What A-Levels Do You Need?
Engineering is very much part of the sciences, with a good deal of maths involved as well. As such, you’ll need to have studied related topics for you’re A-Levels – usually physics and/or mathematics. Mechanical Engineering courses tend to be very competitive and grade requirements are high – University College London, for example, asks for AAB, with the two As being in Physics and Maths, while the University of Surrey requires AAA, again with Physics and Maths. If you want to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Ulster you’ll need 300 UCAS points formed from at least two Bs, one of which should be in Maths and the other in either Physics, Chemistry, Technology or Engineering.
What Are Your Study Options?
Most Mechanical Engineering degrees cover the same or similar core modules, with small variants in optional modules thereafter – it’s a good idea to have a look at a few different
course prospectuses and browse a few university websites to get an idea of what’s on offer. You might find some courses that offer a closer look at aeronautics, for example, or others with a closer focus on automotive technology. There are also a few different types of Mechanical Engineering degrees, with some unis offering a BSc in Mechanical Engineering, and others offering the more common BEng qualification. There are some three-year Mechanical Engineering courses, but as it’s such a practical, skills-based degree, most universities offer a four-year sandwich course, where you’ll get to spend a year working in industry and getting lots of experience that’ll look great on your CV. You could even go abroad and spend a year learning a new language as you do it. If you didn’t study all science subjects at A-Level, you might want to enrol on a course that includes a foundation degree. There’s also the option to study for a Mechanical Engineering degree part-time, although this will take longer. If you want to take your study further, look out for an undergraduate degree that has a master’s (MEng) qualification built in. For a degree that comes with proven industry support, keep an eye out for courses accredited by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Why Study Mechanical Engineering?
not study Mechanical Engineering?! It’s known to be the broadest of all engineering degrees, teaching you the most transferrable skills; because of this you’ll find you’re able to work in a huge number of roles across multiple industries – even if you decide that you don’t want to pursue a career in engineering. Mechanical Engineering degrees are among the most sought after by employers for this reason, meaning you’ll be able to command better wages in a competitive jobs market. Plus, if you decide to follow your degree to its logical conclusion – a job in the industry – it’s unlikely you’ll be short of options, as people will always need people to make and design things! Finally, you’ll also get the satisfaction of knowing that you’re making a real contribution to the world you live in by helping to develop the technologies that make people’s lives better.
After Your Mechanical Engineering Degree…
With a Mechanical Engineering degree you’ll be able to work in the aerospace industry, designing, manufacturing and maintaining all kinds of aircraft; in the construction industry working on buildings and infrastructure; in the defence industry supporting the army and national defence systems and in the consumer goods industry, developing common household goods and technologies. You could work as a designer, contractor or consultant in any of these sectors, or as a production manager or patent agent who decides if new technologies are unique and should be granted a patent. You could even take your skills with software, data analysis and leadership into IT, finance or management roles. There are also plenty of opportunities to work abroad; the Guardian states that 2.35% of all students graduating in Mechanical Engineering in 2009 went on pursue careers overseas. Alternatively, there are also options for further study, from a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering (MEng) up to a PhD in a specialist field.
Q&A With a Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Dr Stephen Beck is Director of Learning and Teaching Development for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield...
Why should students study a degree in Mechanical Engineering?
Mechanical Engineers design and build things: cars; planes; bicycles; wind turbines; robots; your central heating system. They make things that move, devices that make your life easier, and help make buildings more comfortable and less wasteful.
What kind of skills will students learn on the course?
Many of the skills are those of applied mathematics; in order to design things you have to understand how they will perform. For this you need to be able to use numbers and the models used to predict them. So you must understand how forces work, how energy is converted, and how materials behave. You must also be aware of how different components systems interact when they are put together.
One of the things that Mechanical Engineers specialise in is designing and building things. Here they use computers as tools to conceive and create products that can be efficiently and economically made. They use software on computers to predict fluid flows and how loaded structures deform. They also need to be able to manage people and products.
What key modules can students expect to cover in their first year?
Courses vary a lot depending on the specialisations of the staff, what sort of entry qualifications the students have and the sort of jobs that they go into. But most first year courses will cover mathematics, statics and dynamics, materials, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics, design and manufacturing. There will also be laboratories to illuminate what is taught in lectures.
What kind of careers do students typically go into after they graduate?
It's one of the most general types of engineering, so you can go into a large range of careers. Many students work for companies that make cars, planes or engines. Others might work for building consultancies, utilities (water, gas, electricity), or as designers for companies that make components or complete products. Others work to process materials, extract natural products, or on infrastructure projects (roads, rail, sanitation etc).
Some graduates use their degrees in less direct ways. Finance, regulation, management, and patenting are all looking for numerate graduates, and mechanical engineers are among the best with numbers.
Q&A With a Mechanical Engineering Graduate
Fred Sarathchandra studied Mechanical Engineering at Bath University...
Why did you choose to study Mechanical Engineering at university?
I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a Mechanical Engineer as I was growing up. However I was always one to play with Lego, and at school I loved DT since it allowed me to be creative whilst applying scientific principles. I’d say I was interested in the sciences as well, so mechanical engineering was really a combination of my creative side as well as scientific side. If you want, you could see it as the “grown-up” version of playing with Lego!
What was the most enjoyable aspect of your course?
It’s an extremely broad subject so you learn about a lot! From learning how a jet engine works and is manufactured, to writing code to control robots and everything in between, you will definitely find an area that interests you. If you like to be practical you can choose practical projects, or if you like more theoretical things then you can choose those projects as well. It’s very satisfying when you get to see and touch a design that you’ve worked on.
What was the least enjoyable aspect of your course?
It’s very demanding. You’ll often find yourself wondering why your friends on other courses have so much time to do other stuff like be active in societies or go out while you’re in a lab all night! But it is definitively worth it as you come out with such a valuable set of skills. And then when you do have time to go out, it feels like it’s been hard earned!
How do you think a Mechanical Engineering degree might help graduates seeking employment?
The world is your oyster! With a degree in Mechanical Engineering you could work for F1 teams, aircraft manufacturers, automotive/motorcycle companies and many, many more industries. There are so many jobs available that as long as you are interested in the subject and do well in your degree, you will not struggle to find a job at the end. The salaries are very competitive as well. It’s a tough degree, and employers know that, which is one reason why they’re always keen to take on mechanical engineering graduates.
How did the course prepare you for your job?
There was of course the underlying theory and scientific principles that my course taught me, which I needed when I worked in my first engineering role during a placement year. But you also learn much more than that, such as working well in teams or the business/management side of a company. It’s also satisfying when you can walk into a company as a professional, and through your studies have the knowledge to solve real world problems.
What would you like to go on to do in your career in the future?
Because engineering is so diverse, I don’t feel like I will have to settle on one particular industry for the rest of my career. The skills you learn are highly transferrable, and people I worked with had all worked in various different industries over their careers. I would like to work for both a small independent company and a large scale engineering company. I also feel like consulting would be very interesting as well. The constant challenge of coming up with ideas and designs to solve real problems is a big reason why I would definitely stay within engineering.
- Search for Mechanical Engineering courses on Whatuni now
Top image via Bill Burris