Materials science and engineering

What is materials science and engineering?

Materials scientists and engineers work at the forefront of a broad range of disciplines and industrial sectors, including healthcare, energy, environmental sustainability, sports, automotive, and aerospace. New materials will provide solutions to problems facing mankind in the next century and beyond (e.g. quantum computers, net zero energy).

Materials science and engineering is a cross-disciplinary subject that focuses on how materials behave and how their structure controls their behaviour. You can expect to delve deeper into the relationships between fundamental science and how different groups of materials, such as ceramics, composites, metals, nanomaterials, textiles, and polymers, can be engineered to achieve better performance.

Courses will look at how materials are developed, manufactured and recycled, as well as their performance in practical applications. Hence, materials science and engineering can appeal to those with a broad interest in fundamental science as well as design, manufacturing, and engineering.

Links between course providers and industry are typically strong. Many have direct links with UK and international manufacturers, as well as the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), various institutes, and research centres. Students should anticipate that their course is both informed by current developments, and directly relevant to employment on graduation. 

Materials science and engineering course entry requirements

A levels – Entry requirements range from BCC to A*AA, with universities and colleges commonly asking for AAAs, particularly in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. 

Scottish Highers – AAAAB to ABBBB, with most providers looking for Advanced Highers in mathematics, physics or chemistry. 

Vocational courses – Other Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (e.g. Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma, or an SCQF Level 6) may be accepted as an alternative to A levels/Highers by some providers. It’s essential that you check alternative entry requirements with universities and colleges.

What you will need to do
  • Apply by the January deadline
  • Submit a personal statement
  • You may need to attend an interview
What you won't need to do
  • Submit a portfolio
  • Audition for a place
  • Pass an entry test
  • Show work experience

Do I need an A in maths, physics, and chemistry?

Most course providers ask that you have qualifications in at least two of these three subjects and they’ll want at least Bs. However, this varies between providers, so check with them directly.

Most providers have foundation year programmes available for those who do not have the correct qualifications.

Why study materials science and engineering?

Materials science and engineering graduates are in demand in a number of different industries, including aerospace, automotive, biomedical, construction, energy, healthcare, sports, and sustainable development. 

You could work anywhere from Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), start-ups and big business to academic research, via government and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). You could very easily find yourself working with international organisations, helping to develop products and solutions for global markets. Or you could find your own niche, where one good idea could change the way an industry works. Like other science and engineering disciplines, some graduates opt for careers in banking, management, education and media.

The roles on offer that you can fill are similarly varied, from research and development, quality assurance, production and engineering, through to installation and maintenance. Students typically go on to enjoy an average starting salary in excess of £25,000.

What’s it like to study materials science and engineering?

Most courses offer a balance of lectures, tutorials, projects, coursework, and lab time. You can expect to spend a lot of time in the lab, reinforcing theoretical knowledge with practical experience. 

Many courses will also include time in industry. This can vary from site visits to summer placements, or even a year embedded in industry. Many students will use this as an opportunity to build contacts with future employers. 

If you decide to extend your studies into an integrated master's you will be spending more time in research, tackling real-world issues and specialising in your areas of choice. For most providers, a significant portion of final year is spent on an individual research project.

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If you want to combine work and study while earning a salary, you could consider an apprenticeship. Which apprenticeships are available, and how you apply, depends on where you live.

Find out more about apprenticeships across the UK.

There are approximately 120 apprenticeships in the engineering sector available in England, with more in development.

Each apprenticeship sets out occupational standards for specific job roles, designed by employers. The standards outline the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required to demonstrate that an apprentice is fully competent in the job role.

Higher apprenticeships (Level 4)

Degree apprenticeships (Levels 5 – 7)

Discover more about apprenticeships in engineering

Our guide has all the info you need to know about doing an apprenticeship in this industry. Find out what it's really like from current apprentices and decide if it's the right route for you.

Engineering industry guide

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