Step by step guide to becoming a mechanical engineer

Engineering is a vast field, with a breadth of specializations that can feel daunting. Once students have sorted through the offerings, however, the profession offers an array of career choices to best fit an individual’s preferences and abilities. Entering the profession can be done via several educational pathways, while advanced degree programs and certifications can boost earning power and lead to job advancement. As you assess your interests and aptitude in engineering, you may ask yourself: Will I need extensive college training in mathematics? Is an undergraduate degree sufficient to get into the profession? Do I need a license or certification to work in my state?

What does a mechanical engineer do?

Mechanical engineers research, design, develop and test mechanical and thermal devices including tools, engines, and machines. Some of the more-common devices serve the medical, energy, and automated manufacturing sectors. Many mechanical engineers work in general-purpose and automotive manufacturing, or for architectural and engineering service companies. Mechanical engineers also work in research and development testing laboratories. They typically spend their workdays in professional office settings but sometimes visit work sites to solve problems with existing equipment.

Mechanical engineers work hard, and often put in long days. According to the BLS, more than one-third of mechanical engineers worked over 40 hours a week in 2012. Candidates who continue their education to keep abreast of technological innovations will likely fill the best jobs opening up in the field.

Anything that involves force, energy or motion involves mechanical engineering. Because mechanical engineers design and work with all types of mechanical systems, careers in this field span across many industries. A mechanical engineer working in the aerospace industry could design the next big energy-efficient jet engine. The robotics industry employs mechanical engineers who build robots that help save lives. The entertainment industry also demands the talents of mechanical engineers who design grand, moving Broadway stages and thrilling roller coaster rides. According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, aspiring engineers can find a career in just about any industry, including automotive, biotechnology, computers, construction, energy, electronics, robotics, aerospace and entertainment, to name a few.

What kind of skills are required?

Engineering and creative skills dovetail in the work of mechanical engineers. On the one hand, they rely on advanced math—such as trigonometry and calculus—as well as their mechanical acumen to apply engineering concepts to design projects. A solid foundation in research techniques and technological applications is necessary to identify problems and then come up with effective ways to address them. On the other hand, analytical skills are only half the picture: the best mechanical engineers challenge themselves to look outside the box to find the best solution. Many projects require the combined efforts of multiple professionals, so good communication skills are a must.

The steps to becoming a mechanical engineer

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering
  2. Earn an engineering license
  3. Obtain licenses (optional)