Like most other degrees, there are four major types of mechanical engineering degrees: associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctor of philosophy (PhD). The degrees are listed in ascending order according to the amount of education that is required. Each of the mechanical engineering degrees builds upon the coursework learned from the preceding degree to build a solid foundation of knowledge. An associate's degree requires the least amount of time in school, usually taking two years.
Associate's degrees in mechanical engineering can be earned in vocational programs, community colleges, or technical institutes, even though all four mechanical engineering degrees may be offered at a single large university. Many times, an associate degree student will require additional hands-on training or an apprenticeship if he plans to enter a highly specialized field, such as tool and die design. In this, case the extra training can take another two to four years to complete.
An associate's degree in mechanical engineering often leads to a career as an engineering technician. One of the jobs mechanical engineering technicians perform is to assist the mechanical engineer in repairing, modifying, and creating new products. Some of the tasks during a typical workday may include setting up and running tests, writing reports, creating drawings, and using machine tools.
A Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering is usually earned at four-year universities and colleges. Some of the principles mechanical engineering students will learn include how to determine the strength and behavior of materials, how fluid and heat flows, and the basics of engine design. Mechanical engineering is a diverse engineering discipline; students may learn circuits and controls like an electrical engineer, management like an industrial engineer, and programming like a computer engineer.
After a mechanical engineer has his bachelor's degree, he can choose to go to graduate school, usually for one or two more years, to get a master's degree. He usually picks an engineering subject, such as fluid dynamics or heat transfer, to study in greater depth. Many times, a master's of mechanical engineering student will assist professors in their research or teach undergraduate engineering students. Armed with a master's degree, a mechanical engineer will have more job opportunities available to him, especially in the aerospace industry.
A PhD or doctoral degree generally take three or more years to finish. Most of the time, it is the highest mechanical engineering degree offered by universities. It requires a mechanical engineer to develop his own original body of research and present it to his peers in academia in the form of a dissertation or thesis. A PhD candidate will generally work under the supervision of an advisor.
Typically, admission into a PhD program is more strenuous than other mechanical engineering degrees, requiring high grades, letters of recommendation, and relevant coursework. Types of funding for doctoral students include fellowships and grants from various private or public agencies. After completing the PhD program, a doctor of mechanical engineering will usually choose a career as a professor or scientist.