for you to distinguish yourself. Arguably the most straightforward way to do this is by completing one or more chemical engineering internships while you’re an undergraduate or graduate student.
In a similar vein, it will help you to 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 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: $86,800
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 the other living organisms in our environment, as well as 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 angst surrounding climate change and humanity’s future, students of environmental engineering will often feel a sense of grand purpose associated with their chosen field that isn’t always seen in other people and other professions. This might be why it has relatively high job satisfaction ratings.
While quite a lot of environmental engineering takes place in the lab or in an office, there is a real chance that you’ll get to spend time outdoors, getting fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. On the other hand, of course, it’s always possible that job sites could be remote, dangerous, or require you to be present 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 tend not to matter, but 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, though educating yourself up to the level of a master’s degree or a Ph.D. will increase your career prospects and eventual pay.
Some colleges offer programs that will allow you to complete a bachelor’s and master’s in 5 years, and some have partnerships with companies that will allow you to complete internships and gain experience in environmental engineering.
To advance as quickly as possible you will need to complete the fundamentals of engineering exam after graduation and the professional engineering exam after gaining at least four years of relevant work experience.
Median Salary: $74,780
Agricultural engineers are tasked with combining elements of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and civil engineering in an effort to achieve agricultural–that is, 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 that’s nowhere more true than in agricultural engineering. Agricultural engineering 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 be a pro or a con. You could view it as a distracting 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
As will no doubt be shocking, the best way to become an agricultural engineer is to study agricultural engineering in school. From what I’ve seen a bachelor’s degree is almost always sufficient to enter the field, but with more training comes a higher pay scale.
Median Salary: $132,280
You guessed it: petroleum engineering is all about oil. Indeed, petroleum engineers are those people who are tasked with producing hydrocarbons (oil 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 the types of engineering on the market, pulling down an average salary in excess of $130,000 a year. There is also a huge demand for petroleum engineers, projected to grow by as much as 26% from 2012 to 2022.
Which is not to say this outstanding pay scale and excellent job outlook don’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.
All told, 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. While petroleum engineering is obviously the best degree to pursue, it isn’t unheard of for graduates in mechanical or chemical engineering focuses to make the cut as well. A fair number of relevant jobs require more advanced degrees.
Median Salary: $84,320 (includes mining engineers)
A geological engineer is one whose expertise is applicable anywhere that large amounts of Earth needs to be extracted, moved, explored, processed, or otherwise dealt with.
Their responsibilities can include auditing tunnels for safety, designing underground or open-pit mines, developing means for transporting valuable minerals to processing facilities, handling conservation, sustainability, and reclamation efforts, surveying, or preparing technical reports.
Geological Engineering: Pros and Cons
There are several substantial pros to geological engineering. One of the biggest is common to all engineering, and that is that you get to apply engineering principles to solving valuable, large-scale problems.
The second is that your job should be relatively secure. Geological engineering is slated to grow at least as much as the average for all occupations.
There are two major 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, and that’s that much of geological engineering occurs on-site. This means you could be working in offices or remote wildernesses, you might need to travel a fair bit, and you might have to 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 given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.
Median Salary: $88,040
Biomedical engineering is a complicated field, but to put it simply, 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.
Median Salary: $82,200
Automotive engineering is, somewhat obviously, the type of engineering that deals with the study, planning, and production of automobiles. Most automotive engineers have a strong background in mechanical engineering.
Median Salary: $105,810
Nuclear engineers specialize in the processes, research, and systems surrounding the safe use of nuclear energy. Many nuclear engineers focus on researching and testing innovative uses for nuclear materials in medicine or industrial processes, though most nuclear engineers dedicate their work to power generation.
Median Salary: $84,770
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. Indeed, civil engineers are the folks that make our environment inhabitable and usable in the modern world.
Median Salary: $82,845
Generally speaking, structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering. Structural engineers are the civil engineers who create the designs for the, well, structures that underlie larger projects found in other types of engineering.
Other Types of Engineering Careers
Finally, we’ll close with a list of all the other types of engineering that we couldn’t fit in our already expansive list. Be sure to check out these lesser-known engineering career fields and other sub-disciplines within the engineering sphere:
- Biomechanical Engineering
- Architectural Engineering
- Computer Engineering
- Mechatronics Engineering
- Robotics Engineering
- Microelectronic Engineering
- Materials Science 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
As you can see, although these different types of engineering vary widely in their responsibilities, they do share some DNA. All of them have to do with designing something and testing it to make sure it works well. In some ways, these jobs can’t exist without each other.