2020 Accredited Online Mechanical Engineering Degrees

By Jennifer King Logan | Updated October 21, 2020

The wind turbines that convert air into energy, the machines that perform critical functions in a manufacturing plant, the cooling systems that make homes comfortable in the summer heat—what all of these have in common is the mechanical engineers who designed them. An online degree in mechanical engineering opens doors to fulfilling and lucrative jobs. In fact, for mechanical engineers conducting scientific research and development, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary is $101,780. Scroll down to find a list of the most popular online degrees in mechanical engineering, and then continue reading for more information about mechanical engineering degree levels, accreditation, and answers to frequently asked questions about mechanical engineering degrees.

Most Popular Accredited Online Schools for Mechanical Engineering Degrees

Online Mechanical Engineering Degree Overview & Career Information

Associate and bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering provide students with a foundation in technical skills and engineering knowledge to help prepare them for entry-level engineering careers. The first half of the program will require general education courses and foundational courses in chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Students then complete coursework in mechanical engineering subjects and may pursue a concentration in an area like aerospace, manufacturing, or mechanical design.

Master's degree programs require students to complete advanced coursework in mechanical engineering and mathematics topics. Students may choose a concentration in an area of study such as dynamics and control, fluids engineering, mechanics and materials, or design and manufacturing. Many schools allow students to choose between thesis and non-thesis master's degree programs.

Students in doctoral programs carry out original research in areas of study such as nanotechnology, alternative energy technology, and lean manufacturing. These programs may take several years to complete and involve writing and defending a dissertation.

Certificate programs are designed for students and professionals looking for additional education in a specific concentration. Mechanical engineering certificate programs may include topics such as machinery dynamics, thermo-fluid systems, and electro-mechanical systems. These programs give students the opportunity to learn a wide variety of subjects, like engineering analysis, advanced dynamics, and matrix theory.

A bachelor’s degree will be required for any entry-level position within this field; an ME bachelor's degree may also be applied toward other engineering jobs further down the road. Many engineers who have training in one specific area may end up working in another engineering discipline as technologies change and evolve. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, it is helpful for mechanical engineers to obtain a state license. All 50 states require a license in order to be considered a professional engineer.

Online Associate Degrees in Mechanical Engineering

Two-year associate programs in mechanical engineering teach students how to design and build mechanical systems such as engines, heaters, and navigational instruments. Students learn the mechanical engineering process through courses in natural science, math, and engineering fundamentals, as well as hands-on labs. Mechanical engineering associate programs give students the necessary background and training for proficiency in the design, testing, installation, and repair of many types of machines.

Natural science and math courses in ME programs teach students the basic tools with which to analyze engineering problems. For example, a mechanics course discusses physics principles, such as the laws of motion and the equations used to determine how something will move. Technical mathematics applies concepts of college-level calculus, such differential questions, integrals, and other math theorems, to the design of machines.

Students also take courses in specific mechanical engineering topics to master the skills needed to properly design, draw, model, and prototype different mechanical systems. One such course, strength of materials, covers how the physical and chemical properties of different materials can be exploited for use in machines. Classes in mechanical design teach students how to make preliminary plans of machines through mechanical drawing and computer-aided design techniques. In these courses, students make 2-D and 3-D machine models, which they may then fabricate in a related laboratory course.

No mechanical engineering course would be complete without an ample number of labs, which act as practice for hands-on machine design. In a production design lab, for example, students get a chance to try out their shop skills and actually produce a machine.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Mechanical Engineering

Bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering cultivate students' interests in scientific and mathematical theories. Nearly all mechanical engineers possess at least a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a closely related engineering field. Students learn the math, science, and engineering skills to make functioning mechanical systems, and they learn how to draw, model, and make physical prototypes of their machine designs.

Although most distance learning programs in this discipline enable students to complete most assignments at their own pace, some courses may require on-site lab participation. Most programs work closely with individuals to accommodate them and create flexible class schedules. ME bachelor's programs take four to five years to complete and require applicants to have a high school diploma and advanced skills in math and science.

