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Thread: Mechanical Engineering Degree vs. Automotive Engineering Degree

  1. #1
    Hi Guys,

    this might be a little bit off-topic, but I hope to get a clearer picture with it because I am in the process of sending out applications to universities.

    I've noticed that 99% of the design judges in the FS competition have a mechanical engineering bachelor degree and not an automotive engineering degree.

    All of them have been working in the automotive industry all of their life.

    Why is that almost nobody has an AE (automotive engineering) degree?

    Of course physics are the the same everywhere, at least on this planet, but why havn't these people done a AE degree, when they already knew they will go into the autoindustry?
    Is a ME degree more accepted/cherrished as opposed to an AE degree in the autoindustry?

    I'd like to know this from some people who have been working in the car industry and have some experiences regarding this.

    The reason I ask is, while I am finishing my industrial engineering degree, I feel I miss a lot of the important subjects/courses the ME guys had. We didn't learn such fundamentals like kinematics in length which makes the BA thesis I am doing now a little bit harder as for the people who already worked e.g. with a software like SAM.
    In design we stopped at a stamping tool assigment, which nevertheless was quiet large.

    I am thinking about following possibilities that would fit me right, right now:
    A little bit about my opinion towards IE vs. ME/AE: I want to do engineering work in the future and not be an intersection guy bringing both of two worlds together as the IE degree suggests. I'd rather be one thing full, than two things half.
    My aim is to work in an engineering position after university, developing and designing parts:

    So here are the choices:

    1) Apply for an automotive master and add the courses to the curricullum (I eventually have to do that anyways to be accepted).

    2) Apply for a ME master and specify in automotive related courses

    3) After graduating this summersemester with an industrial engineering degree, apply for a ME degree, but step in into a higher semester, as I already have more than have of a ME degree.

    4) Do the same as in 3 but with automotive engineering.

    Lets hear it from experienced people as well as people who are also in the midsts of their ME, AE or IE degree.
    Suspension Engineer
    University Of Stuttgart

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Brighton, MI
    I'll take a stab at this. Be sure to check my credentials on LinkedIn. To me, the design judges 'only' have BS degrees (hey, that's a pun) because in their day, there was not a lot of science in the field. In fact, much of it came out of the aeronautical engineering programs. (cars fly sideways). Also, lots of them are heat and beat workers. If it fails make it bigger and heavier. If it doesn't work, change some parts or settings and try it again until we run out of time. Keep a good notebook on what just worked. Many of us consider this the 'old' school way of life. While they claim to have their reasons for expressing criticism, its only experience from bad experience that they rely on. To be sure, the question they usually fail to answer is 'WHY' when a setting, relationship, configuration or practice is stated.

    Now there is 'New School'. You synthesize concepts and systems based on Requirements Engineering. That's optimization using Control Systems Engineering principles (non-linear differential equations, neural networks, database mining, Bode formulation, multi-body dynamics and fluid flow. Once a system is formulated, its handed to a technitan with a 2 or 4 year degree to turn it into prototypes for packaging, sourcing, marketting, appeal, user friendliness, and other sometimes puzzling arenas. The days of an engineer designing parts are gone as far as when you will get your degree. A 3-D printer will strike out a part based on finite element optimization for mass, cost and strength without a human in sight.

    And, because of grade inflation, a BS degree today is just a hair above a two year degree. You need a Masters to show you excelled in Diff.Eq., Circuit theory, Spatial Mechanics, a global language and more. The degree isn't for knowledge, it's to show you can compete on the global playing field and come out in the top percentage of your cohorts. There are personnal skills too. Time management, human resources and public speaking abilities. A co-op or Apprenticeship really helps because you can come off the blocks in high gear, so to speak. An MBA also counts heavily. Think I'm being harsh? My kid is a head hunter and a good one. She is always able to place a fresh or aged 'new school' candidate in 6 figure jobs. Her game now is hiring someone out from under a company who has already just joined a good company.

    But designing parts ? take a night school class in CNC programming. By the time you graduate, you will need this on your resume' just to design dinner plates.

    Remember, its always best to know 'why' something happens and that answer, relationship, prediction, profit, success and glory should come from a top down synthesis of requirements to systems, systems to models and models to prototypes good enough to have been unnecessary.

    And, you will know why non-zero steer-by roll (roll steer; some people try to call it 'bump steer' [that's a bum steer])) should be watched closely for vehicles which go very fast and have high cornering stiffness tires (tyres?). Can ANYONE Old School tell us why ?

    Automotive is just a subset of rocket science, eh?

  3. #3
    At least in the mid-west United states there aren't many if any colleges or universities that offer an "automotive" engineering degree.

    The few that I know of that do offer such a degree are all master's programs.

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    NSW, Australia
    Personally, I did a double degree (5 years) with ME and Commerce (Management). My uni didn't offer AE, but there were a couple of auto specific subjects I did. The ME was not particularly useful in a real world "let's get a job" way, and the Commerce was completely useless. However, I got decent grades and a couple of certificates at the end. In job interviews I have typically said that I did a double degree and got good marks, and then spend the rest of the time talking about practical experience (~80% of which is FSAE based). I have done very well at every interview by talking about FSAE. It feels to me like the degree is simply a tick box to a potential employer, and what they actually care about is what you're like as a person (will you fit in?) and what your practical knowledge base is like.

