Engineering is one of the most versatile fields you can choose, and is a great foundation for many careers. Engineers leverage scientific principles to simplify our lives, innovating and designing to solve everyday problems. Engineering is a competitive field requiring high intelligence, determination, and agility. Those who manage to stay the course are rewarded through salary, benefits, and job security.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a massive need for many types of engineers over the next decade as the sector is growing, and a sizable number of those working in the field will soon retire. In 2016, it was projected that 140,000 new engineering jobs would be created by 2026. If you are interested in becoming an engineer, there is no time like the present. This guide was created to provide you with an in-depth look at how to become an engineer and thrive in the field.
What Does an Engineer Do?
Per Michigan Tech’s Department of Engineering, engineers are versatile professionals tasked with using ingenuity and applying scientific principles to examine, design, invent, code, construct, and generate products and systems that help solve complex problems and enable companies and business owners to optimize productivity and effectiveness. Given the nature of the sector, engineers are responsible for conducting a wide array of tasks, including:
- Creative problem solving: According to Harvard Business School, creative problem solving is important because it encourages innovation, boosts productivity, allows for adaptability, and fosters growth.
- Troubleshooting: Engineers are responsible for troubleshooting systems and processes, to fix any issues that arise.
- Planning and designing: Engineers are responsible for planning and designing various processes, structures, systems, and technologies.
- Project management: According to the University of Hull, engineers need project management skills to enable them to plan and execute various projects on time and within budget.
- Quality assurance/testing: Engineers must also be capable of testing their designs and ensuring that the products and processes are optimally functional.
- Collaboration: Engineers are tasked with collaborating with colleagues from CEOs to managers, other engineers, and more.
- Compliance and code standards: Engineers must ensure that the products and systems they build follow all codes and standards governing the associated industry.
- Communication: According to Kettering University, engineers must be skilled communicators as they are tasked with collecting the required information to create specialized solutions.
What are some of the most popular engineering specialties?
Some of the most popular engineering specialties are:
- Petroleum: Petroleum engineers are responsible for helping find oil and gas needed to fuel the country. They earn an average of $70.06 per hour.
- Computer hardware: Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and their components. They earn an average of $65.50 per hour.
- Aerospace: Aerospace engineers are charged with developing and creating various technologies for spacecraft, aviation, and defense systems. They earn an average of $59.12 per hour.
Is becoming an engineer right for me?
Are you wondering whether engineering is right for you? Successful engineers typically possess the following traits:
- Curiosity: Engineers should possess a curious spirit, enabling them to better understand how things function.
- Innovation: As an engineer, innovation is the name of the game. Engineers must be forward-thinking and capable of creating products and systems virtually from scratch.
- Interpersonal communication skills: A major part of being an engineer is engaging in active listening and other interpersonal skills required to understand your client’s needs.
- Leadership: Engineers must be leaders. They routinely spearhead projects and lead collaborative teams.
- Collaboration: Engineers must be able to collaborate with people working on all levels of any given company or organization.
- Attention to detail: In engineering, attention to detail is paramount. Engineers must be able to focus on even the most minute details to ensure every aspect of a product or system is optimally functional.
How to Become a Licensed Engineer: Step-by-Step
Becoming an engineer is a lofty goal that requires skill and dedication. However, those who are capable and determined can thrive in the field. One of the best things any prospective engineer can do is to prepare for their scholastic journey. Take the time to learn the requirements to earn your degree beforehand, so you can determine if an engineering career is right for you. To get you started, we have taken the time to do some research for you. Here is a short step-by-step guide on how to become an engineer.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering
The first step in becoming an engineer is earning a bachelor’s degree. Ideally, you will pursue a degree in a specialization of interest that leads to the career you envision. For instance, you can major in industrial engineering or civil engineering, or choose environmental or aerospace engineering, among others. In some instances, you may be able to become an engineer without earning a degree. Electrical technicians and software engineers earn relevant training and certifications, but aren’t always required to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Even though it’s possible to work in the field without a degree, most sectors of engineering do require one, and employers often look for candidates who have earned their diploma. Typically, it takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and about two years for an associate’s degree. Accelerated programs are available, enabling you to earn your degree in a shorter period. Additionally, depending on the program type, some engineering bachelor’s degrees, such as electrical or software, can be earned online. You can pursue most engineering careers with a bachelor’s degree or less, but specializations including mechanical and nuclear engineering often require a master’s degree to become gainfully employed.
Step 2: Complete an Internship
According to Geeks for Geeks, engineering internships can help students learn soft skills and company culture while also giving them the experience they need to start their careers. Work experience also provides an opportunity to determine if engineering is the right path for you. No matter which specialization you choose, an internship can be instrumental in ensuring you get enough hands-on experience before applying for jobs and working in the field. Ideally, graduating students will apply to companies where they see themselves working in the future. In certain cases, the internship allows engineering students to showcase their skills and earn a paying position in the company.
Engineering interns assist with research, design, and testing products and systems under construction, exposing them to cutting-edge concepts, and technologies. Internships give future engineers an advantage when entering the job market, and can also help graduating students start developing their technical skills and professional networks. Even if an internship doesn’t lead to a full-time job, working in the field helps students hone their skills while networking with other professionals — the building blocks for a thriving career.
