Guide to getting a master’s in electrical engineering
Completing a master’s degree in electrical engineering is a lucrative endeavor that can place you ahead of the competition.
Electrical engineering is a versatile field that offers significant career flexibility. Job prospects for electrical engineers look bright, with a projected employment growth rate of 7% in the next decade.
If you are looking to advance your education and pursue a career in which you can research, design, develop, and test a variety of electrical systems, components, and equipment, the best master’s in electrical engineering may be the right fit.
What can you do with a master’s in electrical engineering?
A master’s in electrical engineering puts you a step ahead of bachelor’s degree graduates and offers the opportunity to work at a more senior level, pursuing career opportunities in fields such as:
- power systems
- electrical controls
- electronics test
- project engineering
- electrical design
- instrumentation and electrical reliability
Should you get a master’s in electrical engineering?
The table below shows the economic performance of a master’s degree in electrical engineering 3 years after graduation. It offers a comparison of earnings to the median debt accrued and compares these new earnings to those 3 years after receiving a bachelor’s degree in the same field.
» Read: The value of a master’s degree
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.
Engineers with master’s degrees in electrical engineering earn significantly more than their bachelor’s degree counterparts.
The shocks electric eels use to stun prey and protect themselves can discharge up to 600 volts.
How to pick a master’s in electrical engineering
Picking an electrical engineering master’s degree can be tough. An initial consideration may be which topics interest you most. From there, look for programs that offer the concentration of your choice.
Common concentrations for electrical engineers include:
Communications and signal processing
A concentration in communications and signal processing involves coursework focused on the efficient transmission and processing of data. This may include images, sensor output signals, and sound.
Controls and signal processing
Controls engineering is all about making something perform and move exactly how you want it to. With signal processing tools thrown in the mix, you can analyze and engineer control systems from start to finish.
Energy and power systems
This concentration focuses on energy generation, distribution, renewable resources, electric transportation, grid intelligence, and designing efficient buildings and devices.
Fields, waves, and optics
The fields, waves, and optics concentration takes electrical engineering to its limits, merging electronics with optical engineering and physics.
Microelectronics focuses on the microscopic elements used in the manufacture of electrical components. The demand for microelectronics has increased significantly in recent years, meaning there is likely going to be more work in this field in the coming years.
VLSI design (very-large-scale integration)
The VLSI concentration presents you with advanced courses focusing on creating integrated circuits (ICs) with millions of MOS transistors and combining these into a single chip. If you are interested in complex semiconductor technology, this is the concentration for you.
This common concentration focuses on the generation and distribution of electrical power and the systems that support it.
Machine learning and data science
Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science can be merged with electrical engineering to solve a wide variety of human problems in innovative and unique ways. Machine learning is a great complement to electrical engineering and primarily involves computer science.
We use wireless networks almost every day, but how are they designed, created, and tested? If you are interested in wireless network design and optimization, this may be a great concentration to pursue.
You’ve likely heard about the engineering accreditation commission of ABET that is critically important when obtaining your bachelor’s degree. If you can show you earned your bachelor’s at an ABET-accredited institution, it lets employers know that your education has prepared you well.
For master’s degrees, ABET accreditation isn’t as crucial, and there are far fewer electrical engineering master’s degree programs that are accredited compared to bachelor’s degrees.
Can you get a master’s in electrical engineering online?
Currently, only a small percentage of master’s programs in electrical engineering are offered fully online, most are on-campus only.
Master’s in electrical 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.
The relatively low availability of online-only programs suggests it may be preferable to complete your master’s in electrical engineering on campus to get the most out of your studies. This is particularly true if your concentration requires a lot of practical coursework like labs and demonstration.
Best master’s degrees in electrical engineering
Find below our ratings of the comparative earnings, debt, debt-to-earnings ratio, and earning premium by graduate program. Note that missing information is usually due to insufficient data for reporting.
How much does a master’s in electrical engineering cost?
To learn more about the costs of obtaining an electrical engineering master’s degree, see below for details.
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).
Financial aid and scholarships for a master’s degree in electrical engineering
To help pay for your master’s degree in electrical engineering, it is highly recommended that you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 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. Be sure to meet with the student financial aid service at your chosen school to uncover other aid options you may be eligible for.
