Electrical Engineering Degrees & Schools Guide

Associate, Bachelor's & Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering Options & Salary

What Does a Career in Electrical Engineering Entail?


If you enjoy tinkering with electrical equipment and have an aptitude for math you might consider becoming an electrical engineer. Electrical engineering encompasses the design, creation, and testing of anything that uses electricity and might specialize in motors, communication systems, navigation systems, and lighting in virtually every industry from manufacturing to construction.

Although you'll need a Bachelor's degree to become an electrical engineer you might enter the field as an electrical technician with an associate's degree. Once you have experience you should plan to earn your Professional Engineer (PE) license in order to show your expertise and qualify for the best positions.

Because electrical engineering covers such a vast range of areas, you should plan on choosing a specialized area as soon as you are familiar with the careers available. Electrical engineers in all fields can expect to enjoy an excellent salary but there may be wide ranges in pay across specific occupations.

Engineering Degrees & Career Paths


successful_electrical_engineering_career

Components of a Successful Career in Electrical Engineering

Your first step in an electrical engineering career should be to decide what type of work you'd enjoy so you can choose the appropriate bachelor's degree program. Your school of choice will probably offer a general electrical engineering program, but you might also find degrees in electrical engineering technology, electronics engineering, or something similar are more interesting.

Because experience is vital to a successful electrical engineering career, you should look for a program that includes an internship or similar work experience before graduation. Although you will qualify for entry level positions with a bachelor's degree you should have a long-term plan of earning first your license and then your Master's degree in order to become top in your field. This will allow you to choose the best positions and earn the highest salaries in your chosen field.

Steps to Earn Your Electrical Engineering Degree


As mentioned above you can enter the field as an electrical technician with an associate's degree, which may be your best choice if you need employment as soon as possible. An associate's requires you to complete 60 credit hours, which includes your basic core classes such as English and math as well as introductory courses that will give you a solid foundation of electrical engineering knowledge.

A bachelor's degree will require at least an additional 60 hours. Your coursework will include advanced electrical classes as well as advanced math courses and your final two semesters will typically be more focused on your chosen area of specialization.

If you decide to continue your education to earn a master's degree you can expect another 36 to 54 required semester hours. A master's degree in electrical engineering will be highly specialized according to your chosen profession. Many enter the field of electrical engineering with a bachelor's degree and earn their master's part-time by taking evening or online classes.

Typical Electrical Engineering Certifications Needed

electrical_engineering_certifications_needed Although there is no certification or licensure required to enter the field of electrical engineering, you should plan on acquiring a Professional Engineering license (PE) as soon as possible. A PE shows you have the degree, knowledge, and experience that employers seek in engineers.

Because a PE license requires experience, you may take an initial exam once you earn your Bachelor's degree and become an Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineering Intern (EI), which shows you have the knowledge required for a PE license. As soon as you have experience on the job, usually four years, you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam and become a PE.

Licensure varies slightly from state to state but most states accept licensing from other states. A license allows you to oversee other engineers, provide services directly to the public, and sign off on electrical projects.

Academic Standards for an Electrical Engineering Degree

Most electrical engineering programs require enrolling students to have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 in order to qualify for the program, so if your high school record is less than stellar you might consider enrolling in an associate's program in order to be able to show an adequate GPA for entry into the bachelor's degree program.

During your education you should strive to keep your GPA as high as possible so you will qualify for entry into a master's degree program at a future time. You should also keep in mind that most employers require a transcript of grades as part of the hiring process and a lower GPA might make a difference in acquiring the job you really want.

Exam/Experience Needed for an Electrical Engineering Degree

exam_experience_needed_for_electrical_engineeringThe Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam is comprised of 80 questions you must answer within an eight-hour period. This exam is given twice a year and measures your competency in electrical engineering specific to your field. The registration and fee requirements vary from state to state so you should check with your state licensing agency during your final year of school.

Most states require you to have four years of experience before you can sit for the exam, so check with the licensing board to determine if you need more experience before you can take the PE exam.

Important Questions to Ask


How long does it take to earn an Electrical Engineering bachelor’s degree online?


The time it takes to earn your Bachelor's degree online will depend on how many college credits you already have and how many classes you take each semester. An Electrical Engineering Bachelor's degree is considered a four-year program, so if you a full class load you can expect to graduate in that time. If you take half as many classes it will take you approximately eight years, and if you already have an associate's degree you might graduate after two years of full-time attendance.

