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A complete guide to engineering degrees

Find out everything you need to know about getting an engineering degree and what you can do with one in this comprehensive guide.

Engineer at work.

Choosing the right degree subject is hugely important. It can determine the direction your life and career go in. As well as the practicals, like how difficult the degree is and what your earning potential might be after graduating, it’s also about the skills and knowledge you want to learn. After all, a degree should be something you enjoy. 

To help you make that decision, FutureLearn has created useful degree guides. Here, we explain what an engineering degree entails, how to get a place on one, and how it could set you up for a great career once you finish your studies.

What is engineering?

Engineering is a broad field of study and work. Much of the physical world around us, especially the machines, tools and devices we use every day, was designed by engineers.

Within the broad scope of engineering subjects are overarching disciplines such as mechanics, electronics, civil engineering and computers. There are also specialisations, for example, if you’re interested in designing things used in transport, under the sea, in space, for robots, or in agriculture.

Engineering involves using science, some maths, and knowledge of the material and physical needs of human societies to create and build machinery and structures. It also involves the maintenance of those machines and buildings.

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What is an engineering degree?

Universities offer courses in general engineering as well as more specialised subjects. A general engineering degree is a good option if you want to keep your options open about the type of engineer you want to become. Think of it as an overview.

You can always specialise later by taking a masters or learning on the job or in an apprenticeship if you specifically want to design, for example, aeroplanes, railway tunnels, car bridges or wind turbines. 

What types of engineering degrees are there?

Unlike most other undergraduate degree subjects, which award BA or BSc qualifications, the majority of engineering degrees award the classification BEng. These normally take three years to complete, and an additional fourth year is often an option, to acquire an MEng (a masters in engineering).

Many people study general degrees, but some institutions offer more specialist, focused or combined degrees. Below are a few examples of courses that offer good job prospects. This is not an exhaustive list. Other areas of study can include robotics and AI, chemical engineering and computer science. 

Remember that for all of these courses, you can study for three years to get a bachelors degree (BEng) or for four years to get a masters (MEng):

General Engineering

This is the most common pathway to an engineering degree. You’ll learn the fundamentals of engineering. Your course is likely to have compulsory core modules, teaching you things that all engineers need to know, and optional modules where you can explore topics that interest you. 

Civil Engineering

The most famous civil engineer in history is Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed the railways, steam ships, bridges and tunnels that fuelled the industrial revolution and helped create the modern developed world that we know today.

A civil engineering degree will teach you all of those fundamental principles that still underpin the design and construction of our built environment and transport networks. You will also learn about more recent developments and cutting edge discoveries. You’ll leave university equipped to take on exciting roles working on projects anywhere in the world.

Mechanical engineering

Mechanical engineering degrees are complex but fascinating. They teach you design skills and analytics that move society forward into the future. You will apply engineering principles to solve problems and make things.

You might learn how electric or self-driving cars are designed, how space travel is evolving, or how the devices, machines and vehicles of the future can decrease carbon emissions. 

Electronics and electrical engineering

In the past, the breakthroughs of electrical engineering helped design lightbulbs, TVs, radios and phones. Today, in our high-tech societies, and electronics and electrical engineering degree will teach you things that put you at the very front of the digital revolution.

Using fundamental theories of maths, physics and general engineering, you’ll learn how to apply these in the designing of global data networks, renewable energy innovations, new communications systems and much more. 

Biomedical engineering

Healthcare technology is an endlessly evolving specialism, in both the academic and professional world. The technologies and equipment that treat people, keep us alive and living longer, healthier lives, rely on biomedical engineers to design them. If this sounds like you, a biomedical engineering degree will enrich your life and enhance the lives of others.

What do you need to get an engineering degree?

The first thing to say is that most universities will prefer that you study maths, physics, and/or other science subjects at A Level (and certainly at GCSE) before taking an engineering degree. Not all universities demand this, but many do, and quite frankly, you need to understand these subjects to become an engineer.

To get a place on an engineering degree course at a UK university you’ll need to study A-Levels or an equivalent qualification. There is a really big range of entry requirements asked for by different institutions and courses. 

Some universities demand straight As at A-Level, while others are less demanding. You can get onto a general engineering degree by achieving anything from 60–170 UCAS points, depending on which institution you are applying to. 

But for the better universities, you will be wanting to achieve over 120 UCAS points.

Engineering degree must-haves

This table shows you the essentials you’ll need to achieve to be accepted onto an engineering degree course. 

Qualification typeAverage minimum grade requirementAverage maximum grade requirement
A LevelB, B, B (three B passes)A*, A*, A* (three A starred passes)
BTECD, D, M (three distinctions, one merit)D*, D*, D* (three starred distinctions)
Scottish HighersA, A, A, B (four passes)A, A, A, A, A (five passes)
International Baccalaureate24 (overall score)40

Engineering degree nice-to-haves

You should study maths and science subjects (physics, chemistry, biology) through your school or college pathway and at A-Level (or equivalent) if you intend to study engineering, as most universities see this as essential for a good preliminary understanding.

These subjects demonstrate your ability to problem solve and apply scientific theory in your studies. 

Work experience is always good. You can shadow engineers at work. 

Research the subject. You may be interviewed before being offered a place on an engineering degree, and your interviewers will expect that you have a passion for the subject and be able to articulate what you like about engineering and how you will use it in your future career.

Engineering apprenticeships can also be a useful gateway, bridging the gap before your undergraduate studies.

What does an engineering degree cover?

