Earning a Master's in Computer Engineering Online

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The enrollment numbers for engineering degrees continue to rise in the U.S., a trend that the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) dates back to 2007. According to ASEE, the computer engineering discipline recorded a growth of 14.5%, the highest percentage increase among engineering bachelor's degrees between 2016-17.

In such a competitive job market, earning an online computer engineering master's degree can strengthen a professional's position in the field, open doors to greater responsibility that lead to higher pay. An advanced degree allows students to build their skills within engineering while also honing in on a specialization, such as computer hardware design, software systems, or cybersecurity.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Computer Engineering?

Earning a master's degree can abet career advancement for computer engineers. The graduate degree allows students to expand their knowledge base and enhance their skills while providing focused training within specializations like computer hardware design or network and telecommunications.

To qualify for most entry-level roles, an engineer needs at least an accredited bachelor's degree. Considering this, job seekers with an online computer engineering master's degree can separate themselves in a field of individuals with similar skills, training, and years of experience. Furthermore, earning a master's often overlaps with the preparation needed to sit for professional competency exams necessary for industry certification.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Computer Engineering?

Pursuing Specialization

Computer engineering students gain proficiency working with both hardware and software. Beyond this foundation, graduate students can pursue a specialization in an area of personal or career interest, such as computer science or computer science engineering, software systems, and networks. For example, students enrolled in an online computer engineering master's degree hoping to work with information systems take elective courses in computer or information science. Students may hone their skills in the areas of interface design, modeling, or machine learning.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Earning a master's degree can accelerate career advancement in cases where a degree equals a specified number of work experience years. For example, a job posting might suggest that candidates possess a master's degree or seven years of relevant work experience. A degree earned in a year or two can propel a professional to this level of qualification in less than half the time. With a broader set of skills and an accredited degree, candidates distinguish and position themselves for roles with higher starting pay and greater levels of responsibility.

Online Learning Technology

Students who make a career working with computers naturally gravitate toward a digital environment. The online learning format provides students with access to many of the latest in online communication and interactive design. The best online computer engineering master's programs feature considerable hands-on learning. Learning in a digital environment enhances a student's communication, teamwork, and collaboration skills.

Prerequisites for Online Computer Engineering Programs

The admissions process for the best online computer engineering master's programs varies by school, but prospective students should prepare to provide materials like transcripts, a resume, and references that demonstrate the applicant's interest in the field.

    • Work Experience: Computer engineering students can apply to graduate school straight from their undergraduate studies. Some computer engineering programs allow students to fast-track their master's degree by taking it together with their bachelor's. That said, many applicants do bring some level of experience. Many computer engineering students complete an internship during their third or fourth year of undergraduate study.
    • Exams and Test Scores: The exam requirement varies by the graduate school, but typically applicants must provide GRE or GMAT test scores. However, applicants should check for waivers that they may qualify for depending on their grades, previously earned degree, or years removed from high school graduation. Note that college entrance exam scores are valid for five years.
    • Coursework: Graduate programs set different criteria for admission, but all applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree. Many programs prefer that applicants possess a major in the discipline or a related field. For example, a prospective graduate computer engineering student likely brings a background in computer engineering, computer science, or information technology. The minimum undergraduate GPA also varies by school, but a minimum 3.0 GPA should satisfy most schools.
    • Recommendations: When applying to graduate school, applicants should secure three letters of recommendation, even though most schools require fewer. When requesting letters, try and do so at least a month in advance as a courtesy. Applicants fresh out of undergraduate school should request letters from professors or advisors. Professionals should obtain letters from managers or supervisors who can write about their work in the field.
    • Essays: The essay requirement varies by school and program, but applicants should prepare to write at least one essay or personal statement that gives the admissions committee a good sense of their writing ability and how well they articulate their thoughts; by extension, these observations demonstrate an applicants' level of preparation for graduate study.
    • Interviews: Some graduate schools require an admissions interview. For online programs like an online master's degree in electrical and computer engineering, applicants typically interview by phone or through an application like Skype. Note that some schools use the interview process to determine scholarship awards.
    • International Students: International applicants must hold a degree equivalent to an accredited four-year degree from the U.S. Also, applicants whose home country lists an official language other than English must submit TOEFL scores or IELTS scores as proof of their English proficiency and ability to benefit from a U.S. program's curriculum. Note that for some schools, international applicants may also need to meet a different minimum GPA requirement.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Computer Engineering?

