If you’re visiting our website, chances are that you are already interested in an engineering career. However, engineering is an extremely varied field with a wide range of specializations. There may be a dramatic difference in the skills, responsibilities and even salary potential connected with a given specialization. For instance, the day-to-day work of an environmental engineer is likely to be quite different than the daily experience of a nuclear engineer. Agricultural engineers may work in vastly different settings than petroleum engineers. The specialization you choose matters.
So once you’ve decided to become an engineering professional, how do you know which of these specializations is right for you, and which one offers the greatest potential return on your educational investment? As you advance beyond the introductory levels of your online engineering degree program, you will likely need to choose a concentration. And while your foundational instruction in engineering will help you hone in on your passions, skills and career goals, there are some additional steps you’ll want to take to lock in this decision. After all, your specialization may be a major determinant of where your engineering career takes you!
1. Do At Least One Internship
In fact, try a few internships over the course of your engineering program. Some programs include an internship as a completion requirement. Others may provide an optional path to interning for credits. Whatever the structure, an internship is an incredibly valuable experience. You’ll get hands-on training, direct access to working professionals and, most importantly, a first-hand look at daily life in a specific area of engineering. If you do have the chance to pursue an internship, try your hand at different responsibilities. Build relationships and don’t be afraid to seek out opportunities where you can learn new skills. The more you try, the better you’ll understand your own passions, interests, and abilities. This understanding will help you make a well-informed choice as you consider possible specializations.
2. Consider Your Personal Areas of Strength
Speaking of abilities, this is an important part of selecting a specialization. Engineering is naturally challenging. Beyond that, each area of specialization comes with its own set of intricacies and complexities. If you have a naturally strong understanding of electrical circuitry, consider pursuing a concentration in electrical engineering. If you have twin skill sets in human anatomy and the principles of engineering, you might best be served through a specialization in biomedical engineering. This underscores the value not just of your introductory engineering courses, but also in your general education and humanities courses, where you’ll learn research, communication, leadership, and critical thinking skills as well. Pay close to attention to the areas where you excel, both within your discipline and beyond. These skills may be clues about where your engineering talents are best put to use.
3. Evaluate the Salary Potential for Your Specialization
Your area of concentration can also shape your career outlook. Opportunities and salary may differ from one specialization to another based on factors like demand and the relative scarcity of other professionals with the same skill set. This means that though engineering professionals earn above-average pay in general, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some areas of engineering may produce higher salaries than others. For instance, while mechanical engineers earned a median salary of $88,430 in 2019, computer hardware engineers earned $117,220 in the same year. Landscape Architects earned a median of $69,360, whereas Marine Engineers and Naval Architects brought in a median of $92,400. You certainly shouldn’t make your decision based strictly on prospective earnings. Your skill set and personal interests are far more important predictors of long-term job satisfaction. However, it is a good idea to be aware of the salary differentials for various areas of engineering practice before immersing yourself in a specific degree program. Be sure that the career outlook for your concentration matches your expectations.
4. Speak with Actual Engineering Professionals
For aspiring engineers, there may be no more valuable and underutilized resource than the pool of working professionals in the field today. If your goal is to pursue a degree that best prepares you to begin a career in engineering, the most reliable source for information is somebody who has already been there. Most post-secondary professors have some body of field experience to speak from. And once again, an internship is a great way to access those with intimate knowledge of the profession. Build relationships with influential figures in your education and career, and ask questions whenever appropriate. You may be able to develop skills through education and hands-on training, but if you really want to know what it’s like to collect data in the field as a civil engineer, or to present building plans before a zoning committee, or to ensure a major aerospace project is meeting all proper safety protocols, you must speak with somebody who has actually done it. Learn everything you can from those around you before you decide how to spend your day-to-day life as a professional engineer.
5. Join Educational and Professional Engineering Societies
Certainly, one of the very best ways to access working professionals is to join one or several of numerous educational and professional engineering societies. Membership in one these professional associations can connect you to an expansive professional network and give you access to collaborative opportunities, conferences, professional support, scholarly journals and cutting edge research findings. You don’t need to be a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) to take advantage of these benefits. Do some research and find out which of these engineering societies are most valuable to you at this stage in your education and career. Membership in any one of these organizations can put you in touch with considerable expertise and experience. Take advantage of this access by asking questions and probing further on the areas of specialization that might interest you. In addition to learning more about these areas of specialization, you may even begin to cultivate the kinds of relationships that could lead to concentrated professional opportunities in the future.
To learn more about these valuable organizations, check out the Top Professional Engineering Societies.
6. Know Your Options
Engineering is an extremely varied field. So in order to make an informed decision, you have to know all of your options. To an extent, your options may be limited by what your specific online college has to offer. In light of this, familiarize yourself with the engineering course catalogue as a first- or second-year student. This should give you a strong sense of the options available to you even as you complete your general studies and major prerequisites. While every course catalogue may differ, below are some of the top specializations in engineering as listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) along with median salaries for 2019:
|Career||2019 Median Annualy Salary|
|Computer Hardware Engineers||$117,220|
|Electrical and Electronics Engineers||$101,250|
|Health and Safety Engineers||$91,410|
|Marine Engineers and Naval Architects||$92,400|
|Mining and Geological Engineers||$91,160|
Of course, the most important aspect of choosing your specialization is personal interest. Be sure that you are passionate about the area of engineering you’ve chosen before you pursue what promises to be a challenging career. The best way to get started is by choosing an excellent undergraduate program. Check out our list of the Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Engineering and find your passion today!