What is Engineering? | Types of Engineering

What is Engineering?

Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad range of more specialized fields of engineering, each with a more specific emphasis on particular areas of applied mathematics, applied science, and types of application.

Engineering is the application of science and math’s to solve problems. While scientists and inventors come up with innovations, it is engineers who apply these discoveries to the real world. Yet, today’s engineers operate in many different areas as well as building structures.

Engineering is part of STEM education, which aims to engage students with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics yet, as a discipline, it has been practiced for thousands of years.

You can see examples of engineering in the Pyramids of Giza, at Stonehenge, the Parthenon, and elsewhere. Engineers work on everything from cell membranes to construction and prosthetics to improving engine and transport efficiencies and developing renewable energy resources.

While engineering dates right back to the invention of the wheel (and beyond), the term itself comes from the word engineer, which goes back to the 14th century, when an ‘engine’er’ meant someone who constructed military engines like catapults and other ‘siege engines.’ This military meaning can still be seen in use today with the Corps of Royal Engineers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Engineering Choice The Biggest Learning Platform

The word ‘engine’ itself comes from the Latin word ‘ingenium’ (c. 1250), which means ‘innate quality, especially mental power, hence a clever invention.’

Engineering developed beyond military applications and began to be applied to civilian structures like bridges and buildings, leading to the creation of the term civil engineering, to differentiate it from the original military engineering field.

What Does an Engineer Do?

Engineers are involved in the design, evaluation, development, testing, modification, inspection, and maintenance of a wide range of products, structures, and systems.

This involves everything from the recommending of materials and processes, overseeing manufacturing and construction processes, and conducting failure analysis and investigation, to providing consultancy services and teaching engineering to students and trainees.


Types of Engineering

The field of engineering is divided into a large number of specialty areas:

  • Mechanical engineering involves the design, manufacturing, inspection, and maintenance of machinery, equipment, and components as well as control systems and instruments for monitoring their status and performance. This includes vehicles, construction and farm machinery, industrial installations, and a wide variety of tools and devices.
  • Electrical engineering involves the design, testing, manufacturing, construction, control, monitoring, and inspection of electrical and electronic devices, machinery, and systems. These systems vary in scale from microscopic circuits to national power generation and transmission systems.
  • Civil engineering involves the design, construction, maintenance, and inspection of large infrastructure projects such as highways, railroads, bridges, tunnels, dams, and airports.
  • Aerospace engineering involves the design, manufacturing, and testing of aircraft and spacecraft as well as parts and components such as airframes, power plants, control and guidance systems, electrical and electronic systems, and communication and navigation systems.
  • Nuclear engineering involves the design, manufacturing, construction, operation, and testing of equipment, systems, and processes involving the production, control, and detection of nuclear radiation. These systems include particle accelerators and nuclear reactors for electric power plants and ships, radioisotope production, and research. Nuclear engineering also includes monitoring and protecting humans from the potentially harmful effects of radiation.
  • Structural engineering involves the design, construction, and inspection of load-bearing structures such as large commercial buildings, bridges, and industrial infrastructure.
  • Biomedical engineering is the practice of designing systems, equipment, and devices for use in the practice of medicine. It also involves working closely with medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, technicians, therapists, and researchers, in order to determine, understand and meet their requirements for systems, equipment, and devices.
  • Chemical engineering is the practice of designing equipment, systems, and processes for refining raw materials and for mixing, compounding, and processing chemicals to make valuable products.
  • Computer engineering is the practice of designing computer hardware components, computer systems, networks, and computer software.
  • Industrial engineering is the practice of designing and optimizing facilities, equipment, systems, and processes for manufacturing, material processing, and any number of other work environments.
  • Environmental engineering is the practice of preventing, reducing, and eliminating sources of pollution that affect air, water, and land. It also involves detecting and measuring pollution levels, determining sources of pollution, cleaning up and rehabilitating polluted sites, and ensuring compliance with local, state, and federal regulations.

There is often considerable overlap among the different specialties. For this reason, engineers need to have a general understanding of several areas of engineering besides their specialty. For example, a civil engineer needs to understand concepts of structural engineering, an aerospace engineer needs to apply principles of mechanical engineering, and nuclear engineers need a working knowledge of electrical engineering.

50+ Types of Degrees in Engineering You Can Get

There are tons of different types of degrees in engineering you can earn in college and graduate school. This list contains more than 50 examples of engineering majors, organized by the five engineering branches (which are also majors in and of themselves).

Not all schools offer all these exact majors and specializations, so be sure to check each college you’re interested in to see what types of degrees in engineering it offers. As a general rule, tech schools, such as Caltech, MIT, and Georgia Tech, will typically offer a much wider array of engineering majors and degrees.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it should hopefully give you an idea of the different types of engineering you could study in college and what kinds of specializations you can select. You might also consider checking out our picks for the best engineering schools.

Chemical Engineering

This type of engineering uses the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to design and manufacture products through chemical processes.

  • Biochemical engineering
  • Biomedical engineering/bioengineering
  • Biomolecular engineering
  • Genetic engineering
  • Materials science and engineering
  • Metallurgical engineering
  • Nanoengineering
  • Paper science and engineering
  • Plastics engineering
  • Textile engineering

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is a professional discipline that entails the design, construction, and maintenance of the natural world and man-made structures, such as bridges, dams, and sewage systems.

