Many STEM-focused students that enjoy problem-solving, attention to detail, and possess a perpetual curiosity know that they want to become engineers. However, they are often confused by the many different types of engineering fields. After all, there are countless types of engineering sub-disciplines and interdisciplinary engineering concentrations. However, there are five traditional general categories. They core branches of engineering are:

  1. Civil Engineering
  2. Electrical Engineering
  3. Chemical Engineering
  4. Mechanical Engineering
  5. Industrial Engineering

In the article that follows, we’ll touch on each of the main branches of engineering. Additionally, we’ll look at salary and employment outlook for engineering. Further, we’ll explore how hard it is to get into an engineering program as well as the best colleges to attend for future engineers.

Civil Engineering

Modern society rests on the foundation of the work of civil engineers. In fact, this profession is essentially responsible for the world’s entire infrastructure. The roads, highways, and bridges we drive cars on are the work of civil engineers. There is little in the realm of transportation that is not. Airports, sea ports, train systems, and subways all fall into this category as well.

In college, to become a civil engineer, you will likely take courses such as:

  • Civil Engineering Materials
  • Numerical Methods in Civil Engineering
  • Strength of Materials
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Engineering Probability and Statistics
  • Design Problems
  • Water Resources Engineering
  • Structural Analysis
  • Environment Risk Assessment

Electrical Engineering

Surprisingly one of the broadest engineering degrees, electrical engineering covers the science behind the electronics, technology, and computer systems that power the world. This includes everything from the communications systems that connect the globe, to power generation systems, to motors, to navigation systems.

You’ll likely take courses along the lines of:

  • Electricity & Magnetism
  • Electronic Circuit Design
  • Electromagnetics
  • Power Systems
  • Electricity Economics
  • Wireless Circuits
  • Digital Control
  • Neural Engineering’
  • Mixed Signal Circuits
  • Semiconductor Devices
  • Microprocessor Systems and Interfacing
  • Electronic Measurement Techniques

Chemical Engineering

Look around the room you are in right now and you’ll see the results of chemical engineering all around you. The clothes you wear, the food you eat, the medications you take—it’s hard to find a product that chemical engineers did not play a role in creating.

In college, future chemical engineers may encounter coursework such as:

  • Chemical Process Design
  • Product Design
  • Thermodynamics & Kinetics
  • Heat and Mass Transfer
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Separation Processes
  • Numerical Methods in Chemical Engineering
  • Computer-Aided Chemical Process Design

Mechanical Engineering

Known for its versatility and multifaceted nature, mechanical engineering is in essence, according to Columbia University, in essence “the student of objects and systems in motion.” Mechanical engineers work to solve material-based problems. They make advancements in everything from medical devices to car engines to sports equipment. The career possibilities with a mechanical engineering degree are truly endless.

In pursuing a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, you’ll encounter courses such as:

  • Mechanical Systems Design
  • Product Realization
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Fluids Engineering
  • Heat Transfer
  • Mechanical Elements
  • Manufacturing
  • Graphics for engineering

Industrial Engineering

This is a frequently misunderstood branch of engineering. Perhaps the word “industrial” sounds limiting in scope as though you’ll be wearing a hard hat to work every day. For simplicity we like the definition from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Industrial engineersdevise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.” Engineers in this branch apply the principles of engineering to real-word problems. For example, they may devise systems to streamline a company’s delivery systems, increase the safety of a theme park, or help hospitals more efficiently serve their patients.

In studying to be an Industrial Engineer, you are likely to complete the following courses:

  • Supply Chain Analysis
  • Simulation Modeling
  • Human Factors Engineering
  • Design of Experiments & Quality Assurance
  • Manufacturing Processes
  • Data Analytics
  • Productivity Analysis
  • Engineering Economic Analysis

Other Types of Engineering

Each of the aforementioned branches of engineering have a multitude of sub-disciplines. Additionally, there are other distinct, highly-specialized branches such as Aerospace Engineering, Petroleum Engineering, Environmental Engineering, and Nuclear Engineering. In total there are 50+ engineering degrees available at American colleges.

Best Colleges for Engineering

Most students know that schools like MIT, Caltech, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon have world-famous engineering programs. While those may be the most prominent names there are numerous schools that accept large percentages of those who apply and still produce excellent graduate outcomes. These schools include Arizona State, CU Boulder, and Clarkson University. College Transitions has put together a series of “Best Colleges for” lists covering many engineering disciplines. They include the Best Colleges for…

Types of Engineering – College of Engineering Acceptance Rates

Gaining acceptance into an engineering program is almost always more difficult than being admitted into a university’s college of arts & sciences. While most schools do not release discipline-specific admissions data, some do. Here’s what we know:

School Overall Acceptance Rate Engineering Acceptance Rate
UIUC (Grainger) 45% 23%
Purdue University 69% 37%
University of Washington 53% 40% (33% non-resident)
UC Berkeley 15% 8%

 

For more on the admissions challenges that await prospective engineering students, visit our blog: The Admissions Impact of Your College Major Decision.

Income and Employment Outlook by Engineering Field

Engineering Field Median Income Projected Growth Through 2031
Civil Engineering $88,050 7%
Electrical Engineering $100,420 3%
Chemical Engineering $105,550 14%
Mechanical Engineering $95,300 2%
Industrial Engineering $95,300 10%

For more visit the BLS website.

Types of Engineering – Final Thoughts

Engineering is a perfect field of study for a student with the right attributes, qualification, and passions. The admissions landscape is challenging at elite institutions. However, there are plenty of excellent schools with less stringent admissions standards that still provide a stellar education.

Students interested in finding a college at which to student engineering may also find these pages helpful:

Engineering Programs for “B” Students

Best Small Colleges for Engineering

Changing Your Major to Engineering

Top STEM Summer Programs