Have you recently finished high school or are you simply looking to make a career change? If so, you might be weighing your options to pursue an electrical engineering degree.
This can be a rewarding profession, however, when considering this degree it’s important to determine if you are suited for the career path. Are you inquisitive, creative, and a critical thinker with an analytical mindset? These are among the most important traits of successful electrical engineers. If what we just described sounds like you, then you’re already well on your way to being suited for a career in engineering.
However, like any other field, character traits aren’t the only determining factor in predicting professional success. The career path of an engineer requires proper education, commitment, and hard work. In addition to that, there are plenty of other things to consider before deciding to pursue an electrical engineering degree. For this reason, you should be asking questions like:
- Which electrical engineering concentrations interest me the most?
- What level of degree do I need to reach my career goals?
- What is an ideal salary for me once I enter the workforce?
- What are the exact steps I need to reach those goals?
The purpose of this guide is to answer all of these questions and much more. So, if you’re a student interested in pursuing an electrical engineering degree or you’re a parent of a child who will be attending college or university soon, then you won’t want to miss this comprehensive article.
What Does an Electrical Engineer do?
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, or power generation equipment.”
Electrical engineers have been around since the 19th century. Does the name Alexander Graham Bell or Nikola Tesla ring a bell? Such engineers are responsible for designing ways to use electrical power to develop and improve products using physics, mathematics, and electromagnetism. These days, they may work on anything from household appliances to huge aircraft electrical systems.
Engineering graduates work in a wide variety of environments. While a typical day could mean working at the office, quite often visiting other sites to observe a problem is a regular part of the job as well. If you choose this career path, you’ll have no shortage of industries that you can work in, which is hugely appealing to many aspiring electrical engineering students.
Typical Career Paths for Electrical Engineering Students
With a degree in electrical engineering, you can work in nearly any industry, ranging from automotive to power generation, to government. With all the options, it’s no doubt that it can be hard to narrow down what you’re most interested in. We hope to make it easier to decide on which is the right choice for you by breaking down these different career paths.
Biomedical engineering consists of applying engineering principles to medical sciences. If you enter this field, you will design, install, and maintain equipment such as medical software, devices, implants, as well as computer systems. In addition to hospitals and healthcare facilities, biomedical engineers may work at universities, in law, the government, and the business sector.
In this specialty, electrical engineering and computer science concepts come together in one. If you choose this concentration, you’ll learn to develop and manufacture computer hardware and software systems. You will become familiar with addressing problems with software and may even play a part in advancing computer technology. Majoring in computer engineering can help prepare you for a job as a computer programmer, cybersecurity specialist, network architect, or information security analyst. Some computer and software engineers also work with machine intelligence.
Like computer engineering, the discipline of communications is also a combination of computer science and electrical engineering. In the field of electrical engineering, communications deals with processing, transmitting and storing information to support telecommunications systems. If you choose this concentration, you’ll learn to analyze EKG signals, sound signals, images, and videos. Upon graduating, different career choices available include either robotics or telecommunications.
Energy resources engineering consists of the production and distribution of energy systems. Although relatively new, this concentration plays an important role in understanding and influencing the global energy resource landscape. Students will learn about subjects such as sustainable electric energy conversion, solar thermal power systems, and how to limit damage to the environment when extracting fossil fuels. Renewable energy engineers can help change the future and move the world away from relying so heavily on fossil fuels and towards more clean, sustainable resources.
In this popular specialty, students will learn engineering concepts with the application of leadership and project management skills. This career path requires you to manage diverse teams, plan and oversee complex projects, have strong organizational skills, as well as the ability to problem-solve. Potential career opportunities include working as a senior engineer, engineering consultant, or production manager. This may be a path you want to consider if you’re a natural-born leader or aspire to work in project management.
Benefits of Pursuing a Degree in Electrical Engineering
You’ve likely already heard that electrical engineering can be a great career choice, so it’s worth discussing the many benefits of pursuing this degree, both while studying and after graduation.
