Is a Master’s in Electrical Engineering Worth It?

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An electrical engineer smiling and standing while working on a laptop.Electrical engineering makes possible the practical application of electricity for a variety of functions. By applying engineering principles to the study, design, and use of electricity, electrical engineers have helped shape and modernize society for the better part of the past two centuries. Their influence is apparent every time someone flips a light switch, turns on a TV, or surfs the internet on their smartphone. As a field, electrical engineering prizes creativity and technical expertise. Using their ingenuity, electrical engineers can contribute to the creation of new electronic devices, systems, and structures. Many of the most successful electrical engineers hold advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE), which can provide students an opportunity to further their proficiency in math and science while also developing essential creative skills. When weighing various considerations, it can be concluded that a master’s in electrical engineering is worth it for students and working professionals alike. It helps those just beginning their careers stand out from a crowded field of job seekers and allows experienced electrical engineers to further advance their careers.

The Benefits of Engineering and Electrical Engineering

Although it is a highly technical field with a heavy emphasis on math and science, engineering is also an inherently creative profession. Tapping into their ingenuity, engineers can devise innovative solutions to complex issues. They are constantly designing, developing, testing, and implementing new concepts, products, and systems that help move society forward. The benefits of engineering can be felt across virtually every industry, including telecommunications, health care, transportation, and manufacturing. Engineers who can think creatively are needed more than ever due to the dynamic nature of technology and society, with new challenges — and opportunities — emerging all the time.

Impact of Electrical Engineer

Electrical engineers have been instrumental in the development of countless innovations that have advanced and improved how society functions. Some of their most noteworthy contributions include the following.

Light Bulb

Perhaps the most famous electrical engineer in history, Thomas Edison, along with British scientist Joseph Swan, perfected the practical light bulb in 1879. Edison and Swan developed incandescent light bulbs in their respective countries, which led to the electric lighting of houses and later streets.

Radar

Electrical engineers helped develop radar technology during the first half of the 20th century, largely in response to the heightened danger of aerial attacks stemming from World War I and World War II. The U.S. military poured its resources into the development of this technology leading up to World War II, entering the war with two different systems to help provide an edge over enemy forces.

Microprocessors

Modern-day personal computers wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for microprocessors, which were invented in 1971 by electrical engineer Marcian Edward “Ted” Hoff, who was working at Intel at the time. Microprocessors are also used in an array of other devices, including ATMs, cars, robots, and various types of hospital equipment.

Wi-Fi

Electrical engineers contributed to the development of Wi-Fi and portable internet access, connecting billions of people to an easily accessible and endless flow of information. These innovations led to the creation of other revolutionary devices, like the smartphone.

The world has greatly benefited from the work of electrical engineers for nearly 200 years, and their expertise will continue to improve society for years to come. For example, electrical engineers are heavily involved in efforts to protect the environment and stem the tide of climate change, helping harness energy from renewable sources, and improving the energy efficiency of appliances and other products. They also contribute greatly to future advancements in drone technology and space exploration. Individuals with advanced education will be best positioned to help engineer these breakthroughs. The potential to make invaluable contributions to society, combined with the many professional rewards that go along with an electrical engineering career, make earning a master’s in electrical engineering well worth it.

What Are the Benefits of Earning a Master’s in Electrical Engineering?

Although not a career requirement, earning a master’s in electrical engineering can provide students and professional engineers alike with the opportunity to enhance their skills. While an undergraduate degree can help students gain fundamental knowledge of physics, mathematics, and engineering, it may limit the scope of positions they may qualify for. A master’s program can help hone skills considered essential for an advanced career in electrical engineering, such as strong technical, creative, communication, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills. Earning an MSEE can boost a candidate’s job prospects, creating new career opportunities and the potential for higher earnings. Employers often prefer or require candidates to have a master’s for certain specialized roles, such as test engineer. An advanced degree may also be required for leadership positions, like project engineer or senior electrical engineer. Generally speaking, earning a master’s degree can improve an individual’s employment and income potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median weekly earnings for individuals with a master’s degree were nearly $250 greater than for those with just a bachelor’s, while the unemployment rate for master’s holders was almost 1.5% lower.

