How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Although there are other paths to take, the most common way to become a mechanical engineer is to follow these essential steps:


1. Make sure you have the right personal traits for this work

2. Pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering

3. Get work experience as a student

4. Get an entry-level job in mechanical engineering after graduation

5. Earn “Professional Engineer” status

6. Advance into senior-level roles, management roles, or consultancy 


Below we've expanded on these points, to give you a complete idea of what you'll need to begin a career as a mechanical engineer in the United States or Canada. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as what you’ll be doing, what you could earn, and a list of “Mechanical Engineer” job postings in your area!



What Education Will I Need?

To get hired as a mechanical engineer, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, or a related field. Some employers might require a master’s or doctoral degree, particularly for research or teaching positions. A degree in mechanical engineering will help prepare you for both the technical and the theoretical aspects of work in this field.




What Courses Should I Take in High School?

Excelling at math (calculus, algebra, geometry), physics, design studies, mechanics, and environmental stewardship, will serve as excellent preparation for this career while you’re a high school student. Be sure to do well in these areas if you have the opportunity to take any of these courses. 


Excelling at coursework and gaining experience in these areas will help prepare you for the work involved in this career at an early age, and will help you qualify for mechanical engineering degree programs.



What Experience Will I Need to Become a Mechanical Engineer?

Most entry-level mechanical engineering jobs don’t require any work experience above what you gain as part of an internship while completing your engineering degree. Mid and senior-level roles often require 3-5 years of experience working in lower level roles, with progressive amounts of responsibility in those roles, as well as Professional Engineer certification. 



What Licensure/Certification Will I Need?

You will need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (“PE” - United States; “P.Eng.” - Canada) in order to exercise direct control of a public project and to supervise other engineers and engineering technicians.


You will also need to have the PE/P.Eng. designation in order to sell your own engineering services publicly.


You won't need to have the Professional Engineer designation to be hired on as an engineer-in-training, which involves working under the supervision of a licensed engineer.



How to Become Licensed

Licensing requirements typically involve completion of an engineering degree, completion of a set number of supervised working hours, and passing an exam. However, these requirements can vary, so please contact your provincial/territorial/state engineering association for full details on becoming licensed.



What is a Mechanical Engineer?

Mechanical engineers research, design and develop machinery and systems for power generation, transportation, processing, manufacturing and other applications. They also perform duties related to the evaluation, installation, operation and maintenance of mechanical systems.


They work in a wide variety of industries and on many different projects, ranging from the installation of off-shore wind turbines through to designing and testing improvements to prosthetic implants.



What Does a Mechanical Engineer Do?

Mechanical engineers are typically responsible for the following tasks:


• Developing or improving equipment and product testing procedures

• Writing performance requirements for product development

• Providing technical customer service assistance

• Liaising with design engineers

• Reading and interpreting blueprints, technical drawings, schematics, and reports

• Developing, coordinating, and monitoring all aspects of production, including selection of manufacturing methods, fabrication, and operation of product designs

• Investigating equipment failures and difficulties to diagnose faulty operation, and to make improvement recommendations to maintenance crew

• Developing and testing models of alternate designs to assess feasibility and possible new applications

• Using drafting tools and computer aided design (CAD) programs to assist drafters in the structural design of products



What Traits Do I Need to Become a Mechanical Engineer? 

If you have the following personal traits you'll not only be well suited for work as a mechanical engineer, you’ll be a standout:


• You have a natural aptitude, and keen interest in math, physics and engineering

• You can visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings

• You enjoy performing work that require precision and attention to detail

• You have initiative, and are proactive about identifying problems and potential solutions

• You have a customer service-oriented approach to projects

• You’re interested in how the total costs to produce products and perform services affect company decisions

• You’re willing to learn to live by your employers’ values and codes of conduct

• You’re willing to stay ahead of the curve and seek out new assignments and opportunities to learn new technologies



What Career Advancement Opportunities Are There?

If you’re willing to constantly learn and improve your craft and expand your knowledge, then you'll see plenty of career advancement opportunities.


