Should I Major in Mechanical Engineering or Electrical Engineering?

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Engineering is a promising field that offers many opportunities for specialization and advancement. Learning how machines work, how to build them, and how they harness electricity are some of the general topics involved in engineering; however, the industries that engineering is involved in are numerous and diverse. From the aerospace components that help launch satellites into space to the mechanisms inside our smartphones, engineering enables the invention, construction, and maintenance of every piece of technology that affects our lives.

Mechanical engineering and electrical engineering are two broad categories of engineering, but which major is right for you? Here’s a snapshot of each type of engineering, what they involve, and how you can find a bachelor’s in engineering that suits your skills and interests.

Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering: Definition and Main Duties

Mechanical engineers “design, develop, build and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Their day-to-day duties may include troubleshooting problems, designing or revising mechanical devices or systems, developing and testing prototypes, and overseeing manufacturing for devices. Many mechanical engineers work with large-scale devices like car engines, steam and gas turbines, electric generators, or even elevators and escalators.

Computer hardware and programs have transformed the way engineers work. The mechanical engineer overview from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that computers have become vital for mechanical engineers to run complex analyses that once took days of mathematics by hand. Creating products also involves working with cutting-edge electric generators, industrial equipment, and 3D printers.

Similarly, electrical engineers take part in each part of designing, supervising, manufacturing, and testing electrical equipment, according to the U.S. BLS. They design electronic components, develop software, inspect prototypes, analyze consumer trends to develop the best electronic products to meet budget and performance requirements.

U.S. News’ guide to becoming an electrical engineer describes electrical engineers as “inventors, designers and builders who understand how to manipulate currents and voltages in creative ways that advance technology.” This involves both creative innovation and hands-on testing. It also involves processing data and interpreting it.

There’s significant overlap with these two industries, especially considering how much both positions rely on computer programs and advanced technology. However, mechanical engineering is often for larger industrial equipment with many moving parts, while electrical engineering focuses on finding the best way to deliver electricity to its destination — a device, a home, or even a city — often on a more fundamental level. They may develop computer hardware or software that could help mechanical engineers’ day-to-day work.

Mechanical engineering is often for larger industrial equipment with many moving parts, while electrical engineering focuses on finding the best way to deliver electricity to its destination — a device, a home, or even a city — often on a more fundamental level.

How to Know if Engineering is the Right Career Fit for You

According to U.S. News’ guide to electrical engineers, electrical engineers need strong mathematical skills. They’ll analyze data and write their own specialized software, so an interest in computer programs is a must. If you have a curiosity for nature and energy, a knack for physics, and a craving for exposure to electronics projects, a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering may be the perfect fit.

Electrical engineers’ work environment includes research and development, manufacturing, engineering service, or even telecommunications, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although electrical engineers may work in an office, they’re often called to visit sites to troubleshoot problems or survey complex equipment. You should be the type of person who’s interested in figuring out the most efficient way to use electricity in a variety of situations.

Per U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' guide to mechanical engineers, mechanical engineering is ideal for people with a curiosity for how things work, like cars, media devices, or robotics. Mechanical engineering benefits from an enthusiasm for solving problems. A knack for trigonometry and calculus are advantageous.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor also describes a mechanical engineer’s work environment as office-central, with visits to worksites to fix problems. They work in manufacturing, research and development, and other engineering services. If you like performing calculations as well as working hands-on with materials and machines, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering might be right for you.

Career Opportunities for Electrical Engineers

There were 27,000 electrical engineers in 2018, according to California’s labor market guide. This number is expected to rise to 29,400 by 2028, especially with the increased focus on sustainable business practices. The median wage in 2021 was $123,210 per year, and $59.24 per hour. Occupational employment by industry consists of architectural and engineering services (20.1%), electronic instrument manufacturing (11.2%), scientific research and development (9.3%), semiconductor and electronic components (7.3%), and aerospace product and parts manufacturing (5.9%).

Career Opportunities for Mechanical Engineers

Per California’s labor market guide, there were 29,700 mechanical engineers in 2018, expected to rise to 31,900 by 2028. The median wage in 2021 was $107,028 annually, and $51.45 per hour. Mechanical engineering’s largest industries include architectural and engineering services (16.1%), machinery manufacturing (10.9%), aerospace product and parts manufacturing (9.9%), electronic instrument manufacturing (8.6%), and scientific research and development (7.1%).

Although mechanical engineering had slightly higher pay, electrical engineering has 10% more opportunities. Both had a majority of workers in architectural and engineering services, with others in instrument manufacturing, research, machinery, and aerospace.

Earn an Engineering Degree in San Diego 

Point Loma Nazarene University offers a general engineering undergraduate program at its main San Diego campus with two emphases: electrical engineering and mechanical engineering physics. The emphasis in electrical engineering “explores analog and digital electronics, computer interfacing, and even mobile robotics.”

PLNU helps electrical engineering students pursue careers in fields like solar technology, aerospace, communication technology, and more. The mechanical engineering physics concentration helps students analyze the force, stress, and strain of engineering structures. This is suited perfectly for industries like renewable energy, urban planning, seismic science, transportation and many more. At PLNU, students will be able to make invaluable connections through these big San Diego industry hubs, both for educational purposes and professional opportunities.

Whether you’re interested in the moving parts of machines or the electrical side, PLNU has the perfect program for you. Find your purpose and take the first step in your engineering career by applying to PLNU’s undergraduate general engineering program today.