The first two years of a bachelor's program involve introductory courses, such as general chemistry, ethics, academic and technical writing, engineering design, physics, computer programming, and calculus. Foundational courses in math and science prepare mechanical engineering students with the basic tools to approach the engineering of physical systems. Math courses like statistics methods in engineering teach engineers how to analyze and interpret data through an understanding of probability, linear regression, and experimental design.

An introductory chemistry course teaches basic chemical principles like molecular structure and gas laws, which can come in handy for mechanical engineers who may later work with chemical systems. As part of their engineering fundamentals, most ME students take an introductory electrical engineering course as well. This course discusses circuit analysis, electrical signals, and other basic electrical concepts that can come in handy when designing mechanical systems.

The last two years feature advanced classes in fluid mechanics, machine design and dynamics, material science, vector mechanics, material strength, and system dynamics. A basic visual thinking course requires students to visualize their design concepts, draw them, and create a prototype through 3-D models. A mechanical systems design course may have students build machine parts and motors and hone their shop skills. Many such design courses are project based, with students working all semester long to complete one machine.

Online Master's Degrees in Mechanical Engineering

The mechanical engineering master’s program may be a professionally oriented degree, or it may require a research-based thesis. Online master’s programs in mechanical engineering are typically professional degrees, designed for current engineers who want to further specialize their knowledge or gain management experience. To learn more about online master's programs in mechanical engineering, see our master's overview which includes a list of the best programs.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Mechanical Engineering

The PhD, or doctoral, program in mechanical engineering (ME) allows current engineers to study a particular ME area in depth and to craft an extensive research project in that engineering area. Applicants to doctoral programs usually have extensive work or educational experience in mechanical engineering. Admission requirements usually include an accredited master’s degree in mechanical engineering, but some PhD programs accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a related field, along with work experience.

These programs require between eight and 20 courses, depending on the applicant’s previous degree; students are also expected to spend several years on doctoral dissertation research. The mechanical engineering dissertation requires that students complete an independent research project in their area of specialization. It is likely that online students not currently in a research setting will need to be in residence for this portion of the PhD. These degrees take three to five years to complete.

The particular coursework in any ME PhD program will depend on the student’s chosen dissertation area. Possible degree specializations include acoustics, biomechanics, materials science, thermo fluids, robotics, and aerospace systems. The curriculum in the mechanical engineering degree generally includes advanced courses in math, as well as engineering courses in the student’s specialization area.

The mechanical engineering PhD is great preparation for current engineers considering careers in research and instruction at the college level. Others can use the degree to land research and development roles in the private sector in their specialization area, or go on to found their own engineering company. The PhD can also be used to enter administrative or managerial roles in engineering businesses.

Online Certificates in Mechanical Engineering

A certificate in mechanical engineering provides general or specialized training in mechanical engineering theory and design. These programs can be earned at the undergraduate or graduate level. Most certificates require four to 12 courses and can be completed in one to two years. Applicants to undergraduate certificates need a high school diploma with math and science coursework; graduate certificate applicants need an ABET-accredited engineering bachelor’s degree.

The undergraduate certificate in mechanical engineering can be a stand-alone program or part of a related bachelor’s degree. Students take foundational classes in ME technology, such as production design, statics, materials science, and product design. These programs may also include courses in technical mathematics, chemistry, and physics. Students can use the undergraduate certificate in mechanical engineering to enter engineering technician or technologist roles, assisting in engineering research and development.

The graduate certificate curriculum focuses on a more specialized mechanical engineering area. For example, current engineers can use the program to gain skills in a particular topic, such as manufacturing engineering, nanotechnology, integrated systems, and electromechanical systems. Depending on the program, these online certificates may require on-site labs or design classes. Current mechanical engineers can use the graduate certificate to shift professional areas or to gain the skills to enter supervisory or leadership roles.