While engineers gain practical experience on the job, an online master's degree in electrical and computer engineering provides them with a broader set of hard skills that they can immediately apply after graduation.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer hardware engineers in the lower 10th percentile earn $66,700, while workers in the top 90th percentile take home $172,630 a year. Meanwhile, the annual median salary for all occupations is about $38,640.

Furthermore, computer engineers can take their advanced training down various career paths, including positions that fall outside of the traditional engineering box. For these positions, engineers bring a tech-savvy background and versatile knowledge base that many employers covet.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Computer Engineering Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Software Developer

Median Salary: $105,590

Job Growth: 24%

As their name suggests, software developers develop applications that complete tasks, run networks, and power devices. The applications on a computer, such as a word processor or photo editor, represent the end result of a software developer's work. To enter the field, a person needs at least a bachelor's degree.

Computer Hardware Engineer

Median Salary: $114,600

Job Growth: 5%

Computer hardware engineers help in the design of computer systems and components that make it possible to run the software. Hardware engineers work on the research, design, development, and testing of such computer products as processors, circuit boards, and memory devices. While a bachelor's degree qualifies an individual for entry-level jobs, to advance in this profession, an engineer would benefit from earning a master's.

Electrical and Electronic Engineer

Median Salary: $99,070

Job Growth: 7%

Electrical engineers work with electrical equipment and components instead of computers. Many programs combine the two types of engineering. The types of electronic products an engineer designs, develops, builds, and tests include broadcast systems and communication devices.

Computer Network Architect

Median Salary: $109,020

Job Growth: 6%

Computer network architects focus on the design, development, and building of data communication networks. Computer network architects oversee the implementation and maintenance of an organization's local and wide area networks, which can include entire cloud infrastructures.

Source: BLS

Nontraditional Careers for Computer Engineering Graduates

New graduates of an online computer engineering master's degree should not limit their job search to positions solely in software development or hardware design. For many companies, the search for talent begins with candidates who possess a degree in computers; technical proficiency; and soft skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, and adaptability.

Careers Stats Description

Technical Writer

Median Salary: $71,850

Job Growth: 11%

Skills Overlapped: Comprehensive technical knowledge, critical thinking, communication

Technical writers translate technical material into content that nontechnical people can better understand. They deliver this information through instructional manuals, how-to guides, journal articles, and internal communication. Like any person who works directly with computers, a technical writer must bring a high level of understanding with regards to technical data, procedure, and function.

Firmware Engineer

Median Salary: $83,651

Skills Overlapped: Critical thinking, problem-solving, communication

Similar to software developers, a firmware engineer works on the design, development, and implementation of applications. Firmware engineers focus on specific applications and systems, and through their firmware solutions, computer hardware can operate smoothly with all the other components of a machine.

Computer Support Specialist

Median Salary: $53,470

Job Growth: 11%

Skills Overlapped: Problem-solving, customer service

Computer support specialists must possess a solid understanding of how computer networks work and the various problems that could arise for users. They must quickly diagnose an issue, provide a solution, and help the user get back up and running. Computer support specialists work in-person and remotely, providing support through the phone or online.

Computer Systems Analyst

Median Salary: $88,740

Job Growth: 9%

Skills Overlapped: Analytical, problem-solving, communication

Computer systems analysts study an organization's computer systems and set-up to assess ways the operation can run more efficiently. They bring an understanding of information technology and business, which proves necessary to finding a solution that optimizes for both.

Source: PayScale

Paying for an Online Master's in Computer Engineering

The benefits of online education include program availability, schedule flexibility, and reduced expenses. Learning from a distance eliminates the associated costs of transportation along with room and board. Flexible class schedules also allow students to continue working part time or full time, which can help them finance their education in a way that mitigates student debt.

