Mechanical engineering and computer science are both popular and valuable degree choices for students with an aptitude for math, science, and technology. But the fields take vastly different approaches to developing innovations that shape our modern world.
From the job duties and work settings to the skills needed and salaries earned, how do you determine which major is the better fit?
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick overview: Mechanical engineering focuses on analyzing, designing, and producing physical devices and systems. Computer science deals with software, algorithms, programming languages, and computation systems.
Key factors in choosing between them are your interests in physics vs coding, working with hardware vs software, and improvising creatively vs logically troubleshooting.
Core Concepts and Courses in Each Major
Mechanical Engineering Curriculum
Mechanical engineering is a diverse field that focuses on the design, development, and manufacturing of mechanical systems. The curriculum for a mechanical engineering major typically includes a wide range of courses that cover core engineering principles and concepts.
Students pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering can expect to take courses in subjects such as:
- Statics and dynamics
- Fluid mechanics
- Materials science
- Mechanics of materials
- Machine design
- Control systems
- Heat transfer
These courses provide students with a solid foundation in the fundamental principles of mechanical engineering and prepare them for a variety of career paths within the field. Graduates of mechanical engineering programs often find employment in industries such as automotive, aerospace, energy, and manufacturing.
Computer Science Curriculum
Computer science is a discipline that focuses on the study of computer systems and the theoretical foundations of computation. The curriculum for a computer science major typically includes a combination of theoretical and practical courses that cover core concepts in computer science.
Students pursuing a degree in computer science can expect to take courses in subjects such as:
- Programming languages
- Data structures and algorithms
- Operating systems
- Database systems
- Computer networks
- Software engineering
- Artificial intelligence
- Computer graphics
These courses provide students with a strong foundation in programming, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Graduates of computer science programs often find employment in industries such as software development, cybersecurity, data analysis, and artificial intelligence.
It’s important to note that the specific courses and curriculum may vary between different universities and programs. Prospective students should research the curriculum of each major at the universities they are considering to get a better understanding of the specific courses and concepts they will be studying.
Day-to-Day Work and Duties
Mechanical Engineering Roles
Mechanical engineers are responsible for designing, developing, and testing mechanical devices and systems. They apply principles of physics and mathematics to create innovative solutions for various industries such as automotive, aerospace, and energy.
On a day-to-day basis, mechanical engineers may be involved in tasks such as:
- Designing and analyzing mechanical components and systems
- Creating detailed blueprints and technical drawings
- Conducting experiments and tests to evaluate performance and reliability
- Collaborating with other engineers and professionals to solve technical problems
- Overseeing the manufacturing and implementation of mechanical systems
Mechanical engineers often work in teams and utilize computer-aided design (CAD) software and other advanced tools to assist in their work. They need strong analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as a solid understanding of mechanics and materials.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for mechanical engineers was $88,430 in May 2020, with a projected job growth of 4% from 2019 to 2029. (source)
Computer Science Roles
Computer scientists are responsible for developing and implementing software solutions and systems. They work with programming languages, algorithms, and data structures to create efficient and innovative software applications.
On a day-to-day basis, computer scientists may be involved in tasks such as:
- Writing and testing code to develop software applications
- Designing algorithms and data structures to solve complex problems
- Analyzing and improving the performance of existing software systems
- Collaborating with teams to develop software projects
- Researching and staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in computer science
Computer scientists often work in diverse industries such as technology, finance, healthcare, and gaming. They need strong problem-solving and logical thinking skills, as well as a solid foundation in programming and software development.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $93,510 in May 2020, with a projected job growth of 11% from 2019 to 2029. (source)
Work Settings and Environment
Where Mechanical Engineers Work
Mechanical engineers have the opportunity to work in a wide range of industries and settings. They can be found in manufacturing plants, research and development laboratories, construction sites, and even in office settings.
Their work often involves designing, analyzing, and improving mechanical systems and processes. This can include anything from developing new automotive technologies to designing energy-efficient building systems. Mechanical engineers may also work in the aerospace, defense, or biomedical industries.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, the largest employers of mechanical engineers were architectural, engineering, and related services firms, followed by manufacturing companies. The automotive industry, aerospace product and parts manufacturing, and scientific research and development services also employed a significant number of mechanical engineers.
Where Computer Scientists Work
Computer scientists, on the other hand, have a variety of work settings available to them as well. They can be found in technology companies, government agencies, research institutions, and even start-ups.