Professional Engineer License

A master’s in electrical engineering may also make it easier for professionals to earn the Professional Engineer (PE) license. Although a PE license is not required to work as an electrical engineer, it demonstrates advanced expertise in the field and allows engineers to have greater professional independence and authority. According to the National Society of Professional Engineers, only licensed PEs can prepare, sign, seal, and submit engineering plans to a public authority. Numerous entities, including government agencies and educational institutions, are increasingly required to hire and contract with only licensed professional engineers. The requirements for licensure generally include:

  • A degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least four years (after passing the FE exam, engineers can be hired as engineering interns or engineers-in-training, where they can begin to gain essential work experience)
  • A passing score on the PE exam

Specific licensing requirements vary by state. Some states may count a master’s degree toward the PE license’s work experience requirements.

A Look at the Electrical Engineering Curriculum

A typical master’s in electrical engineering curriculum builds on concepts and theories introduced in undergraduate programs, while also breaking new ground and advancing students’ knowledge of the field. The potential to expand students’ depth of knowledge is part of what can make a master’s in electrical engineering so worthwhile.

Some of the key topics commonly covered in an MSEE program include those listed below.

Embedded Systems

An embedded system is a small computer (or microprocessor) that controls or performs a specific function within a larger system, device, or machine. Central heating systems, GPS systems, and certain domestic appliances are all examples of embedded systems. A master’s program will cover the history of this technology and explore various aspects of its use, such as the timing features of embedded systems, defining interfaces and the use of mixed-signal systems (digital and analog), and design methodologies and tools.

Digital Circuit Design

Digital circuits are used in everyday devices, providing the building blocks of technology that enable people to perform everything from listening to music to video chatting with loved ones. Understanding their design is critical for electrical engineers seeking to further their career. A master’s program will help students understand the differences between analog and digital circuits and explore more advanced concepts, including structural design, design tools, VHDL language, data types, objects, operators, control statements, concurrent statements, functions, and procedures.

In addition to furthering students’ knowledge of specialized concepts, a master’s program in electrical engineering can also help develop essential soft skills and a greater understanding of foundational engineering tools.

Development of Soft Skills

Electrical engineers possess a high level of technical knowledge. They also need to be able to convey complex information to a wide audience, including coworkers and customers. An MSEE can help students develop the skills to think critically as professional communicators and understand how to produce effective communication materials, including written reports and presentations.

Essential Tools of Engineering

Some of the topics covered in an MSEE program are fundamental to the field of engineering as a whole. A master’s program in electrical engineering will provide students with a foundational knowledge of computational tools, programming language, and computer-based modeling. It will also cover key concepts and theories that apply to engineering, such as information theory.

Master’s in Electrical Engineering Salary

Salary can be a major factor for students trying to decide whether a master’s in electrical engineering is worth it. Because of their advanced expertise, electrical engineers with an MSEE often earn generous salaries. According to the compensation source PayScale, the median annual master’s in electrical engineering salary is around $99,000 as of 2021. The BLS, meanwhile, reports the median annual wage for electrical engineers was slightly higher, at around $100,830 as of 2020. The BLS also reports that jobs for electrical engineers will grow 7% between 2020 and 2030, which is about as fast as the labor force as a whole. Several factors can influence the precise annual salary of an electrical engineer.

Education

Electrical engineers need to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. As in many other industries though, earning an advanced degree can unlock higher earning potential. According to PayScale, the median annual salary associated with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering is around $93,000 as of 2021, while the median salary for those with a master’s is around $6,000 more.

Experience

Experience can also impact how much an electrical engineer earns. For example, individuals who have earned a Professional Engineering license have already gained several years of professional experience. This experience — in addition to holding a license — can help them land a job with a higher salary. Additionally, those who have previous supervisory experience are more likely to be considered for leadership positions, which generally command higher salaries. Over the course of their careers, electrical engineers’ salaries can climb considerably as they accumulate experience. According to the latest figures from PayScale, the median annual salary for an electrical engineer with less than a year of experience is nearly $68,000, while those with five to nine years of experience earn almost $86,000. Late-career electrical engineers (20+ years of experience) earned $113,000.

Field

Salaries for electrical engineers may also vary widely based on the field or industry in which they work. The BLS projects greater demand for electrical engineers in certain industries over the next several years, such as research and development and manufacturing, which will lead to more competitive salaries in those fields. According to the BLS, the following were the top-earning industries for electrical engineers as of 2020.

  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: $116,050
  • Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing: $107,680
  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing: $104,480
  • Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution: $102,510
  • Engineering services: $98,440

Location

Location is another factor that can influence an electrical engineer’s salary. Certain areas have a much higher concentration of engineers, creating a more competitive job market and contributing to higher earnings. Based on salary figures from May 2020, electrical engineers in the following states earned the most, according to the BLS.