What's more, many schools offer online learners discounted tuition or charge them the same as resident students. Online students pursuing a computer engineering degree should also look into the subject-specific financial aid, grants, and scholarship opportunities available at the local, state, and national levels for future computer professionals.

Scholarships for Online Computer Engineering Master's Students

College-bound students should start their scholarship search early, as deadlines can vary greatly. Also, keep in mind that applications require different materials, including original essays and portfolios. Students should first focus on scholarships created for their fields, such as computer engineering, computer science, or information technology, narrowing the pool of candidates and increases an applicant's odds.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Computer Engineering Program

Students who attend college full time can complete an online computer engineering master's degree in two years, with part-time learners taking about twice as long. Accelerated programs that feature shorter terms and multiple start dates enable students to graduate more quickly, sometimes in as little as one year.

The virtual classroom facilitates asynchronous learning, allowing students to log in at a time that works best for them and their schedules. Typically, a master's program in computer engineering requires students to complete 30-39 credits and various milestones, including a capstone experience.

Major Milestones

  1. Capstone

    In the capstone project, students demonstrate their mastery over all the concepts, theories, and course material covered throughout the program. Capstone experiences include a collaborative team project, an internship, or a portfolio of work.

  2. Core Coursework

    Every master's program includes core courses that cover the basics of a major. For example, an online master's in electrical and computer engineering might begin with courses and research covering computer systems, computer architecture, quantum electronics, and VLSI design.

  3. Research Proposal

    Students must submit a research or thesis proposal for advisor approval before they can begin working on their thesis papers in earnest. The proposal outlines the issues and questions the student wishes to address in the paper and explains why the topic warrants further research.

  4. Certificates

    Some courses may offer a certificate option that students can work toward in combination with their master's studies. Oftentimes the courses overlap, and students only need to take one or two more courses to fulfill the certificate requirement.

  5. Intent to Graduate/Completion Confirmation

    Students submit their intent to graduate forms during the semester they intend to graduate. Once an academic department receives the intent form, this tells the department to conduct an audit of the student's records to verify that they meet or will meet all requirements to graduate.

  6. Oral Exam

    The oral examination varies by program, but students can prepare for it by studying the program's material thoroughly. Students must know the material well enough to recall quickly and think critically on their feet. Some programs, like an online computer engineering master's degree, may allow students to complete a capstone project in lieu of written and oral exams.

Coursework

While the curriculum in an online computer engineering master's program varies by school, students should expect to take courses that cover computer architecture, circuit design, and engineering principles, methodologies, and tools.

Advanced Data Structures

Learners in this course study advanced data structures using object-oriented design along with the architectural foundations that architects use to sort and serialize large files. Course topics include Java, hash tables and trees, and disk-based structures.

Computer Architecture

This core course examines the organization of computer systems hardware and how engineers arrive at a final design. Students study topics like hardware implementations, processors, computer arithmetic, modes, and virtual memory and input/output controls.

Code Analysis and Transformation

In this course, students examine the various sophisticated tools used by today's organizations to analyze code and uncover bugs and potential security vulnerabilities. Developers of these troubleshooting tools first must understand how code analysis works, including static analysis.

Advanced Cryptography

This course explores the latest developments in crypto research and the tools used in building cryptographic computer systems capable of thwarting external attacks. While such a course expects students to possess a level of cryptography knowledge, most syllabi begin with a review of foundational techniques.

Introduction to Computer Vision

This course in an online computer engineering master's degree introduces the interdisciplinary field of computer vision, which studies how computers can learn from digital images or video versus code. Topics include the fundamentals of image formation, motion estimation, image classification, stereo, feature detection, and scene understanding.

Degree Timelines

Most master's programs give students five years from the time they begin matriculation to finish all degree requirements. Ultimately, how long it takes students to graduate depends on their course load, with full-time learners typically taking two years and part-timers four.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

3-4 years

Graduate students who split time between school and other commitments like family and work can enroll part time and complete a 36-credit online master's in electrical and computer engineering in three years. To do so, the student take two courses per term or six credits in the fall and spring. If they take fewer during this time, then the timeline begins to stretch into a fourth year.