Step 3: Take and Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam
Are you wondering how to become an accredited engineer? If so, then it is important to take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering or FE exam. Passing the FE exam is required in many states. Specifically, this exam enables engineers to be autonomous, freelance, or self-employed, offering their services to the general public. Otherwise, you may still be able to work as an engineer, but you will need to be employed by a company or entrepreneur directly. Passing the exam allows you to become a licensed professional engineer.
The FE exam is offered in the following disciplines:
- Electrical and computer
- Other disciplines
One of the best ways to improve your chances of passing the exam is by studying and learning from your professors and peers. Additionally, you can get a copy of the NCEES Handbook with information about the exam and what is required to pass. The manual includes diagnostic exams to help uncover your weaknesses, allowing you to strengthen them before taking the exam. Lastly, develop a study plan to ensure that you are taking the time to properly prepare to take the exam.
Step 4: Work for 4 Years Under a Licensed Engineer
Next, you will want to work under a licensed engineer for four years. Although the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Principles and Practice of Engineering Exams (PE) are helpful, they aren’t necessarily required. No matter how skilled you are or what you learned during your internship, there is no substitute for working under a licensed engineer for an extended period of time. Experienced engineers have invaluable real-world experience and demonstrate how to design, create, and pivot in real time.
To work under a licensed engineer for four years, you should apply to companies that offer shadowing opportunities. In doing so, you will be able to work directly with an experienced engineer who can help guide and train you each day. Rather than attempting to begin working on your own immediately, you will be able to work under the tutelage of an experienced engineer who can help you gain the confidence and insider knowledge to work in the field without supervision.
Step 5: Take and Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam
Lastly, to improve our knowledge and prospects, you may also want to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam, a nine-hour computer based test. Those who wish to become licensed engineers need to pass this exam.
This exam is a requirement for professionals who want to be accredited engineers. The test can also help build credibility and authority, help advance your career, boost professional development and earning potential, and improve job security. Either way, you must complete your 4-year requirement before you are eligible to take this exam.
The PE exam is offered in the following disciplines:
- Industrial and systems
- Control systems
- Agricultural and biological
- Mining and mineral processing
- Metallurgical and materials
- Naval architecture and marine
- Electrical and computer
- Fire protection
To improve your chances of passing the PE exam, you can take advantage of free resources on the following pages:
There are also paid prep courses available in most areas. Additionally, consulting with experts in your chosen field is highly recommended. You should also be sure to take the exam as soon as possible once you have completed your 4-year experience requirement.
Engineering Specializations to Consider
As mentioned, there is a wide range of specializations for engineers. Choose one you are interested in and passionate about. For instance, if you have always been obsessed with airplanes or space, becoming an aerospace engineer may be your best route. Or, if you enjoy working with computers, you may prefer to be a software engineer. Here is some advice on becoming an engineer in several disciplines.
How to Become an Electrical Engineer
Becoming an electrical engineer is a straightforward process. Those who manage to find gainful employment without being fully certified may simply complete the training and begin working. However, if you want to be certified and autonomous, you must earn at least a bachelor’s degree. To improve your prospects and attract higher-paying companies, you may want to pursue a master’s degree. From there, you need to pass the FE exam, get an entry-level job, work for four years, then pass the PE exam.
How to Become an Aerospace Engineer
Being an aerospace engineer requires a high degree of math and science. Therefore, if you know you want to pursue this as a career while in high school, you should do your best to take advanced-level math and science courses. Additionally, you can join engineering clubs at your school if available. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, aerospace engineers must earn a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and may require security clearance. You should also choose a minor that coincides with your career goals. For instance, business is a great major if you plan to run your own business. Once you have graduated, you will need to complete an internship and earn a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. Next, you need to apply for entry-level positions or an apprenticeship. You can also join a professional organization for networking and professional development, and plan to earn your license to improve your chances of earning higher income positions.
How to Become an Environmental Engineer
Becoming an environmental engineer requires earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering. From there, you will need to pass the FE exam and get an entry-level position or internship. After that, you will also want to take the PE exam to ensure you have the proper credentials that will allow you to work for yourself or obtain better-paying positions. Lastly, you may want to consider earning your master’s degree to help make you eligible for top jobs.
How to Become a Mechanical Engineer
If you’re interested in becoming a mechanical engineer, you may want to begin by earning a bachelor’s degree. Upon graduation, you need to gain at least four years of experience, take the PE exam, get four years of relevant experience, and take the FE exam. You may want to earn a master’s degree to improve your chances of getting higher-earning positions. You can become a mechanical engineer without a degree by taking an entry-level position at a company, getting hands-on training, and slowly working your way up to a well-trained engineer.
How to Become an Industrial Engineer
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, becoming an industrial engineer requires earning a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering or a related field. From there, you can get an entry-level position or apprenticeship for the required hands-on experience. You should also consider getting certified to improve your chances for higher-paying jobs. You should also consider getting licensed to make you more reputable and allow you to work for yourself. A master’s degree is not essential but highly advised for industrial engineers to remain competitive and knowledgeable.