detail of a mechanical engineering contraption with the creators notes and words of encouragement scribbled all over it

What Kind of Engineer Should I Be? Mechanical Engineering, Engineering Mechanics, Aerospace Engineering, and Systems Engineering & Design

If you’ve read our last engineering blog post, you already know that there are all kinds of engineering majors. But here’s the thing: We haven’t covered them all yet. That’s right—you have even more engineering opportunities!

In this post, we’re going to compare and contrast a few of the more mechanically minded engineering options. Specifically, we’re going to dive into mechanical engineering, engineering mechanics, aerospace engineering, and systems engineering and design. What will you study in these majors? What kinds of careers do they lead to? Which one is right for you? Read on to find out. 

Mechanical Engineering

Students of mechanical engineering learn the art of designing and controlling machines and systems, converting or transferring energy, and more. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of room for flexibility and individual interests in a field this broad. You might work with engines; improvements in health, manufacturing, or computers; or something else altogether. Do you have a background or an interest in physics? Do you want to learn more about how the world around you moves and uses energy? Are you ready to improve the world around you? Mechanical engineering might be the major you’ve been looking for.

What career options are available for mechanical engineers?

Don’t feel limited by the options listed below. Mechanical engineers are in demand in all kinds of fields! Some of the most prominent are:

  • Automotive work
  • Computer software & electronics
  • Defense & security
  • Environment
  • Health & biological work
  • Manufacturing, energy, & transportation
  • Research & development

Mechanical Engineering at UIUC

The mechanical engineering major at UIUC is ranked #4 in the U.S. (U.S. News and World Report), which means getting into the program can be competitive! Stand out on your application by taking advanced math and science courses and seeking out activities and STEM courses whenever possible. For a chance of being admitted, you’ll also have to list mechanical engineering as your first-choice major, not your second. 

Engineering Mechanics

It might seem as though this major is just mechanical engineering with the words switched around slightly, but engineering mechanics is its own distinct field. If you choose this major, you’ll study forces and motion in a comprehensive way that gives you an in-depth understanding of statics, dynamics, materials, and more. You’ll have the building blocks you need to solve mechanics problems with the powers of math, science, and engineering principles, with a particular emphasis on the physical principles of modern engineering design. If you’re interested in delving into the roots of engineering and problem-solving, try engineering mechanics!

What career options are available for engineering mechanics?

The sky’s the limit with engineering mechanics, but the following careers could be a natural fit with your interests.

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive work
  • Computer software & electronics
  • Defense & security
  • Environment
  • Health & biological work
  • Manufacturing, energy, & transportation

Engineering Mechanics at UIUC

If you study engineering mechanics at UIUC, you’ll be able to choose from seven different secondary fields:

  • Biomechanics 
  • Computational mechanics  
  • Engineering science  
  • Applied math  
  • Experimental mechanics  
  • Fluid mechanics  
  • Mechanics of materials  
  • Solid mechanics

engineer working on an exposed jet engine

Aerospace Engineering

Students in this field study the development, integration, and production of aerospace and flight systems (are you surprised?). You’ll study aerodynamics, propulsion systems, and more to make our planes and spacecrafts safer, more effective, and better-designed. Aerospace is a complex field, so these engineers will need to develop a professional background in mechanical, electrical, computer, and material engineering during the course of their studies. Ever wanted to build rockets? Check out aerospace engineering!

What career options are available for aerospace engineers?

Aerospace engineering might sound like a very specific degree that leads to specific careers, but you might be surprised by the different positions available to you, including:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive work
  • Defense
  • Engines
  • Government work
  • Manufacturing
  • Security

Aerospace Engineering at UIUC

Like mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering is a competitive major at UIUC. Its undergraduate program is ranked #7 in the U.S. (U.S. News and World Report), which means you’ll want to list it as your first-choice major and stand out on your application. Don’t shy away from those high school math and science courses, and hang on to that elementary school vision of yourself building model rockets and airplanes! 

College of Engineering students working on a solar car build for an upcoming competition

Systems Engineering & Design

Can’t pick just one engineering emphasis? Systems engineering and design might be the major for you. A system, in this context, is any group of interacting components working together. As you can imagine, a system could be almost anything, so you’ll want a diverse engineering and interdisciplinary background to cover your bases. If you study systems engineering and design, you might be asked to develop and support software, create new scheduling algorithms for a business, improve an existing traffic management system, and more. With systems engineering and design, you can get creative.   

What career options are available for systems engineers?

Your job might have “engineer” in the title, or it might not! The flexibility of this major extends to its career options, which include:

  • Automotive, control systems, & manufacturing
  • Business systems integration & consulting
  • Communication & computer systems
  • Construction
  • Operations & quality control
  • Robotics

Systems Engineering & Design at UIUC

When you study systems engineering and design at UIUC, you’ll be asked to choose your secondary field option. It’s an emphasis of study that will guide your major and give you some specialization. Some of those secondary field options include:

  • Automotive engineering
  • Autonomous systems & robotics
  • Bioengineering 
  • Computer science
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing engineering

Need a little help deciding?

Engineering is a field that’s full of potential and possibilities. Which major aligns best with your goals for your future and what you want to contribute to the world? If you’re still not sure, a great tool to help you decide is the quiz available on the Grainger College of Engineering homepage. Whether you’re interested in designing spaceships or putting your mastery of fluid dynamics to use, there’s a place for you in engineering! 

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1 comment

  • I am very happy with my BS in Engineering Mechanics! It prepared me for my MS in Acoustics from Penn State.

    With my Engineering Mechanics background, I’ve worked on everything from hearing aid microphones to jet engine test cells & transonic wind tunnels.