How much does an Electrical Engineering bachelor’s degree cost?


electrical_engineering_certifications_bachelor’s_degree_costThe cost of a Bachelor's degree can vary widely from school to school. According to the U.S. Department of Education the cost range is between $22,000 and $50,000; much or all of this can be covered by grants, scholarships, and student loans.

An important thing to remember is the above cost does not include the "hidden" costs such as books, lab fees, student fees, and transportation. Make sure you take these into consideration when factoring your education into your budget, so you're not caught short of funds in the middle of your degree.

Because scholarships and grants can cover your schooling costs, you should plan on setting aside at least an hour or two a week for finding and applying for those you qualify for.

Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?


While this may seem like a moot point, it is a valid question. Degree titles can vary from school to school, so check the curriculum of the programs in each school you are considering, making sure the major has the coursework you desire. For example, if you plan to specialize in electrical engineering technology, a degree titled Electrical Engineer might be as good as a specialized degree title if the same courses on technology are available.

How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?


Some schools focus on enrolling students but don't offer enough support for them to graduate in a timely manner. Check the school website for graduation rates; if you can't find them don't hesitate to contact the school and inquire or check online. A lower four-year graduation rate may be a sign of inadequate professors, an unrealistic curriculum, or a similar issue that may hinder your education.

What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?


electrical_engineering_accreditationAccreditation is the best way to make sure a school is legitimate. Check that your school of choice advertises regional or national accreditation and then check the listed accreditation website to be sure the school is listed. An accredited school has met the minimal educational standards and is a typical requirement for federal grants, loans, and scholarships.

In addition to regional accreditation you should look for a program that is vetted by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This is an industry standard and required by many employers and most state licensure boards as well as an entry requirement for master's degree programs.

Software, Technology & Skills Needed


electrical_engineering_skills

If you think of electrical engineering as a field that doesn't use computer technology, you’ll learn that the opposite is true. You'll need to learn electrical design programs such as computer aided design (CAD) as well as simulation software, digital prototyping programs, and engineering conversion and calculation tools. Depending on your chosen field of work, there will likely be several other programs you'll need to learn as part of your electrical engineering degree program.

Electrical Engineering Associate's Degree


Some students choose to begin their career in electrical engineering with an associate's degree due to a poor high school record, time constraints, convenience, or work scheduling conflicts. While you can't become an engineer with an associate's degree, you can enter the work field as a technician and gain valuable experience which will make your bachelor's degree coursework easier to complete. Look for a program that is approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), as most bachelor programs hold this as a requirement to accept credit transfers.

It's a good plan to check with your preferred bachelor's program schools for other transfer requirements before you enroll in an associate's degree program. Look for prerequisites for their third-year curriculum to verify your associate's degree program is a good fit for your future goals.

Your associate's degree program will include your core classes.

such as English and math as well as degree courses such as:


  • Computer Applications
  • Analog Electronics
  • Microprocessors
  • Electrical Machines
  • DC and AC Circuits

Electrical Engineering Bachelor's Degree


A four-year degree will prepare you for entry level jobs as an electrical engineer. You'll learn the practices and principles of engineering as well as the processes of designing and developing electrical systems and equipment such as those used in aircraft, automotive design, and manufacturing. You may also choose to specialize in a specific area such as communication systems, navigation systems, motors, and radar systems.

Because experience is a requirement of licensing, it's a good idea to choose a program that offers an internship or work experience as part of the curriculum. If you do, make sure the hours are accepted by your state licensing board before you choose that program.

Your bachelor's degree in electrical engineering will have more difficult classes as well as options to choose courses in a more specialized area such as power and energy systems, circuitry, or electromagnets.

Although each program will offer different classes you can expect to take classes such as:


  • AC/DC Electronics
  • Communication Systems
  • Communication Networks
  • Energy Conversion
  • Software-Defined Radio

Electrical Engineering Master's Degree


By the time you're ready to earn your master's degree, you will have experience in the field and a clear idea of what graduate study you plan to pursue. This is a fact because, unlike other programs, you often cannot enter an engineering master’s program without requisite experience. If your employment doesn't cover an area you think you'd prefer, it's a good idea to take one or more courses in different areas of electrical engineering technology to determine your preferred area of study.

There are many areas of specialization to choose from for a master's degree and, because the coursework is intense, you should familiarize yourself with as many areas as possible before you enroll.

