Earning a Master's in Engineering Online

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The ubiquity of engineering careers creates a high demand for skilled professionals, and according to the National Science Foundation, enrollment numbers for undergraduate engineering programs are on the rise. New graduates and longstanding professionals must find ways to stand out, and online engineering master's degrees provide an efficient way to do so. Read on to learn more about the benefits of these degrees, including salary projections and job growth, as well as degree details, costs, and professional organizations in the field.

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

Master's degrees appeal to individuals at all stages of their engineering careers, making the prospective student profile a diverse one. Those interested in earning an online master's in engineering include working professionals looking to advance their future career opportunities and earning potential, students looking to pursue a specialization in a field which requires additional education, and individuals undecided between pursuing a master's degree or a graduate-level engineering certificate.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Engineering?

Pursuing Specialization

Although a bachelor's degree fulfills requirements for most entry-level engineering jobs, those interested in securing advanced employment in specialized branches of the industry, like biomedical engineering, aerospace, or petroleum engineering, may seek a master's degree to advance their skills and credentials. Professionals working in a related field may pursue a master's degree in engineering to open doors to related occupations, such as an electrician looking to enter the electrical engineering field.

Career Advancement Opportunities

As mentioned above, the base educational requirement for most engineering jobs is a bachelor's degree. However, those interested in advanced career opportunities or management positions within the industry may pursue master's degrees in engineering management or other specializations to achieve these goals. A master's degree can help a job applicant stand out among others who only hold baccalaureate education. Career advancement typically comes with higher-level responsibilities and a corresponding higher salary.

Online Learning Technology

Regardless of the specialization or field one works in, engineering typically requires extensive knowledge and use of computers to complete job requirements. Although finding your way around an online learning classroom might not be as complex as engineering simulation software, modern online learning often requires the use of the latest communication technology in order to stay in contact with professors and peers. This experience alone can provide additional professional development relevant to a current or future job.

Prerequisites for Online Engineering Programs

Exact prerequisites may vary depending on the school you select, but the general guidelines listed below provide a glimpse at what to prepare for during the application process.

    • Work Experience: As master's programs allow recent bachelor's degree graduates to apply and enroll, work experience typically isn't a requirement. Employed individuals or professionals with significant work history benefit by bringing their workplace knowledge to the classroom, and in the case of some online programs, receiving an opportunity to fulfill course credits through prior experience.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Online engineering master's programs typically require applicants to submit GRE scores prior to acceptance. Many schools don't openly require a strict minimum score, but successful engineering graduate applicants typically receive approximately 152 in verbal, 166 in quantitative, and 3.6 in analytical writing. GRE scores remain valid for five years.
    • Coursework: Generally all online master's engineering programs require applicants to have previously completed college-level courses in calculus, linear algebra, and physics, with a minimum grade requirement of C or better. Additional prerequisite course subjects may apply depending on the specialty of your degree.
    • Recommendations: The application for any master's program typically requires the submission of two or three letters of recommendation from relevant individuals able to vouch for your abilities and academic promise, typically a former/current professor or employer.
    • Essays: Applying to a master of science in engineering online ordinarily does not involve writing any essays. At most, an applicant may be asked to compose and submit a personal statement regarding their professional goals. In the case of programs which provide course credit for life experience, the evaluation process may require some additional writing.
    • Interviews: Graduate programs generally do not require a formal interview process for admission. Interviews are more commonly found in post-graduate admissions, where the available seats for students are significantly fewer in number. At most, admissions advisors may ask questions to confirm details about your submitted application information.
    • International Students: Generally, the process for international applicants remains the same as the process for domestic applicants except for language requirements. Since advanced study requires a comprehensive understanding of English, international students typically must submit language comprehension test scores (either the TOEFL or the IELTS).

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

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, engineers across the industry earned a median salary of $91,010. Individual engineering salaries are commonly affected by specialization (petroleum engineers make the most), industry (engineers in manufacturing earn more than those in government or construction), and location. In addition to these factors, graduate education can also impact earning potential by showing employers a high level of dedication and a broad set of industry skills.

Traditional Careers for Engineering Master's Graduates

Career Stats Description

Environmental Engineer

Median Pay: $86,800

Job Growth: 8.4%

Environmental engineers use their industry skills and knowledge to create solutions for environmental problems. They may work on local issues like recycling, waste disposal, and public health, or global issues like unsafe drinking water and climate change.

Ideal for:Innovative and flexible individuals who can work in a variety of environments (offices, laboratories, outdoors, etc.).

