What’s the Value of an Advanced Engineering Degree?



As a current engineering student in a bachelor degree program, it’s not unusual to ask, “Is a masters in engineering worth it?” Prospective graduate students can be assured that higher degrees in engineering offer a solid return on investment. Graduate school programs are a worthwhile choice since many top-level jobs require at least a master degree to qualify. Entry-level jobs are available at the bachelor level in the engineering field, but any advanced opportunities require a masters degree or doctoral degree. Directors, managers, professors, researchers, and consultants are expected to have attended an accredited graduate school for job placement.

Engineering students will find quick and profitable job placements after choosing to enroll in a masters degree in engineering or PhD program. Many engineering professionals find that they earn back any tuition payments with a higher paying job within five years or less of degree conferment. It is estimated that a graduate-level engineering degree can increase salary by an average of 39 percent. The only exception to this estimate is petroleum engineers who can expect an increase closer to 7 to 10 percent. Advanced degrees also allow for the flexibility to change career tracks. For instance, private engineers may choose to move to the public sector after finishing a degree program. Engineers in the field could finish a PhD program and earn a tenured professorship at a nearby university.

Engineering programs at colleges and universities around the country are highly competitive. A GPA minimum of 3.0 and a GRE score of at least 320 is typically standard for admissions to top engineering colleges and universities. When enrolling, students at the graduate level are expected to choose a specialization in the field. The focus of studies is narrowed and courses are only relevant to the engineering specialization. Engineering degrees position the student for leadership positions where he or she will manage a group of engineers. As an incentive, colleges offering engineering graduate programs may accommodate those already working the field by providing remote learning opportunities like virtual courses.

Frequently asked questions for prospective graduate engineering students include the following:

Should I get a masters in engineering?

A masters in engineering is a key stepping stone in advancing a career in the industry. According to the Michigan Technological University, starting salaries for those graduating with a bachelor degree in engineering is more than $66,000 while graduate level salaries are usually around $90,000 per year. Masters degrees in engineering are perfect for those looking to secure a management position in fieldwork. With the masters in engineering, the professional can advance to a leadership position.

What can I do with a masters in engineering?

Masters in engineering allows most graduates to remain within their industries, but achieve a position as a manager, senior associate, director, or foreman. Job titles might include senior electrical engineer, senior mechanical engineer, senior chemical engineer, and the like. Project manager jobs are also commonplace for those with a masters in engineering. In this case, the engineer is responsible for the design and planning of any department projects.

What can you do with a PhD in engineering?

Most students who earn a PhD in engineering will not look to secure a position out in the field. With a PhD in engineering, the candidate is prone to pursue jobs in the area of academia or research. If the person does choose to stay in the private sector, he or she is qualified for the top positions in the department including director or co-director.

Why get a PhD in engineering?

Pursuing a PhD in engineering is perfect for those who want to learn advanced concept within a specialization. Research and teaching positions have lucrative salaries as well as the benefit of job security. Tenured jobs are commonplace for those with a doctoral degree in engineering.

Is a PhD in engineering worth it?

Engineering positions at the doctoral level have high starting salaries that allow a good return on investment. Compensation data collected from the American Association of University Professors found that engineering faculty members are one of the highest paid associates within higher learning institutions. Average pay rates are in excess of $129,000 per year for full-time educators.

School/Program Accreditation for Engineering

Any college chosen by the prospective graduate student needs accreditation to confirm industry standards. For any engineering college to earn their accreditation, both the university and industry degrees must meet the engineering accreditation commission requirements. The following features are reviewed by the board before accreditation is issued: engineering curriculum for graduate-level classes, teaching staff members and their credentials, and overall graduation rates and positive post-graduation outcomes. Accreditation for engineering is extremely important for students looking to advance their engineering careers. Most prospective employers review both the college and degree program completed by the applicant to confirm legitimacy.

An important note is that if the student requires financial aid from the federal government, a regional accreditation is a requirement. All states within the U.S. are assigned a regional accrediting agency based on location. For instance, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is responsible for accreditation in northeast states such as Delaware, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. There are both regional and national accreditation agencies for colleges and universities, but national accreditation is never appropriate for masters and doctoral programs. National accreditation is more often used for technical and certificate programs.

Along with federal student loan and grant funding, regional accreditation confirms any credits earned through the program will more likely be accepted for transfer. Engineering colleges always have the discretion to accept or not accept transfer credits, but regional accreditation makes it a possibility.

Engineering students must also consider accreditation specific to their field. For instance, graduate students often wonder “Is ABET accreditation important?” The engineering accreditation commission of ABET stands for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Accredited engineering schools should be certified by ABET. ABET accreditation is necessary to confirm that the graduate has learned the skills required to remain competitive in STEM careers.

Types of Advanced Engineering Degrees

At the graduate level, there are more types of engineering degrees than at the bachelor degree level. Graduate students require different types of degrees in engineering because they will pursue a specialized form of study. The following are the most common types of engineering masters degrees:

Computer engineering: Computer engineering graduate programs teach advanced concepts in developing and designing software and hardware. Tracks within the field of computer engineering at the graduate level include cyber security, software engineering, and network management.

