How to become an engineer
The term ‘engineer’ is a very broad one, covering a wide range of disciplines who use the sciences and mathematics to develop solutions for technical applications. For further information on the types of engineer, see:
- Engineer for construction.
- Building services engineer.
- Civil engineer.
- Structural engineer.
- Electrical engineer.
- Mechanical engineer.
- Project engineer.
- Environmental engineering.
For articles relevant to typical engineering course modules, see Construction engineering management course essentials.
Aspiring engineers may find it useful to study the following subjects at A Level:
- Maths: Engineers use maths to understand the theory of engineering and to analyse materials and structures. Most engineering courses at university require a maths A-level. Further maths, if available as an option, can be helpful but not essential.
- Physics: The laws of physics dictate how and why things behave the way they do. Studying physics will help provide an understanding of concepts such as energy, forces and motion, which are key to solving the problems that engineers face on a daily basis.
- Geography and geology: These subjects help build an understanding of the physical world, such as the behaviour of rivers, tides and currents in the sea, and the strengths of rocks and soils and so on.
- ICT: The skills acquired through using and developing computer software can generally also be applied to the programmes used as an engineer.
- Languages: Learning a modern foreign language can be useful if working abroad or with other people form overseas.
 Vocational qualifications
Vocational qualifications are designed as preparation for a particular career. Vocational courses have been developed by industry bodies and employers, so that what is learnt is relevant to their particular type of engineering.
Courses tend to take place at further education colleges or at the new university technical colleges (UTCs). One of the benefits of vocational courses is that assessment is usually modular and project-based, which means there is less pressure to succeed in formal exams.
Vocational qualifications include; BTECs, NVQs, SVQs (in Scotland), and City & Guilds. These are equivalent to A-levels, which means they meet university entrance requirements for a BEng or MEng or a foundation degree, HNC or HND.
Although these qualifications are equivalent to A-levels, some elite universities look less favourably towards applicants who have them, and they may also be less useful than general A-levels if the applicant changes their mind about pursuing a specific career.
A MEng (Master of Engineering) is the shortest way to achieve Chartered Engineer status, as it comprises the minimum educational standards required. MEng programmes are integrated Masters (MSc) courses.
An undergraduate BEng degree will take three years, whereas a MEng takes four years, or five years in Scotland. The first three years of the BEng and MEng will be very similar, however, the last year of the MEng is at an advanced level, and study usually takes the form of a substantial research project. The MEng is usually followed by a period of Initial Professional Development undertaken as a graduate engineer working in industry.
MEng courses tend to have higher entry requirements than BEng courses.
BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) degrees, enable students can go on to gain incorporated engineer status, or complete a period of further education, such as a full-time MSc, or part-time study while working in industry.
Some universities, typically the more elite ones such as Oxford and Cambridge, only offer MEng courses, however, most will give students the chance to transfer between the two courses if they meet certain educational requirements.
BEng courses are popular with international students, as the BEng may be sufficient to qualify for chartered status in their home country. Other students who study BEng courses may be those who want to study engineering but do not wish to go on to an engineering career afterwards. It is also a popular option for students who wish to go to a different university to take their MSc, take a specialised accredited MSc or want to work (or travel) for a period of time before studying for an MSc.
An EngD is an industry-based PhD, combining Doctoral-level research with training in practical skills. Research engineers are usually placed with industrial (or sometimes academic) sponsors, and there is a possibility that students may be employed by sponsors at the end of the programme.
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