Online Degree Programs for Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering is an engineering discipline that focuses on the design, manufacture, and maintenance of machines, machine parts, and machine systems. The applications of this branch of engineering are numerous, and may apply to small machines, such as inkjet printer nozzles, or large machines, such as spacecraft, according to Columbia University’s mechanical engineering department. Mechanical engineering is a good fit for individuals who are analytical thinkers, problem solvers, mathematically-minded, and enjoy seeing projects through from start to finish. Online mechanical engineering degree programs allow students the flexibility to further their education from their home computers with limited campus requirements. The best online degree programs in mechanical engineering will be accredited by ABET, which accredits high-quality programs in applied science, engineering, computing, and engineering technology.

Online Associate Degree Programs for Mechanical Engineering

While you cannot become a full-fledged mechanical engineer by completing an associate degree program, you can complete an online degree program in mechanical engineering technology at the associate level. This degree can lead to a career as an engineering technologist, or may be transferred in to a four-year program in mechanical engineering. Students in such programs take courses in advanced mathematics and foundational engineering principles, such as pre-calculus, calculus, materials science, statics and dynamics, fluid mechanics, mechanics of materials, and engineering labs. While most course work will be completed online, students must report to campus for required labs so that they can learn hands-on skills in mechanical engineering technology.

Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs for Mechanical Engineering

Because of the campus lab requirements, online bachelor degree programs in mechanical engineering are in fact hybrid programs, or programs that feature both online and on-campus requirements. For example, the University of North Dakota’s online Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering offers recorded lectures with on-campus labs. Unlike other bachelor’s degree programs that typically last four years, an online bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering may take more than six years to complete because of a part-time format for working adults and the rigors of the course work. Students take general education courses in college writing and humanities as well as major courses in engineering principles and engineering design, such as statics and dynamics, mechanics of materials, engineering economy, machine component design, heat and mass transfer, and more. Such programs generally conclude with the completion of one or more large-scale design projects.

Online Master’s Degree Programs for Mechanical Engineering

Online masters degree programs in mechanical engineering are a good fit for experienced engineers who would either like to transition into mechanical engineering from a different engineering discipline or who would like to position themselves to advance to a management position within mechanical engineering. Some online master’s programs will have on-campus lab requirements, while some can be completed entirely online with no campus visits required. Programs may conclude with a master’s thesis, or non-thesis options may conclude with independent study or a capstone project in mechanical engineering. Course work will vary based on the university and specialization, but a sampling of courses from the University of Illinois’ online Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering program includes: Energy Conversion Systems, Numerical Thermo-Fluid Mechanics, Failure Mechanisms in Engineering Materials, Finite Element Analysis, Micromechanical Behavior of Materials, and more.

Online Doctoral Degree Programs for Mechanical Engineering

Online college degree programs in mechanical engineering are not commonly available at the doctoral level, although some traditional Ph.D programs may offer individual graduate courses in an online format. Doctoral degree programs in mechanical engineering are a good fit for students who want to enter careers in research and development, academia, or engineering consulting. Courses you may encounter in a doctoral program in mechanical engineering include: Computer Modeling of Complex Thermal-Fluid System, Random Matrix Theory and its Applications in Mechanics, and Random Vibrations and Stochastic Structural Dynamics, as well as courses in engineering research methods and statistical analysis. Students conclude their course work with a comprehensive written and/or oral examination, and demonstrate a mastery in their subject area through the completion and oral defense of a doctoral dissertation.

Online Degree Programs in Mechanical Engineering in the Work Place

Mechanical engineers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in engineering to obtain entry-level jobs in mechanical engineering, and a graduate degree is often need for promotion to management, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It is vital that students who opt for distance education enroll in accredited online degree programs, as many employers prefer to hire engineers from ABET-accredited programs, and accreditation is necessary if the engineer ever needs to become licensed as a professional engineer, the BLS explains. Mechanical engineers reported a median yearly salary of $78,160 in May 2010.

However, mechanical engineers working for the federal government or in research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences had higher earning power, with average salaries for mechanical engineers in these industries at $91,910 and $88,190, respectively, the BLS noted. Of course, these median salary figures are not reflective of starting salaries, and actual salaries can vary greatly depending on an engineer’s experience, employer, industry, region of the country, and other factors.

While job growth for mechanical engineers is projected to be slow between 2010 and 2010 ó at 8% ó the skills of a mechanical engineer are applicable to a variety of in-demand industries, meaning job prospects for mechanical engineers are still expected to be good, the BLS explains. Even so, job opportunities should be more abundant for mechanical engineers who are up to date in the most recent technological advances. In particular, mechanical engineers who are skilled in software tools like Advanced Visualization Process will have the best employment prospects. Employment opportunities may vary by industry and region.