Materials Engineers Overview

Employment for materials engineers is expected to grow at an average rate and job opportunities for engineers should be good over the next several years. A bachelor’s degree in engineering or materials engineering is required for most entry-level jobs and some research positions require a masters degree. After college, continuing education is a must to keep up with new technology. Starting salaries for materials engineers are some of the highest among college grads.

Nature of the Work for Materials Engineers

Materials Engineers

Material engineers develop economical solutions to technical problems using the principles of math and science. They use scientific discoveries and commercial applications to meet consumer needs.

Many materials engineers develop new products. They consider several factors during the process including precise functional requirements, design, and the overall cost, safety, reliability and effectiveness of the product.

Beyond design and development, materials engineers work in production, testing and maintenance. They supervise production in factories, test for product quality and determine the causes of failing products. Cost and time is also estimated for projects. Supervisors take on entire projects or oversee major components.

Computers are essential to materials engineers. They use them to simulate and test operations, generate part specifications, monitor quality, control efficiency and produce and analyze designs. Also introducing new principles to the design process is nanotechnology.

Materials engineers develop, process and test materials used to create a variety of products from aircraft wings and computer chips to snow skis and golf clubs. They use ceramics, semiconductors, composites, plastics and metals to develop new materials the meet particular electrical, chemical and mechanical requirements. Often materials engineers are also involved with choosing materials for new applications. They can create and study materials at an atomic level using an advance process to replicate characteristics and components using computers. Usually materials engineers specialize in a particular material—ceramic engineers work with ceramics to create useful products such as fiber-optic communication lines or glassware and metallurgical engineers work with metals like steel.

Usually materials engineers work in labs, plants or offices. They may spend time outdoors on productions sites or travel extensively to plants or other worksites here and abroad.

A 40-hour workweek is typical for materials engineers, however deadlines may cause longer hours on occasion.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Materials Engineers

An engineering bachelor’s degree or materials engineering bachelor's degree is required for most materials engineers to find entry-level work. However, graduates with natural science or mathematics degrees can sometimes find jobs, especially those that are in high demand. Usually materials engineers earn a degree in mechanical engineering, civil engineering or electrical and electronics engineering. With that they’ll have the flexibility to work in other branches as needed.

Most materials engineering programs include courses in math, science, general engineering, design, computers, laboratory, humanities or social sciences.

Beyond an engineering bachelor’s degree, materials engineers can seek a 2 or 4-year engineering technology degree. This degree is different because it focuses on hands-on training of the most current issues and applications in the field to prepare graduates for practical design and production work instead of scientific or theoretical work. These graduates can often find similar work to those with a bachelor’s degree, but their skill level falls between an engineer and a technician.

For faculty, research and development and some higher-level executive positions a masters degree is required of materials engineers. Some also seek graduate school to broaden their education or technology knowledge base.

The Accreditation Board of Engineering Technology (ABET) accredits college and university programs in engineering technology and engineering. In fact, those who need a license to offer services directly to the public must graduate from one of these programs. In addition, materials engineers who need a license must have 4 years of relevant work experience and pass an exam. Recent grads can begin the process right away by taking one exam to become an engineer intern and then later take the second part after gaining suitable work experience.

Some engineering schools offer special programs to help students. For example, some work with 2-year colleges to offer the first two years of schooling there before attending the engineering school. Others offer 5 or 6-year programs that combine classroom study with practical work experience so students can gain experience and finance their education at the same time.

Beyond college, materials engineers should have analytical skills and be inquisitive, creative and detail oriented. In addition, teamwork skills and communication skills are important.

Working for the Federal Government, materials engineers must be US citizens and often must need to hold security clearance.

At the beginning of a career, materials engineers usually work alongside experienced engineers and may receive formal classroom or seminar training on the job. With knowledge and experience they will take on more independence and more difficult projects. Later than can advance to supervisor or technical specialist positions. Some may work in sales or managerial positions as well.

Many organizations offer professional certifications to engineers. They may be beneficial to those wishing to advance to managerial positions or senior technical posts.

Top 10 Most Popular Materials Engineering Schools

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
2. University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida)
3. Ohio State University, Columbus (Columbus, Ohio)
4. Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa)
5. Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)
6. University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California)
7. University of Washington, Seattle Campus (Seattle, Washington)
8. Stanford University (Stanford, California)
9. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
10. North Carolina State University at Raleigh (Raleigh, North Carolina)

See All Materials Engineering Schools

Most Popular Online Materials Engineering Schools

1. Arizona State University - Online School
2. University of Florida - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Materials Engineers

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).

Roughly 1.6 million engineers are working, however on 24,400 of them are materials engineers. Most materials engineers jobs are found in manufacturing industries and the professional, scientific and technical services industries. Governments employ 12 percent of engineers, while 3 percent are self-employed.

While competitive pressures and advancing technology force companies to seek materials engineers to help them increase productivity and designs, the continued globalization of engineering work may limit employment growth.

Materials engineers will see average employment growth at a rate of about 9 percent. The increased use of composite and other nontraditional materials that materials engineers develop using nanotechnology and biotechnology research will spur most of this growth. However, as manufacturing firms contract out their materials engineers needs, most of the employment growth will be found in professional, scientific and technical services industries. In addition to this job growth, many positions will become available as materials engineers retire or leave the job for other reasons.

Throughout their careers, materials engineers must continue their education. They must keep up with technological advancements to provide employers the greatest value and best solutions. Those who fail to do so will find themselves at a disadvantage compared to other materials engineers when it comes to promotions, layoffs or finding new jobs.

Earnings and Salary for Materials Engineers

The median annual salary of materials engineers is $83,190. The highest 10 percent earn $125,660, the lowest 10 percent earn $52,670 and the middle 50 percent earn between $64,950 and $104,170. Material engineers earn an average stating salary of $57,349, which is one of the highest of all college graduates with bachelor’s degree.

Annual Salary for Materials Engineers

On average, Materials Engineers earn $83,190 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $52,670/yr $64,950/yr $104,170/yr $125,660/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook