What Is Electrical Engineering?
Similar to other STEM-based degrees, electrical engineering students focus most of their academic energy on various math and science topics. Electrical engineering deals with the intricacies and technical aspects of electricity and associated technologies. Whether working with microchips or gigantic power plants, this academic field applies to a wide range of industries.
A Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering is the traditional way that students begin their careers. While some community colleges offer an Associate Degree in Electrical Engineering, most employers look for applicants with at least a bachelor's degree.
Whether they're pursuing an undergraduate or graduate-level degree, electrical engineering students have solid foundational knowledge in calculus, physics, and chemistry. Additionally, students tackle focused electrical engineering coursework in topics spanning from electromagnetic power systems to nanotechnology.
Continue reading to review the various types of electrical engineering degrees, professional certifications, and what you can do with a degree in electrical engineering.
What is an Electrical Engineering Degree?
An undergraduate degree in electrical engineering prepares students for a profession in designing electronics, building electrical systems, and generating power. The curriculum is oriented towards math and physics and focuses on specific engineering and automation technologies, as well as on important skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and project management.
Those who go on to pursue graduate level electrical engineering degrees will gain more in-depth expertise in areas of operational planning, circuit design, programming, instrumentation and measurements, and may also explore communication and organization to prepare them for positions in leadership.
What to Expect in an Electrical Engineering Degree Program
A Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering is the traditional path to an engineering career. These programs usually require students to complete 120 credits before graduation. Throughout their four-to-five-year undergraduate experience, electrical engineering majors complete core electrical engineering classes including object-oriented programming, logic design, and applied software techniques.
To be accepted into an electrical engineering undergraduate program, applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED. Admissions often require the following:
- Submission of an online application
- A personal statement
- Letters of recommendation
- Some programs may request standardized test scores as well as high school academic performance (in the form of transcripts)
- Proof that you’ve met their minimum cumulative grade point average
In addition to core electrical engineering knowledge, engineering master's degree students gain the skills needed to take on managerial and leadership roles. These programs typically require students to complete about 30 credits of coursework over two to three years.
Common master's degree coursework includes topics such as advanced digital systems, power electronics, and embedded systems. Additionally, students can choose to pursue academic specializations in areas including digital signal processing and computer engineering.
Prospective master's degree students must hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Applicants typically have a minimum cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 and are required to submit letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and GRE test scores.
Students who pursue a Doctoral Degree in Electrical Engineering invest an additional three-to-seven years to the study, research, and development of innovations within the field. Whether their area of expertise lies in computer hardware, power and energy systems, or emerging technologies, most doctoral studies encompass multidisciplinary topics.
The curriculum is usually full time, but some programs are available on a part-time basis. A Doctorate in Electrical Engineering is a terminal degree that prepares those who have attained it for positions in either academia or industry.
Types of Electrical Engineering Classes
Every electrical engineering program offers its own unique curriculum that reflects the priorities and philosophy of its faculty. However, students can expect to take certain foundational courses in any program that introduce both analytical and experimental aspects of the field, as well as the core knowledge that supports these studies. Typical courses include the following:
- Principles of Physics
- Circuits, Signals, Networks, and Systems
- Programming in Java
- Physics and Models of Semiconductor Devices
- Engineering Probability
- Technology Management
Skills Learned in an Electrical Engineering Degree Program
In order to succeed in a career in electrical engineering, students will need to do more than attend all their classes and score well on exams. They’ll also need to attain fundamental knowledge and know how to put it to use in problem-solving situations.
Over the course of an electrical engineering career, graduates will work with project managers, evaluate problems, and recommend solutions. To that end, a comprehensive electrical engineering degree program will also teach students important skills, including:
- Technical knowledge
- Active learning
- Critical thinking
- Organizational skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Innovative thinking
- Complex problem-solving
These abilities will also help those who choose to move beyond an undergraduate degree to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees.
Best Electrical Engineering Programs in the U.S.
We've found the top 10 electrical engineering programs in the U.S. See below to find out the top 10 or dive deeper in our electrical engineering school ranking:
How Long Does It Take to Get an Electrical Engineering Degree?
An undergraduate degree in electrical engineering generally requires completion of a minimum of 120 credits. Depending upon the program, this may include any of the following:
- Approximately two years of general education or liberal arts core courses
- Fulfillment of robust math and science requirements
- Approximately 60 credits dedicated to engineering studies
Taken over a full-time basis, most students will complete a traditional program in four-to-five years. But other options do exist. The increase of online learning means that students can earn an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering through online classes. And many of these are available in asynchronous formats, which allow students to complete their classes on their own schedules at their own speed.
Some programs are available for part-time studies, and though these programs will take longer to complete, they have the advantage of allowing students to fulfill work or family obligations while earning their degree.
There are also accelerated degree programs that offer electrical engineering classes in a concentrated way. These programs are generally geared toward students who transfer into an engineering program from another school or field of study, allowing students to quickly catch up and complete their course requirements.
Electrical Engineering Degree Specializations
Electrical engineering touches almost every aspect of today’s technology. Electrical systems, devices, and circuitry are what power our homes, our automobiles, our computers, our machinery, and our communication systems, to name just a few.
The diversity of electrical engineering applications has led to a wide range of degree specializations under the umbrella of the electrical engineering major, including:
- Computer Hardware
- Computer Software
- Control Systems
- Electronic Design
- Power Systems
- Remote Sensing and Space Systems
- Semiconductor Devices
- Signal and Image Processing
What Can I Do with an Electrical Engineering Degree?
While electrical engineering degrees provide students with a focused set of theoretical and technical skills, an expansive list of industries and organizations rely on electrical engineers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrical engineers can anticipate their field to grow by 3% in the ten years between 2021 and 2031 and to earn a median salary that exceeds $100,000 per year.
