When providing consultancy services to students looking to read something within the engineering field at university, it goes without saying that the first factor we address is the specific engineering discipline they are looking to apply to. Interestingly, more often than not we are hit with a blank face and a heightened sense of panic. With an exponentially increasing array of engineering degrees available across the world it can be tricky to narrow down the perfect course for you. Each engineering discipline differs vastly from the others, not only in terms of modules studied at university but also with regards to entrance requirements, career prospects, required background knowledge, application and potential earnings.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines Engineering as “the activity of applying scientific knowledge to the design, building and control of machines, roads, bridges, electrical equipment, etc.”- so even the formal definition is open to interpretation. All engineering degrees will provide you with the tools, knowledge and expertise to problem solve within a specific discipline, you just have to decide which specialization within this field is most suited to your interests.
If an engineering degree is something you are interested in it is imperative for you to conduct some research and narrow down your understanding of the type of engineering you would like to pursue. To help you on this journey we have categorised engineering into the six key branches that we feel cover the main paths of engineering. Bear in mind that entry requirements, modules and degree duration for each category mentioned below will differ slightly from university to university but hopefully the information we have summarised will help to give you a general overview of the differences between these six major divisions:
1) Mechanical Engineering – this is one of the oldest and broadest branches of engineering. It is the study of objects or systems in motion and touches on all aspects of life; from the human body to complex machines. Mechanical engineers take ideas and try turning them into products for the market place by considering forces, the thermal environment, durability, the aesthetics and functionality as well as the optimal manufacturing process. Being a mechanical engineer will develop and enhance key skills such as thinking analytically and having a creative approach to a problem as well as teamwork and working with logistical constraints. In order to apply for all forms of Mechanical engineering most universities will require mathematics and physics to have been taken to a high level; whether this is for A Level, IB Higher Level or an AP course. Each Mechanical engineering course relies heavily on mathematics, especially calculus and physics concepts, such as thermodynamics, mechanics and hydraulics to mention just a few. Chemistry is beneficial but not crucial to have studied to a higher level as a large proportion of this course is based on materials. As mechanical engineering covers a broad spectrum of fields, career paths tend to be quite varied ranging from the automobile industry and aviation to construction and even investment banking.
Subcategories of Mechanical Engineering degrees:
· Materials Engineering
· Aerospace Engineering
· Automotive Engineering
· Marine Engineering
· Mathematical Engineering
· Acoustic Engineering
· Robotic Engineering
2) Chemical Engineering – Chemical engineers work on the design process to produce, transform and transport materials. This initially starts with trial phases carried out in laboratories and continues all the way through to the implementation of these practices on sites. Chemical engineers are in high demand in numerous industries as they rely on the synthesis and processing of chemicals and substances. Chemical engineers try to create materials or improve existing materials’ optical, electrical or mechanical properties. A perfect example of this would be the design and construction of light weight bullet proof vests. As chemical engineers need to have a thorough understanding of materials, chemistry is a vital subject to have taken to a higher level. Mathematics and physics concepts are also key as they form the basis of the engineering aspect. Biology would be very useful in particular disciplines where chemical engineers may need to understand enzymes and microorganisms to synthesize and produce new medication. With regard to job prospects, chemical engineers would be very useful to any industry that requires processing or creating chemicals and materials. This can range from the energy sector to pharmaceuticals, environmental agencies and mining roles.
Subcategories of Chemical Engineering degrees:
· Biochemical Engineering
· Petrochemical Engineering
· Biomedical Engineering
· Sustainable Engineering
· Food Engineering
· Reaction Engineering
3) Civil Engineering – Civil Engineering encompasses the physical and natural environment and focuses on the design, development and construction of structures such as airports, railways, bridges, hospitals and buildings. It is one of the oldest disciplines of engineering and has applications in both the public and private sectors. Civil engineers apply physics, mathematics and other scientific principles to solve problems we encounter in society, specifically under the bracket of construction. Due to the high level of mathematical understanding, you would need a strong mathematics background to apply for any civil engineering course. You would also need a comprehensive understand of physics principles. As the world changes and new materials and designs are used, an understanding of chemistry and a design related subject, such as architecture or product design, would also be useful when applying for and studying civil engineering. A civil engineering degree can be relevant when working in a wide variety of fields such as urban planning, sustainability consultancy and engineering geologists.
