Interested in becoming a mechanical engineer? It's an important job that spans across many different industries, and depending on where you do the work it can be a very lucrative career.
Mechanical engineering can extend to the worlds of architecture, science, transportation, oil and gas and even household appliances. These industries and so many others need the best and brightest to help create tools and machinery.
How much does it pay to design, develop and create all manner of machines in the world of mechanical engineering?
What Is the Average Salary of a Mechanical Engineer?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 303,440 working mechanical engineers in the U.S. as of May 2018 made a mean annual wage of $92,800. This translates to $44.62 an hour. Job site ZipRecruiter, meanwhile, estimated that as of September 2019, the average hourly wage was $39 and the average yearly wage was $80,573.
The BLS may have reported mean annual wages of nearly $93,000 (and a median wage of $87,370), but more experienced and higher-up mechanical engineers can make quite a bit more than that, and well into six figures. According to the BLS, mechanical engineers in the 75th percentile can make $110,520 per year ($53.14 per hour), while those in the 90th percentile are making $136,550 per year ($65.65 per hour).
Even those who have not yet accrued a ton of experience in the field can make solid money. The bottom 10% of mechanical engineers, according to the BLS, make $56,270, or $27.05 per hour. For context, that is higher yearly salary than the current average income in the U.S.
Mechanical engineering can net you a comfortable salary and living. While the average wage is not as high as other engineering occupations, such as nuclear engineers and aerospace engineers, it is higher than other engineering jobs like agricultural engineers and biomedical engineers. Of course, the average wage of all of these is still quite a bit higher than the average income.
What Factors Determine a Mechanical Engineer's Salary?
Certainly your seniority will determine how much more than the average salary you can make, as evidenced by the highest percentile salary for mechanical engineers. But beyond that, one of the most important factors in the salary of a mechanical engineer is the industry in which you work.
The industries with the highest number of mechanical engineers tend to pay in line with the average annual wages. The BLS' architectural, engineering and related category had the most mechanical engineers working within it at 61,180, and they make an average annual salary of $97,310.
The industry with the second highest number of mechanical engineers was the machinery manufacturing category, and these engineers have a mean annual wage of $84,240.
Similarly, the industries with the highest concentration of the nation's mechanical engineers were also generally near the mean annual wage. Of the employees working in engine, turbine and power transmission equipment manufacturing, 5.46% are mechanical engineers, and they make an average annual wage of $96,890.
For those looking for the top paying mechanical engineering jobs, you may want to look into more niche industries that don't have as many or as high a concentration of them. The highest paying industry for mechanical engineers is oil and gas extraction, where they make an annual yearly salary of $126,880. After that is waste treatment and disposal, where they average $120,200 in yearly salary.
Geographic Breakdown of Mechanical Engineer Salaries
You may think some of the more populous states with the biggest cities would have the highest-paying salaries for mechanical engineers. So you may find yourself surprised at the top state on the list.
The five states with the highest mean annual wage for mechanical engineers according to the BLS are:
District of Columbia: $112,780
New Mexico: 110,210
In addition to Alaska being the highest-paying state for mechanical engineers, the Alaskan city of Anchorage is the top-paying metropolitan area in the country for them, with an annual mean wage of $147,570.
Though not in the top five for states, Texas has multiple metropolitan areas that pay handsomely for the services of mechanical engineers. Tyler, Texas is third in all metropolitan areas in the country with $121,740 in mean annual wages, while Beaumont-Port Arthur is fourth at $121,330.
Other metropolitan areas have higher levels of employment for mechanical engineers, and while they aren't paying as much as the top cities they are still offering plenty in salary to grant them a comfortable living. The U.S. metropolitan area with the most mechanical engineers is Detroit-Warren-Dearborn in Michigan at 31,180, and their mean annual salary is $95,880.
The Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metropolitan area is also the one with the highest concentration of mechanical engineering jobs. The area with the second highest, Peoria, Ill., has average annual wages of $108,760 for mechanical engineers.
Becoming a Mechanical Engineer
What does it take to actually successfully become a mechanical engineer? At absolute minimum, a relevant bachelor's degree.
Many schools with accredited engineering programs will have a mechanical engineering program and major available as well. U.S. News's rankings of the top 10 undergraduate mechanical engineering programs for 2020 are:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of California-Berkeley
Georgia Institute of Technology
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign
California Institute of Technology
Purdue University-West Lafayette
Carnegie Mellon University
Many schools also have a mechanical engineering technology program. These programs will likely require multiple internships, which will hopefully provide both experience and building a connection network.
Your coursework may also require more specialized engineering courses, allowing you the opportunity as a student to find what interests you and the field in which you might want to pursue mechanical engineering.
It will also help you greatly in your career to have a relevant master's degree (or other form of graduate degree, like a doctorate). A post-graduate degree can give you a leg up if you wish to advance to a managerial role in the mechanical engineering field, or if you have other ambitions beyond work as a mechanical engineer.
Eventually, you will want to get your professional engineer (PE) license as a way to highlight your skills and make you seem like a more desirable candidate to both current and future employers. But it isn't required of entry level mechanical engineering positions, as you are required to have four years of qualified professional experience before you can receive your license.
To get your PE license, you will also need to pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) and Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exams.
According to the BLS, from 2018-28 the job outlook for mechanical engineers is expected to increase by 4%, from 312,900 jobs to 325,700 jobs.
This job outlook is about average for occupations across the board, though it is a bit lower than engineers as a whole, which is expected to increase by 5%.
Mechanical engineers likely have an average job outlook because while the development and creation required of mechanical engineers is still needed, the manufacturing industries - one where many mechanical engineers are employed - are expected to decrease in employment numbers.
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