Electrical Engineer

Median Pay: $97,970

Job Growth: 8.6%

Electrical engineers develop, design, and test a variety of electrical equipment, including motors, electrical systems for cars/aircraft, and power generation equipment. They may also supervise the manufacturing process.

Ideal for:Team-players with excellent communication and interpersonal skills in addition to mathematical and writing abilities.

Civil Engineer

Median Pay: $84,770

Job Growth: 10.6%

Civil engineers plan, design, build and maintain the infrastructure we use every day: roads, bridges, tunnels, buildings, etc. Work involves considering immediate and long-term costs, government regulations, and other risk-analysis factors.

Ideal for:Individuals with a discerning mind and excellent leadership and communication skills. Civil engineers must be able to organize, analyze, and make decisions.

Mechanical Engineer

Median Pay: $85,880

Job Growth: 8.8%

Mechanical engineers complete research, design, and development of machines, thermal sensors, tools, and devices, including testing prototypes and analyzing results. This broad engineering field includes the manufacture of everything from batteries to medical devices.

Ideal for:Creative problem solvers with excellent mathematical, communication, and mechanical knowledge and skills.

Non-Traditional Careers for Engineering Master's Graduates

Career Stats Description

Surveyor

Median Pay: $61,140

Job Growth: 11.2%

Surveyors take precise measurements of, and collect data pertaining to, outdoor spaces for use in construction projects, mapmaking, and engineering. They determine property boundaries and research land records and titles.

Ideal for:Visually-oriented individuals with physical stamina and excellent communication skills who enjoy working outdoors and can travel to various location sites.

Postsecondary Teacher (Engineering)

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 14.7%

Postsecondary teachers educate students beyond the high school level. With a master's degree, employment options may be limited to teaching at community colleges or technical schools, as universities require professors to possess doctoral degrees.

Ideal for:Individuals with excellent interpersonal and communication skills, writing and speaking abilities, and a deep understanding of and passion for their subject.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Engineering

The best online engineering master's programs offer different tuition rates, timelines, and pathways to help you save money. These methods can include accelerated degree paths, flat-rate tuition, and course credit for prior life and work experience. Graduate students can also look to schools' financial aid programs, government grants, or third-party scholarships to help lower their immediate out-of-pocket expenses.

Tuition Timelines

The tuition timelines below list examples and details relating to program cost and length to help you select your ideal online engineering master's degree pathway.

Part-Time Path

On a part-time path, students choose how many classes to take each semester. Tuition is usually charged on a per-credit basis.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Washington
Total Credits Required: 42
Summary: Completion of this degree, at this pace, takes approximately 27 months to complete.

Full-Time Path

As the name suggests, full-time paths are ideal for individuals who don't already have a full-time job.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Northeastern University
Total Credits Required: 41
Summary: At this school, it takes four semesters (1.5 to 2 years, depending on whether you take courses in the summer) to complete all degree requirements.

Accelerated Path

Accelerated degree paths may mean students take a maximum number of classes per semester or that courses are specifically structured to be completed quickly.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Cincinnati
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: This example doesn't follow traditional semester calendars. Seven weeks allotted for each consecutive course allows for degree completion in 18 months.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

To help cover the cost of tuition, graduate students in online engineering master's programs should consider applying for as many qualifying scholarships as they can find.

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

The virtual classroom used to earn your online engineering degree master's may vary slightly from one school to another, but generally includes a central hub and separate pages for locating lectures, course material, classroom discussion boards, and assignment submission/exam completion. In this virtual classroom, students work on weekly assignments as well as larger semester and program milestones like exams and final research projects or theses. Expect to take at least two years to complete your degree, if studying full-time.

Major Milestones

  1. Course Completion

    During the first year of a master's program, students complete graduate-level coursework and assignments to broaden their knowledge base and prepare for future degree requirements like a thesis.

  2. Comprehensive Examination

    Some master's programs schedule a comprehensive examination at the end of the first year of study, covering all material and learning objectives. Students must pass to continue in the program.

  3. Thesis/Final Project

    Depending on whether you take a thesis or non-thesis track, your final year in the master's program involves composing a thesis or completing an extensive research project.

  4. Graduation Application

    Students must submit a graduate application one semester before their intended graduation date, confirming completion of degree requirements and eligibility to receive a diploma.

  5. Thesis Defense/Project Presentation

    Whether students complete a thesis or a final project, one of the final milestones before graduation requires presentation of their work to a committee of faculty.

