Students seeking STEM majors are often amazed by how many different types of Bachelor’s in Engineering degrees there are. Four-year Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) curricula can be tailored with a wide variety of specializations. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that about 107,000 students finish engineering degrees each year. Engineering schools have seen enrollment jump 33 percent since 2010. Engineering is a challenging, hands-on major that prepares undergrads for high salaries and great job prospects. All of the U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 best-paying majors are in engineering. Bachelor’s graduates boast an average starting engineering salary of $58,000 with plenty of room to grow. But, what is the best field in engineering for you? In this article, we’ll explore the numerous types of engineering degrees and guide you to an answer.
Overview of the Six Branches of Engineering
First, what does an engineer do? Engineers are creative problem-solvers who design machines and structures to improve daily life. Engineers use science and math to invent innovative tools that meet society’s needs. Developing, testing, and updating high-performance products is always their job. The difference comes when they specialize in different kinds of engineering services. Engineers focus their talents on creating one certain type of system. Traditionally, there were only four engineering branches. Engineers now agree that these are the six branches:
1. Civil Engineering
Civil engineering is a major branch concerned with keeping our nation’s infrastructure strong. It focuses on designing, constructing, and maintaining safe public structures we use daily. Civil engineers work on highways, bridges, dams, sewage systems, water lines, railways, and more. Since 4000 BC, the world has needed civil engineers to build civilizations and cities from scratch. The current market projects 6 percent growth to 347,300 civil engineering jobs total. Civil engineers benefit from a mean annual wage of $91,790, or $44.13 per hour.
2. Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering is a broad branch that produces prototypes for any cutting-edge machinery. It involves designing plans to manufacture engines, vehicles, refrigerators, robots, vacuums, and more. Mechanical engineers innovate advanced equipment that helps operators save time, effort, and money. Diagnosing machine errors and fixing faulty parts is also in their wheelhouse. By 2028, the number of mechanical engineering jobs will hit 325,700 for a 4 percent rise. Mechanical engineers report average yearly pay of $92,800, or $44.62 per hour.
3. Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineering is a relatively young branch that devises ways to generate and use electricity. Since the 18th century, it has dealt with circuiting power systems from the microscopic to macroscopic level. Electrical engineers work on designing generators, radars, lighting, transformers, and more. Many also create the electronics, including cell phones and computers, that we use to communicate. The 10-year job outlook for electrical engineering shows a 2 percent uptick to 338,300 positions. Electrical engineers make a median $96,640 salary, or $46.46 per hour.
4. Chemical Engineering
Chemical engineering is a unique branch centered on mixing liquids and gases to make solutions. First taught in 1888 at MIT, chemical engineering involves converting raw elements into usable compounds. It deals with making diverse substances, such as food, medicines, renewable energy, plastics, and resins. Chemical engineers must follow strict protocol to lower the risk of bad reactions with hazardous materials. Employment in chemical engineering will increase 6 percent to 36,000 jobs. Chemical engineers bring home mean income of $114,470, or $55.03 per hour.
5. Geotechnical Engineering
Geotechnical engineering is a new branch that unearths useful resources from the Earth’s surface. Founded in 1925 by Karl von Terzaghi, it studies soil and rock mechanics to design safe subsurface systems. Geotechnical engineers work on building mines, oil pipelines, tunnels, channels, retaining walls, and more. Some also inspect the ground after sinkholes, earthquakes, and mudslides. This decade, hiring of geotechnical engineers will grow 3 percent for 6,100 jobs nationwide. Geotechnical engineers receive average yearly earnings of $98,420, or $47.32 per hour.
6. Engineering Management
Engineering management is an administrative branch focused on directing projects from start to finish. Since 1967, U.S. graduate schools have admitted bachelor’s grads into engineering management programs to earn upper-level leadership roles. Engineering managers hire staff, set budgets, purchase equipment, supervise production sites, and test results. Overseeing successful, technically sound projects is their duty. Engineering management will see a 3 percent uptick by 2028 to 197,900 jobs. Managers make the highest average of $146,290, or $70.33 per hour.
