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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Mechanical Engineering

Editor’s Picks: Online Schools for Mechanical Engineering

Value
Stanford University is the winner of the best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for value. Students who graduated from this renowned private university had a 10.4% annual return on investment (ROI) without financial aid, and a 14% ROI with financial aid, according to PayScale.com’s 2012 rankings. Even though attending Stanford has heavy up-front costs, the 30-year net ROI for students was $1,194,000, and for students who received aid, the figure was $1,322,000. In addition, Stanford is ranked fourth in the nation for best value schools on the national level, taking into account a school’s academic quality and net cost of attendance, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Flexibility
North Carolina State University wins the award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for flexibility. Not only can students log in to their courses at any time of day from any location, but students do not have any GRE, thesis, on-campus residency, or final oral exam requirements, according to the program description. Students have six years to complete the program, and added flexibility comes from the student’s ability to customize their degree plan to better fit their career aspirations. NCSU offers a wider variety of distance education courses than many other online mechanical engineering programs, and even allows students to attend a limited number of courses on campus if they want, according to the university website.

Career Support
Iowa State University recognizes the importance of helping students transition from graduate study to a career, and features an Engineering Career Services office that provides help with resume and cover letter writing, job interviews, lining up internships, and access to career fairs. ISU’s Engineer Career Services office focuses its energies entirely on engineering students. Not only are Iowa State engineering career fairs one of the top five largest in the nation, but approximately 1,000 employers use ISU’s online recruiting system each week, according to the university’s website. In addition, the ISU facilitates nearly 5,000 full-time and internship employment interviews each year. Because of its superior career support services to engineering students, Iowa State University is wins the award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for career support.

Financial Support

Iowa State University, nonresident students who only enroll in distance education courses pay the same tuition rate as resident students, according to the university’s website, which can yield big savings for out-of-state students. The university has a reputation for providing generous financial aid; according to College Navigator, 87% of full-time beginning undergraduate students at ISU received some sort of financial aid, and 72% received institutional grants or scholarships. In addition, ISU lists more than 100 scholarships for which engineering students are eligible. For these reasons, Iowa State University wins the award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for financial support.

Technology Support
The University of Wisconsin-Madison wins the award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for technology support. The university is ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report in the publication’s list of top online graduate engineering programs in the category of student services and technology. The university’s online engineering master’s programs feature 24/7 live tech support, live tutoring, a smartphone app, and live streaming video.

Student Engagement
The best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for student engagement is the The University of Wisconsin-Madison, which topped U.S. News & World Report’s list of top online graduate engineering programs in the category of student engagement and accreditation. Factors considered for the U.S. News ranking were instructor response times to student queries, frequency of instructor office hours, and faculty’s ability to track students as they log into their online courses. Other positive factors for this top ranking were the high levels of student collaboration and participation, small class sizes, and the inclusion of an instructional designer dedicated to developing courses to meet online learner needs

Disability Support
The award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for disability support goes to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for its Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) that is committed to providing assistive technology, career transition support, and accommodations for disabled students. The university has a long history of working with disabled students, and boasts being the first post-secondary institution to offer a support service program for disabled students, according to the DRES website. DRES worked with more than 1,200 students with disabilities in 2011 alone, and registered DRES students had a 91% graduation rate, which is higher than the campus average, the website noted.

Library and Research Support
Georgia Institute of Technology wins the award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for library and research support because of its commitment to providing distance learners with the same library resources provided to on-campus learners. Distance learners have access to thousands of e-journals, hundreds of databases, the universal catalog of the millions of books owned by the University System of Georgia, and inter-library loan access, according to the university website. Librarians are accessible by phone, email, and live chat. To top it all off, distance learners have access to subject specialist librarians, including a librarian who specializes in mechanical engineering who can provide more specialized research assistance.

Learning Support
For an online graduate students to succeed, they must receive the same level of academic support they would otherwise receive on a campus. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was ranked first in the category of student services and technology by U.S. News & World Report in the publication’s list of top online graduate engineering programs. Aside from having access to tech support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, students can also take advantage of live tutoring, among other valuable services.

Faculty Credentials
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is ranked fifth in the nation for faculty credentials and training on U.S. News and World Report‘s list of top online graduate engineering programs. The university received this recognition because 89% of its faculty have at least two years of online teaching experience, online instruction training is required to teach online courses, and because the university provides financing for online instructor training, according to data reported to U.S. News. The university reported 26 full-time faculty that teach online-accessible courses, and 11 part-time faculty that fill this role as well, U.S. News noted. For these reasons, the University of Wisconsin-Madison receives the award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for faculty credentials.

