What is an Electrical Engineering Degree?
Electrical engineering is a field of study that dates back to the late 19th century. Unlike a pure science field, electrical engineering is a technical field, so students and workers in the field use a more practical, hands-on approach. Some of the most famous early electrical engineers were greats like Benjamin Franklin and Nikola Tesla, who helped create the devices and conveniences of our modern world. While Franklin established many principles around electricity, Tesla designed the first AC electrical system.
The modern field of electrical engineering deals with the study and application of topics like electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. However, there are now many more subfields within this very broad field, giving a place to those who are interested in practical work in a diverse array of positions. The principles of electrical engineering apply to digital computers, computer engineering, telecommunications, electrochemistry, and many other areas.
Those who are looking to work in electrical engineering should earn at least an associate’s degree, which can take as little as one or two years. However, the range of skills necessary to work in the field includes everything from basic circuit theory to management skills. Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees can only help; there are also certifications that are necessary for many electrical engineering jobs.
Some examples of these include:
- Certified Reliability Engineer from the American Society for Quality
- Energy Efficiency Management Certificate Program from the American Public Power Association
- Electronics in Traffic Signal Technician
- Certified Energy Manager and Certified Sustainable Development Professional from the Association of Energy Engineers
Becoming An Electrical Engineer
Becoming an electrical engineer means learning to use the principles of electronics, electromagnetism, and physics in designing appliances and systems powered by or used to produce electricity. You could end up working on small devices or large aircraft systems. The field is an excellent option for those who enjoy mathematics as it is heavily relied upon when assessing and developing new applications or modifying existing ones.
Typical duties for electrical engineers include research, project management, consultancy, or development. This allows for the flexibility of working in a variety of industries, including systems, telecommunication, and utilities. Many electrical engineers work in specialized disciplines, including:
- Signal processing
The number of options available to electrical engineers can seem overwhelming. The key to success is finding an area to concentrate on that encompasses your interests, and pursuing an education in that area.
Career Outlook and Salary
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, job growth in electrical engineering is expected to be slow but steady, with 2,700 more jobs added to the job market by 2026. This means that there will be a need for a total of about 137,000 electrical engineers throughout the country. One area in particular where jobs are expected to grow is in engineering services firms, because many companies are contracting out work to save money.
The actual annual wage for an electrical engineer varies depending on the industry they work in and his or her specialization. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, the the lowest 10% of electrical engineers earned less than $38,110. The top 10% earned more than $95,140. Actual pay depends significantly on which industries the workers choose and their level of education. Averages include:
- Federal government: $69,870
- Wholesale/Goods: $63,920
- Semiconductor/Electrical Component Manufacturing: $59,940
- Instruments Manufacturing (e.g. navigational, electromedical, etc.): $59,000
- Drafters, Mapping Technicians: $56,820
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers with Bachelor’s degrees: $99,070
Work conditions also vary widely by job choice, with government employees being more likely to have traditional schedules, and other kinds of technicians working different shifts to adhere to production schedules.
There is a much higher demand for more qualified electrical engineers with higher degrees, with job growth expected to be 7% over the next ten years. Employers will be filling more than 21,000 more jobs through 2026 in the federal government, engineering services, telecommunications, and research and development industries. Many of these positions will be concentrated in physical, engineering, and life sciences.
Electrical Engineering Career Paths
For those who are interested in the practical applications of electricity, there are a number of interesting and diverse career options. Most electrical engineers will work in either government or private industry jobs, while others will become teachers. Electrical engineers might be expected to :
- update computer hardware so it is compatible with software
- build, calibrate, and repair electrical instruments
- design basic circuitry or build circuits from designs
- analyze computer equipment and design new hardware
- design new products or help improve products that use electricity, such as satellites, flight systems, and communications systems
- work in the area of standardization, where they help to ensure products meet safety specifications
- manage other teams of electrical engineers
Here are some of the career paths you may choose to pursue once you gain a bachelors or master’s degree in electrical engineering.
- Aerospace Engineer — Aerospace engineers are responsible for researching, designing, developing, testing, and maintaining the performance of equipment used within the industry. That includes missiles, satellites, weapons systems, space vehicles, and civil and military aircraft.
- Electrical Engineer — Electrical engineers work on designing, developing, and maintaining electrical control systems and related components. Your responsibilities will include staying on budget, ensuring the quality and safety of your deliverables, and making sure they perform their functions reliably.
- Electronics Engineer — Electronics engineers focus on components, systems, devices, and equipment reliant on electricity for power. They can be called in during any stage of a project as part of a team to help with the implementation of a new product.
- Systems Analyst — Systems analysts use computers and other systems in the development of new IT solutions. They also make modifications to existing architecture or integrate new features to improve their performance and efficiency.
- Nuclear Engineer— Nuclear engineers involve themselves in developing or running nuclear power stations. They may also be called in when it is time for one to be decommissioned. They work in teams with people from a variety of disciplines to come up with appropriate solutions.
- IT Consultant — IT consultants form partnerships with clients and provide advice on the best technology for meeting their stated business objectives. They also assist in improving the efficiency and infrastructure of the IT systems used within an organization.
- Broadcast Engineer — Broadcasts engineers work with broadcast systems and equipment used within television, radio, and other forms of media. They make sure programs make it to air on time and without issues. Broadcast engineers also carry out any needed repairs and updates to ensure seamless transmissions.
- Acoustic Consultant — Acoustic consultants are responsible for providing noise, acoustics, and vibration services. They may be called upon for noise assessments, noise surveys, assessing the acoustics of buildings, and providing design advice to achieve a specific acoustic experience.
- Network Engineer — Network engineers assume responsibility for developing, setting up, and maintaining the computer networks used to support an organization or to facilitate communications between different organizations. They also help users by troubleshooting any issues they experience. Network engineers may also be called upon to design a new network to replace one that isn’t performing up to standards.
Traditional Curricula for Electrical Engineering Degree Programs
When choosing an institution that offers a program for a standard or online electrical engineering degree, make sure it has an accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Schools with an ABET accreditation are guaranteed to meet industry standards, meaning you should receive the education needed to compete successfully in the field.
Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering
Most bachelor’s degree programs start you off with fundamentals of engineering. You may also be asked to take specialized courses covering subjects like communication networks, microprocessors, analog and digital circuits, solid-state electronics, energy systems, electric power, and electromagnetic fields. Many also have a substantial lab component that combines the application of practical hardware skills alongside industry-standard design and simulation tools.
The typical bachelor’s degree program requires you to take at least 120 credit hours, with 45 of them covering upper division courses. Most institutions have specific requirements for transfer students around just how much of the course work must be completed at the institution from which you intend to obtain your degree.
Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering
Many electrical engineers choose to pursue a master’s degree after gaining experience working in the field. Most programs provide students with the chance to do an in-depth exploration of topics like antenna networks, computer architecture, high-speed switching architectures, nanotechnology, quantum information processing, and optical communications.
Many programs require students to complete anywhere from 24 to 40 credit hours. Admission to a master’s program requires the student to have obtained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, a GPA that meets the program requirements, and acceptable GRE scores. You will likely be asked to provide a current resume and a statement outlining what you hope to achieve from the master’s program.
Your program may be anywhere from five to eight semesters long depending on the number of credit hours needed to earn your degree. Many masters programs start in the fall and require students to acquire a minimum number of credit hours per semester.
For those interested in electrical engineering, there are a number of educational options to choose from. The cost in time and money is relatively small compared to the rewards of working in the field.