Here are some examples of specialties for a Master's of Electrical Engineering:


  • Bioengineering
  • Magnetic Resonance Engineering
  • Microelectronics/Photonics
  • Nanotechnology
  • Remote Sensing and Space Science

While your master's coursework will focus on your area of choice, here are some examples of coursework at the graduate level:


  • Digital Signal Processing
  • Electro-optics
  • Principles of Electromagnetic Fields
  • Solid State Devices

Here are some examples of electrical engineering fields of study at the Bachelor's degree level:

Communications and Signal Processing


there are two main aspects to this specialty. Communications and networking cover how to effectively and efficiently deliver information from one place to another via various methods such as wireless networks, satellite communications, and high-speed networks. The other aspect is signal and image processing, which is the design and testing of systems and algorithms used to describe signals, reconstruct content, and extract information. Typical technical subjects are radar, sonar, image and speech processing, and information forensics.

Sample classes:


  • Multimedia Signal Processing
  • Communication Systems
  • Digital Signal Processing
  • Communication Networks
  • Communication Design Lab

Control Systems


electrical engineering in control systems focuses on the technical aspects and principles of stabilizing a physical quantity such as speed, temperature, or altitude over a period of time. Vehicle cruise controls, home thermostats, and airplane autopilots are all examples of control systems designed and maintained by electrical engineers. Newer areas in this field are autonomous vehicles and robots, and the field is expected to grow in conjunction with technology.

Sample courses:


  • Building Autonomous Robots
  • Control Systems
  • Control Systems Lab
  • Digital Control Systems

Power Systems


the area of power systems covers the control, generation, and distribution of electrical power. Motors, transformers, and generators are all examples of power systems currently in use; future expansion areas in this field are solar energy, renewable energy, the advancement of fusion energy, and high temperature superconductors.

Sample courses:


  • Electric Machines Lab
  • Power Systems
  • Power Electronics
  • Renewable Energy
  • Solar Energy Conversion

Chart of average degree costs in public and private schools:


Degree LevelAssociate’s Degree Range CostBachelor’s Degree Range CostMaster’s Degree Range Cost
Public School$7140$14,280$30,000
Private School$29,174$58,348$120,000

Average Electrical Engineer Salary


As with most professional fields your annual salary will depend on your level of education, your experience, where you live, and your occupation within the field. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2015 that the median annual wage for all electrical engineers was $93,010 with the lowest 10% earning $59,240 and the highest 10% earning $146,820. Considering the lowest earners are typically those with the least education and experience and the highest earners have the most, here's a look at Payscale's specific electrical engineering occupation wages:

Annual Median Salary by Occupation


OccupationEntry-Level Salary RangeMid-Career Salary RangeLate-Career Salary Range
Electrical Design Engineer$66,400$78,600$98,400
Electrical & Instrument Engineer$82,800$86,400$120,600
Electrical Test Engineer$65,900$77,900$81,100
Automation Engineer$68,200$80,500$89,700
Transmission-Line Engineer$67,300$89,500$119,900
Engineering Technician$48,600$53,900$64,000
Electrical Engineering Technologist$52,200$63,000$81,600

Electrical Engineering Scholarships


Electrical engineering degrees fall under the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) category and qualify for many types of educational scholarships and grants. Before you enroll in college, you should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)to apply for financial aid and set up a folder and bookmark system on your computer for scholarships and grants you might qualify for. Use your system to search for, apply to, and track the progress of any and all programs you apply to. While each scholarship will have different requirements, most will ask for you FAFSA information as part of the process. There are many websites dedicated to finding college funds; your FAFSA will be your means of entering your confidential information through a secure portal. You should also check state, county, and local sources for other opportunities to find funds to pay for your education. Here are some national scholarships you might qualify for:

  • The National SMART Grant
    Amount: Varies
    Deadline: FAFSA deadline

    The National SMART Grant is available to both undergrads and graduate students enrolled in an approved program; applicants must hold a minimum 3.0 GPA and be available to work in summer internship programs at Department of Defense labs. Besides full tuition and fees the grant offers a cash award, health insurance reimbursement, and job placement after graduation; a work obligation is required after graduation.

  • The National Science Foundation
    Amount: Various
    Deadline: FAFSA and school deadlines

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) offers a wide range of scholarships to STEM students; funds are applied for and distributed through your school financial aid office. Scholarships are awarded to students who demonstrate financial hardship as well as high academic talent; job placement is often offered after graduation.

