Cast your mind back just one year and the world looks comparatively alien compared to the technological, scientific, medical and commercial changes and innovations we enjoy today. From BMW’s i3 electric car, personal drones, Google Glass and the Apple watch to genomic-based cancer testing, bionic eyes, genetic engineering and the vast potential of 3D printing, the force behind many of the world’s greatest advances is often a team of engineers.
With engineers forming an integral part of any organization looking to increase efficiency or create a better product through a creative, innovative solution, engineering graduates are likely to find themselves in high demand across a wide range of sectors. Your interest in studying a master’s in engineering may lead you to careers in fields as far-ranging as space exploration and advanced medical treatments to cyber security and entrepreneurship.
Click on the tabs below for more information about engineering careers, specializations and types of engineering, and admission requirements.
Common skills gained with an engineering degree include:
A Master of Engineering or Master of Science in Engineering can take one of two forms: an academic degree, or a professional degree emphasizing skills and practical analysis over the former’s theory and research. The types of engineering degree available to you will partly be determined by the country and the institution in which you have chosen to study.
For example, the Master of Engineering degree in Australia is a two- to three-year research degree with an end-of-year thesis, while in the US and Canada a Master of Engineering is a two-year professional degree taken after a four-year bachelor’s degree in engineering. In the UK the four-year postgraduate Masters in Engineering (MEng) is designed to prepare students to become chartered engineers, and may extend to five years for students to spend a year in industry. Some universities in the UK now also offer Doctor of Engineering (EngD) programs. These lead to a qualification equivalent to a PhD, but take a research-focused industry approach, rather than the traditional academic approach.
There is huge variety in postgraduate courses within engineering, with each institution offering a range of highly specialized courses designed to create experts in the field in question. For example, Australia’s University of Melbourne offers a master’s program which explores innovative, sustainable solutions to environmental problems in engineering sectors, while the US’s University of Texas at Austin provides a petroleum engineering degree focused on energy issues. Alternatively, the Netherlands’ Eindhoven University of Technology offers an architectural engineering degree incorporating economic, legal, political and environmental perspectives, while the UK’s Imperial College London offers an MSc in Biological Engineering with four separate streams: biomechanics, biomaterials, medical physics and neurotechnology.
Entry requirements will vary depending on the institution and the type of engineering degree and specialization you choose. Most master’s in engineering degrees require strong grades at undergraduate level, preferably in a relevant science, mathematics, computer science or engineering discipline.
You may also be accepted on the basis of individual courses you have studied, with a particularly high value placed on mathematics, physical science and engineering modules. You may need to provide Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) results to prove you are ready for postgraduate-level study. Of course, if you’re studying abroad, you’ll need to prove your competency in the language of study.
Some master’s degrees with a more professional focus may require candidates to have been employed in the relevant engineering field, while many offer opportunities to undertake workplace projects as part of the program.
When it comes to specializations, engineering presents an interesting conundrum. There are around eight main types of engineering, which are often offered as dedicated degrees from undergraduate level onwards. Within these specializations are further branches, with postgraduate degrees often dedicated to these highly specialized fields. Below is a list of the eight main types of engineering and some of the available sub-branches:
The oldest and broadest of engineering specializations, mechanical engineering is concerned with the design, manufacturing and maintenance of mechanical systems. It overlaps with many other types of engineering, and combines aspects of a wide range of engineering topics to create degrees such as the MSc ETH in Mechanical Engineering at Switzerland’s ETH Zurich.
This field concerns the design, development, construction, testing, science and technology of aircraft and spacecraft. Within aerospace, aeronautical engineering focuses on aircraft and aerodynamics, while astronautical engineering focuses on spacecraft and the extreme conditions of space.
The type of engineering combines natural and experimental sciences with biology, microbiology and biochemistry, in the creation of industrial processes that turn raw materials into products. Chemical engineers can be roughly divided into two groups: those who work on established chemical or biological processes, and those who focus on developing new or adapted substances. Within chemical engineering, nanotechnology involves the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale – an increasingly high-profile sector, as society looks to develop smaller but better versions of existing products.