  • Architectural engineering
  • Construction management
  • Ecological engineering
  • Environmental engineering
  • Geotechnical engineering
  • Mining engineering
  • Structural engineering
  • Transport/transportation engineering
  • Water (resources) engineering

Electrical Engineering

As its name suggests, this type of engineering focuses on technology, specifically the design and production of electronic devices.

  • Computer engineering
  • Electrical power engineering
  • Electronic(s) engineering
  • Network engineering
  • Optical engineering/optical sciences and engineering
  • Power systems engineering
  • Software engineering
  • Telecommunications engineering

Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineering is all about efficiency and optimization in areas such as business, finance, production, and management.

  • Financial engineering
  • Fire (protection) and safety engineering
  • Management science/engineering
  • Manufacturing/production engineering
  • Operations research
  • Safety engineering
  • Supply chain management/engineering
  • Systems engineering/science

Mechanical Engineering

This original branch of engineering involves designing, manufacturing, operating, and testing machines and other devices.

  • Acoustical/sound engineering
  • Aeronautical engineering
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Astronautical engineering
  • Automotive engineering
  • Energy engineering
  • Marine engineering/naval architecture
  • Ocean engineering
  • Renewable energy engineering
  • Robotics engineering
  • Thermal engineering/science

Other Types of Engineering

Below are some types of engineering that don’t exactly fit into any of the five major categories above.

  • Agricultural engineering
  • Applied engineering
  • Food engineering
  • Nuclear engineering
  • Petroleum engineering

Why Engineering is Important?

Engineering has been a part of human history, in one form or another, for thousands of years. Of course, as our knowledge and understanding of science and mathematics grew, so our engineering expertise and competence also improved.

Today’s engineers use the most advanced technologies, alongside established scientific principles, to apply cutting-edge solutions and innovation to real-world challenges.

It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of engineering in human history, from designing transportation systems to powering our homes, engineering is all around us, right down to the device you are using to read this.

As our scientific knowledge continues to advance, so engineering will find ways to take this new information and apply it to the world around us.

Which Type of Engineering Is Right for You?

As you saw above, there are tons of different types of engineering fields you could enter. But which is ultimately the best choice for you? Here are four factors to keep in mind as you consider what type of engineering you want to major in and use in your career.

1. What Are Your Interests?

First, you should think about what your biggest academic and personal interests are.

For example, have you always been fascinated by how things are built? Maybe you often played with LEGO bricks as a child and can easily envision yourself helping construct and design public buildings and roads. In that case, civil engineering would be an excellent fit for you.

Or perhaps you’re interested in computers and coding, in which case a career as a software or computer engineer would be a great choice.

Take some time to really ask yourself which of your interests you’re most passionate about. It might even help to write down a list of your favorite hobbies and the most interesting classes you’ve taken in school. Afterward, compare those interests to the five major types of engineering and try to see how they align.

2. What Are Your Strengths?

In addition to your interests, take some time to consider your biggest strengths. For instance, was chemistry a total breeze for you? Then chemical engineering might be a smart choice for a college major.

Or maybe you’re a natural-born leader who’s always managing projects and looking for ways to increase productivity. In that case, you might think about studying industrial engineering.

To figure out your strengths, look at your grades in different classes you’ve taken and make a list of what you believe to be your best skills. Then, try to match these to the five different types of engineering listed above.

3. What Salary Can You Earn with an Engineering Degree?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, architecture and engineering workers reported a median annual income of $83,160 in May 2020 — about $40,000 more than the median salary for all jobs in the U.S. Certain types of engineering jobs may offer higher incomes depending on factors like demand and industry.

Here are the median salaries for some of the most popular engineering branches.

Petroleum Engineers$137,3308%
Computer Hardware Engineers$119,5602%
Aerospace Engineers$118,6108%
Nuclear Engineers$116,140-8%
Chemical Engineers$108,5409%
Electrical and Electronics Engineers$103,3907%
Materials Engineers$95,6408%
Marine Engineers$95,4404%
Health and Safety Engineers$94,2406%
Mining and Geological Engineers$93,8004%
Biomedical Engineers$92,6206%
Environmental Engineers$92,1204%
Mechanical Engineers$90,1607%
Industrial Engineers$88,95014%
Civil Engineers$88,5708%
Agricultural Engineers$84,4105%


Engineering is all around us and is an integral part of our everyday lives. It is something that many people take for granted, but it is engineering that allows you to make a coffee in the morning, heats or cools your home, allows you to travel, communicate on your mobile device, and so much more besides.

Within each of these branches are dozens of specializations you can study. As a whole, engineers make good money, and many engineering jobs are in fairly high demand.

When it comes to deciding which engineering, the field is right for you, be sure to look at the following four factors:

  • Your interests
  • Your strengths
  • Your desired income (both right after college and down the line)
  • Your employability and ease of finding a job in your chosen field

Overall, engineering is a great field to get into, with lots of unique options to choose from. Just be sure to take lots of time to figure out which type of engineering will work best for you!