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The U.S. produces some of the best engineering talent in the world, and engineers trained in in-demand fields can command some of the highest salaries among college graduates.
Though a bachelor of science degree is the standard engineering qualification, for certain positions some employers will require a master’s degree or, occasionally, a doctorate. In all 50 states, engineers in any discipline generally must pass a licensure exam if they offer services directly to the public.
Who earns a high engineering salary? Here are six of the highest-paying disciplines, from entry level to senior engineer, with data from Monster.com's Salary Wizard:
Median Salary: $119,431
Typical Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in aerospace or an allied engineering specialty, plus eight or more years’ experience.
Aerospace engineering jobs are one of those few, high-paying positions that actually may require rocket science. Working on multidisciplinary teams, aerospace engineers design, develop and test spaceships, aircraft and missiles, exploiting knowledge that spans aerodynamics, avionics, propulsion and materials science. A senior aerospace engineer typically has many years of experience, not necessarily all in the aerospace industry. At this level, aerospace engineers usually supervise other engineers and may have buck-stops-here responsibility for major projects, military or civilian.
Median Salary: $115,176
Typical Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in engineering and eight or so years’ experience.
Engineers often make the best managers of engineers; that’s why many organizations have created the role of engineering manager. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of engineering talent, these managers oversee many engineering projects and processes, from creating design specs to managing people and budgets, and measuring and evaluating results. Engineering managers typically have talent and experience in general business management and in the engineering disciplines practiced within their organizations. An engineering manager might supervise half a dozen or more staff engineers; an engineering director might oversee hundreds or thousands.
Materials Engineer, Level III
Median Salary: $86,773
Typical Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in engineering, plus four to six years’ experience.
Materials engineers have the right stuff to make stuff smarter -- and cheaper. Whether they’re building a better bulletproof vest or creating glue that sticks only where you want it to, materials engineers think deep thoughts about which existing materials are suited to the task or what new materials need to be invented. Many engineers specialize in a particular material -- like ceramics, plastics or steel -- and conjure a way to make that material serve where it’s never served before. Biomedical material promises to be one of the most fascinating and potentially lucrative engineering subspecialties of the future, starting now.
Median Salary: $76,835
Typical Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering is preferred, but those qualified in chemical, civil or mechanical engineering may be considered.
Drill, baby, drill: Politicians may disagree on the sentiment, and fossil fuel prices may shift priorities, but producers are always looking for engineers to design and implement systems to extract oil and gas from the earth. Drilling engineers use an ever-expanding array of technologies to bring forth the maximum petroleum at the lowest cost, while meeting stringent worker-safety and environmental-protection requirements. An entry-level petroleum drilling engineer is more likely to be assigned a reservoir to tap than a novel technique to develop, but the challenges are plentiful from the start. What happens when the world passes peak oil production? The tasks of petroleum engineers only get more interesting.
Median Salary: $74,570
Typical Requirements: A bachelor’s degree, preferably in chemical engineering, plus three to five years’ experience.
Chemical engineers are not alchemists, though they sometimes appear to work magic. Process designers above all, these practical chemists figure out how to make more and better product out of less raw materials less expensively, employing everything from oxidation reactions to nanotechnology. Chemical engineers build better molecular mousetraps to create everything from ultrastrong fibers to materials for prosthetics. A mid-career chemical engineer will take on projects with increasing autonomy, while collaborating with professionals from many technical disciplines.
Median Salary: $64,682
Typical Requirements: A bachelor’s degree at a minimum. Some positions require licensing; senior positions may require an advanced degree.
With its tremendous potential for both good and harm, nuclear energy is nothing if not complex. Consider the billions of dollars of control, backup and other safety systems that go into the construction, maintenance and upgrading of each nuclear plant. Engineers design, test and monitor the operations of nuclear plants, and drive the processes by which plants are decommissioned and their spent fuel transported and stored for thousands of years. Nuclear fuels also power many spacecraft and submarines, and nuclear medicine is a burgeoning field. One caveat: As one of the most controversial and regulated industries, nuclear power and the jobs it creates are subject to the shifting winds of politics and government policy.