Due to the hands-on nature of engineering curriculum, there typically are not as many online programs in the field of engineering. However, we do profile 12 institutions that offer online engineering degree programs that range in various fields such as software engineering, industrial engineering, electrical engineering and engineering management.
“Engineering” is a broad term that describes the process of solving a technical problem. To solve problems, engineers apply their science, math, and engineering knowledge to the task at hand. They develop new products by drawing, modeling, and building prototypes of their design. Engineers are also in charge of testing machines and products that are in the developmental phase, to improve their performance, efficiency, and safety. Other engineers oversee the production of products in a factory, keep an eye on quality control, and come up with ways to improve the production process. (BLS)
As you can see, engineering is a bit of a vague term, and it describes a type of problem solving more than any specific task or responsibility. If you decide to become an engineer, you’ll decide what particular aspect of engineering you’d like to study—and there are a lot. Each type of engineer applies their science know-how to a different sort of problem. Here are some of the most common engineering specialties: (BLS)
- Mechanical Engineering: Mechanical engineers design, build, and repair engines and other machines. Heaters, refrigerators, air conditioners, internal combustion engines, generators, and turbines are just some of the systems these engineers construct and troubleshoot.
- Biomedical Engineering: Biomedical engineers are at the crossroads of engineering and life science. They look at ways engineering can be applied to biological systems, in products such as artificial organs, medical devices, and medical diagnostic machines. This is the fastest growing area of engineering.
- Aerospace Engineering: These engineers use their knowledge of physics and mechanical and electrical engineering to design and build planes, satellites, space shuttles, and other airborne crafts.
- Chemical Engineering: Though a bit of an old school discipline, chemistry continues to be important in many of the industrial and consumer products available today, from foodstuffs to electronics and clothing. Chemical engineers use chemistry to develop new sorts of products or processes. Many work in the manufacturing industry, overseeing production in large facilities.
- Environmental Engineering: As our awareness of the environment increases, environmental engineering is becoming a more and more important discipline. Environmental engineers look at ways to solve sustainability problems, like water use, energy use, and air pollution issues. Environmental engineering is another fast growing engineering discipline.
- And More: Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics for a listing of over a dozen different engineering careers, and what they entail.
Distance learning continues to grow in popularity each year, as more and more people discover the flexibility of online education. You may be wondering if it’s possible to pursue an accredited engineering degree online, since the degree requires so much hands-on experience. Here’s the crucial information you need to know about attending online college for engineering.
Online Undergraduate Degrees in Engineering
You can pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in engineering online, with some restrictions. These degrees let you take online classes in general education and engineering, but you will have to come to campus to complete your lab components. Be very wary of any degree program that promises a completely online engineering degree at the undergraduate level. Students pursuing engineering in an associate’s or bachelor’s program must have experiential training in order to master their field. Looking for ABET accreditation is a good way to tell if an online engineering degree is worth your time.
Online Graduate Degrees in Engineering
Individuals who already have an ABET accredited undergraduate degree in engineering have a little more leeway about how they can pursue an online engineering degree. There are several completely online master’s programs available now from accredited schools. These degrees are designed to get engineers up to date on the latest techniques and research in their field.
Since these individuals already have significant hands-on training from their bachelor’s degree, they are trusted to be able to model the material they are learning on their own. Unlike many master’s programs, engineering PhDs require large amounts of hands-on work, since they are by nature a research degree. PhDs in engineering are not well-suited to online learning, and students should very carefully scrutinize any completely online PhD programs they encounter.
Engineers have a lot of social responsibility. The products they design may affects hundreds or thousands of people, and thus, it’s important that professional engineers have been vetted for competence. Certification is one way that the government, private citizens, and employers can be sure of an engineer’s abilities; it’s also a way that engineers can showcase their skills for employers and make themselves a more appealing job candidate.
Earning the Professional Engineer Credential
Many engineers decide at some point that they would like to offer their engineering services directly to the public. To be legally able to do this, engineers must first earn their state’s engineering license, also known as the Professional Engineer credential.
The requirements to earn this credential are rigorous. Students must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, one that is accredited by ABET. On top of this, students must have at least four years of professional engineering experience and a passing score on the credentialing exam.
The exam, called the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE), is broken up into two parts. Many students take the first part of the exam when they are near the end of their bachelor’s degree program. Students answer 120 multiple choice questions on general engineering topics, and 80 additional questions on their engineering specialty.
After passing this first part, engineers may go on to internships or apprenticeships in engineering firms, where they can begin to accrue their years of professional experience. Once they have completed their time on the job, they can then take the practical component of the FE exam and apply for the Professional Engineer license. (BLS)
Other Voluntary Certifications
Besides this state-issued engineering license, there are many other voluntary engineering certifications that engineers can earn, to distinguish themselves in their field. These are usually offered by trade organizations, professional groups, or universities, and consist of passing an exam.
For example, the American Academy of Environmental Engineers offers the Board Certified Environmental Engineer credential; Northwestern University credentials students in different engineering areas where they have passed a number of courses with a B average.
To make things even more confusing, there are actually professional groups that accredit certification programs. The Council of Engineering & Scientific Specialty Boards (CESB) looks at certification programs and the prerequisites students have to complete to earn certification, and decides if the certification programs meet their quality standards. Make sure that any certifications you pursue are widely recognized by employers and standards organizations like CESB, to keep from wasting your time and money on useless examinations. (BLS)