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What is Electrical Engineering?
Electrical engineering is a branch within engineering dealing with the study, design, and application of:
- Technology of Electricity
- Electronics & Electric Devices
- Math & Physics of Electricity
- Energy Transmission
An electrical engineer will work on project both large and small in a variety of industries. In fact, projects can range from nanotechnology to satellite communication systems for start-up organizations or government agencies. Additionally, the field of robotics is driven by innovation and fundamentals of electrical engineering. Robots contain a number of actuators, sensors, control systems, artificial intelligence, and processors that are keys to the science of electrical engineers.
Difference Between an Electrical Engineer & Electronics Engineer
With many people using electrical engineering and electronics engineering interchangeable, it is easy to understand the confusion that exists between the two disciplines. The easiest way to think about the difference between electronics engineering and electrical engineering is the size and scope of each area of study.
- Electronics Engineers focuses on small electronic circuits. Examples include the utilization of transistors, diodes, integrated circuits, and semiconductor devices to design electronic devices, circuits, controllers, and systems.
- Electrical Engineers emphasize the design, production, and distribution of electric power. Examples typically include the creation and manufacturing of electric transmission, electric assemblies, electric motors, navigation systems, power generation, radar, and communication systems.
How to Become an Electrical Engineer?
To become an electrical engineer, you will need to obtain a formal education and pass a series of discrete steps on your journey. We have created a quick summation of activities you will need to process to work towards your ultimate goal in engineering. The key milestones to become an electrical engineer include the following 10 steps.
- Your Priority List – Start the process towards becoming an electrical engineer by establishing your priority list. We have created a series of questions to help you develop a list of priorities on our College Admissions Guide.
- Ask for Feedback – Request feedback from teachers, counselors, school alumni, friends, and family members on your priority list to gather valuable input before advancing to the next step.
- Self-Evaluation – By performing a self-assessment and taking stock capabilities will allow you to more effectively make life-changing decisions about your future career in electrical engineering.
- Gather Information – Next, you will need to deftly gather valuable admissions information from accredited universities. MatchCollege is the nation's most trusted source for accredited colleges and universities helping millions of college-bound students every year. Find colleges offering on-campus or online degrees in electrical engineering today.
- Get Matched & Apply – After collecting admissions packets from quality schools, you can spend time to assess your likelihood of gaining admissions. Colleges will typically spell out their admissions requirements, school policies, education parameters, and financial aid terms in these documents. Take the time to align the programs with your priority list, narrow the list to a handful of quality programs and submit your application for admissions to those schools.
- Financial Aid – With your admissions application in queue, you need to take the time to comprehend your financial aid options. Talk to the school’s admissions department to help understand your aid options relating to financial aid benefits such as grants, work-study programs, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans.
- Acceptance – After accepting your top school’s offer of admissions, you will begin mapping out your next few years. New and transfer students will attend orientation, meet with an academic advisor, and register for electrical engineering classes from an ABET accredited school.
- Earn Your Degree - Earn a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree in electrical engineering from an ABET accredited college or university. While in school, focus on consciously growing your transferrable skills. Get involved with electrical engineering projects, offsite trainings, and trade shows to show initiative and interest in your future.
- License – Depending on the work in your area and employer preference, it may be important to apply for licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE). Learn more about becoming a PE in your state by visiting the NSPE portal here.
- Skill Development and Growth - Register for continuing education credits, additional credentials, or college classes in the field to keep growing and learning.
Top Electrical Engineering Degrees
There are a variety of degree options in the electrical engineering field to help propel your career forward. Degree programs will depend on the school but can span from an undergraduate degree to graduate degrees in engineering. As a result, we have provided a summary of each below to help you understand your educational options for an electrical engineering degree online or it's campus equivalent.
Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering
Bachelor degree programs in electrical engineering are created to provide exceptional exposure to key mathematical models and design theories in the field. It stands to reason your curriculum will include math-rich and science-heavy courses. Disciplines that undergird electrical engineering include college courses like physics, chemistry, electromechanical systems, technical writing, computer aided design, computer programming, drafting, and systems engineering. Core engineering classes provide requisite framework to harness advanced concepts and solve complex problems.
