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What types of engineering degrees are there?

From AI to transport, the work of engineers is all around us. In this article, we explore different types of engineering degrees so you can find the one that suits you best.

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At its heart, engineering is all about solving problems. They might involve using the latest technology to design smarter cities, working with AI to simulate space flight or designing game-changing software for future-forward business. The possibilities are endless. 

There are lots of routes into the world of engineering and so many ways to apply what you learn. Studying engineering is an innovative and important career that gives you a real chance to shape the future.

So what exactly is an engineering degree? 

Simply put, it’s your passport to a world where science meets creativity to make things around us work better. With an engineering degree you’ll gain a deep understanding of scientific principles, mathematical formulas and the latest developments in tech. 

There’s likely to be a strong emphasis on practical work too with students taking part in hands-on projects, internships or placements. 

Studying for an engineering degree is your chance to turn innovation into reality. It’s more than just learning; you can use what you know to make a real difference in a world that’s constantly changing. 

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How many types of engineering degrees are there?

Engineering is a profession with huge breadth and depth but you can divide it into six main fields:

  • Electrical engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Computer engineering
  • Industrial engineering

Brand new fields in engineering are also emerging and developing all the while as the pace of technology moves faster. You might want to study in person but there are also great opportunities for online degrees which give you huge flexibility. 

Are engineering degrees worth it?

In 2023, both the UK and US were ranked in the top 5 of the world’s most innovative economies according to the WIPO’s Global Innovation Index. Engineering is at the cutting edge of innovation and that puts UK graduates with an engineering degree in high demand. 

In a collaboration between Metro Dynamic and the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2023, research found that there were hotspots of engineering all over the UK, making it a versatile place to find work. 

The study also found that the profession generates around 32% of the UK’s economic output. Over a quarter of all UK workers (26%) are part of the nation’s engineering economy, making your prospects of employment greater after you graduate. 

It also opens up a wide range of opportunities and if you specialise, that can lead to higher pay. Imagine being well-paid for the chance to address some of the world’s most exciting and pressing challenges.

What are the different types of engineering degrees?

With so much to choose from in the world of engineering, it might feel difficult to know what’s right for you. Let’s look at each of the major areas in depth to see how they differ. 

1. Electrical engineering

When you study electrical engineering, you’ll be working with electricity, electronics and electromagnetism. It’s a vast field that covers the generation and distribution of power and how we can use it to operate machinery and electronic gadgets. 

Degrees that are closely related include:

  • Computer engineering, which bridges the gap between electrical engineering and computer science. It focuses on designing and developing computer systems and how they integrate with hardware and software.
  • Telecommunications engineering – This covers the design and operation of all kinds of comms including networks, satellites and digital. You’ll be exploring how signals are sent and received and how this could advance in the future. 
  • Photonics engineering – This area of engineering includes the study of lasers, optical fibres and photonic circuits. It’s all about the use of light (photons) and their relationship to electronic chips. 

2. Chemical engineering

Chemical engineers solve problems with chemicals, fuel, drugs and food. They focus on the processes that convert raw materials into products through chemical, physical and biological transformation. 

As a chemical engineer, you might use your expertise in lots of different ways. Perhaps you’ll work on scaling up a lab process to industrial production or help to develop more sustainable building materials for a better built environment.

Related chemical engineering degrees include:

  • Biochemical engineering – This is about using biological organisms or enzymes to make biofuels, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology products.
  • Pharmaceutical engineering, which looks at developing and manufacturing drugs, as well as the processes and equipment used to make them. 
  • Food process engineering Here you’ll be applying chemical engineering principles to the world of processing, preserving and packing food. 

3. Civil engineering

If you’re someone who prefers to spend time outside on construction sites or out and about rather than constantly at a desk, civil engineering could suit you well. 

Civil engineering is all about creating and fixing the structures we use every day from roads to buildings to water supplies. It focuses on improving our surroundings and the physical world around us. 

Because different countries and cities have such different environments and infrastructures, the work of a civil engineer can vary greatly depending on where you are. 

Related degrees to civil engineering include:

  • Structural engineering, which focuses on designing and analysing structures that support or resist loads. These could be bridges, homes, stadiums or other buildings that need to be safe for public use.  
  • Environmental engineering – You’ll work to design, manage and improve waste disposal or pollution systems and water treatment plants. 
  • Transportation engineering – This is all about making sure that people and goods can move around the world safely and efficiently. It might cover work with roads, bridges, railways or traffic management. 

4. Mechanical engineering

This versatile branch of engineering focuses on designing, making and managing mechanical systems, machines and tools. It might include anything from tiny parts like gears and springs to entire mechanical systems like a car, aeroplane, heating or cooling system or medical device. 

Mechanical engineers need to understand forces, motion, energy and materials to create things that help people across a wide range of uses and industries.

Some specialised and related degrees are:

  • Aerospace engineering – This is the cutting edge of air and space travel. You’ll be focused on designing, developing and testing related systems and equipment.  
  • Automotive engineering – This involves aspects of mechanical, electrical, electronic, software and safety engineering. It focuses on how these can be applied to designing and manufacturing vehicles.  
  • Marine engineering – This relates to things like ships and submarines, working out how to design and support the systems for onboard equipment. 

5. Computer engineering

Combining electrical engineering and computer science, this field of engineering develops computer hardware, software and systems. Its goal is to advance computer technology and find new ways to use computers whether as a household appliance or in complex research. 

Related degrees include:

  • Internet of Things (IoT) engineering This field develops devices and systems that are connected to the internet. Engineers in this area work on data collection and exchange through hardware, software and network tech.
  • Software engineering, which focuses on designing, developing, testing and maintaining software applications and systems.
  • Cybersecurity engineering – This is all about protecting systems, networks and data from cyber attacks. You’ll be developing secure systems, working on threat analysis and putting security measures into place. 

6. Industrial engineering

Industrial engineering is all about improving a complex service or a process for industry. It brings together aspects around people, machines and materials, understanding how they work together and how they could be more efficient. 

An industrial engineer might work in areas like manufacturing or healthcare to reduce waste and costs or find bottlenecks in a system that need to be smoothed out. 

Other degrees you could take that are closely related include:

  • Supply chain management, which optimises supply chains to deliver goods and services as efficiently as possible. 
  • Systems engineering, focused on designing and managing complex systems over their life cycles. These could relate to either hardware or software. 
  • Safety engineering, aimed at making sure that engineering practices are safe for employees, communities and the environment. 

You’ll also find engineering degrees in specialised areas such as agriculture, mining and geology, nuclear technology and many more. 

What are the types of engineering degrees by level?

As with so many other degrees, you’ll mainly find two levels. The first is a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) which is usually a standard three-year course. Once you’ve completed it you’ll have the right training to become an Incorporated Engineer. 

Becoming a Chartered Engineer is the next level up and the easiest way to get there is to study for a Master’s degree, called a MEng (Master in Engineering). If you choose to take this route of further study it could lead to more opportunities and a significantly higher salary. 

What type of engineering degree should I get? 

Once you’ve read about all the different types of engineering degrees, the truth is that the only person who can really answer that question is you. 

Think about your strengths and the things you enjoy. Would the degree you’re thinking of pursuing be a good match and can you see yourself going on to work in that related industry? If the answer’s yes then you’re well on the way to choosing the right degree. 

Explore engineering degrees on FutureLearn

Studying for a degree in engineering is your first step on the path to an incredibly rewarding and interesting career. There’s so much variety and it offers you the opportunity to become a highly-qualified and well-paid professional. 

If you want to use your skills in science, maths and problem-solving to make a real difference to the future of our world, an online degree in engineering is a great way to start.

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