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Deciding Which Engineering Degree is Right for You

If you think you’d like to become an engineer but aren’t sure which program is right for you there are several factors that you should consider. Often High School graduates only think about how much money they can earn and forget that there is much more to a job than that. You don’t want to spend the next 30 -40 years doing something you don’t enjoy so it is important to look at what the job entails and the environment it is done in. Some engineers spend a lot of time in the field on a job site… others spend their time in an office. Some work with their hands while others work on computers or with chemicals. And finally you have to consider job availability no matter how much you enjoy designing horse saddles if there isn’t much demand for horse saddle engineers you probably won’t be able to find a job doing it.

EngineerIn the table below we have compiled information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on various fields of engineering, median annual salary, job growth and a basic description of what the position entails. The first entry on the table is Aerospace engineer and it is one of the top paying types of engineer with an annual average salary of $109,650. Unfortunately, the BLS projects a decline in the number of aerospace engineers in the period from 2014 through 2024. That means that you are unlikely to be able to find a job if you graduate with a degree in Aerospace engineering. At the opposite end of the spectrum we have environmental engineers that only earn $49,170 per year but jobs are projected to grow much faster than average. One thing to keep in mind is that if demand outstrips supply there will be upward pressure on salaries so environmental engineer salaries would tend to go up while if too many people are chasing the available Aerospace engineer jobs there will be downward pressure on the salaries. Just relying on gut feeling will not allow you to make the best decisions for instance you might think that designing computers is a good up and coming field but the BLS projects job growth to be slower than average.

Another factor to keep in mind is that these salaries are average (median) salaries for all workers, some of whom have 10 or 20 years of experience, you will not instantly earn these salaries the moment you graduate from college.


Subject Median Annual Salary Growth (2014-24) Growth Comparison
Aerospace Engineers  $109,650 -2% Decline
Aerospace engineers design primarily aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.
Agricultural Engineers  $73,640 4% (Slower than Average)
Agricultural engineers attempt to solve agricultural problems concerning power supplies, the efficiency of machinery, the use of structures and facilities, pollution and environmental issues, and the storage and processing of agricultural products.
Biomedical Engineers  $85,620 23% (Much faster than average)
Biomedical engineers combine engineering principles with medical and biological sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare.
Chemical Engineers  $98,340 2% (Slower than Average)
Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.
Civil Engineers  $83,540 8% (As fast as average)
Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.
Computer Hardware Engineers  $115,080 3% (Slower than Average)
Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. These engineers discover new directions in computer hardware, which generate rapid advances in computer technology.
Electrical and Electronics Engineers  $96,270 0% (Little or no change)
Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, and power generation equipment. Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems—from portable music players to global positioning systems (GPSs).
Environmental Engineers  $49,170 10% (Faster than Average)
Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.
Health and Safety Engineers  $86,720 6% (As Fast as Average)
Health and safety engineers develop procedures and design systems to prevent people from getting sick or injured and to keep property from being damaged. They combine knowledge of systems engineering and of health and safety to make sure that chemicals, machinery, software, furniture, and other consumer products will not cause harm to people or damage to buildings.
Industrial Engineers  $84,310 1% (Little or no change)
Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.
Materials Engineers  $93,310 1% (Little or no change)
Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a wide range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.
Mechanical Engineers  $84,190 5% (As fast as average)
Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, including tools, engines, and machines.
Mining and Geological Engineers  $93,720 6% (As fast as average)
Mining and geological engineers design mines to safely and efficiently remove minerals such as coal and metals for use in manufacturing and utilities.
Nuclear Engineers  $102,220 -4% Decline
Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment.
Petroleum Engineers  $128,230 10% (As Fast as Average)
Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

The links in the job title will take you to the BLS description of that particular job. Each of these positions requires at least a Bachelor’s Degree to start many also require that you take a “professional engineer test” to become certified. Many of these positions have corresponding “technician” positions. For instance Civil Engineers have Civil Engineering Technicians working with them. These positions require less education, and do more of the “hands-on” work. So if you prefer working with your hands and don’t want to spend 4 years working on a degree before you can get started earning money you might prefer a technician position. In this case the average Civil Engineer earns $83,540 and the average Civil Engineering Technician earns about 60% of that at $49,980 but only needs an associate degree. Just be sure to look at the job outlook many technician positions are looking at low growth numbers.


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About Tim McMahon

Work by editor and author, Tim McMahon, has been featured in Bloomberg, CBS News, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, Washington Post, Drudge Report, The Atlantic, Business Insider, American Thinker, Lew Rockwell, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, Oakland Press, Free Republic, Education World, Realty Trac, Reason, Coin News, and Council for Economic Education. Connect with Tim on Google+