This major branch of engineering is concerned with building, constructing and maintaining the physical structures within society, and has seen a shortage of experienced graduates in recent years. The field divides further into structural engineering, architectural engineering, transportation engineering; geotechnical (specializing in soil, rock, mining and petroleum) and hydraulic engineering (concerned with large bodies of liquid).
Closely connected to civil engineering, environmental engineering is dedicated to developing strategies to help the environment, and has gained in popularity and recognition in recent years as organizations and governments prioritize their environmental policies. A natural consequence of this prioritization is that sustainable construction has emerged as a popular specialization within civil engineering, focused on sustainable construction techniques and best practices.
These are similar but distinct specializations that often overlap with mechanical and civil engineering, and use elements of computer science and physics. This dynamic field involves the development of circuits used in computers and other modern technologies, and is set to evolve rapidly and grow in demand as technology becomes increasingly advanced and further integrated into various aspects of daily life.
This interdisciplinary field has grown in recent years, with universities developing dedicated engineering management programs in response to industry demand for management-focused engineers. Typically, engineering management courses integrate industrial engineering skills and business acumen, often developed jointly by the engineering and business schools. For example, MIT’s System Design & Management (SDM) graduate program was jointly developed by the School of Engineering and Sloan School of Management.
A relatively new field, biomedical engineering merges engineering, biology and medicine. This multidisciplinary area of engineering is concerned with the research and development of scientific and engineering solutions to biological, clinical and medical problems.
With forecast demand for 100,000 new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professionals per year until 2020, the primary message of a recent report from the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) was quite simply: “demand for graduate engineers exceeds supply”.
Demand is highest for graduates in the aerospace and systems engineering sectors according to the RAE, while Forbes reports most opportunities in the mechanical and industrial engineering sectors, and a report from Georgetown University predicts greatest shortfalls in the petroleum, aerospace, chemical and electrical engineering sectors.
Meanwhile the US’s National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that engineering graduates command the highest salaries within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and management) subjects. Plus, in a collaborative study exploring bachelor’s and master’s degrees held by the world’s millionaires, business magazine Spear’s and data research company WealthInsight found that the majority of the millionaires they surveyed held degrees in engineering. These are all promising findings if your desire to pursue a graduate degree in engineering is driven by an expectation of a high starting salary and a wealth of potential career opportunities.
In addition to high demand, several reports over the past few years have confirmed that completing a master’s in engineering can mean an impressive salary, with engineering graduates in the US earning an average of US$75,000 per year and this figure rising to US$99,000 for those with a graduate degree. According to the UK Engineering Council’s Survey of Registered Engineers 2013, chartered engineers can expect to earn £63,000 (~US$96,700) per year, with around 14% earning more than £100,000 (US$153,000).
With engineering careers promising lucrative prospects across a wide range of sectors, organizations and firms, some common engineering career paths include:
Whether designing, manufacturing and operating industrial processes in a factory or developing new and adapted substances and materials in a laboratory, a chemical engineer can earn around US$81,400 per year, with the best-paid working in the oil and gas production sector earning over US$100,000 annually.
A diverse field encompassing a wide range of engineering disciplines, mechanical engineers can earn an average of US$83,000, with senior-level engineers earning over US$126,000.
Using expert knowledge of computer science, engineering and mathematics, computer software engineers design, develop, test and evaluate the software and systems of computers. You could expect to earn between US$91,000 and US$129,000, with Google paying its software engineers an average base salary of US$124,520.
Designing, developing and maintaining electrical control systems and/or components through a mixture of technical knowledge and commercial awareness, electrical engineers can expect to earn between US$61,000-85,000.
In a 2012 study, 55% of hiring managers in the engineering sector noted that good communication skills were as essential as technical engineering skills when it comes to recruiting for engineering careers. This might explain why many master’s in engineering programs now include a strong focus on preparing students for roles in engineering management, addressing difficulties historically faced by engineering professionals when promoted to management-level positions. Managers in engineering firms have extensive knowledge of a particular engineering specialization along with expertise in business management.