If you have a passion for all things automotive and are looking for a great way to accelerate your career, you should look no further than an automotive engineering degree. In the US, students who are interested in automotive engineering commonly pursue their bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, since there are not many schools that offer an automotive degree at the undergraduate level. However there are many schools that offer a master’s/post-secondary degree that would build upon the mechanical background of your bachelor’s degree and allow you to gain more specific insight and skills in the area of automotive engineering.
The biggest question you need to consider when you are looking to pursue your automotive engineering degree is what are companies looking for? Based on experience, it can be said that the number one thing employers are looking for is real-world engineering work experience. Classroom study can only go so far. You need to get your hands dirty and actually work on cars if you are truly going to learn about the automotive world. When you go in for an interview after you graduate, you want to be able to show them the interesting projects you worked on and real-world experience that you gained as a result. This will prove that you have both the automotive knowledge and skills for a professional career.
University of Michigan & Michigan State University
The epicenter of the automotive industry in the US since the 1950’s has been the Michigan area. Nowhere else will you find a better collection of OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and automotive suppliers than around the Detroit area. At the two main state universities of Michigan, you are surrounded by Ford, GM, and Chrysler– the top design and engineering companies in the US. The experiences you will have at these schools are very hands-on (great for resume building). In addition, the automotive OEM’s are always involved with university research and special projects that will enhance your college experience.
University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Arlington and Texas A&M University
Texas automotive engineering programs have made considerable news lately for their record of wins in FSAE, FSAE West and FSAE Japan competitions. It is remarkable that the University of Texas and Texas A&M have over 14 wins between them in these automotive competitions. These wins can be credited to the schools’ exceptional academic programs in automotive engineering. If you are looking for a place with great academics, hands-on experiences look no further than these Texas schools.
Clemson, located in South Carolina, is a fast growing region in the US for the automotive industry. The Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) allows their students to experience in-depth research projects that are fully funded by many of the large automotive companies of the world. The Greenville, SC area has a number of influential automotive companies including BMW, Michelin, Bosch, and ZF Transmissions. Each year a different automotive company supports a special prototype build that the students are expected to work on throughout the year. With their strong academic program and amazing opportunities to tackle OEM sponsored projects, Clemson is a great choice for those looking to land a great job right out of school.
Cornell University is located in Ithaca, New York. While the automotive engineering program is still fairly new, Cornell has a great reputation for having one of the best academic programs in the country. Usually, they are deeply involved with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) where college students participate in a number of competitions. Cornell is also one of the prestigious Ivy League schools (like Princeton and Harvard) and has an amazing network of alumni that will provide support and help you establish career connections after college.
Kettering University is located right in Flint, Michigan. In its prime, it was the largest automotive producing city in the world. This school was originally named General Motors Institute, as it was founded and created purposefully for engineers who would work at GM. In fact, most of the professors and faculty were employed at one time by this automotive giant. The real-world experience that you acquire here will be directly from the people who have actually faced the same automotive issues at work that you will discuss in class. Kettering also has a mandatory internship program in the automotive industry, which is a huge resume/CV builder for young students. This opportunity to gain hands-on experience directly in the automotive industry is a large advantage for Kettering; their high employment rate after college proves this.
Is it essential to obtain your master’s degree?
After earning your bachelor’s degree, going on to get your automotive engineering master’s degree is one of the best moves you can make – regardless of the school you attend. It is not absolutely necessary to get your master’s; however nothing will propel your career quicker than an automotive engineering master’s degree.
If you are looking for your studies in the US, these schools are a great place to start. Whether pursuing your bachelor’s or master’s, the important thing to remember when looking at schools is whether they provide you with experiences you can directly apply to a job in the automotive industry. Obtaining a solid education that includes hands-on work experience, will greatly increase your chances of landing that dream job at an OEM or automotive supplier anywhere in the world.
Author: Tom Geiss
About the Author
Tom Geiss is a Design Engineer at ZF Transmissions in South Carolina, US and has been in the automotive industry for over 7 years. He also is the founder of Automotive Engineering HQ, a website dedicated to helping those who want to begin or advance a career in Automotive Engineering.