General engineering programs prepare people to use math and science to solve real-life engineering problems. Students learn to solve problems in industry and business. They also work on public works projects.
Why study general engineering rather than a particular branch? There are several good reasons to do so. Perhaps you plan to study a specialized branch in graduate school. Perhaps you plan postgraduate studies in medicine or some other non-engineering field. Perhaps you see general engineering as a pathway to a job in management.
A general engineering program teaches not only knowledge, but also useful habits of mind. It teaches you about science and math, so you learn how to think scientifically. You learn how to analyze problems and test solutions. You learn that sometimes you have to make trade-offs between what works best and what costs least. You may also study human behavior in order to find the best solutions for people-oriented problems.
Although it gives you a good background in theory, engineering is a very practical subject. In your studies you look at real-life problems. For example, you might have to design a bridge footing to be constructed on a sandy island. You might have to devise a method for safely shaping a highly explosive material. You might be asked to improve a process that uses a laser to cut fabric.
As a result, general engineering programs often allow you to choose from a variety of sciences. You may be interested in social or natural sciences. Or you may want to learn a lot about business management. Whatever other fields you study, you will learn how to use them to solve engineering problems - and vice versa. For example, you might create a computer-based simulation as a psychological research instrument. Thus you would use engineering to help understand people's behavior.
Some programs allow you design your own major. These may be engineering, general programs, or may be called engineering science. Either way, you don't have much choice about the core engineering courses, but beyond them you may be able to create a major that emphasizes what interests you most.
You can earn an associate's degree in general engineering in two years. Most schools that offer this degree are community colleges. The expectation is that you will transfer your credits to a college or university and get a bachelor's or master's degree in engineering. You can earn a bachelor's degree in general engineering with four or five years of study after high school. A large number of colleges in the U.S. offer engineering programs. At most schools you study general engineering for your first two years. After that you specialize in a particular area, such as electrical or mechanical engineering. Thus few students actually get a bachelor's or master's degree in general engineering.