If you are deciding between majoring in mechanical engineering or chemical engineering, you might want to know more about what each major has to offer. This post will show you the key facts about each major and help you to decide which would be a better degree for you.

At a glance:

Mechanical EngineeringChemical Engineering
Payscale reported
average pay
$80,251$81,140
Job prospectsGoodModerate
Types of jobs
you can qualify for
Mechanical engineer
Manufacturing engineer
Design engineer
Project engineer
Aerospace engineer

Chemical engineer
Project engineer
Process engineer
Manufacturing engineer
Production engineer
Environmental engineer
Difficulty of the
major
HardHard
Key things to noteThere are only around 32,600
chemical engineering jobs in
the US. This could make it
difficult to find a job and you
will likely need to relocate.

Average predicted job growth.

Good reported job satisfaction.

A relatively secure field
once you are able to land a
job.

Employable with just a bachelor’s
degree.

High-stress work environment
in the early years.

High job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Low predicted job growth
over the next decade.

The work environment can
be more physically active than most
jobs since you’ll need to go to the construction
locations occasionally. However,
there is also a lot of meetings and
design work using computer software.
Source for mechanical engineering average pay and jobs
Source for chemical engineering major salary and jobs

There are a number of things to consider when choosing between the two degrees and there are many similarities between them. Below, is details about each major, their differences and reasons to choose one or the other.

Details about a mechanical engineering degree

Below are some details about a degree in mechanical engineering.

Pay

According to Payscale, the average pay of a mechanical engineer is $80,251. This is higher than the average pay of most degrees and similar to the reported average pay for chemical engineering majors ($81,140). However, it is lower than the average reported pay for computer engineering ($87,000), electrical engineering ($92,000), and computer science($85,000).

Job prospects

The predicted growth rate for mechanical engineering jobs is 4%, in total, over the next decade and the number of mechanical engineering jobs is said to be 320,000 (source). This, by itself, would give the mechanical engineering major moderately good job prospects.

However, mechanical engineering can also qualify you for jobs in related fields including industrial engineering which has a 10% predicted growth rate. This means that mechanical engineering can have good job prospects, provided that you choose to take classes relevant to areas that are growing and which already have a large number of jobs, at least above 300,000.

Jobs you can qualify for with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering can include:

  • Mechanical engineer
  • Manufacturing engineer
  • Design engineer
  • Project engineer
  • Aerospace engineer

Difficulty

Mechanical engineering is a difficult major. It will include a lot of math classes, a lot of physics classes and the mechanical engineering classes, themselves, can be difficult which also include a lot of physics and mathematics. Overall, you can expect mechanical engineering to be equivalently difficult to chemical engineering.

Classes

Below are some classes you can expect to take in mechanical engineering:

  • Calculus
  • Differential equations
  • Physics
  • Statics
  • Dynamics
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Vibrations
  • Design

Things to consider

Mechanical engineering is a major that will involve a lot of study time. If you are choosing the major purely for the job opportunities, there are better alternatives that do not require as much study time such as computer science.

However, mechanical engineering can be a pathway into very interesting careers that are very satisfying. Before choosing mechanical engineering as a major, it would help a lot to research the different jobs you could get and to see if they are things that you would truly enjoy doing.

Details about a chemical engineering degree

Below are some details about a degree in chemical engineering.

Pay

According to Payscale, the average pay of someone with a degree in chemical engineering is $81,140. This is similar to the average pay you will find with most other engineering majors. Also, according to the BLS, the median pay of a chemical engineer is $108,770.

Job prospects

The predicted growth rate for chemical engineering jobs is 4%, in total, over the next decade and the number of chemical engineering jobs is said to be 32,600 (source). This means that chemical engineering only has average predicted job growth. Also, compared to other engineering majors, 32,600 is not a lot of jobs. This means that it is more likely that you will have a hard time looking for a job in chemical engineering and that you will be more likely to have to relocate.

However, as mentioned above, the median pay of a chemical engineer is high, so when you do get a job it can pay well. Also, they tend to be relatively secure jobs so you should be able to keep your job for a decent amount of time once you get one. Also, most people find them to be interesting jobs with good job satisfaction.

According to Payscale, common jobs for chemical engineering majors includes:

  • Chemical engineer
  • Project engineer
  • Process engineer
  • Manufacturing engineer
  • Production engineer
  • Environmental engineer

Difficulty

Chemical engineering is a difficult major. It will include a lot of math and physics and the chemical engineering classes themselves can be difficult.

Classes

Some classes you can expect to take in chemical engineering can include:

  • Calculus
  • Linear algebra
  • Differential equations
  • Physics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Kinetics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology

You can look here to see an example degree sequence of chemical engineering.

Things to consider

One thing to consider is that chemical engineering is not the same as chemistry. In chemical engineering, you will be focusing more on creating systems to create chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and other products (source). Whereas, a chemist will be more focused on things such as studying substances at the atomic and molecular level in a lab (source).

While other engineering degrees will pay a similar amount and often have a wider job pool available to you, you might prefer chemical engineering because of the types of jobs you can work in. It would help to do a lot of research the types of things you could be working on and to see if it is something you would enjoy.

Conclusion

Overall, both chemical engineering and mechanical engineering are majors that have good pay and satisfaction. They both have similar job growth. However, mechanical engineering has around ten times the number of total jobs. This means that it should be easier to find mechanical engineering jobs in a location you want. They will also both require a similar amount of study time. However, according to the BLS, chemical engineers do get paid more than mechanical engineers.

When making your decision, it would help to consider what you would most be interested in working on and to choose your major accordingly.

Author

I created and currently manage College Corner. I received a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. My goal is to help current students do better in college and to help future students plan for college. You can read more about me and my website here.