Making machines work
Mechanical engineering is the second most popular field for engineering students, topped only by civil engineering. At its most basic, mechanical engineering is the design, testing and manufacturing of machines. This is a very broad description, and yet it's fitting because the field itself is very broad. A mechanical engineer may be involved with machines of all different kinds, from manufacturing to processing, and even space travel. On a more basic level, if you've ever used a machine (such as a car, a generator, a power tool, a fridge, furnace or an air conditioner) you can thank a mechanical engineer!
As is common in many fields, mechanical engineers are primarily problem solvers and innovators. They work to make machines as efficient and easy to use as possible, and are also involved in analyzing and organizing manufacturing processes. Their goal is to address any inefficiencies and use any available technology (or perhaps even inventing some new processes) to keep things moving smoothly. In essence, the job is to implement continual improvements where necessity dictates.
Mechanical engineers aren't only found in the design and implementation fields - the education and creative spirit of the profession opens a doors in many other industries! Some common positions you might find available include sales, consultation and management. (However, these positions require more interpersonal and communication skills then some of the more design focused fields.)
Since mechanical engineering is such a broad category, it's difficult to determine what each individual student can expect. Career issues such as responsibilities, hours, locations and salary all depend on what field you decide to specialize in and what type of company you work for.
On average, a properly trained mechanical engineer will be able to hold out for a high-paying job. Most career paths lead to a salary range that surpasses the $60 000 a year range - particularly if you find yourself working for the federal government. Some of the lower salaried positions may offer a wage in the $50 000 a year range.
As a mechanical engineer you have quite a bit of leverage on your side when it comes to job opportunities - there are a lot of positions available and not enough qualified people to fill them. Most industries are in need of the knowledge a mechanical engineer can bring to their processes, and are willing to pay in order to keep their businesses competitive. This means you can likely choose your location and your industry based on your own personal interests, rather than necessity.