Civil engineering: Civil engineering degrees for master degree students involve working in developing key infrastructure elements. Civil engineers design and build railways, buildings, roads, and bridges. Specializations include structural engineering or architectural engineering.

Chemical engineering: Chemical engineers use chemical formulas and compounds to solve real-world problems. Chemical engineers in graduate programs often end up specializing in agricultural engineering, sustainable design, or materials science.

Electrical engineering: In the field of electrical engineering, the professional works with different forms of energy, including solar, hydro, and wind. Specializations available are nanoengineering, biomedical engineering, systems and control engineering, and power systems.

Environmental engineering: This popular major option allows the professional to design products and systems to improve the environment. Specializations in environmental engineering include sustainability, ecological engineering, water resources engineering, and geophysics.

Masters in engineering admission requirements depend on the college and university. However, most college admissions departments need the student to have successfully completed a bachelor degree program in engineering. Professional experience and a high GRE test score may also be needed to enter the program.

Engineering PhD programs are typically similar in subject as masters degrees, but have a much narrower scope. Most master degree options are also available as doctorates in engineering. An engineering PhD will however require mush more extensive amounts of research, including a dissertation. Popular doctoral program specializations that are not usually at the master degree level include Aerospace, Systems and Engineering Management, Technology Management, and Interdisciplinary. These engineering doctoral programs prepare the graduate for three likely career tracks: research, education, or management.

Doctoral engineering programs have certain pre-requisites. First, a doctoral program often requires that the student have successfully completed a master’s degree in an engineering discipline. However, bachelor degree graduates may be considered for dual degree programs that allow the student to pursue both a master and doctoral degree simultaneously. If the student has yet to take and receive a high grade on the GRE, then he or she will likely have to complete it before admissions to the PhD program.

Online Engineering Master’s Degrees

A masters in engineering online degree is possible in numerous specialties. An online masters in engineering is an easy way to complete courses while still working at a current engineering position. Many engineering firms will only promote those who have obtained an advanced degree. The company may even offer some sort of reimbursement for a masters in engineering online program. Online courses are adjustable to the person’s current work schedule. Coursework can usually be completed online at night or on the weekends. Another online option for engineering programs is hybrid graduate degree tracks. In this case, some courses are done online while a minimal in-person class commitment is required.

Hiring managers won’t discriminate between those who earn their degrees online or through a traditional engineering college. Instead, the hiring manager reviews courses taken online in engineering and professional experience gained through schooling opportunities. An online masters engineering degree program may ask students to complete a fellowship as part of their graduation requirement. However, the college is likely to permit internships and fellowships at a location nearby the student.

Online master degree programs often have the same specializations as those at traditional colleges. Specializations for online master degree programs include Engineering Management, Materials, Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing, Petroleum, Communications, Civil Engineering, Software, and Agricultural. Schools with master degree programs are available nationally. Examples of schools with online master degrees include University of California in Los Angeles, North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, George Washington University, and Johns Hopkins University.  

A doctorate in engineering online are available through select virtual campuses. An online engineering doctorate is often just as challenging as a traditional program. Online engineering programs take self-discipline to finish and good time management. Doctor of Philosophy programs usually require a specialization for enrollment. Examples of common specializations offered by online doctoral programs are Information Science, Aerodynamics, Computer Models, Robotics, and Nanotechnology.

Although a doctoral degree in engineering can be pursued remotely, the programs are all likely to require a dissertation. The dissertation is used considered the culmination of the student’s research over the course of the program. Numerous colleges and universities offer an accredited degree in engineering at the doctoral level. Schools to consider include University of Delaware, Stanford University, Oklahoma State University, Colorado State University, University of Maryland, and Texas Tech University.

Both public and private colleges hold online degree programs at the graduate level for engineering students. The main difference between the two types of college is the tuition costs. Remote students can apply to distance learning programs at any location. However, in-state students will pay a lower rate at public colleges, regardless if classes are done remotely or not.

Certifications and Licenses

Since there are so many disciplines in the field of engineering, there are seemingly countless certifications available to professionals. Certifications are definitely a major benefit for improving job prospects. Many engineering tasks require on the job training that can be achieved only through a certification program. Employers often sponsor certification training for engineers working for their organizations. The following is the most prominent organizations that grant worthwhile certifications to engineers with advanced degrees.

National Society of Professional Engineers: This organization has been around for decades and has certified more than 135,000 professional engineers. The organization provides two different certification options: Technician and Technologist. With the former, professional work experience is required along with passing a multiple-choice examination. For the technologist certification, a minimum of a four-year degree is needed along with an advanced work history. No testing is required for the technologist certification as long as education and work requirements are met.  

