Online Mechanical Engineering Degree Overview
There are many different mechanical engineering colleges available and some of these institutions offer online and partially online programs in the field. Programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and usually still include hands-on learning opportunities. Find out what degrees are available at each level and some common characteristics for each degree below.
Online Associate Degrees in Mechanical Engineering
Degrees at the 2-year level are typically offered as an Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Mechanical Engineering Technology. Students can choose from online or hybrid programs. Some of these programs can be completed in as little as 1.5 years and may require between 68 and 72 credits. Often, students at this level can complete general education requirements and transfer much of their work to a 4-year institution to continue their studies. Hybrid programs may require students to complete some in-person labs and other hands-on activities.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Mechanical Engineering
Online bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering are typically available as Bachelor of Science (BS) in Mechanical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering Technology degrees. Many are offered primarily online with some in-person requirements. Students may need to complete some short, on-campus residencies for in-person labs, simulations, and other hands-on learning activities. These programs usually require around 120 to 129 credits and may conclude with mechanical engineering design courses. Students interested in double majoring in a related area, such as a computer science mechanical engineering double major may need to consider on-campus programs. However, some online programs may offer a co-op experience for students to get hands-on, real-world experience in the field.
Online Master's Degrees in Mechanical Engineering
Aspiring master's students can choose from a Master of Engineering (ME) or Master of Science (MS) degree in mechanical engineering online. These degree programs may require between 30 and 32 credits and typically allow for some flexibility through elective courses to allow students to focus their studies on particular areas of interest. Some of these programs are self-paced and may allow students to finish their degrees in as little as one year. Depending on the program, students may be required to finish their coursework with an applied engineering project of some sort.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Mechanical Engineering
Online and partially online doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering may be offered as Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Engineering Science (DES) degrees. These programs may be in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering with a focus on engineering mechanics. Coursework is highly customizable and may conclude with a dissertation project. These programs are generally designed to advance students' careers and/or prepare them for careers in research and academia.
Online Certificates in Mechanical Engineering
Online certificate programs in mechanical engineering are usually available at the graduate level. These certificates cover a wide range of topics and are designed to help engineering students further focus on a specific area of mechanical engineering. For instance, students may earn a graduate certificate in applied heat transfer, noise control, machinery dynamics, thermofluid systems, and more. The courses and credit requirement varies by certificate, but students may need to complete around 10 to 15 credits of coursework.
Mechanical Engineering Specializations/Concentrations
While mechanical engineering may be offered as its own concentration for some engineering degrees, concentrations are available for some programs specifically in mechanical engineering. These concentrations or focus areas are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and students typically take at least a few courses from their specialization area. Some possible concentrations in the field of mechanical engineering include:
- Mechanical Design
- Thermal Sciences
- Manufacturing and Materials
- Robotics Engineering Technology
- Electrical and Computer
Curriculum/Coursework for a Mechanical Engineering Degree
Curriculum for online bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering usually includes general education courses, core engineering courses, electives, and/or specialization courses. Typically, students in the program receive a lot of hands-on training with technologies in the field and through a wide range of design projects. Students may take some computer courses in addition to mechanical engineering courses to study some of these technology and analysis skills. Courses may consist of lectures and/or have laboratory components. Other common courses at the bachelor's level for these degrees include:
- Mechanics of materials
- Heat transfer
- Fluid mechanics
- Engineering design
- Manufacturing processes
- Machine design
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering?
Due to the technical nature of the field, some online bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering may take longer than the traditional 4 years to complete. For instance, some programs may take students between 5 to 6 years (or more) to complete. However, some factors may help students complete their degree closer to the traditional 4 years and/or faster, such as having transfer credit from an associate's degree program. There are also closely related degree programs, like an online BS in Mechanical Engineering Technology, that can be completed at an accelerated pace through year-round courses. These programs may be completed in as little as 2.5 years.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering Degrees
There are many benefits to choosing an online program that is accredited. Federal financial aid is typically only available to students at accredited institutions and accreditation is also a good way to ensure that a school's programs have met academic guidelines for quality. Many institutions that offer online bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering are regionally accredited by groups that are approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Regional accrediting bodies provide a large, umbrella accreditation for the institution in general.
At the program level, some fields have an additional subject-specific accreditation. In the case of mechanical engineering, several online bachelor's programs in the field are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This means that the engineering program has met specific engineering-related academic guidelines set by the organization for quality. Even associate's degree programs in mechanical engineering technology may be accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission of ABET.
