Comparing engineering degree courses – what to consider
Decided which engineering discipline to study? Here's what else to think about when choosing which engineering degree courses to apply for.
Accredited engineering degrees
Many engineering degrees are accredited by a relevant professional body. For example, degrees in mechanical engineering are often accredited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), which provides support and oversees standards for mechanical engineers. It's a good idea to look up which professional body oversees the area of engineering that interests you and check whether the degrees you are thinking of applying for are accredited by it.
If a degree isn't accredited it doesn't mean that it's a bad course. However, choosing an accredited degree may make your life simpler. Accreditation proves that the degree course covers the subject matter that the professional body thinks is relevant and to the level it expects. If you want to go on to become professionally registered as an engineer after you graduate (see below) it will save you the hassle of having to prove to your institution what you covered on your degree. It also instantly shows employers that your degree has taught you what they would expect.
BEng or MEng?
Unlike many other subjects, in engineering you can often choose whether you'd like to study for a degree that leads to a bachelors level qualification (typically called a 'BEng') or a masters level qualification (typically called an 'MEng'). A BEng typically takes three years in England and Wales and four years in Scotland; an MEng typically takes four years in England and Wales and five years in Scotland. Often the same degree is available as either a BEng or an MEng at the same university. In some cases you can get onto the BEng with slightly lower grades.
However, if you want to become a chartered engineer eventually (the highest level of professional registration, and typically associated with the highest salaries) it is simpler to achieve this if you have a masters degree. (See our advice on becoming professionally registered in our article on how to get into engineering.) If you want to become a chartered engineer with a BEng, you'll need to either take a separate masters degree afterwards, or prove that you've undertaken relevant further learning to masters level in another way, even if you don't have a formal qualification.
That said, you don't have to become a chartered engineer. You can work towards incorporated engineer status (the next level down) with just a bachelors degree.
How many contact hours will you have?
On a typical engineering degree you might spend about 20 hours a week in lectures, tutorials and practical lab sessions – so about four hours a day Monday to Friday. You’ll also be expected to do a considerable amount of independent study. Your experience of university is likely to be quite different from friends who take arts subjects, who may only have around eight hours a week of teaching and be expected to spend most of their time studying by themselves.
Not all universities make clear the amount of contact time they offer. However, it’s worth trying to track this information down for courses that interest you, especially if you know you like plenty of help or would struggle to find the motivation to do lots of studying by yourself.
Sandwich courses, placements and years in industry
Some engineering degrees include a period of time spent working in industry. Typically this is a whole academic year, often between your penultimate and final years at university. However, occasionally courses are designed to allow shorter periods of time in industry.
Time spent with an employer as part of your degree can be known as a placement or a year in industry. Degrees that are designed to include these are sometimes known as sandwich degrees (because work experience is sandwiched into them).
You will usually have to pay partial tuition fees to your university while you are on a placement, even if it takes a whole academic year. However, it’s usually at a very reduced rate. You will normally also be paid a wage by the company you do your placement with, which may help towards this cost.
Sponsorship for engineering degrees
Some employers sponsor university students studying for engineering degrees. This means that they help with part of the cost of your degree and may also offer other benefits such as work placements. See our article on how to get sponsored for a full-time engineering degree for more information and for help getting sponsored.
This article deals with finding an employer to sponsor you if you plan to go to university full-time and then start work after you graduate. This is different from joining an employer at 18 on an apprenticeship that includes degree study. If you choose this route, you will effectively be a full-time, salaried employee who works for the company and who is given time off to study part-time for a degree course that has been chosen by your employer. If this interests you, see our article on how to get into engineering.