Subcategories of Civil Engineering degrees:
· Structural Engineering
· Construction Engineering
· Environmental Engineering
· Architectural Engineering
· Geotechnical Engineering
· Transportation Engineering
· Project Management
4) Electrical Engineering – this is the discipline of engineering that focuses on the study, development, design and application of devices and systems that require and use electricity and electromagnetism. This branch of engineering is relatively new as electricity has not been around for as long as other aspects of life, such as the wheel or buildings, but throughout the 20th and 21st centuries electricity has become an intrinsic aspect of our daily lives. As the world continues to become more technology orientated the field continues to develop and become more specialised with new areas continually evolving. This particular field of engineering has incredibly exciting and boundless job prospects. Due to the large focus on electricity, circuits and electromagnetism in the course you would need a comprehensive understanding of physics. There will also be a large focus on mathematical concepts, as we have established throughout all engineering disciplines. It would also be very useful to have completed a computer science or related course as these often have a large emphasis on computer and microchip programming, a branch of condensed matter physics. In terms of job prospects, the opportunities that arise from electrical engineering degrees are vast. Any career that requires expertise with electrical devices or systems would suit this degree. Essentially, if a device requires electricity to function you will be in demand. This can range from aerospace to broadcasting and nuclear engineering. This is a very useful degree as the world becomes more dependent on electricity and machines with a large scope to specialise.
Subcategories of Electrical Engineering degrees:
· Computer Engineering
· Satellite Engineering
· Power Engineering
· Quantum Computing
· Telecommunications Engineering
· Photonics Engineering
· Space Systems Engineering
5) Geotechnical Engineering – Geotechnical Engineering involves the application of scientific and engineering methods to the acquisition and interpretation of the Earth’s materials to solve engineering problems. This field of engineering is relevant to many sectors but most notably, geology, hydrology and geophysics. By studying the Earth’s materials and crust, engineers can provide solutions or predictions such as when a natural disaster may occur as well as how to strengthen and build more stable features like dams and buildings. This branch of engineering is now more crucial than ever with the human population growing exponentially and yet land is a limited resource. Human activity is constantly affecting the environment, no matter how hard we try to be eco-friendly. The necessity of renewable energy sources, such as geothermal and hydroelectric, has always been prevalent but it has become more apparent over the last few decades. By working alongside geologists, geotechnical engineers can find solutions to these difficulties and contribute to a greener future for our planet. As the course largely focuses on the Earth’s materials and crust, a good knowledge of geography would be vital. Chemistry can also be useful when trying to understand the various materials encountered. With mathematics and physics also being a crucial part of this degree, it is important to have a solid understanding in these subjects but perhaps a slightly smaller emphasis than with the previous engineering disciplines.
Subcategories of Geotechnical Engineering degrees:
· Petroleum Engineering
· Nuclear Engineering
· Environmental Engineering
· Marina Engineering
· Geomatics Engineering
6) Engineering Management – Engineering Management blends the practice of management and engineering. It incorporates the technical problem-solving aspect of engineering and the structural, organisational and administrative planning aspect of management. You really do get the best of both worlds! The courses have a wide range of modules ranging from accounting and finance to mathematical modelling and industrial engineering. Due to the emphasis to the administration and finance aspects of the course, having previously studied a business or economics related subject would be very useful. This would give you an insight to accounts and finance and avoid you having to dive into unknown territory with technical terms and content. As there is still the engineering aspect to this degree, physics and mathematics would also be a requirement for most universities. There are a large selection of jobs available with a degree in engineering management, as you will not only have an engineering background but an insight to business, finance and accounts which many companies would find useful. This can be particularly useful for areas such as civil engineering, whereby you would understand not only the construction elements but also the financial constraints of an assignment. Project management is also a relevant field as you would develop strong communication and organisational skills. This degree would be useful wherever you would require management skills but also technical problem-solving abilities. The management element of these degrees can also mean you are in demand for higher calibre positions that require you to oversee and delegate to a team.
Subcategories of Engineering Management degrees:
· Engineering Statistics
· Business statistics
· Human Resources Management
· Operations Management
· Management Science
· Engineering Mathematics
As you can see each category of engineering differs vastly. Perhaps when reading the above, one of the more specialised disciplines of engineering really jumped out at you, such as environmental or nuclear engineering, if so, then this is fantastic. Start looking more into this specialism and ensure it really is the course for you. Consider league tables, course structures and overall entry requirements for this engineering discipline and if you are happy to commit to this route then tailor your Personal Statement or application to this category.
If perhaps you still like the idea of engineering but don’t want to specialise quite so immediately then it might be a good idea for you to narrow down your options to one of the six main categories above and apply to study a more traditional engineering degree. For example, by choosing to read Mechanical engineering at university you have still kept your options open to later specialise in one of the subcategories, such as aeronautical or automotive engineering. This keeps your options open slightly longer and allows you to specialise later on.
Whichever path you decide it is undoubtable that engineering degrees are one of the most prestigious qualifications you can obtain and will provide you with an abundance of professional opportunities once you have graduated.
If you would like any further assistance narrowing down your choice of engineering degree, or any other degree, please do not hesitate to contact Feynman Education for a personalised university consultancy service.