  • District of Columbia: $126,840
  • California: $124,390
  • New Jersey: $120,140
  • Vermont: $118,460
  • Washington: $117,790

California and Texas ($107,270) employed the greatest number of engineers, leading to higher-than-average salaries in those states.

Electrical Engineering Careers

Earning an MSEE can open the door to various electrical engineering careers. A master’s may be especially worth it for those who want to pursue a leadership role or specialize in a particular area of electrical engineering. An MSEE can help prepare electrical engineers for the following roles.

Senior Electrical Engineer

Senior electrical engineers are responsible for the design, development, implementation, and testing of new devices and machinery, like electric cars and appliances, as well as customizing existing equipment. Their work may involve preparing drawings and system specifications for a range of projects in various industries, including manufacturing and building maintenance. Senior electrical engineers also supervise the work of junior engineers and may lead and contribute to project meetings. Senior electrical engineers should possess strong design skills and be proficient in a variety of software applications specific to their field. As supervisors, they should also have strong leadership and team-building skills. Additionally, they should be excellent communicators, as some engineers may work directly with vendors or clients. According to PayScale, the salary for a senior electrical engineer varies significantly, ranging between $84,000 and $141,000, with a median salary of around $105,700 as of 2021. Location, skill level, and education can all influence the salary for this position.

Control Engineer

A control engineer is a specialized role in the electrical engineering field. These individuals work with new and evolving technologies on various projects, from space exploration to power grids. Their responsibilities typically include managing the design, installation, and testing of different types of electrical equipment and systems, troubleshooting issues, and developing operator instruction manuals. Control engineers often need to work in team settings, so interpersonal skills are essential. They should also be highly detail-oriented and possess strong writing skills, as well as a comprehensive understanding of control logic and processes. The salary range for a control engineer is between $60,000 and $107,000, with a median salary of about $78,000 as of 2021, according to PayScale.

Test Engineer

As their title implies, test engineers are responsible for testing the quality of products prior to manufacturing. They may work with a variety of different equipment and products, such as computer hardware and software, medical equipment like X-ray machines, or commercial transportation vehicles, including airplanes. They review the initial schematics and electrical wiring for a piece of equipment and are engaged in the debugging process. Although they may work in team settings, collaborating with hardware and software engineers to design a product, test engineers often have the final say in determining the quality of a product or process. A bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a similar field is the minimum requirement for this position, though a master’s is ideal for certain roles. Test engineers should be familiar with various programming languages, such as Java or C++, and possess a high level of creativity and problem-solving skills. As with other electrical engineering careers, the salary for test engineers can vary quite significantly, ranging between $58,000 and $105,000, with a median salary of around $74,200 as of 2021, according to PayScale.

Communications Engineer

A communications engineer’s job description is similar to that of other electrical engineers, with a focus on the design, development, and implementation of communications equipment and systems for voice, video, and data services. They may also supervise other engineers and technicians in the installation and maintenance of communications equipment. Communications engineers should possess a diverse skill set that includes advanced mathematical abilities and proficiency with telecommunications equipment and systems, as those who have a familiarity with various forms of communications technology can have a leg up in the job market. They should also possess certain soft skills, like interpersonal and communication skills, as they often work or come into contact with other technicians or customers and need to communicate complex issues in plain language. Salaries for communications engineers vary widely, with a range between $45,000 and $119,000. The median salary as of 2021 is about $78,000, according to PayScale.

Project Engineer

Project engineers oversee engineering projects within their organization, supervising staff and ensuring projects are completed on time, within budget, and meet all necessary specifications. They contribute to the development of project designs and may make recommendations for materials, equipment, or processes. They also ensure compliance with applicable codes and best practices and troubleshoot issues as they arise. An advanced degree and previous experience in a supervisory role are often preferred or required for project engineers. They should have good communication and team-building skills, as well as an understanding of project management and budgeting. The salary range for project engineers is between $54,000 and $99,000, with a median salary of around $70,200 as of 2021, according to PayScale.

A Satisfying, Game-Changing Career

The work of electrical engineers has helped revolutionize society since the 19th century, contributing to innovations like the light bulb, radar, and wireless internet. If you’re interested in learning how to apply technical expertise to a creative endeavor, electrical engineering may be a worthwhile pursuit for you. With 100% online coursework and six specializations to choose from, Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program can help you develop the necessary skills to advance your career in this rewarding field.

Learn more about how the online MSEE program can help you achieve your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

7 Socially Significant Electrical Engineering Inventions

7 Popular Electrical Engineering Careers

Women in Electrical Engineering: Opportunities and Resources for Pursuing an Engineering Career

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