In addition to working in various engineering fields, electrical engineering grads work in fields like manufacturing, electric power generation, and various research and development roles. Students graduating with a Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering gain the training and experience they need to take on various leadership and managerial roles—electrical engineering managers earn an average salary over $123,000 per year.
Electrical Engineering Salary and Career Information
Students who graduate with a degree in electrical engineering have a multitude of career options available. They can choose from among many industries, work environments, and roles, from research and design to manufacturing and installation. Fields that support the expansion of the power grid or in sustainable energy promise exponential growth, and firms that place electrical engineers in corporations requiring technical expertise will be increasingly relied upon as consumer demand drives technology innovation.
The salaries paid to electrical engineers varies with job title, industry, and geographic location, as well as the individual engineer’s area of expertise, experience, and education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual wages for electrical engineers can range from a median of $100,290 for those working in the telecommunications industry to $128,560 for those working in navigational, measuring, electromedical and control instruments manufacturing.
As for specific career titles, Indeed.com reports a range of salaries corresponding to different job titles, from a national average of $60,644 per year paid to controls engineers to $103,576 per year for electronics engineers. With more experience comes higher salaries. ZipRecruiter reports that the highest paid electrical engineers hold titles like Senior Principal Electrical Engineer, and are paid a national average annual salary of $147,863 per year.
Electrical Engineering Career Paths
Overall, the projected job growth for all electrical and electronic engineering careers is currently 3% over the next ten years. Different industries, fields, and job responsibilities command a range of salaries. Here are a few examples.
- Median Salary: $79,403
- Career Outlook: +3% (2021-2031)
- Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Automotive electrical engineers help to design the various systems that are installed in vehicles. These include power, electronics, controls, communication, safety, and entertainment systems.
- Median Salary: $95,033
- Career Outlook: +3% (2021-2031)
- Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Employed by engineering consultant firms, electrical engineering consultants provide advice and oversight of electrical projects to client firms. Their services can range from design to implementation.
- Median Salary: $134,779
- Career Outlook: +3% (2021-2031)
- Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Principal electrical engineer is a management position. The individual provides leadership of junior engineers while also overseeing projects being executed within their organization.
How Long do Online Courses Take to Complete?
Generally speaking, completing an online electrical engineering degree program will take approximately the same four years that it takes to complete an in-person degree, without the added expense of commuting or living on or near a campus and without having to walk back and forth to class. That being said, different online programs offer varying degrees of scheduling flexibility.
Many schools require students to attend at least some in-person classes where they can work together with their cohort or take part in hands-on learning. These are called hybrid programs because they combine online and in-person classes. Some require students to attend full time while others allow students to complete their classes on a more leisurely, part-time schedule. There are also differences in whether classes are offered synchronously, with students needing to attend live classes as they are occurring, or asynchronously, where students can log in to previously-recorded classes at their convenience. The latter offers the ability to speed through classes at an accelerated pace, with some students completing a semester’s worth of work in as little as five weeks’ time and completing an entire degree curriculum in just two years.
Admissions Requirements for Electrical Engineering Degree Programs
Electrical engineering programs have a well-deserved reputation for being challenging, and though every school has its own admission requirements, entry into one of these programs generally requires a strong background in mathematics and physics, as well as well-rounded knowledge of the humanities.
In many cases, engineering is taught through a dedicated program within a larger school, and students must first complete undergraduate prerequisites and general education courses and achieve a minimum GPA in math and science courses to be considered for admission. Colleges and universities that accept freshman applicants into electrical engineering programs generally have higher grade point average requirements for entry than is true of the general population, and students must maintain a high GPA in order to continue in their courses.
In all cases, students will need to provide an official high school transcript as well as transcripts for any college-level coursework that they have completed. They will need to submit a completed application as well as the school’s required application fee. Many schools require a letter of recommendation, a personal statement, and either SAT or ACT scores that reach a certain minimum level.
Electrical Engineering Scholarships
Electrical engineering is a well-paid career and a highly respected profession. However, earning a degree in this field can cost a pretty penny. The cost of earning an electrical engineering degree varies based on whether you attend an online program or an in-person program and whether the school you choose is public or private and whether you attend from in- or out-of-state.
The average cost for an online electrical engineering bachelor’s degree ranges from $245 to $660 per-credit, with an anticipated total cost between $29,000 and $83,000 in tuition. For in-person tuition, you can expect to pay between approximately $12,000 per year in tuition as an in-state resident at a public university and as much as $60,000 per year for tuition at a private college.
Fortunately, there are scholarships and grants available to help students pay for this highly sought-after degree. Some examples of scholarships that are specifically for electrical engineering students include:
- BMW/SAE Engineering Scholarship
- Universities Space Research Association Distinguished Undergraduate Awards
- Guglielmo Marconi Engineering Scholarship
Is electrical engineering a good career?
- Students graduating with an electrical engineering degree can expect to earn robust salaries while entering a field that is projected to grow over the next decade. In addition to salaries that exceed $100,000 per year, electrical engineers hone a valuable set of skills that are applicable to an expansive list of career opportunities.
How long does it take to become an electrical engineer?
- Students interested in pursuing a Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering typically complete about 120 credits over 4-5 years. During their undergraduate tenure, students complete a mix of general education requirements, core electrical engineering coursework, and various hands-on learning opportunities. Before graduation, many students complete an internship in a professional environment.
Is electrical engineering an in-demand degree?
- In addition to the 3% projected growth that electrical engineering can expect when entering the workforce, the degree applies to a long list of additional potential career fields. During their coursework, electrical engineering students can tackle academic and technical specializations in topics like computer engineering, microelectronics, and signal processing and communications.
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