See a list of Electrical Engineering Programs by Clicking Here!
What is Electrical Engineering?
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.
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 complete a series of discrete steps on your journey. A summary of those steps can be found below to help you understand the milestones required as part of the process and actionable steps associated with each phase of the process. The steps to become an electrical engineer include the following:
- Your Priority List – Start the process towards becoming an electrical engineer by establishing your priority list. An example priority list of questions can be found on pages 3-4 of the MatchCollege Complete Guide to College Admissions Guide
- Ask for Feedback – Request feedback from teachers, counselors, school alumni, friends, and family members on your priority list to elicit valuable input before advancing to the next step.
- Self-Evaluation – By performing a self-assessment and taking stock of your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes you will be ready to effectively make decisions about your future in electrical engineering.
- Gather Information – The next step in the process is to gather information from accredited colleges and universities to overlay with your priority list. Comprehensive services like MatchCollege will help you quickly get matched to a number of programs of interest to research schools offering on-site or online degrees on this resource page or via our matching
- Get Matched & Apply – After collecting admissions information from a handful of quality schools, you can then assess your likelihood of admissions. Understanding a school’s admissions policies, requirements, education parameters, cost, program length, and financial aid is critical to your success. 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 application for admissions is in queue, you need to take the time to intimately understand your financial aid options. Talk to the school’s admissions department to help understand your aid options relating to grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans before committing to an electrical engineering program.
- Acceptance – Aligning your goals with the school’s offerings and overall costs will allow you to make a quality decision about your college and future in electrical engineering. After accepting your top school’s offer of admissions, you will need to schedule time to attend orientation, meet with your counselor, 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 transferrable skills to help grow your career and skill set by being part of relevant projects and activities in electrical engineering.
- 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.
Degrees in Electrical Engineering
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 a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate degree. As a result, we have provided a summary of each below to help you understand your educational options in electrical engineering below:
Electrical Engineering Bachelor’s Degree
The classroom-based or online bachelor degrees in electrical engineering are designed to expose students to a variety of design theories and mathematical models in the field. Students enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program will take a number of science and math classes that underpin electrical engineering along with introductory courses (chemistry, technical writing, computer programming, electrical drafting) in the first two years of study. These foundational classes provide the framework necessary for engineers to grasp more advanced concepts downstream. As an example, core classes in computer programming and electrical systems prepare students to work in robotic design and robotics.
The final two years of the 4-year bachelor’s degree program, students will take core engineering courses in electrical engineering. Programs may be clustered into fields like computer engineering (CAD, VLSI, embedded systems, software engineering, digital hardware), electrical science (nanotechnology, energy conversion, photonic devices, electronic devices), and systems engineering (control, signal processing, communications).
Electrical Engineering Master’s Degree
Master’s degrees in electrical engineering are often split between research-intensive or professionally oriented programs. The research-based programs are generally created for student’s intent on pursuing a PhD or research-intensive job after graduation. While professional degrees provide students with skills in a defined area of specialization like manufacturing, supply chain management, aerospace, communications, power, or nanotechnology. Students applying to a master’s degree program in electrical engineering will need an undergraduate degree from an ABET accredited school with work experience a preferred prerequisite.
The master’s degree in electrical engineering will last 1-3 years dependent on the course chosen and number of credits you have entering the program. Degree programs can be conferred as a Master of Science (MS) or a joint BS/MS program which can compress the overall length of time it takes to earn a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree. From upper level math courses to specialized courses in a variety of electrical engineering disciplines, students will have the opportunity to solve complex issues and create novel solutions to existing electrical challenges. A number of electrical engineering programs will require students to complete a thesis project which can affect the overall length of degree completion.
Electrical Engineering Doctorate Degree
Doctoral program in Electrical Engineering is a PhD program found in a course catalog as a Doctor of Philosophy is a terminal degree with no additional degrees beyond the doctoral degree. Students enrolled in a doctoral degree in electrical engineering will select an area of concentration as part of their studies. Areas of specialty for PhD students may include program such as: computer architecture, communication science, controls, computer engineering, electromagnetics, integrated circuits, nanotechnology, multimedia, photonics, quantum electronics, quantum information processing, plasmas, power systems, or signal processing.
In terms of admissions, the majority of colleges require a master’s degree while a few allow students with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering plus substantive work experience so make sure to consult the school’s admissions office. In addition to a set of rigorous coursework, PhD students must invest years to complete a board-approved dissertation. The creation, design, research, and defense of a dissertation will translate to a 3-5 investment to complete a doctorate-level degree in electrical engineering. Upon graduation, students earning a doctorate degree will be prepared to launch careers in a leadership or research capacity in higher education, consulting firms, public companies, private organizations, or government agencies.
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
- Fundamentals of Circuits
Areas of Specialty in Electrical Engineering
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
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Employment Opportunities and Licensure
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
Job Growth, Salary and Related Fields
Job growth for electrical engineers is expected to be slow over the next decade due to a reduction in manufacturing in the United States as a whole. Some job growth is expected through innovation and contracting in burgeoning fields. Positions through the government are expected to remain steady due to opening from retirement and newly implemented projects. Electrical engineers may find work with the government, private firms, manufacturing companies, and contract labor. Some individuals may choose to start their own consulting businesses. Individuals with a master's degree will also be eligible for research and teaching positions. Long term experience and success may qualify individuals for managerial positions. Median annual income for an electric engineer is $96,20 with the top 10% averaging $149,040 a year and the bottom ten percent averaging $59,720 a year.
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
The average salary for an electrical engineer is approximately $84,000 per year, with increases in pay coming from job experience and promotion.