Automotive Career Planning: Exploring Higher Education Opportunities


Deciding what career to seize is a major part of growing up. For some, a career path is decided for them by following in their parents’ footsteps. For others, the decision isn’t as easy, and may require a bit more research. Regardless, knowing the opportunities and resources that are out there is vital to success. For that reason, we decided to show you guys some of the options available for young adults (and seasoned veterans as well), looking to become part of the automotive industry.


Exploring an automotive career is much more than just wrenching. Check out some of the automotive training opportunities young adults have currently in the industry below. Image: Ohio Tech

When it comes to automotive education, there are many higher-education programs across the country that are available. But, with declining resources and a lack of funding in many high schools, students with a passion for the automotive world may not get the exposure that would help propel them to a successful automotive career. Fortunately, programs like the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow and Hot Rod High USA are helping to change that.


The Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge gives high school students a challenging platform to explore their automotive passions. Image: Hot Rodders of Tomorrow

Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge

Started in 2008, the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge gives teams of high school students the opportunity to get their hands dirty, while competing against other teams to see who can disassemble and then reassemble a modern engine the quickest. Teams consist of five students from registered schools that practice tear-down and build-up of an engine, and then travel to specific qualifying events.

First, second, and third place teams from each qualifying session move on to the “Showdown at SEMA” finals at the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas each November. There they compete against other top teams from across the country for hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarship money from the organization’s sponsors, OTC Tools, the University of Northern Ohio (UNOH), Universal Technical Institute (UTI), and the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology (SAM).


The top Engine Challenge teams at each event move on to the finals, known as the Showdown at SEMA, which takes place at the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Image: Hot Rodders of Tomorrow

Only five high school teams competed in the first Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge in 2008, but in 2015, over 150 teams of high-schoolers, and more than 500 individual students competed for bragging rights, experience, and money for their higher education goals. And, 2016 is already proving to have even more teams of motivated automotive enthusiasts attending qualifying events, and competing for their chance to attend the Showdown at SEMA in just a few months.


Started by automotive enthusiast Fred Beyer, Hot Rod High USA pairs with automotive shop classes to give high school kids the opportunity to work on some stellar show cars. Image: Hot Rod High USA

Hot Rod High USA

The Hot Rod High USA program was developed by hot rod builder Fred Beyer in the year 2000. His idea behind the program was to partner with secondary schools, and give high school shop students the opportunity to be part of building hot rods, while helping them “build pride in their work, and develop a high level of craftsmanship.”

Financial costs of the build are handled by the car owner, with the high school students enrolled in the program involved in everything from body work and painting, engine blueprinting and assembly, and fabrication of custom components. The program works with established local shops and engine builders to give the students access to the most state-of-the-art equipment, and most knowledgeable mentors in their field. Since the year 2000, six car builds have been completed and revealed at the Classic VICA Rock & Roll Car Show in Shawano, Wisconsin.


Once each Hot Rod High USA car is finished, it makes its show circuit debut before being taken home by its proud owner. Image: Hot Rod High USA

With programs like Hot Rodders of Tomorrow and Hot Rod High USA giving high school students the opportunity to take their knowledge and passion for the automotive world one step further, higher education entities have also stepped up their game. Nearly every four-year university has some sort of mechanical engineering, automotive technologies, or fuel technologies program, while dozens of vocational schools exist with programs ranging from a single semester to four-year degrees for automotive careers.

School of Automotive Machinists & Technology (SAM Tech)

When it comes to post-secondary education in the automotive world, the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology is one of the premiere education institutes for high performance careers. Based in Houston, Texas, the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology, also known as SAM Tech, is dedicated to giving students the skill set for careers involving machining and building high-performance engines. With programs like CNC-machining, engine machining, and EFI tuning, students that graduate from SAM Tech can work as engine builders, and even be part of high-profile race teams.


If you’re looking for an education geared toward performance engine building, machining and tuning, SAM Tech is a definite to check out! Image: School of Automotive Machinists & Technology

“Our graduates are hired by the best engine builders in the world, such as Hendrick Motorsports, Elite Performance, Kalitta Motorsports, and Roush Industries, to name a few,” Brian Massingill, SAM Tech’s director of student motorsports told us. “Some of our graduates are also employed by some of the top performance manufactures, including Wiseco, CP-Carrillo, Wilson Manifolds, and Comp Cams.”

Massingill continued, “Unlike mechanic schools, we are not training students to work in a service department at a dealership or independent garage,” Massingill explained. “Rather, we are training individuals in performance engine machining/building, along with our other programs.” 


