How to Become an Agricultural Engineer
Agricultural engineers need a bachelor’s degree, preferably in agricultural engineering or biological engineering.
Agricultural engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in agricultural engineering or biological engineering. Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative-education engineering programs at universities are valuable as well.
Students who are interested in studying agricultural engineering will benefit from taking high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.
Entry-level jobs in agricultural engineering require a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programs typically are 4-year programs that include classroom, laboratory, and field studies in areas such as science, mathematics, and engineering principles. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative programs that allow students to gain practical experience while completing their education.
ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredits programs in agricultural engineering.
Listening skills. Agricultural engineers must listen to and seek out information from clients, workers, and other professionals working on a project. Furthermore, they must be able to address the concerns of those who will be using the systems and solutions they design.
Math skills. Agricultural engineers use the principals of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Problem-solving skills. Agricultural engineers work on problems affecting many different aspects of agricultural production, from problems requiring the design of safer equipment for food processing to water erosion and control problems. To solve these problems, agricultural engineers must be able to apply general principles of engineering to new circumstances.
Systems analysis. Because agricultural engineers sometimes design systems that are part of a larger agricultural or environmental system, they must be able to propose solutions that interact well with other workers, machinery and equipment, and the environment.
Teamwork. Agricultural engineers must be able to work with others in designing solutions involving biological, mechanical, or environmental dimensions. They must be able to work with, and accept feedback from, people from a variety of backgrounds such as agronomy, animal sciences, genetics, and horticulture.
Agricultural engineers who offer their services directly to the public must have a license. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). Licensure generally requires
- A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken after earning a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After getting suitable work experience, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.
Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their license. Most states recognize licensure from other states, if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements.
Beginning engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. As they gain knowledge and experience, beginning engineers move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, agricultural engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions or sales work.
Agricultural engineers who go into sales use their engineering background to discuss a product's technical aspects with potential buyers and help in product planning, installation, and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.