The final 2 years of a four-year bachelor degree will provide students with the opportunity to take engineering electives. More advanced classes will be clustered around key concepts to help provide context in electrical engineering. Academic clusters will often include the following:
- Computer Engineering: VLSI, embedded systems, CAD, digital hardware, software engineering, digital hardware
- Electrical Science: Energy conversion, nanotechnology, photonic devices, energy conversion, electronic devices
- Systems Engineering: signal processing, control, communications
Electrical Engineering Master’s Degree
Master’s in electrical engineering are generally divided between professional-orientation and research-intensive projects. Research programs are academic pathways designed as a vehicle to a PhD degree or research career after graduation. On the other hand, professional degrees will provide graduate students with career-focused skills. Industry or career focused skills may include programs for supply chain management, manufacturing, aerospace, power plant technology, communications, robotics, or nanotechnology.
Enrollment into a master’s degree in electrical engineering will typically require a qualifying undergraduate degree from an ABET school. Work experience is not always required but often preferred for graduate candidates. Electrical engineering master's degree will take one to three years to complete for full-time students. Final degrees will be conferred as a Master of Science (MS). Alternatively, there are schools that now offer a joint bachelor and master program known as a BS/MS degree. Joint degrees can condense the overall time it takes to earn a master's degree in an inclusive program.
Upper-level computational mathematics and electromechanical instrumentation classes provide students with key tools of the trade. Academic tools help students synthesize issues and arrive at novel solutions to complex challenges. Near the completion of the program, students may be asked to complete a thesis or enroll in additional courses to bypass the thesis project.
Electrical Engineering Doctorate Degree
Doctoral programs in Electrical Engineering are PhD degrees. They are found in a school's catalogue as a Doctor of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering. A PhD in EE is known in academia as a terminal degree as no engineering degrees exist beyond the PhD. During the enrollment process, students will select an area of concentration. Areas of concentration become career specialties or areas of expertise for researchers. Examples of possible areas of concentration in EE include: computer architecture, communication science, controls, computer engineering, electromagnetics, integrated circuits, nanotechnology, multimedia, photonics, quantum electronics, quantum information processing, plasmas, power systems, or signal processing.
Admissions into an EE doctoral program most often starts with a qualifying master's degree. However, admissions teams may consider a student with a relevant bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in conjunction with substantive work experience.
Rigorous coursework and disserations projects are expected elements in an electrical engineering doctorate degree. PhD students can expect a 3-5 year investment in coursework culminating with the creation, research, design, and defense of a board-approved dissertation. Graduates holding a PhD in electrical engineering can expect to work for research organizations, higher education institutions, consulting firms, or start-ups that rely upon the knowledge and problem-solving skills of an EE.
Educational Requirements for Electrical Engineers
Electrical engineering students need to have a strong understanding of mathematics and the sciences, particularly physics. Students must also learn to be able to draft designs, as most electrical engineers will be required to submit such blueprints during the course of their work. A minimum of a bachelor's degree is necessary for work as an electrical engineer, with a program typically taking four years to complete. Some schools may offer five year programs that will provide both a bachelor's and master's degree. Higher levels of education allow for specialization, focusing on specific systems and how to approach them.
A curriculum in electrical engineering may include:
- General Chemistry
- Principles of Electronics
- Computational Math
- Computer Systems
- Fundamentals of Circuits
- Computer Hardware & Software
A degree in electrical engineering prepares students with skills and knowledge necessary to be able to develop, test, repair, and design electrical systems ranging from houses and automobiles, to specialized machinery and generators. Electrical engineers must have a strong background in science as well be able to read and design blueprints and schematics in order to implement electrical systems in structures and machines.
Individuals in the field are required to obtain licensure and certification in order to demonstrate competency and ability. Electrical engineers may choose to focus on more complex systems, such as computers, and in turn requiring experience and study pertaining to that specialization.