Faculty Accessibility
Boston University wins the award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering in faculty accessibility because BU’s program allows students to watch their mechanical engineering lectures synchronously, or in real-time, through videoconferencing technology, according to the university website. Distance education students can communicate with their professors during the lecture through chat functions, and students whose schedules permit can even attend class on campus from time to time and talk to their professor in person when need be. Overall, Boston University has a student-to-faculty ratio of 13 to 1, according to College Navigator, allowing for more individualized attention.

Alumni Engagement
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign lays claim to being the world’s largest alumni community, according to the school’s website. Programs include Illini Comeback, in which distinguished alumni return to their alma mater to share advice with current students and participate in traditions like the Homecoming Parade and Pep Rally. There’s also the Explorer’s Travel Program, where alumni association members get together to travel together to tour exotic locales like the French Alps and the British Isles. These and other excellent alumni-focused programs, along with an Alumni Career Center that has been active since 1987, are the reason the University of Illinois is the recipient of the best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for alumni engagement.

New Online Student Orientation
Georgia Institute of Technology understands the importance of preparing students for the online learning environment and offers a new student orientation for distance learners to provide helpful advice on how to navigate the school’s online course management system. Georgia Tech makes this orientation mandatory so that students have all the information they need about system requirements, registering for online classes, getting tech support and other help, and avoiding common problems. At the end of the orientation, students take a quiz over what they learned. Because of this thorough approach to preparing students for online learning, Georgia Tech wins the award for best online master’s degree in mechanical engineering for new online student orientation.

Explore a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering

An online master’s degree program in mechanical engineering provides professional engineers with the opportunity to enhance their skills and advance their careers. These programs are designed to give students the knowledge to develop innovative products, solutions, and systems that are needed in many industries today. A master’s degree program may require the successful completion of at least 45 credit hours of academic course work, although the length of time needed to complete the degree may change, depending on the college or university.

Class Curriculum

An online mechanical engineering master’s degree program offers students further instruction in their craft, while allowing them to complete their course work on their own time. Depending on the institution, students enroll in computational engineering, bioengineering, combustion, design, heat transfer, nanotechnology, and more. For a closer look at three mechanical engineering courses, read on:

  • Heat Transfer. A heat transfer course examines heat and mass transfer in one and two-dimensional, transient, and phase change systems. Topics covered in this course include conduction heat transfer, thermal systems analysis, and radiation heat transfer.
  • Gas Dynamics. A gas dynamics course introduces the basic concepts of compressible fluid flow, including one-dimensional flow problems and isentropic flow. The course also examines normal and oblique shock waves, isentropic flow, and method of characteristics for non-linear flows.
  • Product and Process Design. This course teaches students how to recognize the important elements of product development strategy, conceptual design, and the development of a business plan and a prototype. The class may cover technology and integration, design innovation, marketing, change and risk, and more.

Mechanical engineering students are typically assessed by their performance on research projects, homework assignments, and exams. Class notes and handouts are provided through the school’s e-campus system, such as Blackboard, where students can also collaborate on class projects. For example, students may work together to develop a prototype plan or they may work alone to write and execute computer programs.

Building a Career

Graduates of a mechanical engineering master’s degree program may be qualified to find employment as a mechanical engineer. Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest disciplines within engineering, as they may work in a wide range of industries, including architecture, navigation, and aerospace. Generally speaking, mechanical engineers analyze problems to see how a mechanical device could help solve it, design or redesign devices, develop prototypes, and oversee the manufacture of a device. Although a bachelor’s degree is needed to get an entry-level engineering job, a master’s degree is typically needed for promotion, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The BLS states the median annual wage of mechanical engineers in May 2010 was $78,160. Employment within the industry is expected to grow 9%, which is slower than average for all occupations, between 2010 and 2020. Companies are increasingly outsourcing engineering services to outside firms instead of keeping engineers on staff, which will limit employment opportunities. However, mechanical engineers will still be needed in the transportation, manufacturing, and alternative energy industries, according to the BLS. But remember that the BLS’ statistics are no guarantee of salary or employment opportunity, which is determined by the employer, location, and condition of the economy.

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