Demand for high-tech skills is attracting more students to engineering programs and creating new career opportunities for graduates with engineering degrees. The number of science and engineering degrees awarded in the United States has grown steadily since 2000, reaching over 650,000 in 2015, according to the National Science Foundation. During the decade leading up to 2026, the engineering field will add 139,300 new jobs, with an annual median wage of $91,010 as of 2016, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). An engineering degree can also serve as a foundation for gainful employment outside the engineering field, with half of the workers with STEM training working in non-STEM fields such as management, business and finance, Pew research shows.
But given this wide range of opportunities, which industries represent the most promising career potential for engineering graduates? Here’s a look at three fields (outside of software engineering) where an engineering degree can serve as a launchpad for a rewarding career path.
One of the most popular applications of engineering is automotive engineering. Automotive engineers work for companies such as General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. They design cars and automobile systems, working toward goals such as developing new technologies, improving fuel efficiency and enhancing safety features. As of the beginning of 2019, automotive engineers in the U.S. earn an average annual salary of $74,350 with potential rising to $105,000 and higher at GM, according to PayScale data.
To become an automotive engineer, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree in a field such as mechanical engineering, which will include relevant courses in math, physics, computer science and design. You must then pass an exam to obtain a Fundamentals of Engineering license. After this, you must fulfill your state’s requirement for work experience — typically four years — before taking the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, which will qualify you for a professional engineer license in your state. In the process of completing these requirements, you should also gain extensive technical familiarity with vehicles and their components, from being able to identify common models to know which types of o-ring materials are suitable for use in car engines.
Another dynamic area of opportunity for engineering graduates is the aerospace industry. Aerospace engineers typically specialize in either aircraft or spacecraft. They may also work in other specialized areas, such as missile design. They are primarily tasked with designing and testing prototypes. They may also be called upon to improve designs for greater fuel efficiency and safety, or greater combat performance in the case of military craft. In 2019, the average base pay for an aerospace engineer is $100,363.
To become an aerospace engineer, you must learn at least a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or another relevant field. Some institutions offer five-year programs where you can earn a bachelor’s and master’s at the same time. Entry-level positions may not require licensing, but for advanced positions, after getting your degree, you will also need to gain work experience and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam and the Professional Engineering exam.
With demand for healthcare services growing, another promising field for engineering graduates is medical engineering. Medical engineers apply engineering principles for research and development of healthcare technologies such as imaging equipment, medical devices, prosthetic limbs or artificial organs. They may specialize in a wide array of niche areas such as biomedical engineering, nanotechnology applications or sports medicine, to name just a few. In 2017, the median average salary for a biomedical engineer was $88,040, the BLS reports.
To become a medical engineer, you need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physics or a related field for an entry-level position, and a master’s or Ph.D. in engineering for advanced positions. In addition to study in the sciences and physiology, you must also usually complete clinical study coursework.
The automotive, aerospace and healthcare industries provide three of most promising sources of career opportunities for engineering graduates. In addition to these industries, engineers can explore a wide range of other specialties, from civil and industrial engineering to electrical and computer hardware engineering. If you’re not yet sure what specialty you want to go into, consider starting with a degree in a broad field such as mechanical engineering or biochemistry that you can use as a foundation for branching out in multiple directions.