Is an Electrical Engineering Degree Right for You?
An online bachelor’s in electrical engineering is a good option for those who easily grasp advanced mathematics and the hard sciences, who prefer physics to chemistry, and who want to acquire a skillset that’s applicable to numerous industries, like energy, communication, and health care.
An electrical engineering degree, just like degrees in any other engineering discipline, will be academically challenging, and the major is not for the faint of heart. The rigors of such a program often require students to cut back on their social lives to keep up in their classes, and will require the utmost commitment from students.
Advice for Earning Your Electrical Engineering Degree Online
Whether an electrical engineering program is offered online or on a campus, you should first make sure the program is accredited by ABET, the nation’s leading accreditor of programs in engineering, computing, applied science, and engineering technology. Since electrical engineering bachelor’s programs incorporate hands-on labs and design projects, none of these programs are available 100% online.
A few programs, however, incorporate online course work while requiring short-term campus visits in the summer so that students can fulfill lab requirements. While online electrical engineering bachelor’s programs are typically designed to accommodate working students who are place-bound due to their jobs or family responsibilities, you will still need to ask your employer ahead of time if you will be able to take time off to attend campus-based labs, particularly if the campus is out of state.
All engineering programs build on a foundation of advanced mathematics and science, including calculus, chemistry, and calculus-based physics. Electrical engineering students will also take foundational engineering courses in statics and dynamics, mechanics of materials, fluid mechanics, and thermodynamics. Labs and design courses in electrical engineering are typically required in a student’s junior or senior years. The following major courses are typical in electrical engineering:
- Circuit Analysis
- Digital Logic
- Digital Electronics
- Signals & Systems
- Electric & Magnetic Fields
Common Career Paths
While the most fitting career for those who earn an online electrical engineering bachelor’s degree is an electrical engineer, opportunities in related areas may be available, including careers as an integrated circuit engineer, QA engineer, hardware engineer, communications engineer, or other specializations. As you expand your experience and education, you may also pursue careers in engineering management, consulting, or teaching. Salaries for these fields can vary greatly depending on the size and type of your employer and the region of the country you live in, but a few career titles might include:
- Expected Growth: 6%
- Average Annual Salary: $91,810
Electrical engineers typically work for architectural or engineering firms, navigational systems or electronic component manufacturers, and electric power companies and they are involved in all steps of the design, manufacture, and installation of electrical equipment. They determine ways to develop or improve electrical products; calculate manufacturing, construction, and installation specifications; direct manufacturing and installation; collaborate with project managers to ensure projects are completed on time; and investigate complaints from clients or the public.
A bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering is required for employment in this profession, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The above job outlook and salary average were provided by the BLS.
- Expected Growth: N/A
- Average Annual Salary: $72,558 (median salary for wireless communication engineers)
Communications engineers design, test, maintain, and repair equipment used in communications or telecommunications, including radio equipment, data communications systems or networks, switches, routers, or more. Some even design and maintain the satellites that help make television, telephone services, and Internet services possible.
A bachelor’s degree in electrical or electronics engineering, telecommunications, or computer engineering is typical of careers in the field, according to a cursory survey of recent job listings. The BLS does not specifically track employment growth of communications engineers, but online compensation site PayScale.com does provide limited data, provided above, on salaries of engineers who work in telecommunications, which provides a general idea of median salaries in the field.
Integrated Circuit (IC) Engineer
- Expected Growth: N/A
- Average Annual Salary: $80,516 (median salary)
Integrated circuit (IC) engineers work in a subfield of electrical engineering that is concerned with the design of electronic components, such as transistors, resisters, and capacitors. Digital IC design might involve the design of microprocessor components, or memory (like RAM or ROM), while analog IC design might involve the design of op-amps, linear regulators, and more.
A cursory analysis of job postings in the field revealed that a bachelor’s degree in electrical or electronics engineering was typical for most positions, but that a master’s degree in one of these two areas was preferred for some jobs. While the BLS does not make job growth projections or salaries in this subfield, job site GlassDoor.com provided the median salary available above.
- Expected Growth: 9%
- Average Annual Salary: $133,240
After many years of experience in electrical engineering, some engineers advance to management positions. Managers set goals for their organization or department, direct the work of the engineers under them, and make sure that engineers are producing high-quality work. They may also be involved in hiring, training, and firing of staff, and in setting budgets for their departments.
While a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a relevant engineering field is required, some positions may require a master’s degree, the BLS explained. The above job growth projection and salary average were provided by the BLS.
- Expected Growth: 17% (for all postsecondary teachers)
- Average Annual Salary: $100,100
Some electronics engineers may decide to further their education to the graduate level in pursuit of an academic career at colleges and universities. Engineering professors teach engineering courses to college students, grade assignments and exams, and may even conduct research in electrical engineering and related areas.
A Ph.D. is the typical degree requirement for positions in the field, according to the BLS. The job growth projection above reflects the job outlook for all postsecondary teachers, but engineering teachers are expected to have better job prospects; the salary average is available through the BLS.