Full-Time

1.5-2 years

Full-time graduate students take at least nine credits per term, or 18 credits per year. With this schedule, a student can complete all requirements in two years. If the student takes two courses during the summer between years one and two, then the timeline reduces to 1.5 years.

Accelerated

1 year

An accelerated program typically features shorter classes and multiple start times (e.g. six terms versus three). Classes can last seven, eight, or 10 weeks, allowing students to take double the classes. As a result, students can complete all requirements in a year. Note that the demands of this schedule often means that a student puts off work to concentrate on graduating.

Licenses and Certifications

Certification provides the holder with a readily recognizable benchmark that tells potential employers that this person meets the desired qualifications for a position. To become certified, an individual must demonstrate expertise in a particular field or technology by passing an industry-standard exam.

The fact that certification is voluntary for computer engineers further tells employers that the holder brings a different level of achievement and commitment to their work. As with earning an online computer engineering master's degree, obtaining certification can prove pivotal to opening doors to more job opportunities and accelerated career advancement.

    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer: An MCSD credential validates a holder's ability to build modern mobile and web applications and services. To become certified, professionals must pass a multiple-choice exam and commit to continuing education. The exam accommodates eight languages, including English, French, Spanish, and Simplified and Traditional Chinese.
    • Certified Software Development Professional: The IEEE Computer Society offers three CSDP certifications: associate software developer, professional software developer, and professional software engineering master. To earn the credential, professionals must pass a two-part exam. The first part comprises 160 questions on 11 topics that test takers must complete in three hours; part two involves completion of two applied modules.
    • CompTIA Security+: This certification validates a professional's baseline skills to identify, address, and solve cybersecurity issues. With this certification, a computer engineer can qualify for roles that require a more in-depth understanding of security vulnerabilities and how to build systems that can account for them.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations bring people within an industry, field, or specialty together. These groups provide members with various benefits, including networking opportunities, continuing education programs, annual conferences, job postings, and publication discounts.

Professional associations also update members with the latest news, research, and policies affecting the profession. For current students and recent graduates, a professional organization can prove a valuable go-to resource for career guidance, work experience, and scholarships exclusive to members.

  • Association for Computing Machinery ACM represents the largest educational and scientific computing society in the world. It advocates on behalf of members and the computing community at large to ensure that computing gains recognition as a science and profession. Benefits include networking, access to ACM's digital library, and the opportunity to join one or more of ACM's special interest groups.
  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Founded in 1979, AAAI works to advance the scientific understanding of thinking and how this can manifest in modern machines with the growth and innovation of artificial intelligence.
  • Association for Women in Computing Founded in 1978, AWC dedicates united efforts to the advancement of women in technology fields, including computer science, computer engineering, and robotics AI. Membership benefits include professional development, networking opportunities, continuing education, and recognition.
  • IEEE Computer Society The IEEE Computing Society provides its members with access to the latest in computer science research, analysis, and information, plus the resources to grow professionally -- no matter what stage. Member benefits include peer-reviewed publications, training programs, and international conferences.
  • The Institution of Engineering and Technology IET boasts a global membership exceeding 168,000 engineering and technology professionals from over 150 countries. The benefits of joining IET include the tools to plan, record, and reach professional goals; access to the latest in industry news and changes; and peer support.
  • Khan Academy Computer Programming This educational resource invites new and established coders to take on Khan Academy's free online classes that cover drawing, computer animation, natural simulations, and making a website interactive.
  • CRA Graduate School Information Guide This report provides women interested in attending grad school with a planning guide that pays particular attention to programs in computing research. Presented by CRA-W, the information guide focuses on four areas of activity: research mentoring, information sharing, community building, and effecting organizational change.
  • TechTutorials This resource gathers thousands of free tutorials covering common computer problems and puzzles. The breadth of tutorials should appeal to all levels of computer users, including hobbyists, home users, and professionals.
  • CERT Coordination Center CERT Division provides the latest updates on research and case studies regarding digital forensics, cyber intelligence, and new security best practices that software developers and hardware engineers should know.
  • Codeacademy Students, hobbyists, and professionals can practice and master programming languages, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, for building websites and working within a digital environment.