Guide to getting a master’s in industrial engineering
What is industrial engineering?
Industrial engineering uses a combination of scientific techniques, mathematics, and statistics to analyze, design, improve, and implement systems of materials, services, or information.
Industrial engineers are experts at analyzing, collecting, and interpreting quantitative and qualitative data and using this data to make predictions and understand a system’s behavior. By understanding the systems they work on in great depth and detail, these engineers can make decisions that help organizations thrive.
What is the difference between systems engineering vs industrial engineering?
These fields overlap significantly and thus are frequently grouped together. You may, for instance, come across a master’s in industrial and systems engineering (ISE). Systems engineering can be thought of as a subset of industrial engineering that has expanded into a field in its own right.
Focuses on testing for reliability, simulation modeling and analysis, quality control, and linear systems.
Focuses on production control, optimizing manufacturing, and supervising high-tech production.
What can you do with a master’s in industrial engineering?
Industrial engineering offers the broadest career options of any engineering discipline. A bachelor’s degree is the entry point into the field, while a master’s degree expands career choices. Some of the roles you can take on include:
- optimizing the distribution of goods globally
- managing airline operations
- planning robot motion within warehouses
- designing safety protocols for self-driving vehicles
- performing electric grid optimization
Should you get a master’s in industrial engineering?
If you are seeking to enter management or other senior roles as quickly as possible, a master’s in industrial engineering is the obvious choice. It is somewhat more common to earn a master’s in this field than in other engineering disciplines due to a great number of roles requiring the specialized training a graduate degree provides.
Another consideration may be economic. The below shows economic performance of this degree 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 bachelor’s in industrial engineering.
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 industrial engineering
When choosing between different programs, it is important to find one that offers the specialization you are interested in. Industrial engineering is a markedly broad field, meaning your choice of specialization can significantly alter your career path.
Below is a list of possible industrial engineering concentrations.
- Quality management systems (QMS) design
Learn about the application of QMS in ensuring the quality of goods or services produced or offered by manufacturers or organizations. ISO 9001, IATF 16949, and ISO 22000 are some of the best-known QM systems.
- Manufacturing and automation
Focus your studies on the implementation of “intelligent” manufacturing and automation in various industrial settings.
- Supply chain management
Learn to manage the flow of services and goods between locations and businesses, from raw components all the way to the finished consumer product.
- Business logistics engineering
Operational efficiency and reducing costs are the focus of this specialization. This can include transportation, inventory, storage, distribution, and information management.
- Information systems management
In this specialization, the focus is on information rather than goods or services. Insights from systems design are applied to the analysis, storage, and sharing of information and data.
- Management science
This specialization is aimed at training business managers with STEM skills through the use of evidence-based and scientific approaches to managing people, processes, workflow, and organizations.
- Integrated Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma is a system focused on improving process yield and reducing variation and waste in manufacturing and other enterprise activities.
- Human factors – ergonomics
Design and optimize the systems, processes, and technologies employees use and help them become more efficient and productive.
While it is critically important to ensure your bachelor’s degree is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, it is less so for master’s degrees. Be aware that you may not be accepted into a master’s program without an ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree.
Can you get an online master’s in industrial engineering?
Yes, you can earn this degree online. Approximately 20% of programs are offered exclusively online, which is significantly higher than other engineering disciplines. For comparison, only 3.4% of chemical engineering master’s degrees are available fully online.
Master’s in industrial 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.
With just over 60% of programs available on-campus only, it means around 20% are available in hybrid format, combining in-person and remote learning.
How much does a master’s in industrial engineering cost?
We are limited to measuring the median debt graduates incur upon graduation. See below how the debt and repayment rates differ 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).
Financial aid and scholarships for industrial engineering master’s degrees
In order to save on tuition, we recommend all students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Additionally, check with your college or university to see if there are other financial aid opportunities you quality for.
