Mechanical engineers design, build and test engines, robotics equipment and other mechanical systems. You can start working as a mechanical engineer after completing four years of high school and obtaining a bachelor's degree; becoming a licensed professional engineer, or PE, however, takes time in the workforce and further testing. Expect to pursue education at the master's level if you want to move into management later in your career.
Four Years in High School
Before you can begin an undergraduate program in mechanical engineering, you need to graduate high school with high grades and the right prerequisite courses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, reports that a strong background in mathematics is particularly important, including preparation in algebra, calculus, trigonometry and geometry. Also, focus on succeeding in your biology, chemistry and physics courses and demonstrate your communication skills with high grades in your social studies, English and humanities classes.
Four to Six Years in University
Although most engineering programs take four years to finish, the BLS reports that many students take up to five years to complete the rigorous curriculum. In the first two years, you'll study mathematics, basic science and other introductory courses. In your final two years of study you'll take courses focused on your mechanical engineering specialty. Some schools offer five or six-year streams of study with a cooperative education component. Although students in these programs take longer to finish their studies, they graduate with valuable work experience to build their full-time job applications.
Four Years of Experience
After you finish your engineering degree, you have to write and pass a Fundamentals of Engineering, or FE, exam for licensing in most states. Once you pass, you can work as a mechanical engineer under the supervision of a fully-licensed professional engineer, or PE. You cannot be the signing authority on a project or prepare, seal and submit engineering plans. According to the National Society of Professional Engineers, these responsibilities are for those with a PE designation. After working for four years, you're eligible to write your Principles and Practice of Engineering test to earn your PE certification.
Moving into Management
Managing engineers have years of professional experience, as well as an undergraduate degree. Many more also earn graduate degrees before moving into the management ranks. These degrees usually take a year to two years to complete. Those interested in technical management earn a master's of engineering management, or MEM, while professionals looking to transition into business roles generally study for their MBAs.
2016 Salary Information for Nuclear Engineers
Nuclear engineers earned a median annual salary of $102,220 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, nuclear engineers earned a 25th percentile salary of $82,770, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $124,420, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 17,700 people were employed in the U.S. as nuclear engineers.