Types of engineering degree and how to choose the right one

Which engineering degree discipline should I choose?
Trying to choose which engineering discipline to study at university? Find out about the different degrees available, how your choice relates to your future career and what the best bets are if you want to keep your career options open.

Most universities offer a selection of engineering degrees. There are lots of different disciplines within engineering (eg mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and chemical engineering); most degrees are in one particular discipline so you'll need to decide which one most appeals to you before you apply. However, some universities offer a 'general engineering' degree, which allows you to study at bit of everything in your first year or two and then decide which discipline to specialise in later on.

Common types of engineering degree include:

  • Mechanical engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Electronic engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Chemical engineering

See our article on types of jobs and employers in engineering for more information about these engineering disciplines.

More specialist engineering degrees include:

  • Aerospace engineering (making machines that fly – covers aircraft and spacecraft)
  • Automotive engineering (deals with ground-based vehicles)
  • Bioengineering (engineering in a medical context to develop better medical technologies)
  • Communications/telecoms/network engineering (covers communication networks for voice and data)
  • Manufacturing engineering (developing and improving manufacturing processes)
  • Marine technology/naval architecture/ship science (engineering for water vessels and offshore structures)
  • Computer systems engineering (covers computer hardware and software and communication networks – related to computer science and to electronics)

How your engineering degree discipline influences your career

Taking a degree in a particular engineering discipline will typically influence what jobs you can apply for after university and the specialism you have in your career. Again, see our article on types of jobs and employers in engineering for more info.

However, some engineering employers require all-rounders, whose skills and knowledge cross engineering disciplines. These employers may take on graduates from lots of different engineering disciplines and train them up together to be able to work interchangeably on any aspect of a project. For example, if you're designing a highly complex defence system or helping to troubleshoot engineering problems on a manufacturing production line you are likely to need to understand different areas of engineering and use your knowledge to solve problems and to design solutions.

Our graduate careers website TARGETjobs has more information on what types of careers different engineering degrees could lead to.

What's the best type of engineering degree to keep my options open?

General engineering degrees are a good bet if you're not sure what type of engineering you want to specialise in, as you get to learn about a number of different disciplines. However, on some courses you do need to make a decision and specialise eventually.

Alternatively, some engineering disciplines leave more doors open than others. Mechanical engineering, for example, can lead you into a very wide range of roles and industries. Electrical, electronic and civil engineering also leave many doors open. More specialist degrees such as aerospace, automotive or bioengineering will lead you down a more defined path – but if one of these areas is what you're passionate about, don't let that stop you.

Once you've decided which engineering discipline you want to study, there are a few other factors you should consider. Read our article on comparing engineering degree courses for help with this.

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