Mechanical engineering programs prepare people to design and improve tools and machines. Students learn to use math and science to evaluate and test machines and systems used in production. They also learn to work on vehicles and power systems.
Maybe you've heard that all mechanical devices are based on six simple machines that were known in ancient times: the wheel, the wedge, the lever, and so forth. It seems like a big jump from them to modern marvels such as the automobile. Yet once you understand the principles that make simple machines work, you understand most of what makes complex machines do what they do.
Mechanical engineering teaches you those principles. You study math, physics, and other sciences. Then you apply these principles to mechanical devices and learn how they use energy to do work. You study the properties of materials to understand how they will behave when subjected to forces such as pressure and wear.
With this knowledge, you can develop innovative designs for machinery and tools. You learn how to use computers to simulate mechanisms that don't yet exist. You also learn how to use computers to create drawings and specifications so that the design can come to life.
In this field, the most common ticket to the job market is a bachelor's degree. Four or possibly five years of full-time study beyond high school should earn you that degree. A large number of colleges in the U.S. offer this major. Some of them offer programs that let you progress straight through to a master's in five years.
In addition, traditional master's and doctorate degrees are offered in this field. In general, master's degrees take two years to complete, and doctorate degrees take another three to five.