Licensing Requirements for Mechanical Engineering Professionals

Only engineers who offer their services directly to the public must earn a license. This means that engineers who work for an engineering firm or company are not required by law to have a license. However, experienced engineers may still elect to earn the license to highlight their skills and experience, and potential employers may prefer to hire licensed candidates.

In most states, the Professional Engineer license requires applicants to have an ABET-accredited bachelor's degree, four years of work experience, and passing scores on the PE exams. They must have also passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which they are eligible to take once they complete a bachelor's degree. Since the PE license is given out on a state-by-state basis, it makes sense to check out the particular board requirements in your state to find the most accurate information that pertains to you.

The Importance of Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary evaluation process that schools and individual degree programs go through to prove that they meet the minimum standards of academic excellence. The agencies that evaluate and accredit schools and programs are independent from the US government, but they do receive recognition from the US Department of Education for enforcing certain academic standards.

Attending an accredited mechanical engineering program is recommended because doing so will help you meet financial aid eligibility requirements and qualify you to take the Professional Engineer exam.

Mechanical engineering degree programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology (ABET). ABET is known for accrediting  degree programs in engineering, computing, science, and technology. Accreditation agencies like ABET examine programs for proper academic standards to ensure that they prepare students for future careers in science and technology. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation offers a current list of accredited schools and programs, including those that are accredited by ABET.

What Students Will Learn in an Online Mechanical Engineering Program

Students in mechanical engineering programs learn about the physics of machines and materials. Examples of coursework in this area include fluid mechanics, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, and system dynamics. Students also learn how to design machines and machine parts that will withstand stress. Mechanical engineering programs prepare students to design and carry out their own engineering experiments. It is common for mechanical engineering programs to require students to gain work experience while in school.

The mechanical engineering bachelor's degree has a strong foundation in math and science classes like calculus, differential equations, computer programming, physics, and chemistry. Students are also required to gain intellectual breadth by taking classes in liberal arts and humanities areas like history, social science, political science, and economics. The ME core then introduces students to the engineering principles and processes for designing mechanical systems. Students take classes in design and manufacturing, solid mechanics, dynamics, thermodynamics, controls, fluid dynamics, and heat transfer. In lab courses, students learn how to work with machine tools and how to prototype engineering designs.

Master’s degrees in mechanical engineering require students to take an array of advanced courses in a specialized area of mechanical engineering, such as biomechanics, design methodology, laser metrology, renewable energy, or robotics. The master’s degree can also be a good way to gain knowledge in the latest technical advances in the field, as mechanical engineers who stay abreast of the latest software systems and technology will likely have the best job prospects. Most master's degree programs require students to carry out research in order to write a thesis.

Students enrolling in a PhD in mechanical engineering program should expect to take courses in bioengineering, manufacturing, mechanics, micro science, and energy. Other courses students might take when enrolled in an ME PhD program usually relate to other types of engineering, such as electrical engineering, industrial engineering, and civil engineering. Because all of the engineering fields are somewhat related, it's typical for course material to cross over into these other areas.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mechanical Engineering Degrees

How much can I earn with an online degree in mechanical engineering?

Most entry-level jobs in this field require a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. Current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that mechanical engineers have a median annual income of $88,430, but those in scientific research and development services have a median income of $101,780 per year.

What are the best job opportunities for mechanical engineers?

Mechanical engineers may find the best job opportunities in engineering services firms, since many manufacturing companies are eliminating in-house engineering departments in favor of contracting work. Students who learn to use the latest software tools for computational design and simulation, such as three-dimensional printers, will be in high demand. Thomas Insights, an online magazine for engineering professionals, notes that nanoengineering and biomechatronics are among the fields that will create new employment opportunities for mechanical engineers.

What is the difference between a mechanical engineer and a mechanical engineering technician?

Mechanical engineering technicians assist mechanical engineers in developing, testing, and manufacturing mechanical devices. Becoming a mechanical engineering technician requires an associate degree, while higher-level mechanical engineering positions require a bachelor's or more advanced degree. A mechanical engineering technician can expect to earn an annual salary of about $56,980.


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