Why Study Engineering at University?
Engineers shape the world by turning ideas into reality. Look around you, engineers are involved in the design and manufacture of almost everything from computers to cars, from houses to helicopters and many medical advances in recent years have been achieved as a result of the work done by engineers.
A scientist may ask why a problem arises, and proceed to research the answer to the question or actually solve the problem in his first try, perhaps creating a mathematical model of his observations. By contrast, engineers want to know how to solve a problem, and how to implement that solution. In other words, scientists attempt to explain phenomena, whereas engineers use any available knowledge, including that produced by science, to construct solutions to problems.
Remember a degree is not the only pathway to Engineering as a career. There are numerous apprenticeships and traineeships available. There are also HND courses available at many Universities with much lower entry requirements than a degree course. Some of the most successful Engineers started via this route, only going to University much later in their careers.
Engineering applies scientific and technical knowledge to solve human problems. Engineers use imagination, judgment, reasoning and experience to apply science, technology, mathematics, and practical experience. The result is the design, production, and operation of useful objects or processes.
Engineering is involved in almost everything that surrounds us, however, there are a number of traditional boundaries that give rise to the main engineering disciplines, which are explained in further detail below.
BEng or MEng degrees?
A BEng is a Bachelors of Engineering, whereas an MEng is a Masters of Engineering. The MEng is an integrated degree, i.e. it integrates both the bachelors and masters into one degree (and hence lasts a year longer than a BEng), meaning that only one degree is awarded (the masters) and the student progresses right through from the first year to the masters year as they would do for a normal bachelors course.
The first few years of the BEng and MEng degrees are likely to be identical. In most cases the first three years are identical with the fourth year being a little more technical than the BEng. High performing students on the BEng usually get the opportunity to progress onto the MEng if they were not already on it usually at the end of their second year upon satisfactory grades.
The MEng is popular with those wishing to pursue a career in engineering as it fulfils all of the academic requirements required for achieving Chartered Status, therefore not requiring further study further down the line. Many companies aim for their graduate engineers to become Chartered within five years although it could take longer depending on the individual. It is also possible to become Chartered with a BEng; however, this requires more experience and "further study" at masters level.
It is also important to note that those who do have BEng degrees and want to become chartered can do so by joining companies with an accredited MPDS scheme (or similar) which satisfies the "further study to masters level" requirement set by the relevant engineering institution. Different engineering institutions will have different requirements for Chartership.
Many students who wish to pursue careers outside of engineering or want to get into industry quickly often opt to leave with the BEng degree. Some students decide to take a more technical approach and study either an MSc or a PhD after they leave with a BEng.
An MSc is also a masters degree, except it is solely postgraduate and must therefore be funded out of the applicant's pocket (whereas student finance is available for the MEng). Some students prefer the MSc as it allows greater specialisation than the MEng - the MEng is broad, like the discipline as a whole, whereas an MSc tends to focus on one particular area of that discipline but in much greater depth.
Universities offering Engineering
What Uni is a good website to find which Universities offer Engineering degrees. You can search either on a general term like 'Engineering' or a more specialist area like 'Chemical Engineering'.
It also has a useful filter where you can restrict search results to those matching your predicted grades/tariff points or an area of the country etc.
Always check on each University's own website to see specific subjects/grades required, plus GCSE requirements etc. Some Universities accept BTEC qualifications, others don't. Check on the website and if in doubt email the University and ask before you apply.
Many Universities offer Engineering degrees with an Industrial Placement. It may also be possible to arrange relevant vacation employment via your University. These opportunities are always viewed favourably by potential employers.
It is also possible to do Engineering 'with a Year Abroad'. Again, this is very much worth doing; you gain valuable skills just from being overseas (self-confidence, coping skills etc) and you will have had experience of engineering in another environment/culture. Always valuable when looking for future jobs overseas! Don't worry if you have no obvious language skills as most Universities will offer English speaking countries such as USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as possible destinations. Look on each University website for details of their Year Abroad schemes.