  • The Power and Energy Society
    Amount: $2,000-$3,000
    Deadline: June 30

    The Power and Energy Society (PES) offers a PES Scholarship Plus Initiative for engineer students pursuing a career in the power and energy fields. Funds are distributed through the school financial aid office; recipients receive $2,000 for each of their first two years of school and $3,000 the third year.

  • SimpliSafe
    Amount: $1,000
    Deadline: Varies

    SimpliSafe is a tech startup committed to the advancement of the STEM fields and offers a $1,000 scholarship to two STEM students each year; the main requirements are a high GPA and a 500-word essay on about the greatest achievement of your life in relation to STEM or the moment you realized you wanted to pursue a career in a STEM field.

Professional Organizations


Throughout your education and career membership in professional organizations will be a valuable resource to your success in the field. You should plan on joining at least one as soon as you enroll in your program; many find it optimum to add membership to up to one additional organization per year as they progress through their degree. Here are a few of the most popular organizations for electrical engineers:

  • IEEE
  • IET
  • EPRI
  • ACM
  • ASEE
IEEE-logo

IEEE

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

The IEEE is the largest professional engineer group in the world and is dedicated to advancing technology in the field. Membership in IEEE offers technical information, the latest information on changes and advancements in the field, professional development tools, access to professional conferences and seminars, publications, and networking opportunities.

IET_logo

IET

The Institution of Engineering and Technology

the IET covers many fields of engineering and encourages students to join at an introductory rate. Your membership will include access to a digital library, mentorship, professional development tools, and a wide range of other benefits to advance your education and career.

EPRI_logo

EPRI

Electric Power Research Institute

The EPRI advances energy and environmental projects throughout the U.S. and explores ways to make power more affordable, reliable, safer, and sustainable. Membership grants access to all EPRI events and publications as well as the latest news and developments in the field; a career center is also available for members.

ACM_logo

ACM

Association for Computing Machinery

if communication is your forte you might enjoy ACM membership. Access to a vast resource center, event discounts, a digital library, and field journal, as well as an expansive career and job center are just a few perks of membership. Student rates are available as well as a transitional rate for the time between graduation and full employment.

ASEE_logo

ASEE

American Society for Engineering Education

The ASEE offers a student membership discount as well as discounted conference fees, subscriptions, and access to local professional groups, workshops, and seminars.

Choosing an Accredited College


Your most important step before enrollment is to verify the schools on your short list are fully accredited. Look for regional accreditation information on the school website and verify the school's credential with the accrediting organization. Accreditation is vital to both financial aid and future employment, and in addition to regional or national accreditation, the program you choose should be accredited by ABET. ABET accreditation of your degree program is a requirement for licensure in most states and shows your program of choice will be respected in the field.

Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid


The type of school you attend should depend on your personal circumstances. Some people have no problems learning independently in an online platform and others need the structure of face-to-face instruction. If you're working full-time, online enrollment offers flexibility because you can do the class work anytime and anywhere you have an internet connection, but you must have the self-discipline to complete the work on schedule. Campus classes offer full accesses to labs and libraries, but you have a strict attendance schedule and must factor in travel time and cost. Some students do best in a hybrid program because they can take easier courses online and attend more difficult classes in person. Take an honest assessment of your personal traits and situation before you commit to a specific type of learning program.

Additional Questions


Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?

Look on the school website for graduation rates and employment statistics; this page should include the college job placement assistance information. A school more focused on enrollment than on success might be lacking this information; a college dedicated to their students will have partnerships with businesses and organizations within the field that offer placement upon graduation.

Some schools have partnerships with major businesses that may include an offer of employment after a successful internship, so a bit of detective work may mean you won't even have to apply for a job after you graduate.

Why You Need to Consider the Overall National Rankings of the College and the Effects on Your Career or Salary

National rankings may come into play if you're entering a competitive occupation within the field of electrical engineering. If you're not sure about the ranking and reputation of your school of choice, ask some engineers in the field you plan to enter; most will be happy to give their opinion on the school program. You can also look for a social media or alumni page for the school program to gauge how well received the program is within the field.

While all schools with ABET accreditation are accepted for state licensure, a degree from a less respected school may mean your initial salary offer is lower than that offered to a graduate of a highly rated school and program. A lower initial salary means you may have slower advancement in your career. Choosing a higher rated school that has higher tuition may pay for itself within the first year or two after graduation, so do your research before you enroll.

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