What to expect from a master’s in industrial engineering
The typical student in this program program has a bachelor’s in the field as well as a few years of work experience. Many programs are flexible, offering hybrid learning formats and courses that fit a professional schedule. The program can be an opportunity to network with others in the field, similarly to an MBA.
It is not uncommon for graduates from these programs to also pursue a business education. Topics covered in an industrial engineering master’s program range from STEM-heavy technical to managerial and business courses. Core courses may be similar across programs, but electives depend on your specialization.
Admission requirements vary by school. The most common include:
- minimum undergraduate GPA as set by school
- 2 years of professional experience in a technical environment
- bachelor’s degree in industrial, systems, or other engineering discipline, or other STEM field
How long does it take to get a master’s in industrial engineering?
It takes 1 to 2 years to complete this degree program.
Thesis versus non-thesis route
Master’s programs focused on the application of knowledge generally don’t require a thesis for completion, while those focused on research do. Industrial engineering master’s degrees are more commonly offered as non-thesis programs, the focus being on the practical application of knowledge in technical and business environments.
Internships aren’t required but can be beneficial. The relationships you build can lead to employment or networking opportunities after graduation.
FE and PE exams
Licensed Professionals Engineers can:
- stamp and seal designs
- bid on government contracts
- own their own engineering firm
- perform engineering consulting services
You can take the FE exam during the final months of your bachelor’s or soon after graduation. The PE is taken following 4 or more years of work experience.
Note that a master’s degree is not a replacement for a PE license.
What type of courses are there in an industrial engineering master’s program?
Common courses in this program include:
Focuses on project management, systems engineering, economics, and finance in a global environment.
Examines the use of systems theory and techniques for planning, overseeing, and achieving organizational objectives.
Stochastic models, derived from statistics, are applied in finance and business as investment decision tools or to improve business practices and profitability.
Teaches students about systems architecture by covering allocations of functionality, system requirements, and reintegration. Allows students to model systems engineering concepts through mathematics and modeling or graphical tools.
Guides students through various design experiments meant to simulate process design optimizations and product improvement processes that can be used in the real world.
Introduces students to a variety of optimization models that are used in finance, healthcare, environmental engineering, industrial engineering, production, and transportation
What types of master’s degrees are there in industrial engineering?
The 2 primary types of degrees are the master of science (M.S.) and the master of engineering (MEng), the main difference being that the former requires a thesis while the latter does not. Most schools allow you to choose between these 2 formats.
The main reason for choosing an M.S. over an MEng is if you know you want to pursue further education and possibly enter academia. The thesis requirement allows you to continue on to a Ph.D. in the field.
What careers can I have with a master’s in industrial engineering?
Many employers show preference for systems engineers with a master’s degree, often counting the degree as several years of work experience. This also means you may be able to enter higher-level roles more quickly. Check out our careers in industrial engineering page for more information.
Frequently asked questions
Do industrial engineers need a master’s degree?
No, but this degree can help you enter higher-level roles. In many employment settings, a master’s degree can be a substitute for several years of work experience.
Can industrial engineers work as systems engineers?
Yes, industrial engineers can work as systems engineers, and vice versa. Systems engineers are focused on improving and optimizing business processes and understanding the systems they are building in great detail. Industrial engineers have knowledge of management, economic analysis, supply chains, and production lines.
What industries use systems engineering?
There are a wide variety of industries that use systems engineering, including finance, logistics, manufacturing, energy, healthcare, telecommunications, production, and transportation.
Does industrial engineering involve business?
To some degree, yes. ISE requires a combination of managerial concepts and technical knowhow. Industrial engineers use technological principles to improve processes and production methods within business environments, but in some cases their focus is on people or information rather than goods or materials.
Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineer (IISE)
A global association of industrial and systems engineers dedicated to helping each other grow, expand their skills, and come together to advance the engineering profession.
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing professional licensure for engineers and surveyors. They administer both the FE and PE examinations for engineers.