The Difference Between Systems Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Bioengineering Undergraduate Majors

If you’re the type of person who is inclined to go to an engineering undergraduate school, you might be overwhelmed by the number of choices you have. Very few high school students know the difference between systems engineering, mechanical engineering, and bioengineering, so we’re here to clear up the confusion.

Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering

Computer engineering and electrical engineers are the experts behind the scenes of every device, system, and computer we use. Computer engineers work with computers and computer systems, dealing in hardware and software systems to design more efficient and advanced systems. Their expertise is designing computer devices that control other devices. Electrical engineers, on the other hand, deal in energy, software, and mathematical algorithms. They study and work to engineer building devices and systems that range from microchips to power systems that connect and process data across nations. Electrical engineering plays a crucial role in energy and power distribution, as well as communication and computation. Electrical engineering and computer engineering, though, share the same core knowledge set, which is why the top schools have both programs under the same department. Both electrical engineers and computer engineers will take the majority of their core classes together, but once those are complete, you break off into your degree preference your classes become more differentiated. Computer and electrical engineers are fluid communicators, people who don’t hesitate to begin participating immediately and prioritize delivery on a solution, analytical thinkers, and they are passionate about details but able to take a step back and visualize the big picture to tackle multiple issues at once.

Digital Media and Design

Digital media designers and graphic engineers utilize digital platforms to manipulate data and create design content for various applications, including architectural blueprints, interactive video games, or machine creation. Digital media designers and graphic engineers alike channel a lot of artistic energy into their work and are often graphic designers primarily, who then utilize their skills to learn the more intricate skills required of engineers to tackle more complex designs and projects. Graphic designers more often tackle the infrastructure of a larger system, i.e. creating a video game system and its infrastructure, and digital media designers typically design the graphic content. Digital media designers are often trained in motion graphics, screenwriting, video editing, digital audio production, and video production. That said, there is a lot of overlap between these roles and competitive engineering programs that cover this content are harder to find than many other more “traditional” hard-science based engineering degrees.

Systems Science and Engineering

Systems engineering combines the applications of engineering, engineering management, architecture, and design to develop successful, large-scale, complex systems. A systems scientist and engineer takes multiple engineering disciplines and focuses to create a complete, functioning system, often at the societal-scale. Systems engineers are interested in figuring out how to best integrate specialized engineering processes (i.e. mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, chemical engineering, sales, marketing, human factors, etc.) to create an effective larger system. It’s ideal for those interested in bringing people and technology together.

Computer Science

Computer science is the study of principles and use of computers, which makes it similar in theory but distinctly different in practice from computer engineering in a number of ways. Computer scientists focus on software systems similar to how computer engineers do, but their knowledge and expertise lies in the interaction between computers and the devices that are communicating with and/or attached to the computer. Computer scientists evaluate that interaction and work to improve the speed and energy efficiency of the interaction and system as a whole. A degree in Computer Science will give students a solid foundation in the mathematical and algorithmic aspects of computing. Computer scientists are highly skilled at math and deductive reasoning, are active listeners, logical and patient workers, and can make sense of and organize large sets of data and information easily.

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Chemical engineering is the study and design of chemical manufacturing processes that touch every aspect of our lives. From creating smaller microchips to more efficient recycling solutions and clean water solutions, chemical engineers have a direct hand in the formulas that make our world better. Chemistry and engineering are the building blocks for millions of innovations and are often used for the production and use of fuel, chemicals, food, and drugs. They help provide solutions to issues like environmental degradation and pollution and create efficient ways to refine fuel, and process chemicals to create energy. Chemical engineers are highly skilled in math, physics, and chemistry. Good chemical engineers are analytical in their thought-processes, have higher than average patience, and are creative, highly attentive, and team-oriented.

Materials Science

Materials science and engineering is the study and development of relationships and systems between the synthesis, processing, structure, properties, and performance of materials that enable an engineering function. Not only do materials engineering improve materials that already exist, but they also work to create entirely new materials that become integral parts of our everyday lives and environments. It is the study and development of materials at an atomic level, and is an incredibly intricate field of engineering. The use of computers is inherent to materials engineering, as computers are what enable materials engineers to create materials and understand their components.

Biomedical and Bioengineering

Bioengineering/biomedical engineering is, simply put, the utilization of engineering principles within the context of medicine and biology. The difference between bioengineering and biomedical engineering is slight but critical: bioengineering is an umbrella term and the field that encompasses all engineering related to all life sciences, not just medicine. Biomedical engineering represents the subcategory within bioengineering. It’s the utilization and study of engineering solutions in the medical field specifically. These two fields of study are typically both covered when you decide to pursue an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering. The programs combine physics, chemistry, and engineering to better understand how living systems function and to create actual systems to improve the life sciences. Biomedical engineering is an ideal field for physical-science, biology, and math students who are good at visualizing complex processes, perform with intense precision, have an interest in medicine, and possess the ability to think critically and solve problems.

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering is a broad and versatile field, incorporating aspects of engineering, physics, and materials science to create, design, analyze, develop, and maintain mechanical systems. Mechanical engineering involves the design, production, as well as the operation of machinery, and mechanical engineers must be well-versed in all aspects of its focus. Every human-made object with moving parts incorporates principles of mechanical engineering and is a huge part of our world. Their education is focused on learning about forces and motion in order to build things that our society uses every day involving aspects of our society like transportation, the environment, health, and energy.

We know this can be a lot to take in because there are so many options. What we’ve found with our students is that certain personality types correlate well with certain disciplines. If you want to talk through which major or concentration is best suited for you, give us a call.