Mathematics is a mandatory requirement for virtually all BEng/MEng courses. Some universities only ask for an AS-level in Mathematics, providing the applicant offers a full A-level in Physics.
Further Mathematics, though not a formal requirement at any university yet, would benefit an engineering applicant particularly at the top universities. Physics, though not an absolute requirement at many universities, is the primary 'preferred' subject. Chemistry would complement mathematics and physics, and is preferred (and often required) for many chemical engineering applicants.
For the international baccalaureate, Higher Level Mathematics and Physics are required for most engineering courses. However quite, an increasing number of universities in the UK are accepting SL Mathematics as an equivalent of A-level mathematics.
UCAS point requirements vary by a great deal for engineering. Look at a wide variety of different Universities.
Grade ranges - if there is a 'grade range' cited as a typical offer (ie. AAB-BBB), this usually means that 'contextual offers' (lower offers) are made to applicants from poor performing schools, and those from other disadvantaged backgrounds such as having been in Local Authority Care etc. It can also be reflection of how that University views particular A level subjects; it makes different offers depending on what you are taking. If in any doubt about what the grade range means, email the University and ask before you apply. Do not assume for instance that all offers will be at the lower level.
Second Year entry - If you have a HND with excellent exam results in appropriate subjects, many Universities will consider you for entry directly to the second year. Email the University and ask what their individual policy is.
Foundation courses are usually designed for those whose school-leaving qualifications do not meet the requirements for direct entry to undergraduate programmes (for example, with the 'wrong' A level subjects) but who still have high grades. They are usually not designed for people who simply have poor grades. In these circumstances you are usually better simply retaking your A levels.
The course at Nottingham is a typical example and allows you to then progress to the normal BEng/MEng pathway - University of Nottingham
Engineering students can often find themselves studying subjects from a variety of academic disciplines, even outside the realm of Science and Mathematics. Some of these include:
- Economics, Accounting & Finance - Engineers need to be able to work to financial constraints, and generally need to be aware of the economical potential of their products of ideas.
- Business and Management Studies - Graduate engineers often find themselves in a position of authority when they enter the career world, and as such, management and business studies prime them to be effective managers and businessmen in the Engineering industry. Almost 60% of Engineering graduates do not go on to engineering careers, often they go into management in other sectors.
- Languages - Engineering is a universal discipline, and many engineers work in countries to which they are not natives. Most universities offer the chance to study abroad for part of an Engineering degree to work on research projects, and as such, they are subject to language courses before arrival in their institution of choice.
- Entrepreneurship studies - Many of the world's entrepreneurs are Engineers.
- Law - Engineers hold positions of massive responsibility, and as such are subject to complexities of the law that regulates and governs their work. Being aware of these laws is an necessity to professional practice.
Engineering is classed as a science and as such there is usually little essay-writing involved in the course, though there can be a significant proportion if you undertake certain modules (such as "Engineering and Society"). There is often a large amount of maths in the degree and depending on the type of engineering you are studying the rest of the course will be made up of the relevant subject areas (e.g. computer science for computer engineering or physics for mechanical engineering).
Engineering is usually studied with a specialism in mind (e.g. electrical engineering, or chemical engineering) but several universities also offer "General Engineering" courses, referred to as "Engineering Science" or "General Engineering". These involve teaching students the broad foundations of engineering, by integrating the study of the subject across the traditional boundaries of engineering disciplines, specialised knowledge is then added in the latter years of the course.
Women in Engineering
There is a drive to encourage more women to see Engineering as a career, headed by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Many Universities actively encourage women to apply to courses where they are currently under represented. The University of Sheffield and the University of Manchester are examples of this, and many other UK Universities have a similar approach.
WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) campaigns to increase the involvement of young women in apprenticeships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and to pursue Engineering at University level. They run workshops and information sessions to increase the awareness of science and engineering for girls still at school. Also, the Range Rover Evoque WISE Scholarship will provide a £3,000 bursary to three female students or apprentices who would like to explore a career or further studies in engineering. In addition the winners are provided with mentoring support from both Land Rover senior engineers and WISE representatives.
Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects
The combination of rigour and practicality in their training, as well as the wide range of disciplines to which they are subjected during their studies, makes engineering graduates attractive to a wide range of employers in engineering, finance, commerce and other areas. Many degree courses also include a year in industry as part of the degree program, which can lead to offers of employment before graduation from the course.
A glance at any Engineering jobs website will show the vast range of jobs available - both in the UK and overseas.
The Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Army view Engineering graduates very highly. See their individual recruitment websites for details.
Other major employers with structured graduate entry schemes for engineers of different disciplines include the National Grid, Network Rail, Transport for London, BAE Systems, IBM, Siemens, Virgin Media, Nissan, Royal Mail, Airbus, Renishaw, Rolls Royce, the Environment Agency, British Airways, Aston Martin, GlaxoSmithKline, etc etc.
The British Council administers a placement scheme under the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) program giving students and graduates up to 52 weeks real-work, salaried experience with top employers in over 80 countries.
Areas of Engineering
Most Engineering courses expect you to apply for a specific branch of Engineering. Below are details about the more common areas you can choose to specialise in.
If you think you're not sure yet which one of these most interests you then it might be worth considering one of the many courses that have 'broad based' first years and allow you to specialise later in your degree. These are normally called 'General Engineering' degrees - though you still graduate in one specific area.
Aeronautical engineering is the branch of engineering that concerns aircraft, spacecraft and related topics. It is also referred to as aerospace engineering, particularly when concerning only aircraft and also astronautical engineering when solely referring to spacecraft.
Typical modules or topics of study include :
- Aero Propulsion
- Flight Dynamics
- Structural Analysis
Career paths often taken by aeronautical engineering graduates include but are not limited to working for or in :
- Leading aerospace employers
- The Armed Forces
- Government departments such as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) or Transport and Regions (DETR)
- Agencies like the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) and Defence Procurement Agency (DPA)
- Airline operators
- Regulatory authorities like the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
- National and multinational space agencies such as the :
- Canadian Space Agency (CSA)
- European Space Agency (ESA)
- Russian Space Agency (RKA)
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Chemical engineers are engaged in the development and production of a diverse range of products, as well as in commodity and specialty chemicals. These products include high performance materials needed for aerospace, automotive, biomedical, electronic, environmental and military applications. Examples include ultra-strong fibers, fabrics, adhesives and composites for vehicles, bio-compatible materials for implants and prosthetics, gels for medical applications, pharmaceuticals, and films with special dielectric, optical or spectroscopic properties for optoelectronic devices. Additionally, chemical engineering is often intertwined with biology and biomedical engineering. Many chemical engineers work on biological projects such as understanding biopolymers (proteins) and mapping the human genome.
Typical modules or topics of study include :
- Fluid and Particle Mechanics
- Formulation Engineering
- Multiphase Operations
- Reaction Engineering
- Reactors and Catalysis
Career paths often taken by chemical engineering graduates include but are not limited to working for or in :
- Companies in the oil and petrochemical industries
- The Armed Forces
- The nuclear industry
- Waste water treatment
In modern usage, civil engineering is a broad field of engineering that deals with the planning, construction, and maintenance of fixed structures, or public works. Civil engineers are responsible for things such as roads, structures, water supply, sewage systems, flood control and traffic. In essence civil engineering is the profession which makes the world a more habitable place to live.
Engineering has developed from observations of the ways natural and constructed systems react and from the development of empirical equations that provide bases for design. Civil engineering is the broadest of the engineering fields. In fact engineering was once divided into only two disciplines - military and civil. Civil engineering is still an umbrella field comprised of many related specialities.
Civil engineering encompasses all of the following fields :
- Environmental engineering
- Geotechnical engineering
- Hydraulic engineering
- Material science
- Structural engineering
- Transportation engineering
Typical modules or topics of study include :
- Computational Methods
- Professional Engineering Practice
- Environmental Engineering
- Fluid Mechanics
- Geotechnical Engineering
- Material Science
- Soil Mechanics
- Structural Mechanics
Career paths often taken by civil engineering graduates include but are not limited to working for or in :
- The Armed Forces
- The Construction Sector
- Architectural design
Electrical engineering is an engineering discipline that deals with the study and application of electricity, electromagnetism and electronics. The field first came to public attention in the late nineteenth century with the installation of the first large-scale electrical supply networks and now encompasses a range of sub-disciplines including power, control systems, electronics and telecommunications.
Whilst the terms are often used synonymously, electrical engineering is sometimes distinguished from electronics engineering. Where this distinction is made, electrical engineering is considered to deal with the problems associated with large-scale electrical systems such as power transmission and motor control whereas electronics engineering deals with the study of small-scale electronic systems including semiconductors and the design of integrated circuits.
Typical modules or topics of study include :
- Analogue and Digital Electronics
- Analysis of Circuits
- Engineering Materials
- Microwave Technology
Career paths often taken by electrical engineering graduates include but are not limited to working for or in :
- Companies that deal with communication technology
- The Armed Forces
- Hardware engineering
- Software engineering
Mechanical engineering is a very broad field of engineering that involves the application of physical principles for analysis, design, manufacturing, maintenance of mechanical systems and other components and equipment based on mechanical principles.
Like other engineering degrees, mechanical engineering includes a broad range of modules, some of which may be shared with students from other disciplines. Generally, modules can be broken down into two different styles: "academic/theoretical" ones, where much of the content is maths based, and will contain one or more exams alongside coursework which may be, for example, a lab report; and/or "problem sets". This also includes modules with a much greater qualitative element, design element or a group element where the coursework makes up a much greater proportion of the overall module mark hence they may not be an exam for that particular module at the end of it.
Academic/Theoretical modules include:
- Mechanics of Solids
- Heat Transfer
- Mathematics and Numerical Methods
- Fluid Mechanics (both fluid dynamics and fluid statics)
- Environmental Engineering
- Finite Element Analysis
- Fatigue, Fracture Mechanics and Failure Analysis
- Control Systems Engineering
- Stress Analysis
- Internal Combustion
- Electrical Devices & Electromechanics
- Materials Science & Engineering
Other modules may include:
- Quality Management
- Design & Manafucture & Computer Aided Design
- Group Projects
- Practical Skills
- Business, Management and Marketing
Due to the broad nature of mechanical engineering, graduates find employment in virtually every sector of engineering. Examples include:
- Energy (Oil & Gas, Utilities, Renewable, Nuclear)
- Automotive & Aerospace sectors
- Defence (also includes the Armed Forces)
- Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals
- Marine & Shipping
- Building Services & Construction
- Fast Moving Consumer Goods
- Medical & Biomedical
Information and Information Systems Engineering
Information Engineering is a relatively new engineering discipline gaining in popularity due to the widespread availability of computational resources and the growing amounts of data being collected.
Information Engineers develop algorithms and systems to process, manipulate and extract meaningful information from data. As a consequence, information engineers must have mastery of the disciplines of mathematics, statistics and computer science as well as being well versed in traditional engineering methodology. They must also be flexible and able to adapt their generic data analysis methods to potentially very different problems.
- designing a intelligent system for identifying malignant tumours from MRI scans
- identifying cracks in rails from ultrasound images
- developing an early warning missile tracking system
- automatically identifying known troublemakers from CCTV images of football crowds
- finding patterns in Google search usage
- designing automated speech recognition systems
- online optimisation of aircraft performance
Information Engineering is often not taught as a standalone degree but instead specialist modules usually appear in the latter stages of a traditional engineering degree (typically Electrical/Electronics).
Typical modules or topics of study include:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Machine Learning
- Signal Processing
- Image Processing and Computer Vision
- Software Engineering
- Control Systems
Many universities also offer such options as part of Computer Science and Mathematics courses and it is not uncommon to see industry or academic teams that comprise a mixture of engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians. This merely reflects the multitude of skills required to be successful in this area of work.
As information engineering graduates are data specialists they can often find jobs in many different industries.