Master’s degree in computer engineering
Are you passionate about electronic devices, computer hardware, and various types of networks? If so, a career in computer engineering may be ideal, offering professional and financial satisfaction and an outstanding job outlook.
While many computer engineering roles are open to bachelor’s-level graduates, a master’s can expand your options. This includes accessing managerial and other high-paid positions at larger companies. A computer engineering master’s can also be a milestone toward doctoral studies or academic and research careers.
Explore our rankings of the best computer engineering graduate programs.
Computer engineering versus electrical engineering
Computer engineering can be thought of as a subset of electrical engineering. At the college level, computer and electrical engineers study similar subjects. At higher educational and professional levels, the fields diverge. Computer engineers apply electrical engineering knowledge to computer hardware and software. Electrical engineering is broader, focused on all uses of electricity except computers.
What can you do with a master’s in computer engineering?
The advanced knowledge and skills earned in this program allow you to work in a variety of fields.
Career options include:
- systems administrator
- hardware or software engineer
- network support specialist
- solutions architect
- artificial intelligence (AI) specialist
Should you get a master’s in mechanical engineering?
In addition to expanded career opportunities, this degree can lead to significantly higher earnings after graduation.
The table below shows the economic performance of a master’s in computer engineering 3 years after graduation. It compares earnings to the median debt accrued and contrasts these with earnings 3 years after receiving a bachelor’s in the field.
Debt and earnings
Graduate degree premium
Earning over bachelors
Annual debt repayment
The figures above give an indication of the debt incurred by graduates, and their salaries 3 years after graduation. The table on the left compares median debt and median earnings. The right-hand table compares how much a master graduate earns over a bachelor graduate 3 years after graduation, after deducting median debt repayments.
How to pick a master’s in computer engineering
If you have already decided to pursue this degree, there are important details to consider before selecting a program.
Most programs let you choose a concentration or specialization. Take, for instance, cloud computing. With more than half of all global enterprises expected to close traditional datacenters soon, cloud infrastructure is expected to grow rapidly, as is the need for experienced specialists in distributed systems.
The financial technology (FinTech) field is also steadily growing as automation of financial processes accelerates. Focusing on FinTech could lead to an excellent position in a company that has incorporated this emerging technology into its operational DNA.
Other future-proof specializations you may want to explore include:
- machine learning systems
- hardware and computer architecture
- software development
- computer communications and networks
- wireless/embedded systems
- computer analytics
- health informatics
- database management
Accreditation is a means of certifying that a particular program or educational institution meets rigorous evaluation criteria and quality standards.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits programs in computer engineering. Most programs that receive ABET accreditation are bachelor’s degrees. You may not be able to enter a computer engineering master’s program without an ABET-accredited bachelor’s.
Can you earn a master’s in computer engineering online?
Depending on your workload or competing priorities, you may want to enroll in a more flexible program. Around 75% of the programs offered across the U.S. are in-person only, with 15.6% taking place exclusively online. This means around 10% of programs use a hybrid model, with some online options.
Master’s in computer engineering
The above table shows the percentage of programs available either completely in person or fully online. Figures that do not add up to 100% indicate the existence of hybrid programs.
How much does a master’s in computer engineering cost?
The table below shows differences in debt and repayment rates based on institution type.
Debt to earnings
Debt to earnings
Median earnings and median debt of graduates of this degree program. The debt-to-earnings ratio compares student debt to annual earnings. The lower the debt-to-earnings ratio the better, and total debt should never exceed annual earnings (a debt-to-earnings ratio of 1.0).
Graduates from private programs earn slightly more, but public programs offer a better debt-to-earnings ratio due to significantly lower debt at graduation.