1. The Soft Skills You’ll Gain
Undoubtedly, as an aspiring electrical engineer, you will notice an improvement in soft skills, such as critical thinking, communication, and team playing skills. These are among the most important soft skills that employers look for in almost every industry you can think of. You’ll notice such an improvement in these skills due to regular presentations of your work and creating projects with classmates for your program.
During your schooling, you’ll also have to learn to simplify complex ideas and terms so others can understand, even when talking with other engineers. This not only applies to while you’re in university but also when you need to explain complex projects to other business professionals once you’re employed. Regardless of what your future career holds, these soft skills are huge assets both on the job and in life.
2. The Need for Engineers Isn’t Going Anywhere
In this day and age, technology only continues to grow, so there will always be the need for engineers who can create and develop electrical control systems. As we mentioned before, this field has been around since the 19th century and the profession has been evolving ever since. The fact of the matter is, like technology, our population only continues to grow. With that comes the need to supply more power to people from our power grid. For this very reason, the need for electrical engineers isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
3. Diverse Curriculum
Of course, you will be studying so much more than just electronics. The diverse curriculum is what’s so great about this degree. You’ll dig deep into mathematics, programming, economics, physics, chemistry, and much more. You’ll learn transferable skills like writing code using languages like C++ and Python. Your curriculum will prepare you not only for obtaining an engineering job but even a position in the IT field as well.
4. Higher Than Average Salaries
How important is future salary potential when choosing your degree? Graduates can expect higher paying salaries than many other occupations in the United States, even in entry-level jobs right after college. Electrical engineering is a highly technical field, so degree holders are well-paid. Depending on how long you study, pursuing a Master’s degree or Ph.D. can land you an even higher paying job. We’ll get into the exact salary facts and figures in just a moment down below.
5. The Degree is Universal
Did you know that electrical engineering degrees are universal? The technology learned is used globally, which means so many more jobs are open to you aside from just throughout the USA. For many students, gaining the ability to relocate to anywhere in the world while making a high paying salary is a major deciding factor in pursuing this field.
Salary Facts and Figures
For many students, determining the salary potential of a professional engineer is equally as important as assessing how enjoyable the career path will be. It’s a good idea to consider both aspects to attain a position that you love. We’ve compiled some statistics to help aid in your decision, including the national average, as well as averages based on degree.
National Average Wage
The national average wage of an electrical engineer is $103,480, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. This includes everything from the most entry-level positions to the most experienced. Shockingly, these figures are around double the national average for all of the occupations in the United States combined. These statistics just go to show the earning potential you have when you enter the world of electrical engineering.
Average Wages Based on Degree
1. Associate’s Degree – Pay for electrical engineers varies by the degree held, concentration, and experience level. An electrical engineer with an Associate’s degree typically earns between $42,360 to $45,811 annually.
2. Bachelor’s Degree – Someone who holds a Bachelor’s degree may make anywhere from $69,809 to $72,656. There is a significant jump in salary for students who choose to study the field more in-depth with a Bachelor’s degree.
3. Master’s Degree – Statistics show that graduates with a Master’s degree make on average between $70,549 – $73,551, which isn’t as significant of a difference as the jump from an Associate’s to Bachelor’s degree.
Electrical Engineering Job Outlook
We’ve covered which potential career paths an electrical engineer graduate can take, but we haven’t yet discussed the different jobs you could pursue. While your degree can prepare you for a wide variety of career opportunities, these are some of the most popular jobs that are directly related:
- Aerospace engineer
- Broadcast and sound engineering technician
- Electrical and electronics engineering technician
- Design engineer
- Controls engineer
- Nuclear engineer
The Future of Electrical Engineering
When considering entering any new field, you should first look at how strong the future potential is for that current branch of study. With an expected growth rate of 3%, the outlook is as promising for electrical engineering as it is for the occupational national average. Over 10,000 positions are expected to open up for electrical and electronic engineers until the year 2029. With that being said, even though there’s not expected to be a huge explosion of new career opportunities, well-trained engineers will always be in demand. Keep in mind that not everybody is willing to go to school for four or more years to pursue this field.
