Mechanical Engineering vs. Civil Engineering: See Their Differences

There seem to be many disciplines under engineering, ranging from electrical engineering to computer engineering, aeronautical engineering, and so on.

However, mechanical engineering and civil engineering tend to be seen as the same a lot, this might be because they are not very different from one another. Though both fields involve designing and constructing products, there are clear distinctions between them.

In considering your career option in the engineering field, it’s important to understand their individual duties and requirements so you can pursue the right career.

That’s why in this article, I’ll walk you through the definition of both mechanical engineering and civil engineering, their similarities as well as differences, and which is better and which is harder.

What is mechanical engineering?

Mechanical engineering is the field of engineering that deals with moving objects and systems. It is a profession that uses science, math, and physics to construct, fix, design, and maintain machines and other mechanical systems. 

A mechanical engineer’s job description might include creating designs and plans, repairing faulty equipment, analyzing designs for flaws, and developing and testing prototypes.

What is civil engineering?

Civil engineering has to do with building environments or structures, such as bridges, roads, and other infrastructures that benefit the community. It is a profession that focuses on building, designing, and maintaining infrastructure and projects.

They work on projects such as roads, bridges, airports, building sites, canals, dams, stormwater management, and many more.

Their job responsibilities might include designing plans for projects, monitoring construction, reviewing and understanding building regulations, etc.

Similarities between mechanical engineering and civil engineering

Civil engineering and mechanical engineering are two of the oldest and most popular engineering branches. Many of the introductory classes for each degree are very much alike during a student’s freshman and sophomore years.

One major similarity between these two fields is that they are both charged with the responsibility of transforming concepts and designs into products.

Both fields require the skill of analyzing, understanding maths, problem-solving, and a great capacity to work with team members.

Teamwork skills help for extensive collaboration with other teams to ensure that projects meet specifications and regulations as well as troubleshoot challenges when things don’t go according to plan.

Additionally, you’ll analyze and test data to predict whether a product will function properly and whether it will be cost-effective.

Differences between Mechanical engineering and Civil engineering

Here are the key differences between Mechanical engineering and Civil engineering:

1. Projects

The project types between civil engineers and mechanical engineers vary by size and scope. Mechanical engineers focus on machines, cars, tools, weapons, etc. while civil engineers work on buildings and infrastructure such as dams, harbors, bridges, and roads.

Mechanical engineer design and improve physical components, and structures, and assemble equipment. They majorly focus on building something from scratch, inventing or reinventing things.

On the other hand, civil engineers focus on objects’ structure and appearance, they typically work on established structures and concepts. They test materials’ durability and the foundation’s ability to support a structure.

2. Education

Mechanical engineering and civil engineering are four years bachelor’s degree courses. The subjects are often similar in the first and second year of college, however, the content change completely in subsequent years.

A civil engineering curriculum may include fluid mechanics, civil engineering technology, hydraulics, and structural design, in addition to maths, physics, and basic engineering principles that are general in most engineering fields.

Mechanical engineers on the other hand may study subjects like computer science and programming, control systems, manufacturing process, electromechanics, mechanical systems and design, and robotics.

3. Team members

Mechanical engineers and civil engineers need to collaborate with other teams to carry out their respective responsibilities. Civil engineers often work with professionals such as architects, surveyors, urban planners, and construction managers.

Conversely, mechanical engineers work primarily with other professional engineers such as chemical engineers, material engineers, petroleum engineers, industrial engineers, computer engineers, and so on.

4. Work environment

Both professionals work in the office and visit job sites. But a civil engineer is likely to spend more time supervising projects or traveling between job sites.

On the other hand, mechanical engineers use more creativity when constructing complex designs. They do more reasoning and critical thinking and are very innovative.

Whereas, as a civil engineer, you follow a clear and well-accepted procedure for working on projects. They are more interested in overseeing projects and leading other team members.

5. Licenses

The fields have separate licensure exams to pass as well. Most mechanical engineers do not pursue licensing since it is generally not required.

They may choose to complete the Fundamentals of Engineering/PE Exam in certain situations. In contrast, civil engineers need to pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

6. Salary

Engineers generally earn a good living. Although, your earning potential as an engineer varies by location, level of experience and expertise, number of degrees earned, and the employer or company you work for.

But a mechanical engineer makes an estimated average of about $85,345 annually, while a civil engineer earns an estimated average of about $87,318 every year.

7. Career path

Mechanical engineers have the opportunity to extend their knowledge throughout their careers. They can easily transfer into any other engineering field than civil engineering.

As a mechanical engineer, you can take up jobs like aerospace engineering, automotive engineering, biomedical engineering, construction engineering, etc

Whereas civil engineers typically specialize in one area, and after working many years on job sites and in offices, they might leave the industry to teach engineering or do research.

Which is harder: mechanical engineering or civil engineering?

Mechanical and civil engineering are difficult degrees and you must work very hard to succeed in them. However, mechanical engineering is slightly more difficult since it has a broader curriculum, tougher courses, and involves more mathematics.

Civil engineering is a very focused and concentrated field. It is an excellent field for someone who loves to design, build, and maintain physical structures. It involves lots of studying to pass.

But mechanical engineers have more learning to do on their job since it is a broader field than civil engineering.

Which is better: mechanical engineering or civil engineering?

To address the issue of which is better between mechanical engineering and civil engineering, we would have to look at it relatively in terms of course complexity, job opportunity, and salary.

1. Course complexity

Comparatively, mechanical engineering can be said to be better than civil engineering because it is a vast subject that offers numerous branches.

When it comes to simplicity, civil engineering is considered a much simpler course to learn and master.

2. Job opportunities

With better job opportunities in local and government projects, civil engineering can be a perfect choice for people who aren’t too keen to leave their city for a job.

Mechanical engineering however can help you opt for the more reliable jobs that are hard to get otherwise. You can also go for jobs abroad after pursuing engineering in the mechanical stream.

3. Salary

Mechanical engineers can be said to earn a little less than civil engineers as seen above. Although, this would depend on the location, level of experience, and other factors.

But if you compare a mechanical engineer and a civil engineer both with the same level of experience, degree, and location, a civil engineer is likely to earn more.


Can a mechanical engineer work as a civil engineer?

Since there are so many similarities between these two fields, you can switch from mechanical to civil engineering. But you’ll need to obtain relevant licenses in your new field, and probably complete additional coursework as well. 

Can a civil engineer work as a mechanical engineer?

A civil engineer can become a mechanical engineer; however, you must take further core courses and develop an understanding of mechanics and mechanical processes.


Mechanical and civil engineering are both lucrative jobs in the engineering field. They both require a lot of effort and hard work in order to excel.

Choosing your field would be based on which you have more interest and passion. Before you decide, make thorough research on the requirements to study either of the courses so you don’t end up pursuing what you completely do not have an interest in.

If you already know what you want, you should begin to research the best institutions to study the course and the requirements needed for acceptance.

You may check out the article on what higher education is to know what to expect in college or university.

I hope this article helped. Thanks for reading.