What is the toughest branch of engineering? Perhaps engineering management because it requires a master’s degree or 5-10 and more years of experience. Master of Engineering Management (MEM) programs involve 30-39 credits beyond a bachelor’s plus thesis research and leadership practica. Most other engineering types are open to all baccalaureate holders. However, that doesn’t mean the other five branches are easy. Engineering majors require taking rigorous STEM courses with labs and co-ops. Chemical engineering might be the toughest if you struggle with chemistry and energy courses. Civil engineering could be the hardest if physics and calculus courses are your least favorite. How difficult the six engineering branches are depends on your own individual strengths and weaknesses.
Introduction to 21 Types of Engineering Specialties
Did you think we were finished? Not even close! The six branches of engineering are further split into several sub-specializations. Each sub-category has a more narrow focus on producing certain civil, chemical, electrical, geotechnical, and mechanical systems. Different types of bachelor’s in engineering degrees align with these unique concentrations. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) currently approves 4,144 programs in wide-ranging fields at 812 colleges across 32 nations. Attending one prepares you to take the FE exam and earn the Professional Engineer license for any discipline. You only have to decide which engineering specialty speaks to you. Below we’ll introduce 21 of the most popular specializations in types of engineering A-Z style.
1. Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineering is a field that develops new state-of-the-tech technology to navigate our skies. It explores new heights in making both aircraft and spacecraft for inside or outside Earth’s atmosphere. Aerospace engineers also design the radar, missile, communication, and propulsion systems that help rockets run. Keeping passengers and astronauts safe in high-flying vehicles is their goal. The 63,960 aerospace engineers will experience 2 percent job growth this decade. Aerospace engineers boast a median annual wage of $115,220, or $55.39 per hour.
2. Agricultural Engineering
Agricultural engineering is a sub-specialty focused on creating equipment that aids farm operations. It boosts crop production yields by finding better, more sustainable ways to grow products. Agricultural engineers devise new tractors, tillers, irrigation pumps, seeders, climate control systems, and more. Some also build housing and processing plants to harvest livestock for meat or diary. Employment in agricultural engineering will increase 5 percent for 2,800 jobs. Agricultural engineers reap average yearly profits of $79,090, or $38.03 per hour.
3. Architectural Engineering
Architectural engineering is a detail-oriented discipline that crafts sound building plans for structures. It deals with designing houses, schools, stores, stadiums, churches, factories, skyscrapers, and more. Architectural engineers meticulously draw, analyze, and change the blueprints before construction. They’re also tasked with ensuring builders bring their approved technical layouts to life. Demand for architectural engineers will spike 8 percent for 11,200 openings by 2028. Architectural engineers have a mean income of $88,860 each year, or $42.72 per hour.
4. Biomedical Engineering
Biomedical engineering is a bachelor’s major centered on proposing new health care equipment that saves lives. It blends the biological and medical sciences to find better diagnosis tools or treatments for various health conditions. Biomedical engineers create MRI machines, prosthetics, artificial organs, pacemakers, implants, wheelchairs, and more. Some even work in veterinary medicine to support domestic animals. Jobs for biomedical engineers will hit 20,500 for 4 percent growth. Biomedical engineers make median annual pay of $95,090, or $45.72 per hour.
5. Computer Hardware Engineering
Computer hardware engineering is an electrical sub-category that develops the motherboards for tech devices to run. It entails making hard drives, circuit boards, processors, video cards, RAM, peripheral connectors, and more. Computer hardware engineers also build the internet modems and routers used to connect to networks. They test out the newest advances to enhance our digital experience. Hiring of computer hardware engineers will speed up 6 percent for 68,400 positions total. Hardware engineers earn an average salary of $117,840, or $56.66 per hour.
6. Construction Engineering
Construction engineering is a civil concentration that coordinates every stage of complex building projects. It deals with erecting public or private structures from the ground up based on local regulations. Construction engineers wear many (hard) hats to conduct cost estimates, test soils, analyze building materials, survey land, hire crews, and more. Assembling strong edifices safely on time, budget, and code is their goal. Job prospects in construction engineering will jump 6 percent. Construction engineers enjoy mean compensation of $103,110, or $49.57 per hour.
7. Environmental Engineering
Environmental engineering is an eco-friendly field focused on solutions that protect the planet. It encompasses all sustainable systems, such as solar panels, windmills, bioswales, stack scrubbers, living roofs, and more. Environmental engineers find methods to slow climate change by solving global issues like pollution and carbon emissions. They also do quality control to check “green” technologies work. The number of environmental engineers will rise 5 percent to 58,300. Environmental engineers have median earnings of $92,640, or $44.54 per hour.