Electrical Engineering Jobs
Electrical engineers work in research and development organizations, engineering firms, government agencies, and consulting firms in a variety of industries. The sectors you can find an electrical engineer include marine, railroad, aerospace, automotive, defense, lighting, consumer electronics, commercial construction, computers, traffic control, healthcare, telecommunications, and electrical component manufacturing. Within each industry, electrical engineers can specialize in specific disciplines that can include:
- Energy Generation
- Energy Transmission
- Machine Learning
- Electrical Installations
- Analogue Circuitry
- Digital Circuitry
- Digital Communication
- Wireless Technology
- Brain Imaging
- Computer Programming
- CCTV Surveillance
- Quantum Technology
- Telephone Communications
- Wind Power
- Solar Power
- Navigation Systems & GPS
- Control Systems
- Speech and Language Processing
- Radio Frequency Systems
- Signal Processing
- Remote Sensing
Employment in Electrical Engineering
Individuals seeking a career in electrical engineering will find that a program that offers practical experience, such as an internship, alongside the classroom education will prove more beneficial when seeking employment. Though a license is not strictly required by states unless working with the government at the local, state or federal level, individuals who pursue licensure or certification will find their job prospects increased.
Licensure in electrical engineering has multiple levels, and requires students to be a graduate of an Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology accredited program. Graduates of such a program may immediately take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, the passing of which gives the engineer the designation EIT (Engineer in Training).
Once a sufficient amount of experience is accrued, an engineer will be eligible to take the Professional Engineering Exam, the passing of which will confer the title of PE (Professional Engineer).
Top Job Titles of an Electrical Engineer
As you think about a career in electrical engineering and electronics engineering, it is important to understand the range of job titles that exist. By understanding the job titles in the industry, you can more readily map jobs to careers in your area of specialization. Top job titles for electrical engineers include:
- Circuits Engineer
- Electrical Project Engineer
- Project Engineer
- Design Engineer
- Electrical Controls Engineer
- Power Systems Engineer
- Electrical Design Engineer
- Instrumentation & Electrical Reliability Engineer
- Electrical Engineer
- Test Engineer
Job Responsibilities of an Electrical Engineer
In a recent survey administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, practicing electrical engineers provided insight into their jobs. More specifically, they provided a list of common job duties to help existing practitioners and students think more deeply about the industry. A list of the most common job responsibilities of an electrical engineer include:
- Designing, implementing, maintaining, or improving electrical instruments, equipment, facilities, components, products, or systems for commercial or residential use
- Operating computer-assisted engineering or CAD software to perform engineering tasks
- Directing or coordinating manufacturing, construction, installation, maintenance, support, documentation, or testing activities to ensure proper customer and code compliance
- Preparing technical drawings, electrical system specs, or topographical maps to ensure conformity to customer and industry standards
- Conferring with management, peer engineers, customers, government agencies, and other stakeholders to discuss products or projects
Electrical Engineer Salary
Students interested in learning how much an electrical engineer make will discover it's well above average. In fact, the median annual income for an electric engineer is $96,200 with the top 10% averaging $149,040 a year and the bottom ten percent averaging $59,720 a year. The span of salaries points to variations in engineering work, experience, organization type, and employment type.
Job growth for electrical engineers is expected to be steady over the next decade. Growth in EE will be seen as a result of innovation and contracting in burgeoning fields. Positions through the government are expected to remain steady due to job openings from newly funded projects and retirement. Electrical engineers may find work with the government, private firms, self-employment, and manufacturing companies on a full-time or contract basis. Long term experience and a track record of success may qualify individuals for managerial positions.
Top Employers of Electrical Engineers
- Architectural and Engineering Firms 38,620
- Electrical Power Providers 17,990
- Research and Development Firms 13,990
- Semiconductor Manufacturers 12,050
- Instrumentation Manufacturers 11,500
States with the Highest Employment of Electrical Engineers
- California 25,320
- Texas 14,850
- New York 11,280
- Michigan 9,780
- Massachusetts 8,350
Top Paying States for Electrical Engineers
- Alaska $122,050
- California $115,290
- District of Columbia $110,310
- Massachusetts $108,990
- Rhode Island $106,900
Individuals interested in electrical engineering may also be interested in engineering, mechanical engineering, engineering management, manufacturing engineer, industrial engineering, nuclear engineer, petroleum engineer, structural engineer, systems engineer, and civil engineering.