Mechanical Engineering Licensure & Certification
Students entering the field of mechanical engineering typically do not need to have a professional license. However, those wishing to advance their career for greater independence and/or leadership positions may decide to pursue a Professional Engineering (PE) license to become a Professional Engineer (PE). This enables them to oversee other engineers and work directly with the public. Typically, in order to earn their PE license, professionals must hold an accredited bachelor's degree, have 4 years of work experience, and pass both the Fundamental Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineering (PE) exams. While the FE can be taken right after graduation from an undergraduate program, the professional exam must be taken after work experience requirements are met. Various certifications are also available in different specialty areas of mechanical engineering, such as dynamic systems, stress analysis, or advanced vibrations, from different professional organizations in the field, like the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
Mechanical Engineering Career Information
While different areas of engineering may have similar principles and techniques, careers in various areas of engineering differ quite a bit. For example, the job duties of an aerospace engineer or an electrical engineer can be quite different than a mechanical engineer. Those in mechanical engineering typically go on to work as a mechanical engineer but may work in a wide range of industries, including:
- Automotive design
- Renewable energy
How to Become a Mechanical Engineer
Students wishing to become a mechanical engineer should first earn their bachelor's degree in the field. To best prepare for their future career, students in these programs should participate in as many hands-on experiences as possible. These experiences may be offered in the forms of labs, projects, internships, and/or co-ops. Career advancement for mechanical engineers often comes with work experience, advanced education, and/or earning their PE license.
Mechanical engineers help develop and test a wide range of machines and devices to perform an array of actions. Their job may require them to study a specific problem, design a device to solve the problem, and then test and analyze the results of implementing their design. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mechanical engineers made a median annual salary of $88,430 as of 2019. The BLS also stated that the job outlook for these professionals from 2019 to 2029 was 4%.
How to Become a Materials Engineer
Materials engineers also typically need to have a bachelor's degree. Usually, this degree is in materials engineering or a related area, like mechanical engineering. These engineers also benefit from as much hands-on experience through internships and co-ops as possible. Students may advance their career with a PE license and/or additional work experience. Some materials engineers may go on to work managerial positions and/or business-related positions in sales to sell technical products.
Materials engineers create and test different types of materials used to make all sorts of products. They often need to work carefully within a budget and other project guidelines to choose a material that will work well. They may also help figure out why a particular material is failing on a project and the environmental impacts of a material. The BLS reported in 2019 that these engineers made a median annual salary of $93,360. The job outlook for materials engineers from 2019 to 2029 was 2%.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Mechanical Engineering Degrees
Financial aid used to help students pay for their college education usually comes in the form of loans, grants, or scholarships. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows students to see what types of federal loans and/or grants they may qualify for. After that, students may turn to scholarships of various kinds to help pay for school. Scholarships do not have to be paid back, are available at many different levels (e.g. local, national, universities), and are open to a wide range of demographics.
Specifically for mechanical engineering students, there are professional organizations in the field and many different schools that offer scholarships for majors. For example, the ASME offers a variety of scholarships for high schoolers going into their freshman year, undergraduate mechanical engineering students, and graduate mechanical engineering students. The University of Maine also offers a mechanical engineering scholarship to current undergraduate students in the department and the University of Washington provides both merit and needs-based scholarships to undergraduate mechanical engineering students.
How to Choose a Mechanical Engineering School and Program
There is a wide range of factors to consider when choosing an online bachelor's degree program in mechanical engineering. Students may want to begin by checking for ABET-accredited programs to ensure that they are receiving a quality education and will be as well prepared for a career in the field as possible. Students may also want to look for programs that offer hands-on learning experiences, like co-ops or internships, to gain real-world experience in the field. Since many online programs in the field do require some in-person residencies for labs and other hands-on work, students may want to choose a program that is close to home.
Outside of factors specific to mechanical engineering, students may also want to consider schools that meet their personal needs and/or preferences. For instance, students may want a school that offers smaller class sizes and/or a program format that offers the flexibility they need to balance their school requirements with life's responsibilities. Financial aid opportunities like loans, grants and scholarships may also play a big role in deciding which program falls within the budget.
Professional Organizations in Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineers can connect with other engineers and professionals in the field through various professional organizations. These groups provide mechanical engineers with an array of resources, including professional development opportunities, career information, and more. Here are a few of the available organizations in mechanical engineering and some of the resources they provide:
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers- ASME provides membership, scholarships, professional certifications, and codes and standards for the profession. Other resources include online publications, conferences and events, and educational tools. The group also works through government relations to help promote the field.
- Institution of Mechanical Engineers- The Institution of Mechanical Engineers also offers membership and a variety of career and educational resources, including webinars, scholarships, and career advice. Students can also participate in trainings, volunteer opportunities, special interest groups, and speaking opportunities.
- Society of Manufacturing Engineers- SME aims to help manufacturers grow and learn and offers membership to the organization. The group bestows industry awards each year and provides a range of events, trainings, and other educational opportunities.