Tools used by North Central College mechanical engineering students.

Mechanical Engineering vs Electrical Engineering

Reviewed by Jacob Imm

Feb 16, 2022

Mechanical Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering: What’s the Difference?

The lines between mechanical engineering and electrical engineering can seem blurry, as both engineering disciplines involve the design and construction of things.

To make matters more confusing, modern machinery’s reliance on electronics means there’s a significant overlap in these two fields. But despite the similarities, mechanical and electrical engineering are distinct enough to have separate degrees and career paths.

To clarify these differences, we’ll be comparing mechanical engineering vs. electrical engineering, including the distinct education requirements and job prospects of each field.

Mechanical Engineering, Explained

Mechanical engineering is a hands-on discipline in which engineers apply physics and math skills to mechanical systems. If a mechanical device relies on some form of power to move or function, engineers were likely involved in designing, testing and maintaining it.

The field of mechanical engineering is vast, with engineers working worldwide to build and improve mechanical device technologies like:

  • Internal combustion engines
  • Aircrafts
  • Conveyor belt systems
  • Ships
  • Wind turbines
  • Refrigeration units
  • Robots

As our use of technology continues to evolve, so will the discipline of mechanical engineering. In fact, mechanical engineers are often at the forefront of advancements in civil and military machinery.

Electrical Engineering, Explained

While mechanical engineering deals with the moving parts of any machine or system, electrical engineering involves the creation and application of equipment that uses (or produces) electricity.

From designing the microchips in your smartphone to the security systems in a nuclear power plant, electrical engineers play an indispensable role in our society. Since most people use multiple electronic devices every day, there’s no shortage of variety in electrical engineering; the discipline encompasses telecommunications, computers, nanotechnology and more.

In short, electrical engineers design any and all of these electrical systems, ensure they’re implemented correctly, and provide ongoing maintenance to keep them running smoothly.

Pursuing Mechanical Engineering: Everything You Need to Know

The journey to becoming a mechanical engineer is relatively straightforward, but it pays to have a plan before setting out. From well before college to long after it, the following information regarding careers in mechanical engineering will help you with your preparation.

Noteworthy Skills and Interests

As a branch of engineering, mechanical engineering leans heavily on math and the sciences. With that in mind, aspiring mechanical engineers should start fostering these skills as soon as possible—ideally in high school, before applying to colleges.

Skills and areas of expertise that will serve you well include:

  • Calculus
  • Linear algebra
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Creative problem solving
  • Working with modeling software
  • Thermodynamics
  • Drafting and computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Hydraulics and pneumatics

Prospective mechanical engineers should also have a passion for machines and technology in general, as they’ll be surrounded by mechanical systems every day.

Additionally, because working mechanical engineers tend to collaborate with various departments within companies and organizations, skills in communication, conflict management, and teamwork will help you succeed.

Education Requirements

If you didn’t have a chance to explore the above topics as much as you would’ve liked before graduating high school, there’s no need to worry. When you enroll in a mechanical engineering program in college, you’ll start with the basics.

Typically, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering will take four years of full-time study and result in a bachelor of science (BS) degree. The curriculum at every institution will vary slightly, but you can expect to take a range of math and science classes, as well as more specific engineering courses.

As an example, here are some of the courses that make up North Central College’s mechanical engineering degree program:

  • Introduction to Computer Programming
  • Introduction to Electrical Engineering
  • Electromechanics I
  • Introduction to Engineering
  • Engineering Calculations
  • Materials Science I
  • Mechanical Design I
  • Robotics I
  • Linear Algebra and Differential Equation
  • Physics I: Mechanics and Heat
  • Physics II: Electromagnetism, Waves, and Optics

Within these courses, you’ll also cover beneficial topics like professional ethics, technical writing, engineering finances and more.

If mechanical engineering appeals to you, but you don’t want to pursue it as a major, some institutions offer minors in mechanical engineering. Conversely, should mechanical engineering greatly appeal to you, you may wish to pursue a master’s after your bachelor’s degree, as you’ll unlock the potential for leadership positions and higher salaries in a variety of fields.

Job Opportunities and Salaries

Mechanical engineering is a specialized technical engineering field. As a result, there’s no shortage of demand, and jobs come with substantial salaries compared to other fields. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects mechanical engineer employment to grow at a rate of 7% from 2020 to 2030, with an average of more than 20,000 new job openings per year.