With Professional Engineer status, and a proven track record of success, you could move into project management roles, become a specialist in a particular field, work in research or become a self-employed engineering consultant.



What is the Salary of a Mechanical Engineer?

Mechanical Engineers earn a median salary of $83,590 per year in the United States. Their salary can vary based on factors such as their level of experience, the amount of responsibility inherent in their job, the size and type of their employer, the region in which they work, and other factors. 



More About Salary Levels

As mentioned above, the salary level you could earn as a mechanical engineer can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Your level of education, experience and certification

• The level of responsibility involved in your job

• The size and type of your employer

• The region in which you work

• The industry in which you work

• Many other factors


Mechanical Engineer Salary - Alberta: According to the 2015 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the overall average salary of Albertans working in the “Mechanical Engineers” occupational group is $111,810 per year.


Mechanical Engineer Salary - B.C.: According to the Government of British Columbia - Welcome B.C’s. job statistics, the overall average salary of British Columbians working in the “Mechanical Engineers” occupational group is $85,548 per year.


Mechanical Engineer Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall median salary level of Americans working in the “Mechanical Engineers” occupational group is $83,590 per year. The lowest 10% of salaries are below $53,640, and the highest 10% of salaries are above $128,430.



What Industries Employ Mechanical Engineers?

Mechanical engineering is a very broad field, providing many opportunities for employment. As a result, they may be employed on a full-time, part-time or contractual basis in a wide variety of industries, some of the more common of which include:


• Natural resources (forestry, agriculture, oil and gas, mining)

• Energy conversion (thermal and hydroelectric power stations, solar, wind and biofuels)

• Processing (petrochemical refining, food and beverage production)

• Manufacturing (vehicles, appliances, furnishings, telecommunication equipment)

• Construction (mechanical systems such as elevators or air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems)

• Transportation (road, rail, air, marine, space vehicles and systems)

• Utility systems (water, natural gas, electricity)



Mechanical Engineering Jobs

Our job board below has "Mechanical Engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. 

What is the Work Environment for Mechanical Engineers?

In general, mechanical engineers spend most of their time in an office environment, using various engineering software programs. However, they may also spend time in research and development laboratories, or the production departments of factories where they supervise the testing and manufacturing of products.


They may occasionally visit indoor or outdoor work sites, where a problem or piece of equipment needs their personal attention. Regardless of the setting, they often work closely with other engineers, engineering technicians, and other professionals, as part of a team.



What Are the Working Hours of a Mechanical Engineer?

Mechanical engineers typically work between 37-40 hours per week. However, it is not uncommon for them to put in overtime hours, which may include evenings, weekends and holidays, in order to meet deadlines or complete time-sensitive tasks and projects. 


In some industries, such as the oil and gas industry, they often work in a shift rotation system, wherein they work 10-12 hours a day for several days straight, and then having a set amount of days off between “sets”.



What are Careers Similar to “Mechanical Engineer”?

Listed below are careers that may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as “Mechanical Engineer”:


• Aerodynamicist

• Aircraft Performance Engineer

• Automation Engineer

• Civil Engineer

• Industrial Engineer

• Physicist 

• Robotics Technologist

• Toy Designer



What Scholarships Are There for Aspiring Mechanical Engineers? 

The “Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career” section below lists fields of study that are relevant to becoming a Mechanical Engineer. You can search for relevant scholarships by finding those majors on our “Mechanical Engineering Scholarships” page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a mechanical engineer:


• Occupational Profile: “Mechanical Engineer.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 2, 2020.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Mechanical Engineers.” (n.d.). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved February 15, 2017.

• Job Profiles: “Mechanical Engineer.” (December 7, 2016). National Careers Service. Retrieved February 15, 2017.

• CAD Software Blog: “11 Career Tips Mechanical Engineers Need to Read.” Barb Schmitz (n.d.). PTC. Retrieved February 15, 2017.

• Explore Careers: “Mechanical Engineer.” (January 24, 2018). Government of British Columbia - WorkBC website. Retrieved January 2, 2020.



Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career

We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant to becoming a mechanical engineer. Click on the links to see what else you can do with these majors!


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