Engineering Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's and doctoral degree programs in engineering can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about the requirements, course and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Engineering: Graduate Degrees at a Glance

If you're eager to complete a graduate degree program in engineering, you will need exceptional academic skills in a variety of technological areas. There are many types of engineering specialties, such as computer engineering, electrical engineering, health and safety engineering, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering. Although a bachelor's degree is the general requirement for pursuing an engineering career, studying through a graduate or doctoral program can help with advancement to managerial or supervisory engineering positions, as well as careers in academics or research.

The job growth for prospective career paths will vary based on your chosen engineering specialty. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) noted that the employment outlook for electrical and architectural engineers, as well as engineering managers, is expected to be slower than average between 2010 and 2020. Over the same decade mechanical engineers are predicted to see a nine percent growth in employment, while chemical engineers are only expected to see a six percent job growth.

You can also study engineering to enter specialty fields that are anticipated to see a fast or faster than average employment growth rate. For example, the BLS predicted that biomedical engineers would see a 62% growth in employment and environmental engineers would see a 22% employment growth from 2010-2020.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals with strong mathematical skills who desire to apply their knowledge to construct or design various types of machines, structures, systems and other processes Those seeking to lead project developments or teach at the university level
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Chemical Engineer ($99,000)*
- Mechanical Engineer ($84,000)*
- Computer Software Engineer ($95,000)*
- Computer Hardware Engineer ($100,000)*
- Electrical Engineer ($85,000)
University Professor ($114,000)*
- High level management for master's degree careers mentioned (variable)
- Research and Development Project Leader (variable)
- Computer and Information Research Scientist ($101,000)
Time to Completion 1-3 years full time 4-5 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 45 units of coursework
- Advanced-level science and engineering courses
- Master's thesis
- Seminars
Approximately 135 units of course work
- PhD qualifier exams
- An approved topic of research
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty or related field Master's degree in an engineering specialty
Online Availability Yes Some courses might be found online

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Engineering

Earning a master's degree in engineering can provide you with many career opportunities in the diverse engineering field, or it can be your stepping stone to obtaining a doctoral degree in engineering and working in research or academia. You can find master's degree engineering programs that lead to either a Master of Science (M.S.) in Engineering or a Master of Engineering (MEng).

If you enroll in an M.S. engineering program, you can be expected to complete both lecture coursework and a written thesis based on your own independent research. If you would like to advance your professional qualifications and credentials in engineering you may be interested in studying through an MEng program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Engineers enjoy some of the highest salaries among all professionals*
  • An engineering degree allows you to work in a variety of professional roles and industries*
  • You will have the opportunity to choose from a diverse amount of ABET-accredited programs**

Cons

  • The field is highly competitive and you may need to find creative ways to stand out in the job market*
  • In order to become licensed, you will need to pass exams issued by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)*
  • Since most engineering careers require only a bachelor's degree, you may be competing against applicants with more training and less education*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology

Common Courses and Requirements

In general, students in engineering master's programs can expect their courses to focus exclusively on their chosen specialty. Many graduate programs will require a qualifying score on an admissions exam, such as the GRE, a written statement of purpose and recommendation letters. Depending on the university, with the help of a faculty advisor, you will prepare an individual program of study and submit it for approval.

You may have certain mandatory course areas to complete upon entrance into the program, which will depend on your engineering specialty. For example, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering program may require courses in areas such as fluid mechanics, solid mechanics and thermal sciences.

Online Degree Options

There are many reputable and accredited online schools that offer master's degree programs in engineering. Obtaining an online master degree in engineering can be a valuable option if you desire more scheduling flexibility. Accredited online schools follow the same requirements, guidelines and high academic standards as traditional schools.

Many traditional, brick and mortar schools include an online degree option with their course of study, either in a hybrid format or fully online. Some programs will require that you come to campus to orally defend your final research project or thesis. There are a wide variety of engineering fields that have online degree options including, but not limited to, mechanical engineering, computer engineering, computational engineering, integrated vehicle systems engineering, chemical engineering, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering and engineering management.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

There are various ways to maximize a master's degree in engineering and stand out to employers. For instance, since licensure isn't required for chemical engineering, a student in an M.S. in Chemical Engineering program can stand out by becoming licensed and carrying the title of professional engineer (PE).

Staying on top of the most recent advances in technology can help prospective mechanical engineers who are required to work on the newest industrial pursuits, such as nanotechnology, which is a field that will need mechanical engineers. Mechanical engineers can stay abreast of advances in technology by subscribing to professional journals, enrolling in continuing education courses or volunteering on various special projects. You may also consider joining a professional organization, such as the ASME or National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).

Computer hardware engineers can stand out by taking courses in software development and computer design as high job growth is expected in these areas, according to the BLS. If you are interested in aerospace engineering, you can remain marketable for this growing industry through training in Computational Fluid Dynamics software, which lowers companies' costs for testing designs.

PhD in Engineering

Students seeking an engineering doctorate must show proficiency in various levels of mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, technology and other related areas. Students will also need exceptional research, design, analytical and theoretical skills. You can structure your program by choosing from a number of elective and seminar courses to pursue your specific area of interest. You may also complete central doctoral courses, pass written and oral qualifying examinations, and create original research in order to attain your doctorate.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A doctoral degree in engineering will grant you the opportunity to be an innovative leader by influencing policies, advocating for under-represented groups in engineering, and setting new design standards in the field*
  • You will be qualified to teach and lead the next generation of engineers as an engineering scholar*
  • Engineering professors are among some of the highest paid professors*

Cons

  • A huge amount of dedication and drive is required to stick out the length of time it takes to complete a PhD in engineering program, which is often at least three years or more after receiving a master's degree*
  • You may appear overqualified for certain jobs that usually only require a bachelor's degree in engineering*
  • Doctoral programs are not accredited by ABET**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology

Courses and Requirements

Doctoral programs in engineering typically require a master's degree in engineering or related field. Depending upon your area of specialization, engineering PhD programs also require similar, but more advanced coursework to the master's programs, such as courses in numerical theories, optics, research and design, statistics and electromagnetism.

Students enrolled in a PhD program in engineering often consult with faculty advisors to choose an area of concentration. Students will need to take specific electives and courses to fully satisfy the requirements of their specialization. Many schools may require preliminary and oral qualifying exams, which evaluate communication, investigation and information production skills.

PhD students define their dissertation problem, and present it to the appropriate committee in writing and orally. You will then carry out independent research and defend the results in a public seminar. Some institutions will require PhD candidates to publish research papers in either peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings.

Online Degree Options

Engineering doctoral programs that are exclusively online are limited. However, you can find doctoral degree programs in engineering that let you complete your courses online. You may take lectures and seminars through video streaming. Schools that offer engineering coursework online will often require students to come to campus for workshops, academic and faculty meetings, as well as collaborate with the faculty advisor or committee members. You may also be required to complete your qualifying exams, dissertation proposal and dissertation defense on campus.

Stand out with this Degree

A doctoral candidate has a variety of opportunities to stand out above the competition. Some institutions prefer to hire professors who have teaching experience, so you may consider pursuing a graduate teaching assistant position or teaching position at a community college while completing your studies.

Many companies seeking to hire computer and information research scientists require knowledge of specialized subjects, such as biology and finances. If you are interested in computer engineering, you will need to increase your awareness, skills, and expertise of these specialized subjects.

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