Mechanical engineers are the so-called generalists of the engineering profession. As such, mechanical engineering students must not only have strong math and science skills, as required of all engineering students, but they must also accumulate a broad knowledge of other engineering disciplines to be successful in the workforce. The curriculum is very demanding, and only those students who are dedicated survive the grueling course requirements to complete this very rewarding degree.
Calculus is core to engineering and will be one of the first classes you take in college. Mechanical engineers usually take at least three semesters of calculus. In addition to calculus, you may also take classes in differential and partial differential equations as well as courses in advanced algebra (e.g. linear algebra) and calculus-based statistics.
All engineering students usually must complete a minimum of two semesters of physics. Like calculus, physics is fundamental to engineering, and engineers must have a thorough understanding of forces, energy, mechanics, thermodynamics, circuits, electromagnetics and optics. Some curricula require upper level physics classes as well.
Lab Science Courses
Most mechanical engineering programs require one year of coursework in a lab science other than physics. Be sure to check the requirements of your curriculum as some schools require two semesters of a single science while others allow you to take courses in two different sciences. For example, the mechanical engineering program at the University of Notre Dame requires two semesters of chemistry while Georgia Tech requires one semester of chemistry and one semester of a lab science. Acceptable lab sciences are typically chemistry, biology and physical science, but be sure to check your school's specific requirements.
Introductory Engineering Courses
After you've completed your core requirements and prerequisites, you'll move into your lower level engineering courses. You may take classes like statics, dynamics, mechanics of materials, computer aided design (CAD), and you'll probably take circuits and electronics. During this time you will likely take a computing class like computer science or numerical methods as well as a technical writing course.
Specialized Engineering Courses
By your junior and senior years, you'll be well into your mechanical engineering courses. These classes will be dedicated to the study of thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, system dynamics, control, manufacturing processes and design. This is when you will apply the knowledge from calculus, physics and the core science and engineering classes you've taken. Also, most mechanical engineering programs require their students to take a senior design course. This class is usually taken in the last semester but can span the entire senior year.
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