8. Fire Protection Engineering
Fire protection engineering is a unique area that designs life-saving systems to suppress the spread of flames. It entails creating safe firefighter equipment, including extinguishers, water hoses, air packs, hydrants, and turnout gear. Fire protection engineers set guidelines for installing alarms, sprinklers, CO2 monitors, and escape routes. They also inspect buildings to prevent catastrophic tragedies later. The 10-year outlook for fire protection engineering shows a 5 percent uptick. Fire protection engineers accept a median $89,130 salary, or $42.85 per hour.
9. Industrial Engineering
Industrial engineering is a sub-specialty for making manufacturing plants more efficient and productive. It involves developing control systems that speed up production while cutting costs and manpower needs. Industrial engineers brainstorm strategies for integrating robots, automation, and high-tech machines into factory operations. They’re committed to avoiding wastefulness and streamlining assembly lines. Forecasts predict industrial engineering jobs will surpass 308,400 for 8 percent growth. Industrial engineers claim mean pay of $91,630, or $44.05 per hour.
10. Marine Engineering
Marine engineering is a naval discipline concerned with building watercraft for crossing our oceans and seas. It deals with creating the schematics for new yachts, cruise ships, frigates, submarines, cargo ships, and more. Marine engineers install and test all equipment from echo sounders to radars before vessels set sail. Some also design offshore oil rigs and wind turbines for energy production. By 2028, employment of marine engineers will rise rapidly 9 percent for 12,700 jobs overall. Marine engineers can expect median income of $98,970, or $47.58 per hour.
11. Materials Engineering
Materials engineering is a broad-based bachelor’s degree that teaches how to process various products. It studies the unique properties of ceramics, polymers, composites, metals, woods, biomaterials, and more. Materials engineers analyze substances at the atomic level to tweak their components and make new matter. Some work with tiny nanomaterials smaller than 0.000000001 meter under microscopes. There will be 0 percent growth to the 27,700 materials engineering jobs this decade. Materials engineers report an average $96,930 wage, or $46.60 per hour.
12. Military Engineering
Military engineering is an Armed Forces career where active-duty members design our nation’s defense systems. It spans the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy to ensure troops are protected. Military engineers build durable fortifications, including bases, hangars, tanks, training camps, and hospitals. Many start as cadets at military colleges before enlisting for combat. Job prospects will be stable through 2028 for military engineers who are U.S. citizens and pass the ASVAB test. Military engineers take home mean $74,988 pay, or $6,249 per month.
13. Mining Engineering
Mining engineering is a geotechnical field that tunnels into underground shafts to extract natural resources. It devises the best methods for reaching deposits of coal, salt, gold, limestone, chalk, shale, clay, and more. Mining engineers collaborate with other geoscientists to dig new quarries and keep current mines structurally safe. They also monitor the excavation site for hazards and potential pollutants. Sluggish job growth of 3 percent will create 200 mining engineering jobs. Mining engineers are granted a median yearly income of $98,420, or $47.32 per hour.
14. Nuclear Engineering
Nuclear engineering is a sub-category centered on generating energy when an atom’s nucleus joins another. It designs nuclear technology for use in medical imaging, national defense, water desalination, space travel, irradiation, and more. Nuclear engineers adhere to strict safety regulations to prevent exposure to radioactive materials. When needed, they also respond to and inspect power plant incidents. The nuclear engineering field will lose 100 jobs for a 10-year decline of 1 percent. Nuclear engineers gross an average salary of $110,790, or $53.26 per hour.
15. Petroleum Engineering
Petroleum engineering is a geotechnical discipline that drills into Earth’s crust to strike oil. It designs innovative oilfield equipment and extraction methods to increase gas production. Petroleum engineers need bachelor’s degrees to effectively build wells that reach reservoirs below ground and force oil out. During digs, they also analyze production levels and inject chemicals or steam to release more gas. Petroleum engineers will see hiring increase 3 percent to 34,300 total jobs. The mean price for petroleum engineering positions is $156,370, or $75.18 per hour.