What are the Steps to Become an Electrical Engineer?
Since there’s always conflicting information out there, we thought we would specify exactly what you need to do to pursue electrical engineering. These are the steps, from start to finish:
1. Choose an Accredited School
First and foremost, you’ll want to do your research and weigh your options when it comes to selecting a school to attend. Like many other degrees, there are several different schooling options available, including attending college or university on campus, through distance learning, or studying abroad. Make sure the schools you are interested in are accredited before applying. Aside from proper accreditation, whichever school you decide should be a personal choice tailored to your current and future circumstances, goals, and career path.
For more information on the top college and university electrical engineering programs to consider, including the cost of total tuition, go to:
“Best Electrical Engineering Programs.”
2. Enroll in a Bachelor’s Program (or Higher)
We would recommend enrolling in at least a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering to increase your odds of getting hired once you graduate and earn your certification. A Bachelor’s degree can also enable you to earn a higher salary even in entry-level positions. When considering different programs, keep in mind that your degree must come from an ABET-accredited program. Some students will enroll in a double major program, such as combining electrical engineering with a program like information technology. If this is something that interests you, we have plenty more information on information technology degrees here.
On the other hand, opting for your Master’s degree from the start can increase your earning potential greatly. You will undoubtedly dig deeper into your chosen concentration, as well as improve your management skills. Many students will even choose to do a five-year program to complete both their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in one. This can save you time over the long run if you know you already know you want to pursue your Master’s degree.
3. Choose a Concentration and Complete Your Studies
Earlier in this article, we covered the different career paths that you can specialize in within the field of electrical engineering. Find what interests you most and what will take you to where you want to be professionally. It’s important to determine in advance which qualifications you will need to succeed in your engineering specialism. Certain specialties do require you to obtain a Ph.D. before you’re eligible for hire, which is important to consider discovering when you’re already deep into your studies.
4. Take Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam
Once you’ve earned your degree, the next step on your journey to becoming an electrical engineer is receiving a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. All electrical engineers are required to complete this exam to qualify for licensure, which will cost $175 beforehand to reserve your seat. Participants are given six hours to complete the 110-question exam. You’ll typically receive your results online within about 7-10 days, letting you know your grade and if you passed. At the same time as receiving your results, you’ll also find out more information on how to proceed with your concentration’s specific licensing board so you can begin searching for an entry-level position.
5. Land an Entry-Level Job
Once you’ve passed your FE exam, it’s time to land an entry-level job and start gaining some hands-on work experience in the industry. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, you will typically need four years of on-the-job experience before you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam to become a professional engineer, regardless of whether you have obtained a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree. Use these years wisely to learn everything you can to move up in your career once you become fully licensed.
6. Take the Professional Engineering Exam
After at least four years of relevant work experience under the supervision of a professional engineer to qualify, the final step in getting professional licensure is to take the PE exam. Although it varies based on the concentration, you typically need a score of 70% to pass. The exam is offered in pencil-and-paper format, usually twice per year, but the frequency is dependent on the number of examinees.
Advance Your Career
Congratulations – you’ve passed the PE exam and you’re now a professional engineer. The next ongoing step in your career is advancing it, including continuously gaining more experience and knowledge to increase your earning potential. There is no exact handbook to do this, however, there are plenty of steps you can take to increase your chances.
- Stay up-to-date on technology – Even though you’re already a licensed professional, that doesn’t mean your education stops there. While this may sound somewhat obvious to some, staying up-to-date on technology is crucial for the profession of an engineer. Learning is not a one-and-done deal when it comes to engineering and continuously expanding your knowledge will keep you relevant and desirable. There will always be more certifications you can earn or knowledge you can gain, which you should take advantage of.
