How to Become an Engineer With Any Background
You’re considering becoming an engineer, but you didn’t earn an undergraduate degree in engineering. Can you pursue the profession anyway? The short answer is yes, but you will most likely want to go back to school—either for your bachelor’s or master’s—to broaden your engineering career options.
Below, we’ll cover how to become an engineer, no matter your professional or educational background. But before you decide to make a drastic career shift, you should determine if you’re cut out for engineering.
Do you have what it takes to become an engineer?
While specific requirements will vary depending on engineering vertical, role and organization, all engineers must possess certain skills and traits. To succeed as an engineer, you must be proficient in math and science. An example of a few core courses you will see in an undergraduate engineering program include:1
- Calculus I, II and III
- Circuits and instrumentation
- Differential equations
- Principles of chemistry for engineers
Of course, a role in whichever engineering discipline you choose—for instance, biomedical engineering, systems and control engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering or mechanical engineering—will require extensive knowledge in that area, which you can learn both in college courses and on the job.
In addition to extensive technical mastery, engineers also need a fair share of soft skills. To solve the world’s problems to the best of their ability, successful engineers boast the following traits in addition to technical knowledge:2
- Boundless curiosity – a need to know how products and processes work and a desire to fix them or make them better
- Applied creativity – the ability to apply theory to real-world projects in potentially ground-breaking ways
- Persistence – doing whatever it takes—and for however long—to solve a tricky problem
- Teamwork – most engineers work on teams, so listening, communication and teamwork skills are crucial
- Leadership – the ability to not only execute tasks but guide and lead a team
If you possess some or all of these qualities, you may thrive as an engineer.
Consider Your Options for Becoming an Engineer
So you’ve made the decision to pursue engineering, and now you have to figure out how to become an engineer. Becoming an engineer later in life can be incredibly rewarding, but you should consider the financial and personal sacrifices you may have to make to change careers. You essentially have two options for becoming an engineer:
- Pursue an engineering job that doesn’t require an engineering degree
- Go back to school to earn your bachelor’s or master’s in an engineering discipline
1. Pursue an Engineering Job That Doesn’t Require an Engineering Degree
While most engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher in engineering, certain fields are easier to break into than others without an engineering degree. According to Interesting Engineering, electrical engineering is the easiest field to enter without a formal degree, as you can gain proficiency in the field through self-study, experimentation and hard work.3 Electrical engineering technician jobs, which paid an average of $64,330 in 2018,4 typically don’t require a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, but they do require some formal training (an associate’s degree or vocational training).
Other engineering disciplines to consider include:3
- Chemical engineering – ideal for those with a background in chemistry, biology or other life sciences
- Mechanical engineering – ideal for those with a bachelor’s degree in a technical field
- Civil engineering – one of the more difficult fields to break into without an engineering degree, though it is possible to work up the ranks at a company (i.e. construction worker to foreman to drafter to engineer)
With the right connections and work ethic, you can plausibly find an engineering job without an engineering degree. That said, launching your engineering career will be easier if you earn a degree, which brings us to your second option for becoming an engineer:
2. Earn Your Bachelor’s or Master’s in Engineering
If you want to become an engineer, going back to school to earn an engineering degree is your best option in regards to becoming technically proficient and future career opportunities. Before you begin researching programs, ask yourself a few important questions:
- Are you leaning toward a specific engineering discipline?
- Are you able to go back to school full time, or do you need to pursue part-time course work?
- Do you want to attend classes on campus, or would you prefer the flexibility of an online program?
- Do you have a solid background in math and science?
If you don’t have a background in advanced math and science, you should consider earning your bachelor’s degree. Most engineering programs offer Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees with a specialization in a particular area of engineering, such as aerospace engineering, electrical engineering or mechanical engineering, among many other disciplines. Some universities offer a Bachelor of Engineering (BE or BEng) degree. Check with admissions advisors at any schools you’re considering to determine if they offer online or part-time courses.
If you can prove proficiency in math and science and you hold a bachelor’s degree, you may be able to pursue a master’s program in engineering. The online engineering graduate programs at Case Western Reserve University, for instance, require students with a non-engineering bachelor’s degree to demonstrate proficiency in calculus and differential equations. (Know that you may need to take prerequisite courses to qualify for a master’s in engineering.) A master’s degree in engineering can help students become technically proficient while imparting valuable leadership and management skills.
Universities typically offer Master of Science (MS), Master of Engineering (ME or MEng) or Master of Technology (MTech) degrees with specializations in a particular engineering subject. Many schools now offer part-time online programs designed to fit the schedules of working professionals, and some employers may even help finance your degree.
Your Future in Engineering Awaits
Don’t hesitate. If you’re passionate about engineering, you have the power to make a career change. We want to help you get one step closer to entering a lucrative and fulfilling field. Explore the online engineering master’s programs at the Case School of Engineering:
- Master of Engineering
- Master of Science (MS) in Biomedical Engineering
- Master of Science (MS) in Mechanical Engineering
- Master of Science (MS) in Systems & Control Engineering
1. Retrieved on July 26, 2019, from bulletin.case.edu/undergraduatestudies/csedegree/
2. Retrieved on July 26, 2019, from work.chron.com/traits-necessary-engineer-11081.html
3. Retrieved on July 26, 2019, from interestingengineering.com/can-you-become-an-engineer-without-an-engineering-degree
4. Retrieved on July 26, 2019, from www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineering-technicians.htm