How Can I Earn a High Mechanical Engineering Salary?
To rise toward the top of the mechanical engineering salary scale, begin by getting a master’s degree.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for mechanical engineers was $87,370 in 2018. It’s an impressively high figure, ranking in the top 50 for all occupations in U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Jobs” survey. It’s also one of the three highest salaries for engineers across all occupations, according to the “Best Jobs” survey.
In addition, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) found that annual pay for mechanical engineers has grown roughly 5% a year since 2013. With so much good news, it’s no wonder ASME president Charla K. Wise says, “It’s an exciting time to be an engineer. The demand for engineers continues to grow.”
However, the “Best Jobs” survey also reveals that salaries for mechanical engineers are far from uniform. The bell curve covers a broad range, with mechanical engineering salaries ranging from about $68,000 per year at the 25th percentile to nearly $109,000 per year at the 75th percentile.
According to ASME, the single biggest thing you can do to place yourself at the higher end of that distribution is to earn a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
“A master’s degree is increasingly required to advance into higher-paying supervisory and management roles,” the organization noted in a recent article. “It sharpens your technical skills and can establish you as an expert in a hot field.”
Tori Thistle, a recent graduate of Merrimack College’s mechanical engineering master’s degree program, summed it up this way: “Mechanical engineering jobs are very competitive, so having a master’s degree will help me in the long run.”
Here’s How to Boost Your Mechanical Engineering Pay
In an article titled “7 Ways to Make More Money as a Mechanical Engineer,” ASME offered the following tips, in order of importance:
- Earn an engineering master’s degree
- Combine an engineering degree with a master’s in management
- Get a Professional Engineer’s license
- Volunteer for special projects at work
- Specialize in a high-growth industry
- Locate in a high-paying state
- Negotiate a raise
The first two items on the list yield the greatest gains in mechanical engineer salaries. A study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (titled “The Economic Value of College Degrees”) concluded that an engineering master’s degree provides a 20 percent boost in engineering salaries. A similar investigation by the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that a master’s degree in engineering increases salaries by roughly 25%.
Tori Thistle checked both of those boxes at Merrimack College by earning a master’s in mechanical engineering with a management specialization. “The management component was appealing to me,” she says, “because once I get some more experience in the workforce I definitely would like to move into a leadership role. I developed skills in communication, teamwork and leadership at Merrimack that are really valuable to employers.”
More Ways to Increase Your Earning Power
While not disagreeing with the seven items on ASME’s list, Thistle took additional steps to maximize the value of her engineering master’s degree and position herself for high-paying engineering jobs. Her recommendations for getting the most out of your engineering graduate degree include:
Do applied research.
Thistle modified a hand-held massage device to make it more ergonomic. “I redesigned the handle so the force would be distributed across the hand,” she says, “and I 3-D printed some prototypes and tested them experimentally. The current tools cause areas of concentrated force that can inflict pain on the hand, and I was able to show that a new handle relieved that problem.”
Thistle wrote up the results of her biomechanical device research and submitted them for publication to the ASME Journal of Medical Devices. “This always came up in my job interviews,” she says. “It’s something employers really wanted to hear about.”
As long as demand for mechanical engineers remains high, mechanical engineering salaries are likely to keep rising. That’s especially true in fast-growing industries such as robotics, biomedicine, aerospace and defense.
Whether you’re already in the workforce or are just starting your career as a mechanical engineer, it’s never too late to take steps that can increase your earning power.
“Mechanical engineering jobs are very competitive, so having a master’s degree will help me in the long run.”
— Tori Thistle, MS Mechanical Engineering ’18