“If you want to make money, major in engineering.”
“Major in engineering so you can build things.”
“Become an engineer so you can change the world.”
Maybe you’ve heard these pieces of advice from a friend, family member, or mentor. But is it worthwhile to get an engineering degree, which is known for its difficulty? And if you do choose to major in engineering, which type of engineering should you choose?
It’s a tough call. However, regardless of specialization, employers love engineering majors for their ability to logically and methodically approach complex problems. If you’re curious to know some potential career paths and jobs for engineering majors, then read on.
Petroleum Engineer ($132,280 per year)
The focus of a petroleum engineer is figuring out how to obtain and refine oil in the safest and most efficient way. They design the equipment that accesses the oil, make sure that equipment is running properly, and figure out ways to make sure more oil is recovered than lost.
As a petroleum engineer, you can expect to work close to the oil drilling and well sites. While this affords the opportunity to meet lots of new people, it also requires lots of travel and 40-plus hour work weeks. You might also be expected to respond to problems as they arise, which could result in significant overtime.
Computer Hardware Engineers ($115,120 per year)
As a computer hardware engineer, you will spend time designing, testing, and updating the physical parts that help a computer to function. Employers for this job usually look for a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or electrical engineering, which demonstrate your strong background in math and science.
If you decide to become a computer hardware engineer, you can expect to work in a research laboratory, where you’ll build and test hardware. You should also expect to collaborate frequently with software engineers, as some hardware and software are developed at the same time.
Most hardware engineers work a full 40-hour workweek, and you won’t have to worry about overtime and pressing deadlines too often.
Nuclear Engineers ($105,810 per year)
Although it faces a stigma in certain circles, nuclear energy is a low-pollution and low-cost alternative energy source that is slowly increasing in popularity.
If you want to hop on this trend and work as a nuclear engineer, you can expect to design and develop nuclear equipment, monitor nuclear facilities, and experiment and test how nuclear power and its byproducts affect the environment.
About 33% of nuclear engineers reported working more than 40 hours a week, so take that into consideration that before applying. Nuclear engineers work closely with mechanical engineers and electrical engineers as well. Entry level jobs usually require a bachelor’s degree, but some may require a master’s degree or Ph.D.
Once you’re hired, you typically undergo an onsite training to help prep you for your job. This training could last anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months.
Chemical Engineers ($102,160 per year)
Being a chemical engineer revolves around – you guessed it – chemicals.
In this job, you can research and develop new manufacturing processes, establish safety procedures for other engineers, troubleshoot problems with the manufacturing process, evaluate current equipment and processes, as well as estimate production costs. As a chemical engineer, you can also choose to specialize within a specific process, like oxidation or polymerization.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can stick to research in life sciences, biotechnology, or business. In both situations, you should expect to work in an office, a laboratory, or both.
Travel is a possibility, but not required for all chemical engineers. Almost all chemical engineers work full time, but 20% reported working more than 40 hours. This usually happens when there are production targets to meet or when problems arise that must be solved immediately – whether you’re on the clock or not.
Materials Engineers ($94,610 per year)
As a materials engineer, you’ll have your work cut out for you. These engineers study materials at the atomic level.
As a materials engineer, you can expect to supervise the work of other engineers and scientists, monitor how materials perform, research causes of product failure, and evaluate how materials processing affects the environment. This represents a versatile career path, and you can expect to frequently work with and solve problems within other engineering disciplines.
Since the field is so broad, it lends itself easily to specialization. Your office could be an actual office, a factory, or a laboratory. Expect to work full-time hours.
A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for an entry level job, but a master’s might be required if you want to do research.
Health and Safety Engineers ($88,510 per year)
Most engineers are focused on building and creating. What if you want to use your talents a little differently? You might consider becoming a health and safety engineer.
Health and safety engineers are focused on protecting people from illness and injury, as well as protecting property from damage. Instead of physically keeping everyone and everything from harm, you make sure that their surroundings are safe and healthy. This might involve staying up to date on health and safety policies and regulations, identifying any potential safety hazards by inspecting facilities, factories, and equipment, and evaluating the effectiveness of safety equipment and mechanisms.
This is a broad field, so many engineers specialize. Some potential avenues include product safety engineer, systems safety engineer, or aerospace safety engineer. As a health and safety engineer, you will spend most of your time in an office, although you should anticipate some travel to worksites.
You can easily become a health and safety engineer with just a bachelor’s degree, although a master’s degree will usually accelerate your career progression.
As you can see, there are a number of diverse career paths for engineering majors. Whether you choose to build something, research, or manage and supervise other engineers, an engineering degree allows you to channel your strong math, science, and problem-solving skills into a career that’ll impact the world, one atom at a time.
*All salaries taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Human Resources Specialists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh (visited March 15, 2019).
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This post was written by Arlena McClenton, a senior at Barnard College studying comparative literature and web development. In her free time, she can be found drinking tea, scoping out the best campus study spaces, and exploring the city.