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Mechanical Engineering vs. Civil Engineering: What’s the Difference?

Written By: Anna Lucas

Engineering is one of the most sought after careers nowadays, but picking a field of engineering can be difficult. If you are like me, and prefer the more manual aspects of engineering, such as designing products, putting things together, and seeing how they work, then your best disciplines of engineering are probably civil or mechanical engineering.

But what is the difference between the two? If they both are focused on building, and how to design, plan, and run large projects, then what is the huge difference between them both that forces them to become separate fields? Well, in short, civil engineers focus on buildings and infrastructure such as roads, while mechanical engineers design and improve any physical component, structure, or assembly as well as manufacturing processes and associated equipment. However, there are still some extra key features that dissociate one from the other, such as:

1. What You Study

In order to become any kind of engineer, you need a degree in the specific field of engineering you are hoping to go into. And, one major difference between mechanical and civil engineering is what you study while getting these degrees. Mechanical engineering majors learn about motion and energy, and study fluid, solid and thermal mechanics. Mechanical engineers spend more time in labs during their degree, which allows them to develop problem-solving skills and evaluate and design products. A civil engineering degree is much more math based, as you learn mathematics and physical science to solve real-world problems specifically in commerce and industry.

2. Your Workplace

Another major difference between mechanical engineering and civil engineering is their workplaces. Civil engineers are usually focused in their office space or on-site. In other words, Civil engineers are either on-site, meaning they are physically located in the space their project is taking place, or they are in an office space doing calculations or making drawings/plans. Mechanical engineers on the other hand, are much more hands on. Although mechanical engineers do sometimes occupy an office space when planning their designs, or doing calculations, once this aspect is done, the work is completely hands on from there. Mechanical engineers usually work in some kind of workshop where they have access to power tools such as power drills or circular saws, use 3D printers or laser cutters, shape products by hand, and create a design for a working product that is exactly the way it is in their head.

3. Your Salary

Although salary should not be something you are focused on when choosing your field of engineers, as all engineering disciplines pay well and it's better to be committed to a field you love that pays less than a field you hate that pays more, it is still something that majorly differentiates between civil and mechanical engineering. In general, it's been found that Mechanical engineers are paid slightly more than civil engineers on average. According to, mechanical engineers are paid an average of $95,029/year while civil engineers are paid an average of $87,201/year. Of course, these are both very high paying jobs, both at least $35,000/year over the average American salary.

4. Team work vs. Individual work

Another major difference between these two types of engineering is the type of collaboration you have access to. Typically, in a civil engineer’s workplace, engineers do not collaborate with other engineers, and the majority of projects in this field only hire one civil engineer to plan and oversee the entire project. This can be a good thing because it gives the engineer more freedom when it comes to their projects, however it can also make things difficult as these engineers have no one to bounce ideas off of, or to ask for help if they encounter a problem. On the other hand, mechanical engineers commonly collaborate with not only other mechanical engineers, but also electrical and robotics engineers to improve their designs and help them with automation. This can be good as you have lots of people to combine resources and knowledge with, but it can also be a liability for a much longer development and assembly process.

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