    So as BillCobb said, getting some practical experience (FSAE, machining class, etc.) will set you above the crowd (who all have the same university qualifications anyway).

    UoW FSAE '07-'09

  5. #5
    So as BillCobb said, getting some practical experience (FSAE, machining class, etc.) will set you above the crowd (who all have the same university qualifications anyway).
    Hi Jay,

    that is the reason why I want to change universities after graduation.
    The FSAE team never offered such practical experiences I tryied to get. Unfortunatly.

    I sat alone on the weekends in the CAD lab to go through the SolidWorks tutorials to learn how to model parts. That's how I tryied to gain the experiences I need for later.

    Also, lots of them are heat and beat workers.
    Hi Bill,
    I read from that that you are not a design judge :-).

    I get you on the part that degrees are a declining currency.
    As an engineer you are more objected to simulation today as never before. The 918 spider was simulated to 60% before it was actually tested on a road course.

    I hope I ticked the MBA box with the IE degree.

    I definitly agree with you saying it is best to know why something happens. That's why I've choosen my BA thesis beeing a more theoretical one.

    I am a little bit farer with my question but not there by long of what I am going to do.

    I am accepted at my fav uni to the normal ba programm in a higher semester and could continue after I've done the extra curriculum with my masters in AE.
    Suspension Engineer
    University Of Stuttgart

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    University of Pittsburgh
    An ME degree can do most anything, including automotive. If you got a specific automotive engineering BA, then you are kinda locked into that field.

    But I do kind of agree with what was stated above in terms of a degree being a checkbox. Being a leader of the FSAE team as well as my CO-OP experience got my job, not my degree (I had a shitty GPA). Now if you want to work for the best of the best companies, you'll need a good GPA too along with the experience. But regardless, even with a 2.6 I still had 3 offers on the table for employment right after I graduated, all from great companies with great pay doing what I wanted to do.

    If you know you want to go automotive, then get a AE degree. I mean it only really matters for your first job, after that your degree (and grades) becomes less (if at all) relevant - something I learned by talking to a lot of experienced people.

  7. #7
    I searched everywhere for a program that offered a BS AE, but as far as I can tell, no one overs a bachelors in Automotive Engineering. Some schools (like Kettering University) offer a specialty in Automotive, and IUPUI offers a Motorsports engineering bachelors (which really looked more like a business degree than an engineering degree to me). Far more schools offer a Masters in Automotive Engineering. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor is one of them. The reason you probably don't see them that often is because masters degrees are not nearly as common in the engineering field as they are in other fields. At least not masters in Mechanical or other kinds of engineering. Most go back to get their MBA instead (especially considering a lot of companies will pay for it).

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    According to your profile you're from Germany. I studied Automotive Engineering in Stuttgart and if I would have studied Mechanical Engineering with focus on automotive engineering - that wouldn't have made any difference. If you decide to study mechanical engineering you may have more choices, but if you want to work in the automotive industry later, it doesn't make much of a difference in my opinion.
    Rennteam Uni Stuttgart
    2008: Seat and Bodywork
    2009: Team captain

    GreenTeam Uni Stuttgart
    2010: Seat and Bodywork / Lamination whore

    Formula Student Austria
    2012: Operative Team

  9. #9
    First off let me just say that each will have his requirements so such a decision you will have to make pending your circumstances and needs.

    an AE degree will be quite a constraint in terms of career flexibility.as you say physics is physics everywhere, i would say that getting an ME degree then following that up with a Master's degree (which as Bill explained is essential to set you apart) and experience in the field you like is better than getting a field specific degree.

    some say that having specific knowledge in one field will make you better at it than most, whilst doing a lot of things together will make you master of none. and i agree, but i found out that like you say physics is the same everywhere so whatever branch you are in you can use examples/ways of thinking from other unrelated work and they can be of great effect.

    Through my experience, you can learn automotive engineering science on your own (time a constraint) as it is just an application in Mechanical engineering. for the experience however you will have to either work (FSAE) or get an AE degree.

    Just try to know what you want to spend the rest of your time doing, is it just AE or maybe you would want to try something else in the future?

    The best engineering advice i often get is from non engineers.
    Cairo University Racing Team Technical Director 2011-2012
    Tyres and Vehicle dynamics
    Suspension team head 2010

  10. #10

    thanks for all the replies first off!

    I really enjoy the automotive engineering world and had the most fun when me and a buddy sat together to go through the design process of our car.

    Purely from a selfish/ interest/ passion based standpoint I would go head on into a AE degree.
    The courses are just great and I get questions answered I had all of my live about car engineering.

    The question than is, if I would go with an AE degree and later go into a, let say normal design work position for whatever part there is to design,
    how would the decision to do an AE degree influence the possibility of getting this job and getting the job done?

    After all as we all agreed Automotive Engineering is just the specific useage of laws of the mechanical engineering degree.
    So, who says, you can't use the principles you learned in an AE degree to put them over the design of a waterpump eg? In the end it's fluid dynamics. If you learn these fundamentals on an engine intake or a gas turbine, doesn't make a difference.

    Thoughts, comments on that?

    I also have a time constrain, so collecting experiences outside of the study programm isn't an option. I need to get them while working on a FSAE project and through the courseware if possible.
    Suspension Engineer
    University Of Stuttgart

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