Engineering is a field that includes careers in diverse areas, from medicine to oil extraction to mining to agriculture, according to the Engineering Your Future website. A bachelor's degree is the usual educational requirement for employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A few engineering specialties stand out because of higher-than-average salaries or high demand.
The Bottom Rung
Mining and geological engineers create systems to extract minerals, metals and gems. Mining engineering is a relatively small field -- the BLS reports only 7,640 mining and geological engineers in the U.S. in 2012. The average salary for mining engineers in 2012 was $91,250. Electrical and electronic engineers design, develop, test and supervise the manufacture of equipment such as radar and communication systems, GPS devices and generators. Electrical engineers were one of the most numerous groups -- 160,560 in 2012, according to the BLS -- with an average salary of $91,810. In the closely related field of electronic engineering, the average salary was $95,250 in 2012.
Climbing the Engineering Ladder
Chemical engineers use chemistry to design, modify or test fuel, drugs, food and other products, as well as work processes for factories that make these products. Chemical engineers earned $102,270 in 2012, according to the BLS. Aircraft, spacecraft, missiles and satellites are designed and tested by aerospace engineers. Aerospace engineers took home $104,810 in 2012. Computer chips, circuit boards and routers are the province of computer engineers. Computer hardware engineers made $103,980 in 2012. Nuclear engineers design and develop equipment, processes and systems to allow people to obtain the benefits of radioactive materials. Nuclear engineers earned $107,140 in 2012.
Engineers in Demand
Environmental engineers combine engineering principles, biology, soil science and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems such as water and air pollution, according to the BLS. The average salary for these engineers was $85,140 in 2012 and the projected job growth was higher than for most engineering careers, at 22 percent through 2020. Biomedical engineers design solutions to biological or medical problems to improve patient care. The BLS notes a projected growth rate of 65 percent through 2020 and an average annual salary of $91,200.
The Top Spot
Petroleum engineers design ways to find new oil fields or extract more oil from existing fields. Projected job growth will be about 17 percent through 2020, according to the BLS, and the average annual salary was $147,470 in 2012. However, a July 2013 article in “CNN Money” reports the shale oil boom is drawing engineers from other fields, as demand for this occupation is currently outstripping supply all over the world. Positions are hard to fill, which is driving up salaries and creating opportunities, especially for experienced engineers. The combination of factors earns petroleum engineering the top spot on the list of early 21st century engineering occupations.