What is mechanical engineering?
Mechanical engineers build the world around us. From the tiniest nanotechnology, through to cars and buildings, to airplanes and space stations, mechanical engineers are responsible for the design and development of most things.
Studying mechanical engineering is a combination of science, maths, and computing. It’s the study of machinery, and how to manufacture and maintain it at all levels. It’s a limitless subject, which plays a role in everything from vehicles to cities, energy to artificial intelligence, military to healthcare, and everything in between.
Mechanical engineering course entry requirements
Mechanical engineering is considered to be one of the most challenging undergraduate degrees on offer, so you won’t be surprised to hear that entry requirements can be steep. Generally, you’ll need to have a qualification in maths and/or physics. But, just as importantly, you’ll need to show good grades in whichever subjects you’re studying.
Other subjects that will support an application for mechanical engineering include further maths, design technology, computing, product design, and the other sciences. When it comes to your skills and extracurricular activities, universities will be looking for practicality, attention to detail, proficiency with technology, computing, and numeracy.
- Apply by the January deadline
- Attend an interview
- Show work experience
- Submit a portfolio
- Audition for a place
Can I still apply if I don’t have good grades in maths and physics?
Each university has its own entry requirements. Maths and physics are generally the most important subjects for mechanical engineering, but many students manage to get on a course without having studied them. Showing a strong personal profile can sometimes be just as important as an academic one. Always check with the university you’re applying to.
Why study mechanical engineering at university?
Mechanical engineering is the broadest of the engineering subjects, giving you an insight into the others, and giving you the most wide-ranging career options. When you combine this with the fact that mechanical engineers are in demand in almost every sector, play your cards right and you may end up as one of the most employable graduates around.
If you’re looking for a future-proof skill, then remember that mechanical engineers are heavily involved in automation, renewable energy, and artificial intelligence. The rapid development of technology also means that studying mechanical engineering is never going to be boring. You’ll be among the first to test emerging techniques and technologies, and much of your study will be practical and hands-on.
Some modules you may study are:
- Structural materials
- Engineering concepts
- Solid mechanics
- Biomedical and bioengineering
- Systems modelling
Even if you don’t decide to stay in engineering, the transferable skills you master will set you up for careers in a wide range of sectors.
What kind of work experience should I be able to show?
It’s unlikely you’ll have much experience with mechanical engineering at 17 or 18. Universities will be looking for personal or professional experience in something related – working with cars, or in maintenance, or something technical. Universities are looking for commitment to the type of skills an engineer has, not just engineering itself.
Take a look at our advice on writing your personal statement for engineering.
A levels – Entry requirements range from CCC to A*AA, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for AAB.
Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from ABBB to AAAAB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring AABBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for AA.
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 or colleges.
What can you do with a mechanical engineering degree?
Most mechanical engineering graduates will remain in engineering, as:
- mechanical engineer
- structural engineer
- aerospace engineer
- civil engineer
But some engineering graduates use their diverse skillset to move into other sectors, as:
- auto electrician
- transport planner
- model maker
- CNC machinist
What’s it like to study mechanical engineering?
Mechanical engineering is challenging, but that’s because it’s also rewarding. Don’t expect to be sitting in lectures and seminars for the entirety of your degree, which will generally last three or four years. During that time, you’ll be involved in lots of practical and demonstration sessions, as well as laboratory and workshop lessons. Engineering graduates are awarded a BEng, rather than the more common BA or BSc.
As the broadest of the engineering subjects, mechanical engineering gives you an overall grounding in the discipline, before allowing you to specialise from your third year onwards. You might decide to branch into aerospace, medical, structural, or robotic, by taking specific modules. To support this, some universities offer placement years which allow you to spend time in industry, with a company that relates to your passion or specialism.
While studying mechanical engineering, you’ll be:
- writing reports and essays
- attending lectures, seminars, and laboratory lessons
- going to design workshops and practical sessions
- completing group and project assignments
- completing design and computer-based assignments
Mechanical engineering requires a lot of study, theory, and practice. For some universities, this means up to 24 hours per week with tutors. For others, it means lots of self-study and, therefore. high levels of motivation. Whichever it is, you’ll be spending your time in many different environments: classrooms, laboratories, and workshops.
Are you considering an accelerated degree? Click here to read more about the possibility of completing your undergraduate course in two years rather than three.
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 90 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)
- Aircraft maintenance certifying engineer
- Automation and controls engineering technician
- High speed rail & infrastructure technician
- Propulsion technician
- Rail engineering advanced technician
- Road transport engineering manager
- Vehicle damage assessor
Degree apprenticeships (Levels 5 – 7)
- Air traffic controller
- Aerospace engineer (degree)
- Aerospace software development engineer (degree)
- Control/technical support engineer (degree)
- Electrical/electronic technical support engineer (degree)
- Embedded electronic systems design and development engineer (degree)
- Electronic systems principal engineer
- Manufacturing engineer (degree)
- Manufacturing manager (degree)
- Materials process engineer (degree)
- Process automation engineer (degree)
- Product design and development engineer (non-integrated degree)
- Project manager (degree)
- Rail & rail systems engineer
- Rail & rail systems principal engineer (degree)
- Rail & rail systems senior engineer (degree)
- Systems engineer (degree)
- Through life engineering services specialist
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.