Deciding that you want to study engineering is exciting, but it’s also a bit intimidating. Here we give you a breakdown of the main types of engineering and what you can expect.
Engineering is an extensive profession, covering a wide range of applications and industries. Because of this, it has had to be broken up into many different branches. Engineering has traditionally been broken up into four main categories: mechanical, civil, chemical and electrical. However, as the technological world progresses, more branches of engineering are constantly being defined.
With so many options to choose from, it might be difficult for you to know which type of engineering is best for you. The best way for you to choose which engineering degree is most suitable to you is to realise which branch most excites you. All engineering is math-based and all of the branches involve a lot of problem solving. Choosing which kind of problems you want to solve and which industry you’d most like to work in is the best way to choose your degree. Engineering degrees are notoriously difficult, so choosing the one that interests you will make it easier for you stay motivated and committed during your course and help you find a career that you will enjoy. Job shadowing is a great way to get a feel for each industry, helping you make an informed decision.
Here’s a rundown of the various types of engineering you’ll find at South African tertiary institutions:
Mechanical engineering is the oldest and most established branch of engineering. Mechanical engineering focuses on the design, construction and maintenance of mechanical systems such as cars, airplanes and pretty much anything with moving parts. For example, a popular sub-branch of mechanical engineering is aeronautical engineering. In this sub-branch your focus is on the design of airplanes.
Your degree will be focused on statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, and technical drawing.
Civil engineering is the designing and building of structures that comprise the built environment. As a civil engineer, your job would be to oversee the construction of infrastructure such as buildings, roads, bridges, pipelines, railways etc. Your studies will focus on statics and the science of the materials used to build these structures.
Everything we encounter in the physical world is made up of chemicals. Chemical engineers apply a combination of engineering problem solving and scientific theory to create new materials, medicines, fuels and other new chemical technologies. Chemical engineering is the most theoretical branch of engineering as you are working on a molecular scale.
Electronic and electrical engineers tend to be involved in projects that are at the forefront of technological innovation. This means everything from computers and cellphones, to medical imaging and communication. The main difference between electrical and electronic engineering is scale. Electronic engineers work on a smaller scale such as circuit boards, while electrical engineers will deal with electricity on a larger scale (like electric motors and power grids).
Another popular branch of electronic engineering is computer engineering. This course will be more programming (writing the code for computer programs) intensive than electronic engineering. Mechatronic engineering is an emerging field which is a combination of electronic and mechanical engineering.
This engineering field focuses on extracting minerals and metals from the Earth. These engineers try and optimise mine efficiency while inflicting minimal environmental impact. Mining engineering is associated with other fields of science – such as geology, metallurgy and surveying. Because of our rich natural resources, mining engineering is very popular in South Africa. There are also many bursaries available for students who choose to study mining engineering.
There are many more branches of engineering, but they will often fall under these five broader categories. If you find one of these categories more appealing than the others, it might be worth your while to look into the other sub-branch of the category. Mining engineering is not the only kind of engineering that has many bursary options. South African engineering qualifications are internationally recognised and engineers are always in high demand because of their unique combination of problem-solving skills and technical abilities, this means that bursaries are available throughout South Africa.
Choosing to study engineering is more complicated than choosing what kind of engineering you want to study. You also need to decide what kind of engineering qualification you want. There are two main types of engineering qualifications: engineering degrees and engineering diplomas.
- Engineering degrees are offered at universities and usually take four to five years to complete, after which you are able to register as a professional engineer.
- An engineering diploma is offered at a university of technology or TVET college and allows you to qualify as an engineering technician and work in a broad range of engineering-related fields. These types of qualifications have different entry requirements:
- National Senior Certificate (Matric)
- Pure Mathematics (70-80% – APS level 6)
- Physical Sciences (70-80% – APS level 6)
- English or Afrikaans (60-70% – APS level 5)
- National Senior Certificate (Matric) with Pure Maths or
- N3 Certificate in Engineering Studies (to complete your N3 certificate you will need to complete your N1 and N2 certificates)
Each of these qualifications has its own benefits, so you should make your decision based on which one is best suited to you.
Central Technical College
Central Technical College (CTC), is a TVET college that offers a range of engineering qualifications – from National Certificates to National Diplomas. CTC offers both full-time and part-time courses and you can choose to study at CTC with any level of education – that is a Grade 9 or higher. CTC offers four National Diplomas in engineering, namely:
- Mechanical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
These courses will take between two and three years to complete, along with an extra 18 months of in-service training, before you are able to qualify. At CTC you will study subjects like mathematics and science that will prepare you to be a successful professional in the engineering world.
Deciding you want to study engineering is a big decision; engineering qualifications are extremely difficult as they are both theoretically challenging and practically intensive. However, having an engineering qualification will make you a highly respected professional. Becoming qualified as an engineer will give you all of the skills you will need to have a long, successful and lucrative career.
If you’re thinking about studying engineering, but you’re not sure what the degree entails, take a look at our student accounts of what it is like to study engineering. These should give you an accurate idea of what you can expect from an engineering degree, from a student’s perspective, which will help you make an informed decision about whether the degree is right for you.