two engineers working

When pondering a career in engineering, it’s not always a matter of considering whether one wants to go into a particular field of engineering—civil, mechanical, or electrical, for example. Oftentimes, thought must be given to the role one wants to play within the engineering profession itself. Most students might know about engineers and their overall functions and responsibilities, but there are other careers within the profession that, depending upon a student’s goals and overall strengths, they might want to consider. Engineers don’t necessarily work in a vacuum; they might work with engineering technologists as well as engineering technicians. So what’s the difference between the three? And what path might one need to consider when deciding between them? Let’s break it down.

  • Engineers are oftentimes thought of as generalists. They’re the ones who analyze, design, create, simulate, and build. They play the problem-solving roles one might traditionally think of when imagining a career within the profession. On the absolute hands-on spectrum of the three careers, though, theirs is the most theoretical, and so they’re required to have the most advanced background within math and science. Because a Bachelor’s degree—and major—in engineering is one’s entrée into the profession, students considering a career in engineering will want to either start at a traditional four-year undergraduate institution or eventually transfer into one.
  • Engineering Technologists play a specialized role within an engineering team. They assist engineers by implementing and testing their designs, and can assume such responsibilities as interpreting design plans for a work crew or giving such crews technical support. They might, perhaps, use a computer drafting program to design specialized equipment for a project, or they might perform data analysis. There are a number of traditional four-year colleges and universities that offer degrees in engineering technology—New Jersey Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, Drexel, Texas Tech, and the University of North Texas to name a few—as well as some online programs Arizona State University, University of North Dakota, and Penn State World Campus.
  • Engineering Technicians are involved with the practical details of a project, oftentimes problem-solving a design’s technical aspects. In any given job, they could be measuring, drafting, reviewing, recording, estimating, data collecting, building, or providing cost estimates. While most students might enter such a profession with an associate’s degree from a community college, (probably a student’s most affordable pathway)there are also some four-year schools that offer associate degrees in the field, such as Ben Franklin Institute, Miami Dade College, or the College of Southern Nevada. And there are online options, too, including Arizona State University and the University of North Dakota.

Depending upon their future career in engineering, students will want to be mindful of their high school curricular selections. Those entering the engineering or engineering technologist professions will want to take advanced coursework in math and science while in high school—math through calculus as well as physics, chemistry, and biology. And while an engineering technician won’t be expected to take as advanced a course load in high school, they’ll still want to take algebra, trigonometry, and the basic sciences.


Written by Zaragoza Guerra
Zaragoza Guerra is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Zaragoza previously worked as a senior admissions officer at MIT, Caltech, and The Boston Conservatory. To learn more about Zaragoza, be sure to read his bio on