Studying Telecommunications Technology: Degrees at a Glance
The telecommunications (or telecom) industry provides the electronic infrastructure to transmit messages in multiple formats through electrical cables, optical wires or electromagnetic fields. This behemoth industry consists of makers of telecommunications hardware and software, as well as providers of services, like satellite TV and Internet. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), increasing Internet speed and the anticipation of emerging technologies are among the factors leading to the continued demand for telecom services and equipment (www.bls.gov).
Associate degree programs in telecommunications technology prepare you primarily for jobs installing, maintaining and repairing telecommunications systems, including wireless. The BLS predicted slightly above-average job growth of 15% for telecom equipment installers and repairers and 14% for telecom line installers between 2010 and 2020. Pursuing a bachelor's degree in telecommunications technology or a related field prepares you for product design and managerial careers with brighter job outlooks and higher earning potentials.
|Who is this degree for?|| - Entry-level students |
- Some programs are designed for telecom service provider employees
|People without prior experience who seek in-depth technical training to design telecommunications systems and assume supervisory roles|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)|| - Telecommunications equipment installer and repairer ($53,000)*|
- Telecommunications line installer and repairer ($51,000)*
- Customer service representative ($33,000)*
| - Telecommunications engineering specialist ($82,000)*|
- Network administrator ($74,000)*
- Data communications analyst ($82,000)*
|Time to Completion|| - 2 years full-time (4-5 semesters) |
- Part-time 4-year programs are available for employees of telecommunications companies
|4 years full time|
|Prerequisites|| High school diploma or G.E.D. |
*2 years vocational electives
*3 years of math
*2 years of science
| High school diploma or G.E.D. |
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Associate Degree in Telecommunications Technology
This is a highly technical degree program that emphasizes hands-on learning. If you're thinking about pursuing an online program, ensure that the program has a means of providing you with access to industry-standard materials, equipment and facilities. In associate degree programs, you'll receive broad-based training in telecom, which includes electronics, networking, broadband, IT, cellular systems and sometimes radio. Some programs provide opportunities to pursue specialized areas of study within telecom, like global communications installation, videoconferencing or radio communication electronics. Although internships or cooperative education aren't typically required, pursuing these options when available can provide you with valuable workplace experience.
Pros and Cons
- Graduates have a wide variety of employment options
- Some programs are designed for transfer to bachelor's degree programs
- Internships and cooperative education are often available
- You may have the opportunity to earn professional certifications, which appeal to many employers
- Workers in some telecom positions, particularly line installers and repairers, face hazards working outdoors at great heights
- Due to constant innovations in telecom technology, frequent updating of skills is required
- Increased competition is expected in some occupations for graduates from these programs, such as station installers and repairers
Courses and Requirements
Although many core telecom technology courses are common across the different associate degree programs offered, programs tend to be distinct in their areas of focus and goals. Therefore, course offerings can vary between programs. If you'd like to transfer to a 4-year engineering program, choosing an associate degree program with heavier math and science requirements may increase your chances for success. Many programs are designed for direct employment and include minimal general education requirements.
Examples of telecom technology courses at the associate degree level:
- Computer networking
- Computer applications for telecommunications
- Computer system hardware
- Telecommunications technologies
- Convergence technologies
Online Degree Options
Opportunities to earn an associate degree in telecommunications technology online are available, but rare. Telecom tech is a highly technical field of study in which hands-on experience is often an integral part of the training process. Schools that offer industry-standard facilities and equipment can provide you with the most authentic learning experiences. In online programs, you typically purchase lab and project kits to use at home, like fiber optics, telephone and soldering kits. You can communicate with your instructor through discussion boards and email.
