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Thinking About an Engineering Degree? Which Branch is Right for You?

by Max Swahn

· Engineering,Students,College,Education,Pittsburgh

Although there are a handful of well-known core engineering branches such as Industrial, Mechanical, Civil, Electrical, Chemical and Computer, there are scores more of other branches and sub-branches. Regardless of which discipline you choose as an undergraduate, you will likely obtain a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE).

Each University has its own offering of degrees, programs, specialties and curriculums. To be able to determine what is right for you, you must first understand what the different branches entail; the industry trends and needs, salary and growth potential, and most importantly – what interests you. Earning an Engineering degree is not an easy task. Typically taking 4-5 years of intensive coursework in math, science and technology; it will be less overwhelming if you choose a field that genuinely excites you.

As a 2018 graduate of The University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering, I will touch on some of the core options offered within their undergraduate Engineering program. This is far from a complete list, but it will give you a good idea of the differences of the varied branches. Further research will be needed to help you narrow down which University and program best suits your individual passions.

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The University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering: Benedum Hall

Industrial Engineering

As stated on the University’s website, “Industrial engineering (IE) is about choices - it is the engineering discipline that offers the most wide-ranging array of opportunities in terms of employment, and it is distinguished by its flexibility. While other engineering disciplines tend to apply skills to very specific areas, Industrial Engineers may be found working everywhere: from traditional manufacturing companies to airlines, from distribution companies to financial institutions, from major medical establishments to consulting companies, from high-tech corporations to companies in the food industry.”

Industrial engineering may also overlap with numerous other sub-disciplines such as: operations research, systems engineering, manufacturing engineering, production engineering, supply chain engineering, management science, management engineering, financial engineering, ergonomics or human factors engineering, safety engineering, or others, depending on the viewpoint and motives of the user.


According to Wikipedia, “Mechanical engineering is the discipline that applies engineering physics, engineering mathematics, and materials science principles to design, analyze, manufacture, and maintain mechanical systems.”

It is one of the oldest and broadest types of engineering. Mechanical Engineers work in fields including engines and control systems for automobiles and aircraft, medical devices, consumer products like computers and athletic equipment, and electrical power plants.


If you like fiddling with mechanical devices, this could be the field for you!


Civil engineering is the professional practice of designing and developing infrastructure projects. This can be on a huge scale, such as the development of nationwide transport systems or water supply networks, or on a smaller scale, such as the development of single roads or buildings. Civil engineers conceive, design, build, supervise, operate, construct, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Often times, a Civil engineer will specialize in Structural engineering. Drones are one of the latest technologies used by Structural engineers.


Electrical engineers focus on applications of electrical power and learn to design devices and systems used in applications including communications, power generation and distribution, computers, sensing and measurement and automatic control. Employment opportunities include research and development, system design, testing, manufacturing, and sales, while others continue to graduate studies.

As an electrical engineer, you could specialize in power generation and supply, communications and media, computer systems and robotic systems.


This type of engineering concerns the use of chemical and biological processes to produce useful materials or substances. It’s a multidisciplinary subject, combining natural and experimental sciences (such as chemistry and physics), along with life sciences (such as biology, microbiology and biochemistry), plus mathematics and economics.


Chemical engineers work in diverse sectors including petroleum, polymer, biochemistry, the environment, and even food industries.


Computer engineering concerns the design and prototyping of computing hardware and software. This subject merges electrical engineering with computer_science.

You may find yourself as a software developer or a computer engineer with this brand of engineering!

Regardless of which path you pursue, to be successful you will no doubt need to possess strong analytical, technical, communication, critical thinking and leadership skills. Although an Engineering degree sounds ‘singular’, the range of opportunity is endless. From processes to chemistry, computers to mechanics, electrical to infrastructure – engineering runs the gamut.

If any of these branches intrigue you, dig deeper.

The perfect fit is out there!

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