Potential students must first demonstrate their mechanical skills by taking and passing the Bennett Mechanical Comprehension Test before being admitted to the school. Image: School of Automotive Machinists & Technology

In order to study at SAM Tech, potential students must take and pass the Bennett Mechanical ComprehensionWhen admitted, students can then go on to study in the school’s various programs and earn an Associates of Applied Sciences degree. Students that attend SAM Tech range from those just out of high school to “seasoned” individuals looking to change careers. 

An individual that wants to have a career in the motorsports industry can truly benefit from attending and taking advantage of the training we offer – Brian Massingill

If you’re looking for a career in the performance automotive world, Massingill expresses the value of doing research into the schools you might attend, and seeing what they have to offer. Look for programs that most closely relate to your own career goals. If a program doesn’t seem right for you, there’s no harm in looking elsewhere for a better fit.

“An individual that wants to have a career in the motorsports industry can truly benefit from attending and taking advantage of the training we offer,” Massingill concluded. “Compared to a typical college, we are a small and close-knit group, which lends itself very well to the depth and results of our training.  The owners of the school, who personally work, teach, and race with the students, care deeply about our students and our industry. They take a great deal of pride in the success of their graduates.”


One of the biggest names in post-secondary automotive education has to be WyoTech. With National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF)-accredited programs in Automotive Technology, Diesel Technology, and Collision/Refinishing Technology, WyoTech offers training using the latest equipment from all areas of the automotive industry.

Specialty programs offered by the school, including Motorsports Chassis Fabrication, High Performance Powertrains, Street Rod and Custom Fabrication, and even Trim and Upholstery, give students the opportunity to have a well-rounded education that covers every aspect of a career in building, servicing, restoring, and even racing the vehicles of their dreams.


WyoTech’s  NATEF-accredited programs in Automotive, diesel and collision/refinishing technologies are some of the best accelerated automotive programs available. Image: WyoTech

“Wyotech takes great pride in serving not only its students, but also the industry,” Caleb Perriton, campus director and academic dean of WyoTech Laramie, told us in a recent interview. “We have a saying on our campus that every employee has the same job description: to help get our students a career.”

We have a saying on our campus that every employee has the same job description: to help get our students a career. – Caleb Perriton

“We feel it is a partnership with our students, and we place a tremendous priority on three things: providing a solid technical foundation with our curriculum; teaching the importance of learning now and into the future, as they will be working in an industry that is rapidly advancing in technology every year; and guiding them to be professionals — we have a strict attendance policy, dress code, and student code of conduct.”

In addition to the training, Perriton tells us that the school invests a lot of time and resources “building relationships with employers across the country that seek to hire [WyoTech] graduates.” In 2015, the WyoTech-Laramie campus was host to over 400 employers looking to hire graduates of the school’s various programs.

Partners like Mazda, MSD, Peterbilt, Eaton, SCT, Horsepower TV, Dynojet, Edelbrock, Bridgestone, Penske, Cummins, COMP Cams and many more, make a WyoTech education a prestigious mark in the industry.


From chassis fabrication to diagnostics, WyoTech has programs for every type of automotive career you could want. Image: WyoTech

“Qualified technicians are in high-demand, and it is a very rewarding career path that is fun, challenging, and can be very lucrative,” Perriton told us. “The stereotype of being a mechanic/technician needs to change. Many people may perceive it as a dirty job that anybody can do, when in reality it is a very technical job that needs bright minds combined with mechanical aptitude. The training can provide lifelong stability in multiple aspects of the industry, far beyond the role of technician.”

Celebrating 50 years of education this year, WyoTech is thriving, offering skilled training in various areas of the high-demand automotive industry. Perriton urges young adults looking for a challenging, rewarding, and ultimately fun work life focused on vehicles to consider a career in automotive repair, and a WyoTech education.

Lincoln Technical Institute

With automotive programs as well as programs for other highly specific vocations like health sciences and culinary arts, Lincoln Technical Institute prides itself on providing hands-on career training. Lincoln Tech offers students opportunities to work with industry-leading companies and organizations to enhance their educational experience, and potentially cultivate working relationships that will lead to careers after graduation.


At Lincoln Tech, it’s not just about technical training, but also developing skills that will aid in situations students will experience in their adult lives. Image: Lincoln Tech

“What sets the Lincoln Tech program apart is its emphasis on in-demand automotive skills that help our graduates overcome the nation’s skills gap,” Lou Vendrell, Lincoln Tech’s corporate director of product development, told us. “Employers tell us they can’t find enough candidates with the specific skills they need to fill open positions on their teams, and we’ve designed our courses around that.


