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There is a wide range of science & engineering pathways out there. We explore the difference between science & engineering degrees and the careers they can unlock.
When you discuss career pathways with your students, science and engineering are two options that will come up quite often!
Many of your students will have heard that science and engineering are good disciplines to study. After all, they make up half of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), an area that many international governments are advocating.
So why is this?
In a nutshell, there is a high global demand for science and engineering graduates. Many employers struggle to fill STEM vacancies, and with this demand set to increase, this problem is only getting bigger.
This means that for prospective students, studying a science and engineering qualification can bring a wealth of benefits, including:
- High graduate employment rates
- Good salary
- A lot of job security
- Fewer visa restrictions
But as you’ll know all too well, the above reasons aren’t the only factors students should consider when choosing a degree pathway.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the difference between science and engineering, what the courses typically look like, and some of the careers they can lead to – so you can help your students judge whether a science or engineering qualification is the right path for them.
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What’s the difference between science and engineering?
If a student came to you and asked you to sum up the difference between science and engineering in one sentence, we’d suggest you explain it like this:
Science degrees are more focused on observing and studying the world, while engineering is more focused on designing and making things.
That’s a bit of a simplification and, of course, there is a lot of overlap between science and engineering degree paths (pretty much all engineering degrees are based on scientific principles and theory). But, for an undecided student, it’s safe to say that engineering degrees are slightly more practical.
Let’s take a look of some of the subfields within science and engineering…
When we say ‘science’ we’re of course talking about a very broad family of subjects and disciplines. We can break the sciences into three main groups.
- Biology – this encompasses degrees such as biomedical science, genetics, marine biology, zoology, microbiology.
- Chemistry – this includes degrees such as applied chemistry, biochemistry, environmental science, forensic science, and pharmacology.
- Physics – physics-based pathways include astrophysics, mathematical physics, theoretical physics and chemical physics.
Again, many fields and degrees fall within the category of engineering. The four main ones are chemical engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and aeronautical engineering.
What jobs can students do with a science or engineering qualification?
One of the great things about the fields of science and engineering is that students can either study a very broad degree or a very specific degree.
That means that science and engineering programmes are suitable for those students who are more certain about their future career path, but also those students who may be undecided.
Both science and engineering qualifications can lead students into careers directly related to their degrees – or something completely different. Science and engineering degrees can ready students for careers in business, finance, accounting, healthcare, scientific publishing, teaching, or even the creative sector!
This is because they equip students with a wide range of professional skills, including data analysis, data collection, data processing, research, report writing, problem-solving, project management and teamwork.
What do science/engineering qualifications typically look like?
Of course, the content of science and engineering degree programmes will vary depending on the subject or specialism in question.
But broadly speaking, most science or engineering courses will encourage students to take more generalist modules or classes in their first year, before allowing students to specialise later.
Students who complete a science degree will, in most countries, graduate from university with either a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or Masters of Science (MSc). Meanwhile, students who choose to study towards an Engineering qualification will graduate with a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) or Masters of Engineering (MEng).
The length of science and engineering degrees will vary from country to country. But they usually take 3 or 4 years, though this can vary depending on several factors:
- Some science and engineering degrees will include a year in industry, which will extend the length of their studies.
- Some degrees will be longer to allow students to work towards and graduate with a master’s qualification.
Most science and engineering degrees are assessed through a combination of exams, coursework, oral presentations, exams and research-related projects. Some assessments will involve group work and, often in the case of science degrees, lab work.
Studying Engineering & Science in the USA
Of course, in the USA students can’t exclusively study an engineering or science degree, because they will be submitting applications to a university/college and not applying to study a course. Instead, students who are interested in these subjects can choose to declare their major in a science or engineering field.
If, when your students apply to a university or college in the USA, they don’t know what they want to major in, that’s ok! But, if your students do have any aspirations to work in a science or engineering degree, then it might be worth researching those colleges in the USA that are well-known for their maths, science & engineering majors.
As we mentioned, some science and engineering degrees will be inclusive of a postgraduate qualification. But if your students are interested in embarking on postgraduate study upon completion of their undergraduate degree, there are plenty of options open to them!
Many postgraduate MSc or MEng degrees allow students to further specialise in areas of science of engineering that may be of interest to them.
It’s worth devoting a small section to Engineering accreditations. Many countries will offer qualified extra professional accreditations to allow engineering graduates to become chartered engineers.
Professional accreditations and qualifications represent a fantastic opportunity for engineers to get extra career development and network with peers.
Many countries have one or more professional engineering organisations, with some countries even having different networks/organisations for the different types of engineering.
Studying science & engineering: what subjects should students take at high school level?
It won’t surprise you to know that students interested in science and engineering need a grounding in…science and engineering!
Of course, engineering isn’t usually studied at the high school level, but maths, physics, biology and chemistry are good options for students interested in an engineering pathway.
If your aspiring science/engineering students are thinking about the right IBDP subjects to take, then obviously Biology, Physics and Chemistry are useful if they’re interested in science-related degrees.
Studying Maths or Further Maths at Higher Level is also useful for your students interested in a science or engineering related qualification.
Similar to the IB, Biology, Chemistry & Physics A-levels are useful subjects for students interested in science, life science, biomedical science or engineering degrees. And once again, Maths & Further Maths are useful A-levels for students who may be interested in degrees like physics, civil engineering and aeronautical engineering.
How can students make their applications stand out?
As with the other subjects in this guide, the most important thing is for students to demonstrate a passion for their subject. When applying they should make sure to highlight:
- Any topics of sciences/engineering that they are passionate about – remember, it should be something unrelated to their schoolwork!
- Any courses or lectures they have attended and what they learned from this
- Any other extracurricular activities that showcase their project-management and teamwork skills – e.g. being a member of the school council, playing as part of a sports team.
Studying Science & Engineering: Hear an excerpt from Radboud University & The University of Liverpool
What are the other routes into science & engineering?
It’s more likely that students will have to take a more academic route if they decide to study a more theoretical science degree e.g. physics or chemistry. But, if students are interested in engineering, there are vocational routes into higher education.
For example, some UK companies, in partnership with universities, offer degree-level apprenticeships in engineering, allowing students to work towards a degree equivalent qualification while also learning engineering as a trade.
Likewise, colleges of technology in Japan and universities of applied science in the Netherlands and Germany are institutions where students could take a more applied/vocational route into engineering.
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