Their work primarily revolves around the development and implementation of computer systems, software, and algorithms.
Computer scientists may work in fields such as artificial intelligence, data science, software development, cybersecurity, or computer networking. They can be involved in creating innovative applications, improving existing technologies, or solving complex computational problems.
Some computer scientists also work as professors or researchers in academia.
The technology industry is a major employer of computer scientists, with companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple being popular choices. Government agencies, financial institutions, and healthcare organizations also hire computer scientists for their expertise in managing and analyzing large amounts of data.
It’s worth noting that both mechanical engineers and computer scientists may have the opportunity to work remotely or in a flexible work environment, depending on the nature of their projects and the policies of their employers.
Salary Prospects and Job Outlook
Mechanical Engineering Salaries
When it comes to salary prospects, mechanical engineering offers a promising future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for mechanical engineers was $88,430 in May 2020.
However, it is worth mentioning that salaries can vary depending on factors such as location, industry, and level of experience. Mechanical engineers working in industries such as aerospace, oil and gas, and automotive tend to have higher earning potential.
Computer Science Salaries
Computer science is another field that boasts competitive salaries. The median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $91,250 in May 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job roles such as software developers, data scientists, and cybersecurity analysts are in high demand and often come with attractive compensation packages. Additionally, computer science professionals have the opportunity to earn even higher salaries by working for top tech companies or pursuing entrepreneurial ventures.
Job Growth in Each Field
Both mechanical engineering and computer science offer promising job growth opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.
This growth is mainly driven by the need for engineers in various industries to design and develop new technologies.
On the other hand, the demand for computer science professionals is expected to grow at a much faster pace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 11 percent job growth for computer and information technology occupations from 2019 to 2029.
This growth is attributed to the increasing reliance on technology in almost every industry, as well as the need for cybersecurity measures and data analysis.
It’s important to note that these growth rates may vary depending on the specific subfields within each discipline and the overall economic conditions.
Choosing Between the Two Majors
Deciding between pursuing a major in Mechanical Engineering or Computer Science can be a challenging task. Both fields offer exciting opportunities and promising careers. To make an informed decision, it is essential to consider various factors such as your interests, skills, lifestyle preferences, and the specific career paths each major can lead to.
By analyzing these aspects, you can gain clarity on which major aligns better with your goals and aspirations.
Analyzing Your Interests and Skills
One of the first things to consider when choosing between Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science is your personal interests and skills. Take some time to reflect on what subjects or activities you enjoy the most.
If you have a strong affinity for problem-solving, logical thinking, and mathematics, Computer Science might be the right fit for you. On the other hand, if you have a passion for designing, building, and understanding how things work, Mechanical Engineering could be your calling.
It’s important to choose a major that you have a genuine interest in, as it will make your academic journey more enjoyable and fulfilling.
Considering Lifestyle and Work Style
Another factor to consider when deciding between Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science is the lifestyle and work style associated with each field. Mechanical Engineering often involves hands-on work and the opportunity to work in industries such as manufacturing, automotive, or aerospace.
This field may require spending time in laboratories or on the field, working with physical prototypes and machinery. On the other hand, Computer Science offers a more flexible work environment, with opportunities for remote work and a focus on software development and coding.
Consider your preferred work environment and whether you enjoy working with physical objects or digital systems.
Exploring Specific Career Paths
Both Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science offer a wide range of career opportunities. It’s crucial to explore the specific career paths available within each field to understand the potential job prospects and growth opportunities.
Mechanical Engineering graduates can pursue careers in industries such as automotive engineering, robotics, renewable energy, and aerospace. On the other hand, Computer Science graduates can find opportunities in software development, data analysis, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and web development.
Research the job market and identify the industries and roles that align with your interests and long-term goals.
Trying Out Courses and Internships
If you are still unsure about which major to choose, consider taking introductory courses or participating in internships in both Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. This will give you a hands-on experience and a better understanding of the day-to-day work and challenges involved in each field.
Talk to professors, professionals, and current students to gather more insights and seek advice. Remember that the decision you make now does not have to be set in stone. It’s okay to explore different paths and change your major if you discover a different passion along the way.
Mechanical engineering and computer science offer diverse roles in designing technologies that shape our world. From your innate interests to work style preferences, considering the key differences can help determine which major leads you to a more fulfilling career.