How to pay for a master’s in computer engineering
Master’s students are not usually eligible for direct subsidized loans or Pell grants, but many other types of loans, grants, and work-study programs are available. To obtain your degree with maximum cost savings:
- Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Visit your school’s financial aid office for information on other funding options
- Look into continuing education programs through your employer
» Read: Budgeting tips for students
What to expect from a master’s in computer engineering
This program can help you gain the expertise required to advance your IT and computer engineering career. This includes theoretical knowledge in wireless networks, machine learning, electromagnetism, or information systems management. Learning is supplemented with hands-on experience in circuitry or safe data warehousing.
The exact requirements vary by school, but are likely to include:
- bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or electrical engineering
- research experience at the bachelor’s level
- excellent grades in the final 2 years of your bachelor’s
How long does a master’s in computer engineering take?
Getting your master’s in computer engineering takes 1 to 2 years.
Thesis versus non-thesis route
Many master’s programs include the option of a thesis or non-thesis route. The objective of a thesis is to document your research and share it with the broader scientific community.
Non-thesis programs focus on real-world applications and software or hardware projects. Students who choose this path sometimes need to earn additional credit hours.
Internships, while not required, are an excellent opportunity to grow your skills and experience while developing a professional network. Some examples are intern roles in front-end or back-end engineering, data science teams, or mobile technology engineering.
PE license versus master’s degree
A master’s in computer engineering does not replace engineering licensure. However, licensure is somewhat less common among computer engineers that most other types of engineers.
Earning your professional engineer (PE) license may be required if you wish to:
- work as a consultant
- advertise engineering services to the public
- start your own company
- move to a high-level role within a large organization
Types of courses in a master’s of computer engineering
Most master’s programs in computer engineering include coursework focusing on mathematics and software design, plus niche topics or relevant optional courses.
Some of the most common subjects include:
Student learn about wireless and mobile networks, access control protocols, routing, congestion control, network security, error detection, and flow control.
Students focus on actual modeling based on graph theory. The basics of network design, implementation, evaluation, and defining key protocols are also studied.
Courses revolve around topics such as performance analysis, computer arithmetic, instruction set architecture, and pipelining. Virtual memory, data and control hazards, and efficient parallelism are also covered.
In these courses, students explore complex data processing platforms and comprehend how scalable algorithms work.
Digital systems need a thorough algorithmic approach. In this course, students learn about systems descriptions and how to utilize hardware description languages to match precise specifications.
These courses cover shared memory, load balancing, or implementing parallel algorithms to solve analytics issues in real time.
Students learn the fundamentals of database design and calculus to create different data models. They also have the chance to dive deeper into transaction management and security optimization strategies.
What careers can I have with a master’s in computer engineering?
Director, lead, principal, senior, engineering manager – if these titles and roles are vital for you, and you dream of climbing the hierarchy ladder, the most straightforward way to get there is to earn a master’s degree. Visit our careers in computer engineering page for more.
Frequently asked questions about computer engineering
Is a master’s in computer engineering worth it?
Yes. This degree can expand your career opportunities and improve your earning potential by over $30,000 per year.
How can I decide between computer engineering and computer science?
Computer engineering may be preferable for students who want to focus on hardware-software synergies. Computer science is better for those who wish to specialize in software development.
Is grad school worth it for software engineers?
Yes. A master’s in software or computer engineering can speed up your career progression and lead to better compensation.
Does a computer engineer code?
Although mastering programming languages is important for being able to collaborate with programmers, writing code is not essential for most computer engineers.
What’s the difference between CSE (computer science and engineering) and IT?
These are 3 different roles. Computer scientists typically develop programs, computer engineers build the components, systems, and networks those programs run on, and IT specialists install, update, and maintain computer systems.
Is computer science or computer engineering better for AI (artificial intelligence)?
If you want to learn more about AI but are not ready to enroll in a dedicated artificial intelligence program, computer engineering is the next-best field to explore.
This computer science organization is a leading source of information and an excellent platform for collaboration and networking for computer engineering professionals worldwide. Members can participate in international conferences, read the latest peer-reviewed publications, and access a vast digital library.
With almost 100,000 members, ACM brings together computing specialists, researchers, engineers, and dedicated professionals who want to share the latest resources and findings.