Here’s a sample of some of the roles graduates can apply for, as well as their prospective salaries:

  • Mechanical Engineer – Hundreds of industries require mechanical research and design, including the automotive industry and heating and cooling technology manufacturers. Across the country, the average annual salary for mechanical engineers is $90,160 according to the BLS.
  • Nuclear Engineer – A degree in mechanical engineering can earn you a position with a nuclear power plant or government role, where you’ll handle systems that harness nuclear energy. The median annual salary for this position is $116,140 according to the BLS.
  • Petroleum Engineer – If you’re curious about improving oil and gas extraction methods, a job in petroleum engineering may be for you; you could earn a lucrative salary that averages $137,330 per year according to the BLS.

Find out more about North Central College

Pursuing Electrical Engineering: Everything You Need to Know

Electrical engineering is a challenging yet rewarding field of study that brings with it a wealth of career possibilities. To help you decide if this discipline is right for you, we’ll examine some of the finer details.

Noteworthy Skills and Interests

To succeed as an electrical engineer, a love of technology and innovation is essential. But passion alone isn’t enough—electrical engineering also relies on skills and proficiencies a professional engineer needs to be able to show, in areas like:

  • Math (calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations)
  • Applied statistics
  • Physics
  • Computer engineer programming
  • Teamwork and communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Analyzing and collecting data
  • Designing and maintaining electronic systems

Compared to mechanical engineering, electrical engineering can be more theoretical. Still, the discipline is incredibly hands-on, so be prepared to hone quality engineer skills in practice as well as in theory.

Education Requirements

Want to know how to become an electrical engineer? The path to working as an electrical engineer usually starts with earning a BS in electrical engineering. As with mechanical engineering, degree programs generally take four years of full-time study.

Your classes will include a healthy blend of math, physics, computer science, and electrical engineering courses, as well as “soft skills” like ethics and professionalism. To give you an idea of what to expect from an electrical engineering program, here are some of the courses required in North Central College’s program:

  • Introduction to Computer Programming
  • Computer Organization and Design
  • Introduction to Electrical Engineering
  • Digital Logic I
  • Circuit Analysis I
  • Analog and Digital Signals
  • Motors and Actuators
  • The Engineering Method
  • Linear Algebra and Differential Equation
  • Physics II: Electromagnetism, Waves, and Optics

You’ll notice that some of the classes here are the same as those in the mechanical engineering program. This is no mistake; many of the core competencies in electrical engineering apply to all engineering roles.

And while most electrical engineering jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree, those looking to work as an electrician or technician may only need a minor in the subject. For senior positions and higher-paying roles, you will likely want to pursue a master’s degree before job hunting.

Job Opportunities and Salaries

Due to our reliance on electronics, career opportunities in electrical engineering are plentiful, and salaries can easily reach six figures per year. This engineering field is growing, too—the BLS anticipates more than 20,000 new jobs every year from 2020 to 2030.

Let’s take a look at the duties and average salaries for some of these jobs:

  • Electrical and Electronics Engineers – These engineers work in various industries—from aerospace to video equipment manufacturing—building and testing electrical devices. With a median annual salary of $103,390 according to the BLS, there’s never been a better time to start a career in creating and improving technology.
  • Electrical Engineering Technologists – Technologists assist electrical engineers with the planning and building of electrical components. The role is similar to that of an electrical engineer but often only requires an associate’s degree. The average electrical engineer salary is $67,550 per year according to the BLS.
  • Computer Hardware Engineers – Facing the difficult choice of computer engineering vs electrical engineering? Why not do a little of both? By specializing in computer hardware, electrical engineers earn an average annual salary of $119,560 per year according to the BLS. As smart homes and vehicles continue to gain traction, computer hardware engineers will likely be in high demand.

Start Your Engineering Career 

While there’s a significant overlap between electrical and mechanical engineering, the two are distinct disciplines with unique degree paths. However, they will both appeal to a similar type of person: someone who is ambitious, creative, and enjoys working with technology.

That’s why you should look for a school like North Central College that fosters that ambition. Whether you choose to pursue a mechanical engineering degree or an electrical engineering degree, you’ll work with expert professors in world-class facilities. North Central will prepare you for the cutting edge demands on a professional engineer through internships at renowned research labs and help you shape the future of technology.

Apply to North Central College today!

Jacob Imm is a communications specialist in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 11 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University. 



Mechanical Engineers : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published September 8, 2021. Accessed November 17, 2021.

Nuclear Engineers : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published September 8, 2021. Accessed November 17, 2021.

Petroleum Engineers : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published September 8, 2021. Accessed November 17, 2021.

Electrical and Electronics Engineers : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published September 8, 2021. Accessed November 17, 2021.

Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technologists and Technicians : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published September 10, 2021. Accessed November 17, 2021.

Computer Hardware Engineers : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published September 8, 2021. Accessed November 17, 2021.