- Further your education – If you received a Bachelor’s degree, you could move on to earn your Master’s degree to increase how valuable you are to your employer. These programs generally take 30-40 credits and about two years to complete, however, there are many accelerated program options out there that can be done in as little as one year. Some graduates may even go on to pursue a Doctoral in Electrical Engineering, which requires 60-90 credits and take around four years of rigorous coursework. This degree usually prepares you for teaching and researching. What you need to keep in mind is that anytime you further your degree, you dig deeper into your chosen concentration, therefore increasing your employability and earning potential. This remains true for almost every profession you can think of.
- Work on your delegation and leadership skills – If you have any desire to advance into a project management position, developing strong delegation and leadership skills are crucial. You will likely first be promoted into a supervisory position, which is an excellent opportunity to hone your leadership skills before taking on a larger role. Part of becoming a good leader is learning to understand your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, then delegating accordingly. It’s also important to explain why they are delegating and provide feedback after checking the completed job. If this is a possibility for you, then these are just some tips to keep in mind as you work toward a project management role.
Online Electrical Engineering Degrees
Nowadays, many colleges and universities offer ways to earn your degree online. If you think distance learning isn’t possible for something as technical as electrical engineering, then you might be mistaken. Surprisingly, there are many benefits to earning your online electrical engineering degree.
It’s worth noting that some online programs do require you to have a higher than average GPA to be accepted, simply due to how challenging this major proves to be for some. With that being said, many other colleges ask that applicants have between a 2.5 and 3.0 GPA, which is quite standard.
Benefits of Online Degrees
- You can learn at your own pace, whether that’s faster or slower than you would by attending classes on campus. It’s nice to have the freedom to work at an accelerated pace when you can while slowing down when you need to. If you are a working professional, raising a family, or have other commitments keeping you from attending postsecondary full-time, virtual courses can often be the solution.
- You can enroll and study from wherever you are across the United States. For some students, that means being able to earn a degree from a school they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to due to geographic limitations.
- Online courses are a much more affordable option for many students who can’t afford to attend college full-time on campus. These degrees don’t break the bank simply because colleges typically don’t have to pay for the campus building, staff, and large piece of land to host thousands of students.
- While studying online, you’ll develop and hone your time management skills, self-discipline, as well as become a more independent learner, even if these weren’t your strongest traits before.
- You’ll no longer have to worry about missing something your professor said. When taking courses online, you can just rewind or watch the lecture over again as many times as you like.
The Top Online Bachelor of Electrical Engineering Degrees
Let’s take a look at some of the top colleges offering online Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degrees. Each institution we’ve selected is reputable and accredited, with the duration of each program being fully online.
- Florida International University
- Arizona State University
- Stony Brook University
- University of North Dakota
- National University
Alternative to Electrical Engineering
Consider a Career as an Electrician
Spending four years or more in university may not be ideal for many people interested in pursuing electrical engineering due to either time and money constraints – or both. Under these circumstances, some students consider careers as electricians since both jobs are related to solving electrical problems. However, there are plenty of differences. An electrician is a person you call when there’s an electrical problem that needs fixing.
Electricians typically only require six months to become certified at an electrician school, which is great news for students looking to enter the workforce, as well as working professionals interested in a career change. The career outlook for electricians is also growing much faster than average, with an expected 62,000 more jobs to come by the year 2029. We have more information on the electrician certification if this is something that interests you.
Final Words to Consider
Electrical engineers can be found working anywhere from in the office, drawing up designs, in labs, and collaborating with manufacturers. It’s a truly unique and diverse field. For that reason, it’s important to spend time exploring different concentrations and workplaces to find what suits you best.
If you have a knack for science and mathematics, coupled with the ability to think critically and understand how things work, then electrical engineering can be an excellent degree for you to pursue. Once you’ve put in the hard work to earn your degree, the outcome is a challenging yet rewarding career that pays well and always keeps teaching you new things for years to come.