To become an engineer, studying the right qualifications is essential. This usually involves completing a degree accredited by a recognised industry body. Learn more about the engineering courses that provide a viable route into this profession

A-levels and college courses

If you want to become an engineer once you've left school, studying maths and physics A-levels at college or sixth form is the most popular route to take, while budding chemical engineers should pursue chemistry. Further maths or design and technology are also useful choices when it comes to the core engineering A-levels.

The grades you'll need to get into university vary depending on the institution and course, but the most prestigious universities seek top marks.

For example, to study an undergraduate engineering degree at the University of Cambridge, you'll require two A-levels at grade A* and one A, while the University of Oxford asks for the same but specifies that the two A* grades need to be in physics and maths (or further maths).

While all engineering courses require you to put in the work at A-level to gain a place, not all programmes demand A* grades. For entry onto the Engineering BEng at the University of Birmingham, you'll need AAB (including maths), while the Electrical and Electronic Engineering MEng at the University of Nottingham requires AAA.

Both these institutions will also consider relevant BTEC diplomas and HND qualifications instead of A-levels. For instance, there's the Level 3 BTEC National Extended Diploma in Engineering and the Level 5 HND Engineering.

You may also be able to get a place on a degree or enter the profession if you've studied other further education (FE) qualifications such as T Levels or an HNC. Examples include the Engineering, Manufacturing, Processing and Control T Level, the HNC Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the HNC General Engineering.

Many standalone qualifications can help you to become an incorporated engineer (IEng) with the Engineering Council, but you'd need to continue your education to become chartered.

Read more about college courses and how these qualifications compare with one another.

Engineering degrees

When it comes to engineering degrees, you can typically choose from two undergraduate options. Firstly, the Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) is the three-year academic degree undertaken in an engineering science subject.

The BEng focuses on the technical and practical aspects of engineering, as opposed to the Bachelor of Science (BSc), which offers a broader perspective on science and engineering.

The Complete University Guide's University League Tables 2024 identifies seven key engineering degree specialisms and the top universities in each area:

  • Aeronautical and aerospace engineering - Imperial College London, University of Bristol, University of Southampton, University of Bath, University of Sheffield.
  • Chemical engineering - University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University Southampton, University of Bath.
  • Civil engineering - University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, University of Southampton.
  • Electrical and electronic engineering - University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, UCL, University of Southampton.
  • General engineering - University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University of Bristol, University of Sheffield, Durham University.
  • Manufacturing and production engineering - University of Cambridge, University of Sheffield, University of Bath, The University of Manchester, University of Leeds.
  • Mechanical engineering - University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, University of Bath.

Most undergraduates study one of the above specialisms, although there are also degrees in materials science and engineering, nuclear engineering and software engineering.

For some jobs, employers will expect graduates to have a degree in one of the branches above. This is especially true for those hoping to become a chemical, electrical or mechanical engineer.

The majority of these specialist courses will be endorsed by the professional body covering that discipline - for example, the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) or the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) - as well as the Engineering Council.

Discover whether your degree is accredited by viewing the Engineering Council's recognised course search.

Despite this, it's quite common for students to pursue a general engineering degree, as you can often specialise in your third year. Indeed, some organisations actively seeking employees with a more rounded knowledge of engineering.

For those who haven't studied engineering at university, you may find these subjects are also relevant:

However, students of non-engineering degree subjects may be required to complete a conversion course or professional qualification to work in some of the key roles mentioned.

Engineering Masters

While postgraduate study isn't essential for entry into many engineering careers, a Masters degree can deepen your knowledge and help you to build sector-specific skills and forge industry connections. They are also highly sought-after in areas such as product design and research and development (R&D).

If you're aiming to become a chartered engineer (CEng) you'll need to study a four-year Master of Engineering (MEng) degree, accredited by a professional engineering institution.

For example, the MEng Mechanical Engineering at The University of Manchester is endorsed by the IMechE and puts you on the path towards the CEng designation with the Engineering Council, while the MEng Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol is approved by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) and provides exemptions for a number of their exams.

To see what's available, search postgraduate engineering courses.

PhDs in engineering

The Doctor of Engineering or Engineering Doctorate (DEng or EngD) is a professional Doctorate primarily aimed at those already working in the industry, but this qualification is also the perfect stepping stone into careers as a higher education lecturer or postdoctoral researcher. Read more about getting an academic job.

As a major research institution, the University of Cambridge provides a range of opportunities to gain a PhD in engineering, which can be achieved within three to four years.

The main areas of research include:

  • civil engineering
  • electrical engineering
  • energy, fluid mechanics and turbomachinery
  • information engineering
  • manufacturing and management
  • mechanics, materials and design.

A Masters degree isn't always required to do a PhD in engineering, but an engineering background is preferable for selection.

Explore PhD study.

Other pathways into engineering

As EngineeringUK points out, there are various educational pathways into engineering aside from the typical full-time university route, especially if you aren't immediately looking to reach chartered engineer status.

One alternative to university is to consider an engineering appenticeship as you'll get to learn on the job while studying towards a recognised qualification. With a degree apprenticeship, you'll still be able to achieve a degree without the costs associated with going to university.

If you can't commit to a full-time course you can also consider online and distance learning courses. By studying part time, you can still seek to gain one of the qualifications mentioned but fit it around your other work and personal commitments.

You'll find that online engineering courses are available from a range of providers, including:

Get tips on choosing an online platform and working while studying.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page