Competitions, hands-on challenges and a mixture of group and individual projects give Lincoln Tech students an all-encompassing education. Image: Lincoln Tech

Ultimately our goal at Lincoln Tech is the professional success and personal satisfaction of each graduate. – Lou Vendrell

Our students train on industry-preferred tools from Matco, and our curriculum incorporates the CDX platform, so students know they’re getting the most up-to-date training available.” Lincoln Tech is also the official training school for the NHRA. “Ultimately, our goal at Lincoln Tech is the professional success and personal satisfaction of each graduate,” Vendrell explained. “Our schools cannot succeed unless our students succeed, and by their success we strengthen the work forces of our training partners. Employers trust and hire Lincoln Tech grads.”

“Overall, our company has a 70-year history of career training, and among our auto, skilled trades, and healthcare training programs, we have graduated more than 250,000 skilled professionals.”


Numerous student-driven opportunities such as student SAE Formula, Baja and Aero design teams set Kettering University apart. Image: Kettering University

Kettering University

Originally known as The School of Automobile Trades and later renamed General Motors Institute (in 1926), Kettering University has been providing automotive related education since 1919.

“Kettering University students are uniquely prepared for [the automotive] industry, because of our education model,” Kip Darcy, vice president for marketing, communication, and enrollment at Kettering University, explained to us. “Our students are immersed in rigorous, hands-on academic and lab experiences on campus, then they rotate into consequential, paid, multi-year co-op positions with our more than 600 industry partners in alternating terms throughout their undergraduate education. What is produced from that preparation are graduates who are in high demand, because they start their careers with 2 1/2 years of professional experience. “Though the institute has broadened its curriculum to encompass many careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics over the years, training in automotive technologies remains a huge part of Kettering’s offerings.


Students at Kettering get to work with students in various other disciplines for projects, homework and even their senior keystone, giving them a better understanding of how each discipline plays a role in the automotive industry. Image: Kettering University

To that effect, Kettering prides itself on providing multidisciplinary education, giving students in all areas of engineering and mechanical-related education the ability to work closely with students in other related programs. This means a more well-rounded introduction to the automotive industry, as well as an education in the roles that other disciplines play in an automotive career – an insight Darcy refers to as “immense” in post-secondary automotive education.

“The auto industry is rapidly changing, and there are opportunities for students of all science and engineering backgrounds – computer science and computer engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering – there are so many different ways to make an impact in the industry right now, and students should find opportunities to learn about all of those potential career paths,” explained Darcy.

Crash tests during class? At Kettering, experiences like this are standard! Image: Wikipedia

Kettering trains some of the top mechanical and automotive engineering professionals in the country. Students not only get stellar educational opportunities at Kettering, they also benefit from small class sizes.

“We are consistently rated among the best in the country for return on investment in evaluations from The Economist,, and the U.S. Department of Education, among others,” Darcy told us. “Our Mechanical Engineering program is among the 10 best in the country according to U.S. News and World Report, and in 2014, Automobile Magazine mentioned Kettering among five universities in the country that students interested in breaking into the auto industry should attend.”


A school based on building hot rods, Hot Rod Institute narrows in on the finite details of traditional and custom building procedures. Image: Hot Rod Institute

Hot Rod Institute

While some education programs span a wide variety of automotive fields from diesel tech to race team management, the Hot Rod Institute keeps a focus on the classics, with training specific to the hot rod and specialty automotive industries. But, this doesn’t mean that students don’t receive training in new technologies and practices. At Hot Rod Institute, it’s all about hands-on experience and adequately preparing students for direct entry into automotive careers upon completion of the program.

Ohio Technical College

With a focus on modern mechanics, Ohio Technical College is dedicated to “training for the real world.” This means students learn from industry professionals that are some of the most highly trained in their fields. Programs ranging from car restoration to alternative fuel vehicles, give potential students a wide array of opportunities for an interesting career in the automotive world.


Whether you’re into old-school rides or modern machines, Ohio Technical College’s education programs give you the training and real-world experience you need for a fulfilling automotive career! Image: Ohio Tech

There are countless trade schools, universities, colleges, and post-secondary training programs offered in the United States if you’re looking to start a career in the automotive world. The best thing you can do is decide which program or school is right for you by doing your research, narrow down what kind of career you’d like to have in the automotive world, and go with an accredited education.

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About the author

Lindsey Fisher

Lindsey is a freelance writer and lover of anything with a rumble. Hot rods, muscle cars, motorcycles - she's owned and driven it all. When she's not busy writing about them, she's out in her garage wrenching away. Who doesn't love a tech-savy gal that knows her way around a garage?
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