As an academic coach for a number of Bright Horizons EdAssist Solutions aerospace and defense clients, I speak regularly with employees interested in undergraduate engineering and engineering technology degrees. However, one thing I have noticed during our conversations is the confusion surrounding the differences between the two. Understanding these distinctions is important when choosing an educational and career path in engineering as the two fields vary quite a bit.
A bachelor’s degree in Engineering stresses the theory and conceptual design of structures, machines, systems, and processes. Engineering programs often include more advanced levels of applied science and mathematics than are required in an Engineering Technology (ET) program. Students can expect to take classes in Statistics, Algebra, and multiple courses in Calculus including Differential Equations. Physics is one of the most important components of an engineering curriculum. Most schools require at least two levels in order to cover topics like fluids, sounds, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and geometrical and wave optics. Students pursuing a bachelor’s in Engineering usually have the opportunity to concentrate in disciplines such as civil, computer, electrical, industrial, and mechanical engineering.
With Engineering Technology, the academic priority is the hands-on application of skills and implementation. While math courses are required, it is to a lesser extent and is focused more on Algebra and Trigonometry than Calculus. Examples of some courses offered in an ET program not typically found in engineering programs are basic manufacturing processes, fluid power/hydraulics, and basic circuits. More common in ET programs than Engineering are practical lab courses, which serve to teach design and prototyping, production software, robotics, CNC machining, material testing, and other skills. Common specializations include electronic, manufacturing, mechanical, mechatronics, and industrial engineering technology.
Engineering programs oftentimes require an internship for students to gain experience. This is not the case for Engineering Technology as the curriculum stresses industrial practices and design procedures to prepare graduates to perform technical assignments.
Those who earn a bachelor’s in Engineering begin their careers as entry-level engineers. They commonly report to a supervisor or manager while developing, researching, testing, and designing products. Graduates from ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited baccalaureate degree programs can become licensed Professional Engineers (PE) in all US states by passing two exams (the FE and PE) in addition to a professional experience requirement. Many also pursue additional education and earn a graduate degree in the field.
Graduates from Engineering Technology degree programs are often called “technologists.” They start their careers in entry-level positions in areas like product design, testing, development, systems development, field engineering, technical operations, and quality control. Essentially, they are devoted to the implementation of existing technology. Technologists frequently work side-by-side with engineers on a wide variety of projects by applying basic engineering principles and technical skills. They often pursue graduate level studies in engineering, facilities management, or business administration. (One word of caution: not all colleges will accept graduates of ET programs into master’s level programs in Engineering.) It is possible to become a licensed engineer with an ET degree. Each state has their own policies and procedures for obtaining licensure. About two thirds of the states accept an ET degree from an accredited program to satisfy the formal education requirements.
For students not wanting to commit to a baccalaureate degree, there are opportunities at the associate level. Many community colleges offer two-year degrees in Engineering and Engineering Technology. An Associate of Science in Engineering or Engineering Technology is designed to prepare students for transfer to a related four-year program. An Associate of Applied Science in ET is a terminal degree designed to prepare graduates to enter the workforce as a technician. Technicians are primarily employed in service jobs. Their responsibilities involve equipment installation, troubleshooting and repair, testing and measuring, maintenance and adjustment, manufacturing, or operation.
If you are considering a career in either of these fields, you should now have a better understanding of the major differences between the two. However, you might still be uncertain as to which is a better fit for you. If this is the case, I recommend connecting with both an engineer and a technologist to get a true feel for what a typical day on the job looks like. You will see what the responsibilities entail and can ask in-depth questions to learn more about compatibility with your interests and strengths.
You can learn more about the differences between engineering and engineering technology on the ABET website.