You dream of becoming an engineer, but aren’t sure what engineering specializations are available to undergraduates in the US, and how your future career will be shaped by your major choice.
The degree options available in undergraduate engineering reflect the specialized skills you’ll gain and the career paths you may take. Large universities typically offer 10 to 15 different programs for students, each with its own unique curriculum, requirements and faculty. There are dozens of different programs across the country – covering everything from Environmental & Ecological Engineering to Biomedical Engineering to Robotics. Here’s a breakdown of some of the more popular options that prospective engineering students should know:
A branch of mechanical engineering, aerospace covers the design and creation of air and spacecrafts, satellites and missiles – essentially, anything under the umbrella of aviation. Aerospace engineers are often employed by the government (NASA; DOD) as well as large publicly traded and small private corporations.
Biomedical engineers apply principles in math and science to the design, development and evaluation of medical equipment, integrated health systems, prosthetics and other artificial organs, health management and medical robotics. Careers in manufacturing, hospitals, medical research facilities, universities and government agencies are common.
This field is the backdrop for work involving chemical, energy, drug and food production. Chemical engineers design systems and equipment that allow for chemicals, gases and liquids to be safely produced and transferred during the process of manufacturing.
Civil & Environmental Engineering
Civil engineers are responsible for the design of infrastructure in our everyday lives – roads, bridges, buildings and airports, to name a few. Environmental engineers can also design infrastructure, but with a more specific focus on environmental issues, including wind turbines, recycling/waste disposal plants, sustainable buildings and solar energy.
Electrical & Computer Engineering
Students in this field design and implement any electrical and/or computer systems – software, lighting, navigation and communication systems. Electrical and computer engineering is involved in just about every aspect of our daily lives – creating an in-demand, relatively stable career path.
Industrial & Systems Engineering
Industrial engineering includes the design and evaluation of systems that create and deliver all sorts of products. Industrial engineers work to maximize efficiency between human labor, technology and energy. They play a key role in making sure that all facets of a system work congruently to increase profits and output in industries ranging from airlines to social services.
Materials Science & Engineering
Materials engineers are responsible for the smallest details and materials that make up products and structures. They work in research and development labs, factories and offices to develop new, more efficient materials and evaluate how existing plastic, carbon fiber, ceramics and metals are used. Next time you swing a golf club or tennis racket, you can thank materials engineers for developing and testing the tiniest materials that allow these items to function properly.
Mechanical engineering is part of just about any mechanical problem you can think of. These engineers design infrastructure for buildings, air conditioning units, medical devices, engines, manufacturing equipment – and everything in between! Mechanical engineers work in a variety of industries, including automotive, biomedical, construction, manufacturing, power, and robotics, among others.
Nuclear engineers are responsible for the design and research behind systems, structures and materials that are radiological. They design and operate nuclear power plants, consult on the design of nuclear weapons and create medical equipment that utilizes radiology for cancer treatment. Nuclear engineers work in government agencies, manufacturing and scientific and technical industries, among others.
As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.