Stand Out with This Degree
Within this broad field of study, you can adopt several strategies to pinpoint a telecom career and make yourself an appealing job candidate. Here are some of the ways to gain a competitive edge:
- Earn professional certification. Some programs offer courses specifically designed to prepare you for professional certifications to become, for example, a fiber optic installer or technical customer specialist
- Gain work experience. Taking advantage of internship or cooperative education opportunities provides you with practical work and technical skills that other candidates may lack
- Earn a transferrable degree. If you complete a more challenging math and science curriculum, you can prepare for a bachelor's degree program in telecommunications engineering technology or a related field, which may provide you with more career growth opportunities
- Build up your computer skills. A lot of telecom devices are now programmable, so programming skills can set you apart from the pack
Other Degrees to Consider
Another way to prepare for a telecom career is to complete an associate degree in electronics engineering technology. This broader program prepares you for a wider range of career options by providing you with the foundation to pursue careers in areas like renewable energy systems, robotics and biomedical engineering. Since a bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level electronics engineering positions, associate degree programs are typically designed to complete all transfer requirements. You may elect to pursue a career as an electronic engineering technician on graduation from your 2-year program. According to the BLS, electronic engineering technicians earned an average salary of $57,250 in May 2011.
Power plant operators, distributors and dispatchers perform similar tasks as telecommunications line installers and repairers. You can often qualify for one of these positions with only a high school diploma, although employers increasingly prefer to hire candidates with college or vocational training that relates to math and electricity. This leaves you with several math, science and technical degree options to prepare for these careers. To become fully qualified and licensed in these professions, you'll typically need to acquire several years of on-the-job training. Power plant operators earned an average salary of $64,450 in May 2011, according to the BLS.
Bachelor's Degree in Telecommunications Technology
Very few bachelor's degree programs specifically in telecommunications technology are available; however, several related majors offer concentrations in telecommunications, some of which are multidisciplinary programs. Electronics engineering, electrical engineering, telecommunications engineering technology, network and telecommunications management, computer science and information technology are among the related majors available. By completing one of these 4-year programs with an emphasis in telecom technology, you can qualify for a wide range of careers involved with the design and development of telecom equipment. Achieving this level of education may also open the door to supervisory positions.
You may choose an accelerated program to earn a combined bachelor's and master's degree, typically a bachelor's in an engineering field, like electrical engineering, and a master's in telecommunications. Admissions requirements for engineering programs, and particularly for accelerated programs, are often stringent. Your high-school preparation needs to be sufficient to allow you to dive into college-level calculus, chemistry and physics courses.
Pros and Cons
- Diverse program options are available for studying telecommunications at the bachelor's degree level
- Graduates of bachelor's degree programs related to telecom tech earn higher salaries than graduates from associate degree programs (for example, data security analysts earned an estimated average salary of $81,700, while telecom equipment installers earned an average salary of $52,900*)
- Although a bachelor's degree is sufficient for many telecom positions, accelerated programs in which you can earn a bachelor's and master's degree are an advantage if you wish to pursue more advanced technical or managerial positions
- Many programs encourage and provide opportunities for internships or cooperative education
- Admission to many bachelor's degree programs in telecom tech is competitive
- Although you spend more time in school, you may be competing for entry-level telecom positions, such as telecommunications analyst, with holders of associate degrees
- Multidisciplinary programs may not provide the level of technical education required for some telecom positions
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)
Common Courses and Requirements
Clearly, core courses differ between computer science, electronics engineering, information technology and other majors related to telecommunications technology. Nevertheless, in these and more general, multidisciplinary programs in telecom tech you can expect to cover topics that include network management and security, information theory, wireless communication systems and data communications. Some bachelor's degree programs also require that you take management courses.
Courses you may take at the bachelor's degree level include:
- Digital electronics
- Telecommunications policy
- Communication devices and media
- Signal processing
- Computer programming
Online Degree Options
Online bachelor's degree programs in telecom technology are very unusual. Rare available options are much less technical than on-campus degree programs, so investigation of online options is required to ensure the programs provide the training necessary for your desired career. Hands-on experience working with industry-standard equipment is important for a career in telecom engineering. An accredited on-campus program is more likely to provide you with the resources you'll need to pursue a telecommunications engineering career.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Specific strategies for maximizing your studies to stand out with potential employers vary by the type of degree and position you're seeking in the diverse field of telecom technology. In any case, the following moves can help get your resume noticed by future potential employers:
- Complete an internship or cooperative education experience to provide you with practical work experience that telecom tech employers often desire
- Consider joining student chapters of organizations like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which promote technical design contests, recruiting events and professional speakers
- Completing an accelerated bachelor's and master's degree program in a telecommunications engineering field is an option that can make you more marketable.