» Read: How to apply for a scholarship
What to expect from a master’s in electrical engineering
These programs build on knowledge gained at the bachelor’s level. Master’s students usually take a few core classes in addition to courses related to their specialization. In some types of programs, there is a capstone project or thesis.
The exact requirements vary by school, but are likely to include:
- bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a related discipline
- research experience at the bachelor’s level
- excellent grades in the final 2 years of your bachelor’s
Bridge programs for non-STEM backgrounds
For those wishing to pursue a master’s in electrical engineering with a non-STEM background, certain colleges and universities offer programs to bridge the gap in knowledge.
Such programs can last anywhere from 6 months to over a year and can be challenging due to the accelerated nature of the coursework.
How long does it take to get a master’s in electrical engineering?
Getting your master’s in electrical engineering takes 1 to 2 years.
Thesis versus non-thesis route
Master’s programs focused on real-life applications may not require a thesis, which is more common in research and theory-based programs. Note that you may have to complete more credit hours to replace the thesis. Often, the same college department offers both routes.
Internships aren’t required for engineering master’s students, but can be beneficial. The connections you form may prove invaluable once you are entering the job market.
FE and PE exams
The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exams are available to engineers wishing to advance their careers further by gaining licensure as a professional engineer.
You can take the FE exam immediately after your bachelor’s, and the PE after working in your field for at least 4 years. Once you pass the PE, you can apply for licensure in your state.
Note that a master’s degree is not a substitute for a PE license.
Only licensed engineers can:
- stamp and seal various designs
- own an engineering firm
- bid on government contracts
- advertise engineering services to the public
- offer witness testimony as an expert
What types of courses are there in a master’s of electrical engineering?
Common courses in a master’s of electrical engineering include:
- stochastic processes in engineering
- linear systems theory
- signals and transforms in engineering
- program and project management
- foundations of electrical engineering
- electrical energy conversion
- electrical power systems
- smart power grids
- computer networks
- secure cloud computing
What types of master’s degrees are there in electrical engineering?
There are 2 main types of master’s degrees in electrical engineering:
- Master of science in engineering – recommended for those seeking to enter academia and pursue research
- Master of engineering – this is the standard form of the electrical engineering master’s, aimed primarily at practical applications
What careers can I have with a master’s in electrical engineering?
Obtaining your master’s is a significant achievement that can lead to a range of mechanical engineering careers. Many employers count master’s degrees as several additional years of experience, which in turn may allow you to enter senior roles at an earlier point in your career.
Frequently asked questions
How hard is a master’s in electrical engineering?
The answer depends on many factors, including the coursework you choose and your previous knowledge of the subject. Master’s degree coursework builds on the foundational concepts taught at the bachelor’s level but expands on certain elements in great detail. This can make the program fairly challenging.
Do electrical engineers need a master’s degree?
No, electrical engineers don’t need a master’s degree. However, a master’s degree often counts for several years of experience and can push you ahead of the competition.
Should I do a master of science in electrical engineering or a master of engineering?
While these 2 degrees sound very similar, there is a subtle difference. Master of engineering programs tend to be more practical, while master of science programs may be more theoretical and research-based. Deciding whether you’d like to pursue a career as an electrical engineer or are more interested in academia can be the basis for making an informed decision between these degrees.
Are electrical engineers versatile?
Yes, electrical engineering is a very broad and versatile engineering discipline that allows you entry into a great variety of work environments. The complex and extensive training electrical engineers receive at college tends to make them quick learners, allowing them to succeed in many fields.
Do electrical engineers use physics?
While electrical engineers don’t use standard Newtonian physics on a daily basis, electrical engineering involves using the concepts of electricity and magnetism from theoretical physics and applying them to the real world. Low-level circuits still follow the laws of physics, just on a much smaller scale than we’re used to.
IEEE is one of the world’s largest technical professional organizations and has over 400,000 members worldwide. For anyone wanting to get involved in electrical engineering and developing standards for electrical products and the discipline as a whole, IEEE is a great resource.
The NCEES is a nonprofit organization focusing on professional development and licensing for surveyors and engineers. NCEES funds both the FE and PE exams that are required for any individual to become a Professional Engineer within the United States.
Eta Kappa Nu was founded in 1904 as an international honor society of IEEE. They focus on promoting engineering excellence and currently have over 200,000 members in 250 chapters.