You will study modules over the course of three or four years that will cover a range of subjects related to engineering, including:

  • Maths 
  • Mechanics
  • Design
  • Electronics
  • Data measuring and analytics
  • Thermodynamics and fluid mechanics
  • Materials testing
  • Nanoengineering
  • Statistics
  • Industrial design
  • Civil design
  • Aerospace engineering 
  • Manufacturing
  • Lab skills

How long does it take to get an engineering degree?

You will study for either three or four years to achieve your degree or master’s degree in engineering. 

How much does an engineering degree cost?

The average cost for a degree course in the UK is £9,250 per year. So multiply that by 3 years for your engineering degree and you’re looking at roughly £19,000

You can take out student loans to pay for the fees, which you pay back later when you start working and earning money. Many students will also need maintenance loans to pay for their accommodation and other essentials like food, travel and leisure. The maximum loan is around £10,000 per year if you study outside London and around £13,000 in London.

FutureLearn offers engineering degree courses online, of course, which can mean less financial impact for things like travelling and accommodation. The costs of our online courses are also highly competitive compared to in-person courses.

How to get a degree in engineering 

To study engineering and come away with a qualification, you must follow the same pathway to any other degree. That will involve:

Step 1 – Choose the best course for you

Firstly, choose a number of universities and course options that you like, then narrow them down to your favourite five (or fewer), then look up the deadlines and application requirements

Decide whether studying in-person at a university or taking an online degree is the best option for you

Step 2 – Prepare your personal statement

Applying for a degree requires getting the right grades, but also telling the university about yourself. This comes in the form of a written statement, usually a few paragraphs long, where you get to advertise yourself, promote your strengths and accomplishments, describe your hopes and dreams, why you want to study engineering, and what you wish to learn and achieve at the course

Step 3 – Apply

It might sound obvious, but you’ll need to put in an application in order to do an engineering degree. For most degrees in the UK you will apply online through UCAS. The process is quite straightforward, but teachers, mentors, local education services or online guides can help.

What jobs can I get with an engineering degree?

The type of work you will go into with an engineering degree depends on the specialism(s) you chose. If you studied general engineering, you might want to next specialise, so as to make yourself more attractive to potential employers in specific industries.

We’ve summarised the skills and types of job you can get after studying engineering:

What skills will I gain from an engineering degree?

Engineering degrees will teach you both in-depth, complex scientific, mathematical and mechanical knowledge, and real world transferable skills to adapt you for your working life.

  • Practical skills – how to devise and plan projects e.g. research/experiments
  • Communication skills – how to present and discuss ideas (written, verbal and visual)
  • Research – qualitative and quantitative methods for gathering/analysing information
  • Critical thinking – going deep into exploring, analysing and evaluating information
  • Problem-solving – using your critical thinking skills to find solutions
  • Teamwork – your degree will sometimes involve working in groups and  teams
  • Time management – writing essays and your final dissertation comes with deadlines
  • Reporting – you will learn how to synthesise results/concepts into written reports
  • Statistical analysis – the ability to read and comprehend data

What jobs can I get with an engineering degree?

  • Civil engineer – design tunnels connecting countries under the sea, or bridges over rivers and lakes
  • Mechanical engineer – create the machines, technologies and devices that future generations will use in the world both now and in the decades and centuries to come
  • Automotive engineer – cars have existed for well over 100 years, but they advance all the time. Fancy designing the first flying car?
  • Aerospace engineer – Design the rockets, spacesuits and equipment to get astronauts into space, and the structures and space stations to accommodate them on their missions
  • Hydrogeologist – in both rural agriculture and the built urban environment, hydrogeology helps societies extract and distribute water from and into the ground. Design efficient and durable wells, pumps and watering/irrigation systems for communities that desperately need it
  • Marine engineer – coastal water management and understanding rivering tides can help prevent flooding. Underwater projects also require cables to be laid, structures to be build and vehicles to travel below the surface
  • Nuclear engineer – producing the atomic energies of the future in the battle with climate change
  • Environmental technology engineer – many companies and public bodies are working to make heating, cooling, transport and manufacturing carbon neutral (reducing carbon emissions of industries to zero to reverse the effects of global warming and climate change).
  • Petroleum engineer – at the same time, carbon fossil fuels like oil and gas are still needed to fuel everything
  • Telecommunications engineer – comms systems continue to change and evolve to suit our modern ways of keeping in touch. What will phones look like in 20 years? You could be the person to design them.

Is an engineering degree right for me?

Are you scientifically minded? Do you look at a gadget, machine or vehicle and wonder how it was built? Are you curious about how you might build structures better and more efficiently?

Do you see the world’s problems being solved by science, progress and discovery? Do you feel strongly about development in the developing world?

Are you prepared for challenging and complex studies, exams, essay writing and practical projects and modules?

If the answer to all of the questions above is yes, then an engineering degree would be a highly rewarding and beneficial course to take. 

Next, think about the career options laid out above, and whether they are right for you. If so, what are you waiting for?

How much do engineers earn?

The UK average earnings of a civil engineer range from around £28,000 at entry level to £60,000 for an experienced engineer. A mechanical engineer’s salary, meanwhile, ranges from around £26,000 to £52,000. 

According to UCAS, the average engineering salary is just over £42,000. 

However, with huge multinational private sector firms, including big tech companies, competing with each other to design and innovate the world around us, there is potential for talented engineers to earn many times the salaries mentioned above.

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What are job prospects like for engineering graduates?

According to UCAS research, there were over 124,000 jobs available in the engineering sector in the past year. The future prospects are also good, with the number of roles expected to increase by almost 5% over the next eight years.

Rest assured, an engineering degree will set you up for a stable career with a huge range of fascinating job opportunities.

>> Kickstart your engineering career today and explore our collection of online engineering degrees

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