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Study abroad : Subject Guides

The top three engineering specialisations

If you’ve been giving some thought to studying engineering but are a little confused by the number of options, we’re here to help. We investigate the top three engineering specialisations for international students.

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It’s little surprise that international student demand for engineering degrees continues to grow. With many disciplines and excellent career options engineering remains the top subject searched for by international students on Hotscourses Abroad. In the 2019/2020 UK academic year, engineering had the second-highest number of enrolled students for STEM subjects with over 174,000 students. However, the question is, what exactly are the top three most popular engineering specialisations? We dig into the data to find out.


Aerospace engineering 


Topping the list of the three most popular engineering specialisations is aerospace engineering. This STEM discipline involves the design, development, and maintenance of technology or components used in the aerospace industry and the military. If the technology you’re designing flies, you’ll be involved as an aerospace engineer.


Aerospace engineers work on technology such as planes, spacecraft, formula one cars, military hardware, satellites, and the associated systems. It is considered a particularly technical discipline with a significant focus on industry during a degree. You can specialise in a particular area of aerospace engineering, including:


  • Propulsion
  • System design
  • Materials and structures
  • Aerodynamics
  • Avionics


When studying for a degree in aerospace engineering, there are several core modules you’ll cover during your curriculum. While this can differ between universities, some of the themes you can expect to cover are:


  • Mathematics essentials
  • Mechanics and materials
  • Atomic physics
  • Computational mathematics
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Engineering design
  • Control system
  • Instrumentation
  • Aerodynamics
  • Computational engineering
  • Advanced aircraft design


As a qualified aerospace engineer, you can expect to start with a salary of between GBP 30,000 and GBP 35,000 per year. Some of your potential employers will include aircraft companies, government agencies, space agencies, the military and regulatory bodies.


Discover where you can study for a degree in aerospace engineering.


Mechanical engineering 


Second place on the list of the top five engineering specialisations goes to mechanical engineering. The U.S. News & World Report places mechanical engineering as the second-best engineering job to have, with an employment rate of over 96 per cent. Further, it is estimated that the growth profile for employment for mechanical engineers will develop by seven per cent in the next decade (Bureau of Labour Statistics).


As a mechanical engineer, your primary focus is the design and development of solutions that improve the efficiency of systems and processes. This can involve everything from vehicles to the production lines in factories. You’ll be responsible for design, implementation, and maintenance in some cases. It is also possible to become a specialist in the field, including in:


  • Robotics
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Materials engineering science
  • Renewable energy
  • Nanotechnology
  • Automotive engineering


Studying a degree in mechanical engineering means covering some key concepts in engineering and a curriculum with a sharp focus on preparing you for your industry role. Some key modules you’ll study are:


  • Computational mathematical modelling
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Materials engineering
  • Marine engineering
  • Control system analysis
  • Solid mechanics
  • Sustainable fuels
  • Engineering simulation
  • Robotics engineering


With a degree in mechanical engineering, you can expect to start off earning a salary of between GBP 25,000 to GBP 30,000 per year. As your engineering career develops and you gain experience, you can increase your earning capacity as a mid-level engineer to about GBP 40,000 to GBP 50,000. With a more senior role, your salary could be over GBP 60,000 per year.


You can watch the video below to get more of a sense of what to expect from mechanical engineering from one of the top three engineering schools in the UK (Guardian University Guide Rankings 2022), the University of Bristol.



Some of the industries and sectors where mechanical engineers frequently find work include:



Find a university abroad where you could study mechanical engineering.


Civil engineering 


If you're interested in large scale infrastructure projects, then civil engineering is for you. As a civil engineer, you can work on a variety of projects, everything from roads and airports, to dams and bridges. Civil engineers often work very closely with government departments and local authorities in the design, construction, and maintenance of infrastructure.


The U.S. News & World Report places civil engineering at number one for the best engineering job to have. This is primarily due to the very high employment rate of over 98 per cent and a median salary of just over GBP 65,000. Further, it is a specialisation that is estimated to continue to remain in demand as cities expand and populations grow.


When studying for a degree in civil engineering, you will learn some of the fundamental principles of the discipline and the more advanced knowledge you’ll need to practice. Some of the modules you’ll study include:


  • Mechanics, structures, and materials
  • Thermofluids
  • Hydraulics
  • Soil mechanics
  • Structural analysis and design
  • Surveying
  • Geotechnical analysis
  • Advanced mathematics


Qualifying as a civil engineer may mean becoming a member of a professional association or accreditation body. This professional membership can be essential to working as an engineer in certain countries. It is possible to develop a specialist skillset in civil engineering and work as a:


  • Geotechnical engineer
  • Structural engineer
  • Transportation engineer
  • Environmental engineering
  • Hydraulic engineering


As a civil engineer, you can find work in a variety of sectors that include:


  • Property development
  • Government agencies
  • Environmental consultancies
  • Infrastructure companies
  • Power utilities
  • Transport companies
  • Manufacturing


Find out more about universities offering civil engineering degrees.


There you have it. The top engineering specialisations. Remember, you can continue to explore studying abroad by finding out more about what to expect when studying engineering, how to match your study and career path, and how studying abroad can help your career.



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