By Carly Stockwell
Deciding what the best engineering degree is for you is no easy choice, but looking at which degrees are the most popular might be a good start.
Depending on which field of engineering you choose, many different career paths are available. For instance, if you want to design and develop aircraft systems, you’ll want a degree in aerospace engineering. If you want to focus on creating new and improved medical devices, you’ll be most prepared if you focus on biomedical engineering.
But what is the best engineering major for you? There are so many different engineering majors that deciding between them can be hard.
Each year, around 200,000 students obtain a bachelor’s of engineering. Certain fields within the discipline graduate a lot more than others, too. For example, electrical engineering is far more popular than ocean engineering when it comes to getting an engineering degree.
1. Mechanical Engineering (ME)
The most popular engineering degree is mechanical engineering. With almost 50,000 undergraduate degrees awarded annually, mechanical engineering is almost twice as popular as the second field on this list.
Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering branches. It involves designing and manufacturing everything from individual components to complex, large-scale systems. The average mid-career salary for mechanical engineers is $97,654.
The job outlook for mechanical engineers is good, with a projected 4% growth rate from 2019 to 2029. Some of the most popular colleges for the discipline include Georgia Tech, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan. It’s no wonder that this is the most popular engineering degree.
2. Electrical Engineering (EE)
In contrast to civil engineering, electrical engineering is a more recent branch of engineering. It is the branch of engineering that deals with electricity and electronics. It is also the second most popular engineering major, with more than 31,000 undergraduate degrees handed out each year.
The field is expected to have a 3% growth rate from 2019 to 2029 – around the same as the all-occupation growth rate. The largest employers of electrical engineers are engineering services, research and development, and manufacturing industries. The average mid-career salary for this occupation is $105,789.
Want the opportunity to work with lots of other students in your major? Check out the most popular schools for electrical engineering, including the University of California-Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
3. Civil Engineering
Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines and it involves designing and creating roads, bridges, water systems, buildings, and other constructions. It’s also one of the most popular with around 22,000 students graduating each year. As the world population grows, civil engineering majors are going to be in demand as more and more infrastructure needs to be built.
The job outlook for civil engineers is good. The field can expect to see a 2% growth rate from 2019 to 2029. By mid-career, civil engineers make a median salary of around $87,000. It is possible this may rise as more government money is committed to infrastructure development.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has one of the most popular program for civil engineering majors, while the University of California Berkeley and the Georgia Institute of Technology are also very popular.
4. Computer Engineering (CE)
If you’re trying to decide whether to manage in electrical engineering or computer science, give some thought to computer engineering. This discipline uses the combined skills learned in the former two to design and develop hardware, software, and hardware-software integrations.
Relative to all majors, computer engineering may seem like an uncommon path, but among engineering, this discipline is the fourth most popular with over 15,000 new graduates each year. In 2019, computer engineers had a median annual salary of $117,200.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Carnegie Mellon top the list of the most popular schools for computer engineering majors. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Georgia Tech, and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor are also popular.
5. Chemical Engineering
Chemical engineers use math, science, and other engineering skills to solve problems related to the production, storage, and transportation of chemicals, food, fuel, and other products. More than 14,000 students receive undergraduate degrees in chemical engineering every year.
The number of jobs in chemical engineering is expected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029. That’s slightly faster than the projected all-occupation growth rate of 3%. In 2019, the median annual salary for chemical engineers is a very respectable $108,770.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of California-Berkeley are some of the most popular universities for chemical engineering in the country. Georgia Tech and CalTech are also very popular.
6. Biomedical Engineering
Biomedical engineers are researchers, inventors, and innovators. They combine their medical and engineering knowledge to design and improve medical devices and other systems used in healthcare. Around 12,000 undergraduate degrees in biomedical engineering are handed out each year.
The best way to think about biomedical engineering is like mechanical engineering mixed with some chemical engineering and some medical school. Biomedical engineers solve some of the most impactful problems today, like cures for diseases, designing prosthetic limbs, among many other unique projects.
The median salary of biomedical engineers in 2019 was $91,410 – that’s nothing to sneeze at. That average is likely to keep rising as the demand for biomedical devices continues to grow.
Once again, Georgia Tech is one of the most popular colleges for biomedical engineering majors. Other popular schools are Arizona State University and Boston University.
7. General Engineering
Students majoring in general engineering get a broad understanding of many different engineering fields along with a solid background in the subjects – including math and science topics – that all engineers must master. Once getting a bachelor’s degree in general engineering, many students go on to graduate school to study a more specific field within the discipline.
Approximately 12,000 students get a degree in general engineering each year. Since the range of options of students with this type of degree is so diverse, it’s hard to determine a meaningful average salary for majors.
Some of the most popular schools for studying general engineering are Arizona State University-Polytechnic, University of California-Davis, and East Carolina University.
8. Industrial Engineering (IE)
Industrial engineers are the people you turn to when you want to optimize or improve the performance of an engineering process. They figure out new ways to reduce the waste of resources, including money, materials, and work hours. Around 10,000 new graduates get their B.S. in industrial engineering each year.
The annual median salary of industrial engineers in 2019 was $88,020 – a little bit lower than other engineering fields, but still significantly higher than most other occupations. The job outlook for industrial engineers is quite good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs in this field to grow 10% between 2019 and 2029. That’s faster than both the all-occupation and the all-engineer growth rate.
If you’re interested in this field, you may want to look at Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University, and the University of Michigan.
9. Aerospace and Aeronautical Engineering
Interested in aviation or space exploration? If so, aerospace and aeronautical engineering may be a great match for you. Majors in this field study everything from aircraft testing to space vehicle design to missile testing. And, yes, that includes rocket science.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of aerospace engineers should grow about 3% from 2019 to 2029. The pay isn’t too shabby either. The median annual wage for aerospace engineers in 2019 was $116,500. About 7,000 students a year are awarded undergraduate degrees in this field.
For those who like to be surrounded by a lot of like-minded individuals, some of the most popular schools for aerospace and aeronautical engineering are Embry Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Purdue University.
10. Petroleum Engineering
Petroleum engineers look for ways to improve oil and gas extraction and production, while also trying to minimize any negative effects of extraction methods on the environment. Although it is possible for a petroleum engineer to work anywhere in the country, certain U.S. states have higher concentrations of jobs. In particular, Alaska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Texas have a high demand for petroleum engineers.
Around 2,200 students a year get a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering. The 2019 annual median salary for engineers working in this field is quite high at $137,720.
Some popular schools for studying this major are Colorado School of Mines, Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, and Pennsylvania State University.
The best thing about different engineering degrees is that they all share the same basic principles. For most popular engineering degrees, the first year or two of classes and studying will all be the same, meaning that you can switch majors without much hassle during these early years.
Getting your bachelor’s in engineering also is not an easy task with the major having some of the highest attrition rates of all college majors. When it comes to engineering though, don’t think that you need to be the smartest person in the room. Getting an engineering degree is more about learning how to solve problems than it is memorizing differential equations or physics theories.
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