16. Robotics Engineering
Robotics engineering is a mechanical major programming machinery that can replicate human behaviors. It sparks new innovations like drones, self-driving cars, exoskeletons, humanoids, space rovers, and more. Robotics engineers use coding languages to tell these machines how to complete set tasks automatically. They also continually test and debug the robot prototype to advance its capabilities. Employment of robotics engineers will expand 5 percent for 12,800 new jobs. Robotics engineers cash a median annual paycheck of $87,370, or $42.00 per hour.
17. Safety Engineering
Safety engineering is an occupational health field that ensures workers are protected from harm during production. It seeks to prevent illness, injury, and property damage by triple checking that all systems work right. Safety engineers uphold and enforce the latest industry regulations to get violations corrected quickly before accidents. Some also test the products themselves to defend consumers’ well-being. The number of U.S. safety engineers will surpass 28,400 for 5 percent growth. Safety engineers reap an average wage of $92,190, or $44.32 per hour.
18. Software Engineering
Software engineering is a sub-specialization that develops new computer systems and apps for user enjoyment. It involves writing the code for operating systems, word processors, games, artificial intelligence, social media platforms, and more. Software engineers lead the production from concept to design to testing and maintenance. They also devise cyber security methods to stop data breaches. Jobs for software engineers will skyrocket 21 percent for 284,100 openings by 2028. Software engineers receive mean funds of $114,000, or $54.81 per hour.
19. Sound Engineering
Sound engineering is an electrical sub-field dedicated to designing equipment that transmits crystal-clear audio. It includes the production of musical pieces, films, radio broadcasts, television shows, political speeches, and more. Sound engineers tweak the wires, cables, and microphones just right for high-quality recordings. They also use their acoustical knowledge to convert and edit sound files. Current projections show an 8 percent uptick in sound engineering jobs totaling 155,800. Sound engineers benefit from a $79,445 median salary, or $41.37 per hour.
20. Structural Engineering
Structural engineering is bachelor’s-level discipline focused on assessing the durability of built projects. It ensures engineered products like bridges, airport runways, roads, sewers, and office buildings have the strength to endure long-term. Structural engineers analyze the load the beams, columns, and other parts can safely withstand. They also consult with architects about which materials from concrete to steel should be chosen. Structural engineering options will expand 5 percent by 2028. Structural engineers report median earnings of $84,770, or $40.75 per hour.
21. Transportation Engineering
Transportation engineering is another civil sub-specialty that creates infrastructure solutions for people to travel. It covers every transit system used to get from point A to B, including trains, subways, buses, interstates, and trams. Transportation engineers analyze the flow of traffic and devise modifications to increase commute speeds. They also control construction work and create detours when repairs or accidents occur. Vacancies for transportation engineering jobs have risen 14 percent. Transportation engineers grab average $85,632 pay, or $41.16 per hour.
These 21 types of engineering only scratch the surface of possibilities out there. Engineering bachelor’s grads can choose from many other unique disciplines. For example, automotive engineers fabricate vehicles from bumper to bumper for drivers to safely navigate our streets. Food engineers focus on designing the processes by which nutrients are grown, handled, packaged, and sold to hungry consumers. Textile engineers build mechanical equipment that weaves natural or artificial fibers into fabrics for making clothes. Metallurgical engineers deal with the production of metals like bronze, brass, steel, cast iron, and solder from alloys. Geomatics engineers survey large expanses of land and archive data for mapping our global infrastructure. Other fields worth mentioning are biochemical engineering, photonics engineering, systems engineering, forest engineering, water resources engineering, coastal engineering, optical engineering, nanoengineering, and molecular engineering.
So, which is the best field in engineering? That’s entirely up to you. All engineering specialties provide a gratifying, in-demand STEM career that will pay well and resolve everyday problems. It’s all about finding which engineering industries align to your unique interests and skills. Gaining experience in several engineering fields can help you narrow down your options. Locate engineering schools with ABET accreditation and start taking classes in various specialties. Sign up for internships and co-ops to practice the engineering fields firsthand. Exploring the different engineering types before picking a major will ensure you’re making the right decision. Even if you change your mind, engineering degrees are versatile to switch into other specialties later. Bachelor’s grads can even return for a graduate degree or certificate. You’ll never run out of choices since there are nearly 200 types of engineering!
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