SME: SME is considered the provider of industry standard certifications in STEM disciplines. Different types of certifications for engineers are available from SME including Lean Certification, Technical Certification, and Additive Manufacturing Certification. Testing is required for the certifications along with a review of each applicant’s educational background and professional experience.

American Society of Civil Engineers: The American Society of Civil Engineers offers board certifications to those who have achieved at least a masters degree in the field. In addition to a graduate degree, the board must confirm at least eight years of work experience after degree conferment. Board certification options include Coastal Engineering, Water Resource Engineering, Ports Engineering, Navigation Engineering, and Ocean Engineering.  

Graduates of engineering programs are encouraged to become licensed in their states. Licensing programs are for professional engineers and can be pursued after two years of relevant work experience. Each engineering licensing board requires that the applicant pass at least two competency examinations to receive the license. Renewal for the P.E. license is usually required every two to four years depending on the state’s requirements. Also, the licensing board needs to confirm that the engineer has completed the sufficient amount of continuing education credits.

Advanced Careers in Engineering

Before enrolling in a graduate level program, it’s natural to wonder what types of engineering jobs are there. Different types of jobs in engineering are available based on what industry the graduate decides to enter. Many engineering professionals stay within their sector, but move on to managing multiple engineers within their departments. Jobs for masters of engineering degree holders include:

Senior electrical engineer: A senior electrical engineer looks at current systems and analyzes ways to make improvements. The senior associate is also responsible for quality assurance and developing new methods for testing and analysis.

Senior mechanical engineer: A senior mechanical engineer lead a team or multiple teams to research, design, and build new mechanical devices and equipment pieces.

Senior chemical engineer: Companies typically hire a senior chemical engineer to manage and advise team members in the research and development of new products.

Aerospace engineer: An aerospace engineer designs and builds aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, and satellites.

Health and safety engineer: Health and safety engineers review plans and models to confirm that they meet all state and federal OSHA regulations.

Structural engineer: A structural engineer heads up all design and build plans for new construction projects such as highways, bridges, and buildings.

Processing engineer manager: The processing engineer manager is in charge of implementing new manufacturing processes to help improve efficiency in the industrial sector.

These are just a few examples of the positions open to graduates of a masters degree program in engineering. With so many fields, any type of high level position is available to candidates with a masters degree or higher in engineering. Project managers and team leaders for engineering organizations are commonplace for graduates of master and PhD engineering programs.

PhD in engineering jobs will be most often found at colleges, universities, research institutes, and government offices.  Engineer PhD jobs have the potential to promise long-term employment. For instance, researchers and faculty members usually remain in the position until retirement. Here are a few frequent job titles for those who graduate with a doctoral degree in engineering.

Technical consultant: Engineers who work as consultants provide organizations with advice on what type of designs can advance their company goals. Consultants are experts within a specific field such as mechanical or environmental engineering.

Technology specialist: Computer or software engineering PhD holders are typically qualified for tech specialist jobs. Organizations hire specialists to provide duties like procurement and implementation of new tech products and systems.

Engineering professor: Professors are hired by colleges to teach associate, bachelor, and graduate level courses.

Researcher: Researchers with engineering degrees work to find advancements in fields such as power systems, bioengineering, construction, and nanotechnologies.

Managers or team leaders may also have a doctoral degree in engineering. However, many managers and directors are qualified for the position with a masters degree and the appropriate certifications needed in the field. Doctoral degrees are not required for P.E. licensing, but are accepted.

Advanced Engineering Salary

There are many types of engineers and salary potential for graduates of masters programs. A masters in engineering salary depends largely on what type of field the graduate plans to work in. A master in engineer salary has a range that starts at $70,000 with the potential to average as much as $150,000 annually. A master degree salary in engineering is highest in the following fields: computer engineering, geological engineering, materials science engineering, and mechanical engineering. The mean wage for senior-level positions in these fields are $95,000 to $115,000. For the top earners in engineering leadership positions, salaries average $140,000 to $175,000.    

For a PhD engineer salary, the potential for a competitive salary is also there. A starting salary for PhD in engineering is typically in the six figures due to the complexity of the subject. In the field of education, a doctor of engineering salary is around $129,000. All other positions, including research jobs, are also very lucrative. At a minimum, researchers will make at least $90,000 each year.

Professional Organizations in Engineering

Professional organizations are of the greatest importance to engineering professionals. Professional organization offer numerous benefits including the chance to network with prospective clients, colleagues, and managers. National professional organizations often have local chapters that plan nearby events and seminars. Along with networking, professional organizations provide the latest industry news and career advice. Those seeking a new position in the field of engineering may find available opportunities through professional organization job postings.

Organizations for engineers also offer the potential to obtain certifications in the field. Board certifications demonstrate the individual’s advanced knowledge in the industry. Certification exams and test prep are typically offered on the same site. Also, continuing education courses are sponsored by professional organizations. Continuing education courses are usually needed as part of state board licensing requirements.

The following are the top professional organizations for engineers:

National Society of Professional Engineers

IEEE

American Association of Engineering Societies

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