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Do I need to go to a college to become an engineer?

  1. Jul 6, 2012 #1
    It sounds like a very stupid question but i was recently told that I could become an engineer with out college. I don't know why this statement is getting to me. So I am asking if there is another way to become an engineer? (I am thinking of becoming a mechanical or electrical engineer) Thank You for your time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2012 #2
    It really depends on what kind of "engineering" you would like to do. There seems to be an abundance of drafters, who turned into designers, who turned into "engineers" at lots of product companies (think semiconductor, medical devices, etc.)

    Do they understand the engineering fundamentals taught in undergrad? Not really. Can they create a solid model of a bracket on solidworks and implement it on a machine somewhere? Sure. Heck, they can even do a lot more than that, but essentially they just play legos (use their intuition) until they get something that works. Additionally, it does appear to be a declining trend of hiring engineers without degrees at these companies.

    You could also find yourself as a quality assurance engineer, supplier quality engineer, etc. depending on which company you work for, some will be looking for undergrad degrees in engineering and some won't; however, that is probably not the kind of "engineering" you envisioned yourself doing.

    To give you a fuzzy number, I would say about 95% of the engineering jobs I come across in California require/expect a degree in engineering/physics/applied math. Most R&D and design engineering jobs have a minimum requirement of undergrad degrees in engineering, but they are looking/wanting people with master's level education.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
  4. Jul 6, 2012 #3


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    When I worked in the semiconductor industry, probably 95%+ of the engineers had college degrees, but there were a few who had worked their way up through the technician ranks and become engineers. The usual path was to get a 2 year associates degree, then get a job as a technician, then after 10+ years you could apply to get admitted into the engineering ranks. It was rare but it could be done, although I am sure this path lagged far behind the college degree path in terms of salary and how challenging and satisfying the job assignments were.
  5. Jul 6, 2012 #4


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    You can do if the easy way or the hard way.

    The easy way is go to college and get a degree. If you think that's "hard", don't even bother to try the "really hard" way!
  6. Jul 6, 2012 #5
    Great quote man!
  7. Jul 6, 2012 #6
    There are some situations as described above: rise through the ranks, without formal education, and they get the title "engineer". My experience is that this is allowed / fostered by Company Managers who don't appreciate the difference between non-degreed and degreed, except that one costs less than the other.

    There will always be arguments to the contrary. There are some instances where the work done by a degreed person is no more rigorous than that of those without. And those instances where out-of-the-machine-shop folks do much better work than "book smart" persons. Industry is neck-deep in stories causing rivalry and bad feelings on this issue. In my area of expertise, I've never met a non-degreed person who had the mathematical savvy to handle my type of work. One only gets that through formal education and focused, hard work.

    Some fields are considered to directly affect the Public Good. Certain functions performed by Civil, Structural, Mechanical, & Electrical Engineers come to mind. In these cases, they are legally required to pass compentency tests and be licensed by government agencies before they can advertise themselves as "Engineers."

    I am against this non-degreed-engineer thing completely. Just my opinion, so holster your weapons, quiver your arrows, turn off your flamethrowers folks. I believe that surviving an ABET-accredited engineering education program at a university fundamentally changes how one thinks and behaves. That is why it is not easy nor cheap, and the initial pass rate is only about 40%. Not pursuing formal education, and getting the title via seniority or other means, dilutes the value of the effort of those that did get the diploma. I once worked for a person who never set foot on a college campus, but had stayed with the company through thick & thin and held the title of "Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Manager." His lack of...everything...destroyed the company from the inside out.

    This argument goes 'round and 'round constantly. Company management is at fault because the trained problem solvers known as engineers are viewed as a commodity to be gained at least cost. Except, that is, when they are used to design buildings or systems or whatever that may result in catastrophic failure, loss of human life, and meganormous legal penalties against the management. Would you have heart bypass surgery by someone without formal training? I would hope not. The economics of the health care industry is different from "normal industry" but the philosophy should be the same. It isn't, and the engineering industry has always done a poor job of policing itself.
  8. Jul 6, 2012 #7
    If you mean professional engineer then your answer will depend on your country of origin. In the US, you do not need to have a degree. Check out the NYS PE licensure educational/experience requirements table here: Table

    Without a degree, it requires you to have six years of relevant, recorded, and proven experience until you are eligible to sit for the Fundamentals of Engineering examination. After you pass that, you'll need another six years of experience until you can sit for the Principles and Practice examination. A total of 12 years.

    Note: The PE requirements for NYS may not be typical for other states, certainly not for other countries
    You can work at an engineering firm without having the usual credentials, but you will not be able to sign off on drawings or documents (though you can create them, if you find a job that will hire you), you can't stamp anything, etc.
  9. Jul 6, 2012 #8


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    Yes, so you should modify that first sentence: in some states you do not need to have a degree.
  10. Jul 6, 2012 #9
    As a Mechanical Engineer I would have to say yes you SHOULD go to college. To get an introduction into the science and theory behind your work you need to go to college to learn this skill as well as very good problem solving skills.
  11. Jul 7, 2012 #10
    If you want a title and money, you need the piece of paper from a college.

    Alternatively, you could get a very practical, very cheap community college / trade school degree, and become a machinist, welder, plumber, builder, tech assistant, or IT guy.

    So ask yourself this: why do you want to be an engineer? Is it for money and upward mobility, or is it because its fun? If its the former, you need a big fat college degree. If its the latter, you can do similar stuff without knowing every unnecessary detail.
  12. Jul 8, 2012 #11


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    In my experience, the folks who work there way up into an engineering position are becoming scarce. That sort of thing seems to happen less often now than it used to, probably since more people overall are earning degrees.
  13. Jul 8, 2012 #12
    WOW a lot of responses!! I AM going to college to become an engineer! I feel that its important to have the proper training, and Tygerdawg I would never have thought someone without a degree would have such an important job title. I will get my degree and I will become an engineer. This blog was very helpful and I want to thank EVERYONE for reading/responding to the blog Thank You very much all.
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