To become an engineer you'll need specific qualifications and some engineering work experience under your belt. Learn more about engineering courses and where to find internships and placements
If you want to become an engineer, studying maths and physics at A-level is often essential, while budding chemical engineers should pursue chemistry. Further maths and design technology are also useful choices.
The grades you need to get into university vary depending on the institution and course, but prestigious universities seek top marks. For example, the University of Cambridge requires two A* and an A to study engineering at undergraduate level, while the University of Oxford asks students to achieve two A* and an A in physics, maths or further maths to study its four-year MEng in Engineering Science.
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, while the Electrical and Electronic Engineering MEng at the University of Nottingham requires ABB.
A degree in an engineering or technology-related subject is usually necessary to work in this sector, though a few engineers have qualifications in disciplines such as maths, physics or computer science. Students of non-engineering subjects may be required to complete a conversion course or professional qualification before working in the field.
For some roles, a qualification in any engineering discipline may be acceptable. For others, such as those in chemical, electrical or mechanical engineering, employers usually require a specific degree.
The Complete University Guide's University League Tables 2023 identifies seven key engineering specialisms and the top universities in each area:
- Aeronautical and aerospace engineering - Imperial College London, University of Bath, University of Bristol, University of Southampton, University of Sheffield
- Chemical - University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of Oxford, University College London (UCL), University of Birmingham
- Civil - University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of Oxford, University of Bristol, University of Glasgow
- Electrical and electronic - University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, UCL, University of Southampton
- General engineering - University of Cambridge, University of Bristol, University of Oxford, University of Sheffield, Durham University
- Manufacturing and production engineering - University of Cambridge, University of Leeds, University of Bath, University of Nottingham, University of Sheffield
- Mechanical engineering - University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of Oxford, University of Bath, UCL.
Most undergraduates study one of the above specialisms. However, pursuing a general engineering degree is preferable for some; students can often specialise in the third year, and some organisations actively seek employees with a more rounded knowledge.
For more information, see what can I do with my degree?
Postgraduate engineering courses
While postgraduate study isn't essential for entry into many engineering careers, Masters degrees and PhD study 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.
However, if you're aiming to become a Chartered Engineer (CEng) you'll need a Masters of Engineering (MEng) degree or Engineering Doctorate (EngD), accredited by a professional engineering institution.
To see what's available, search postgraduate engineering courses.
Joining a professional body isn't usually necessary to gain your first graduate job. However, doing so provides you with access to networking opportunities, training events, discussion forums and the latest industry news. All of these things help graduates to enter, develop and specialise in their profession. What's more, becoming a member of a chartered body is obligatory if you want to be assessed for registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or an Incorporated Engineer (IEng).
You'll find that professional qualifications can usually be completed while in employment. Professional bodies that provide recognised training include the:
- Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) - From introductory to advanced levels, the CIBSE provides membership and range of training courses to aspiring building service engineers.
- Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) - Offers a range of courses in areas such as personal development and leadership, process safety and sustainability. Training from IChemE is peer reviewed to ensure best practice is reflected.
- Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) - A registered professional body with the Engineering Council UK, membership provides access to several professional development courses.
- Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) - Offers IET Advantage, a membership option that helps recent graduates to become CEng or IEng registered.
- Institution of Engineering Designers (IED) - The UK's only professional body representing those working in the field of engineering and technological product design.
- Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) - The only professional body that covers all aspects of food technology in the UK.
- Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) - Offers membership as well as access to a range of training courses in management and technical subjects.
- Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) - Providing professional accreditation and training courses for structural engineers, IStructE offers both student and graduate membership.
Work placements and internships
Choosing and completing the right qualifications is important but it'll rarely be enough on its own. To be in with the best chance of securing your dream role you'll need some work experience under your belt, as employers favour those who've complemented the theoretical knowledge gained during their studies with relevant experience. Many companies offer permanent jobs to graduates who've performed well on their internship or placement schemes, so completing one can really pay off.
While some degrees in engineering and technology include a placement, or sandwich year, not all do so. Therefore, you may need to seek your own opportunities.
Large organisations offer paid engineering internships and industrial placements and usually advertise these widely. Smaller organisations may not have the budget for this but that doesn't mean that they don't provide opportunities. This is where speculative applications come in useful.
Here's an example of what's on offer:
- Airbus - Offer 12-month industrial placements in areas such as engineering and manufacturing engineering.
- BAE Systems - On this 12-week summer internship programme you have the option to gain an insight into engineering and physics or software engineering. BAE Systems also run 12 month industrial placements.
- EDF Energy - You'll need a predicted 2:1 undergraduate degree in a science, engineering, maths, IT or a business-related subject to gain a place on EDF Energy's 12-month engineering, research and development industrial placements.
- GSK - This year-long engineering industrial placement requires you to have a predicted 2:1 undergraduate grade in either automation, chemical, electrical or mechanical engineering.
- Rolls Royce - With a choice to take part in either a ten-week summer internship or 12-month internship (with a salary of £19,000 pro rata) you'll need a predicted 2:1 at undergraduate level in engineering, maths, physical science or computer science.
- Tesco - With a salary of £22,000 pro rata you'll need a predicted 2:2 to gain a place on the technology software engineering internship.
To find opportunities, search for work experience in engineering and manufacturing.
Apprenticeships in engineering give the more practical minded a chance to put their skills to use in a technical environment. They involve completing a national diploma in engineering or an engineering-related subject, while receiving paid on-the-job training at one of many participating firms. If you'd like to study at a higher level, you can do so on an engineering degree apprenticeship.
Major organisations such as KPMG, Morrisons, Network Rail and the Royal Air Force (RAF) offer apprenticeships in engineering, from intermediate to degree level. Some companies - especially smaller businesses - prefer entrants to take this route, as they can ensure that everything their apprentices learn will directly benefit their organisation. The workload depends on the specific employer, but you could be doing anything from operating machines in factories to installing telecoms systems.
To apply, you'll usually need good GCSEs in maths, IT and science, and be aged 16 or over.
Find out more about engineering apprenticeships.
Engineering graduate schemes
Numerous large employers, including BAE Systems, BP and Nestlé offer graduate schemes in engineering and manufacturing. There will be formal application processes, usually requiring you to submit a CV and cover letter followed by an assessment centre and various stages of interview.
If you join the software engineering graduate scheme at Accenture you'll design, build, test and deploy innovative technical solutions for the organisation's clients. The salary depends on where you're based - in London you'll be paid £29,000 (plus a £5,000 bonus), while those working in other areas receive £25,700 (plus a £1,000 bonus). To gain a place on the programme you'll need a degree in a related field such as computer science or software engineering.
Network Rail offers a two-year scheme for aspiring mechanical engineers. During four rotational placements you'll gain a broad perspective of the railway and learn about the products, processes and systems that make it function. You’ll earn a starting salary of £26,500 and get a £2,000 welcome bonus.
Jaguar Land Rover provides a two-year product engineering programme with a salary of £29,000 (plus a £2,000 joining bonus), while Mott MacDonald offers graduate schemes in civil and structural engineering and electrical engineering.
Engineering jobs are advertised in all of the usual places, plus in specialist press such as New Scientist and The Engineer. Professional bodies, of which there are 35 for engineering, also advertise vacancies.
Learn more about graduate engineering jobs.
Find out more
- Discover 5 exciting careers in engineering.
- Take a look at 7 tips for getting into civil engineering.
- Learn more about opportunities for women in engineering.