Mechanical engineering is a useful field that’s involved in many aspects of daily life. In fact, most of the systems used on a day to day basis would completely fail without mechanical engineers around to create and refine their processes. This is why mechanical engineering is such an important field— which also makes it a very rewarding career path to pursue.

Anyone interested in mechanical engineering should know a few things about the field before getting into it. Namely what your requirements are, how to become an engineer, and how this field is different from other branches of engineering.

Read on to see exactly what you can expect to see while becoming a mechanical engineer.

Mechanical Engineer Requirements

You’re required to complete at least a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering before you can start work in the field. However, that will only qualify you for entry level positions. To move further, you need to earn your Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineer (PE) licenses. This proves that you’re experienced and knowledgeable enough to work in positions with more responsibilities.

Requirements for each exam are state specific, but they tend to be similar no matter where you take the test. According to the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), you need a Bachelor’s degree and 4 years of work experience before you can sit for the FE exam.

You only need to pass your FE exam to meet the requirements for the PE exam. As a result, most candidates plan on taking the 2 exams back-to-back.

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

Your first major step to becoming a mechanical engineer is passing the mechanical FE exam and earning your first certification. Of course, passing is easier said than done; according to the NCEES, the test consists of 110 questions that you have 6 hours to complete.

Your testing time is broken down into the following sections:

  • Nondisclosure agreement (2 minutes)
  • Testing Tutorial (8 minutes)
  • Exam (5 hours and 20 minutes)
  • Planned Break Time (25 minutes)

Make sure you’re as prepared as possible when you take the exam, since it costs $175 for each attempt. The NCEES provides information on which topics will be present on the exam. Make sure to study their topic sheet carefully so you understand each subject.

You’ll likely want to move on to the PE exam once you’ve completed the FE exam. Luckily for you, the only requirement is that you’ve passed the FE exam. Keep in mind that this test is longer and more difficult; the NCEES says that it’s made up of 80 questions and takes 9 hours to complete.

AS with the FE exam, your exam time is broken into different tasks:

  • Nondisclosure agreement (2 minutes)
  • Testing Tutorial (8 minutes)
  • Exam (8 hours)
  • Planned Break Time (50 minutes)

Each exam attempt costs $375 payable directly to the NCEES. There are 3 different variations of the exam: HVAC and Refrigeration, Machine Design and Materials, and Thermal and Fluid systems. Make sure to study the topic outline for your chosen exam carefully— it will help you learn everything you need to know before sitting for the test.

You’ll officially be a licensed engineer once you’ve completed both exams. This opens you up to a wide range of work opportunities anywhere in the state you’ve earned your certification.

Mechanical Engineer Salary

Whether you compare their pay rates to other engineers or out of all professional careers in general, mechanical engineers are paid very well. 

Glassdoor reports that the average base pay for a PE certified professional engineer is $84,982 a year. However, more experienced professionals can end up making over $100k a year through the course of a successful career. This will happen once they’ve earned a position as a senior mechanical engineer or lead mechanical engineer.

According to Indeed, the top paying mechanical engineering positions in the country are at Sandia National Laboratories, Boeing, Coffman Engineers, EASi, and BD. Of course, you likely won’t be able to immediately get a job at these places. You’ll need to earn some experience with other companies first and work your way up to the salary you desire.

The cities with the highest salaries for mechanical engineers are San Diego, New York, and Atlanta. However, bear in mind that these cities also have a fairly high cost of living— so your pay may not be as high as you think in those areas.

Mechanical Engineering vs. Other Engineering Disciplines

Since there are so many different engineering schools, it’s important to get some perspective when considering a specific one. If you’re curious about the tradeoffs when pursuing a career in this engineering department, keep reading to see how the education process and career trajectory of mechanical engineers compares to other professional engineers.

Mechanical Engineering vs Electrical Engineering

Mechanical and electrical engineering have some key differences when stacked up against each other. 

The first thing to consider is the difficulty of their respective exams. NCEES reports that the mechanical FE exam pass rate is 75% and electrical FE exams have a 72% pass rate; this suggests that the mechanical test is slightly easier. This seems to hold true for the PE test as well, since the average pass rate for mechanical tests is 68% vs. electrical engineering’s average pass rate of 65%.

Aside from being tougher, it seems that electrical engineer also pays slightly better. The average annual base pay for an electrical engineer is $95,111 per year.

But which career has the better job outlook? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both mechanical and electrical engineers have an optimistic 7% change in employment over the next decade, which matches the national average for other careers.

Mechanical Engineering vs Civil Engineering

Much like with electrical engineering, the civil engineering exams seem to be tougher than those for mechanical engineering. The civil engineering exam has nearly twice the applicants of the mechanical one and still has a pass rate of 70%. On the other hand, the PE exam is much harder. There are 5 variations of the civil PE exam and each of them has a pass rate under 70%— but the lowest is the structural exam’s 56% pass rate.

Payment for a civil engineer is also less than a mechanical engineer makes. Average base pay for a civil engineer is $77,632 a year. This is still a great salary, but it doesn’t quite match up to mechanical engineering.

There is one area where civil engineering outpaces mechanical engineering: job outlook. With a projected increase of 8% over the next ten years, this field slightly outpaces the national average.

Mechanical Engineering vs Computer Engineering

Electrical and computer engineering share an FE exam, so you’ve already seen how that pass rate matches up to the mechanical FE exam. However, the PE exam is where things get interesting. Candidates for the Computer PE exam actually have a higher pass rate at 71% than mechanical engineering. This is in contrast to mechanical engineering’s 68% pass rate.

Salaries for computer engineers are also slightly higher. Glassdoor reports that computer engineers make an average base pay of $89,256 per year in the United States.

However, computer engineers are still tied with mechanical engineers in terms of job outlook, since both are more or less within the national average. Still, you may want to consider computer engineering over mechanical if you have an aptitude for coding.