  6. Prepare for Licensure

    Depending on the license or certification being sought, individuals may be able to apply before, or shortly after, graduation, or may need to complete additional eligibility requirements outside of school.

Coursework

Due to the extensive specializations available for a master's degree in engineering, the course examples listed below apply to several different program options: mechanical, environmental, electrical, civil, and materials engineering.

Combustion

Students evaluate how fuel characteristics and operating conditions impact the performance of coal-fired power generation systems by studying ignition of coal particles, behavior of turbulent jets, capture of carbon dioxide, etc.

Environmental Law

Course content covers current and emerging environmental laws and regulations as they pertain to the practice of an environmental engineer. Students develop a comprehensive understanding through real-world examples.

Computer Architecture

Students participate in advanced study of microprocessor topics such as cache design, pipelining, microcoding, and design of control units. This course involves comparison of contemporary microprocessors from different manufacturers.

Air Quality Monitoring and Modeling

Students complete advanced study of air pollutants, including their various sources, effects, and reactions. Coursework and assignments help students develop an understanding of air pollution meteorology, ambient monitoring, and dispersion modeling.

Composite Materials

Students work on an in-depth study of the processing, structure, and properties of metal-, ceramic-, and polymer-matrix composite materials. Course content emphasizes bond strength, reinforcement types and orientation, and selection.

Requirements to Practice

Depending on where you live and what type of engineering specialty you decide to pursue, licensure may be a required step in your professional journey. While you may not need a license to engineer computer software, you will need state licensure if you plan to enter mechanical, civil, or structural engineering. Other certifications may also add a boost to your resume. Pursuing certification typically requires a college degree, a certain amount of work experience, and the completion of an exam.

    • State licensure: The profession's highest standard, Professional Engineer (PE), is the equivalent of state licensure. The extensive process requires a four-year degree, fundamentals exam completion, four years of work experience under the guidance of a PE, and completion of a final principles and practice exam.
    • NICET certification: To earn certification from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies, professionals must complete the required amount of work experience (from one to ten years) and pass an examination. Four levels of certification are available in a dozen different engineering disciplines.
    • SME certification: The Society of Manufacturing Engineers offers associate- and professional-level engineering management certification. Certification requires a college degree and work experience (depending on level) and completion of an exam that costs $250.
    • ASCE certification: Board certification from the American Society of Civil Engineers requires individuals to hold a PE license, a master's degree, and at least eight years of post-licensure work experience before completing an oral examination and submitting an application, including reference letters, CV, and biography.

Professional Organizations & Resources

No matter the industry, deciding to join a professional organization early on in your career can have a positive impact on the rest of your professional life. Student members often receive annual membership for free, or at a reduced cost, and they may be eligible to apply for scholarships. Recent graduates and working professionals can take advantage of in-person and online networking opportunities, exclusive publications and content, continuing education programs, career services, or job boards.

  • National Society of Professional Engineers: Founded in 1934, NSPE remains the only national organization dedicated to the concerns of licensed PEs across all engineering disciplines. Membership benefits include networking and continuing education opportunities.
  • Society of Women Engineers: More than 38,000 women connect through membership in SWE, an organization dedicated to promoting the personal success of each individual. Collegiate members access benefits including scholarship eligibility, career center services, networking opportunities, and professional development seminars.
  • American Society of Civil Engineers: Founded in 1852, ASCE is the oldest engineering society in the U.S. More than 150,000 members receive access to benefits including online reference tools, free webinars, career development services, and third-party discounts.
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers: ASME promotes the art, science, and practice of global engineering disciplines and boasts 32,000 students within its total membership of 130,000. Student members receive access to online tools and a variety of industry publications.
  • Society of Petroleum Engineers: SPE represents a global membership of professionals in the oil and gas industries. Students join at a reduced cost of $15 and receive benefits including online education content and a subscription to the Journal of Petroleum Technology.
  • Engineering.com: Engineering.com brings together STEM minds from around the globe, producing more than 2,000 stories each year and encouraging community collaboration on ideas and solutions. The site also hosts a job board, forum, and digital resources.
  • EngineerJobs.com: At any one time, EngineeringJobs.com, the industry's most-visited job site, may list more than 300,000 engineering jobs in the U.S. and Canada. Search for employment by discipline, state/province, or city.
  • Eng-Tips.com: Eng-Tips.com is the leading online community for engineering professionals and students. View posts without signing in or join for free to contribute and create new discussions in forums representing all engineering disciplines.