Milestone Map: Electrical Engineer’s Path
Outlined below is an example set of milestones an individual can achieve during their academic and career journey in electrical engineering.
Earns a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with a specialization in signal processing
Helps conduct projects on DNA sequencing at biomedical engineering firm
Gains experience in image analysis system design and bioinstrumentation
Gets state licensed after passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering
Leads R&D unit responsible for designing biometric data applications
Writes for IEEE Spectrum, a popular engineering publication
What to Expect from Online Engineering Programs
Online electrical engineering degree programs are similar to on-campus programs, following the same curriculum and course calendars. The major difference is the delivery of instruction. Online students are still required to view lectures, complete assignments, read required materials, and engage with their peers and faculty members just like any other student. Below is a short overview of the learning experience for online electrical engineering students.
Depending on the program, students may participate in either self-paced (asynchronous) or real-time (synchronous) learning environments. Classes are traditionally delivered via either streaming or recorded digital video.
Learning Management Technology
Students use online learning management systems to access course materials, participate in virtual classrooms, communicate with peers, and submit assignments. Examples of these web-based platforms include Blackboard and Moodle. Students
should have a reliable Internet connection, a newer computer, and an up-to-date operating system.
Research and laboratory experimentation is important in electrical engineering programs. Some institutions may require students to attend summer intensive learning experiences on campus or participate in at-home exercises with additional course materials.
Online examinations require a proctor. Most programs allow students to submit an application for a local proctor, an individual who manages the examination process. This provides for the student to take examinations in their local area.
Types of Online Degrees in Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineering has numerous academic pathways to careers in the field. Students may select between undergraduate and graduate programs, offered both entirely online or through hybrid instruction (requiring both online- and on-campus program). Below is a review of the major online electrical engineering program types.
Online certificates in electrical engineering can be leveraged by engineers as a form of professional development. Typically requiring between 12 and 16 credit hours to complete, these programs can generally be completed entirely online. Students can select a specific course of study, such as electric power engineering; circuits; digital electronics; or communication systems and complete a range of specialized, advanced classes in that field.
At the associate level, students may select between an Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. The Associate of Science prepares students to transition into a four-year program of study, while the AAS is designed for students seeking entry-level employment in the field. Both programs generally require students to complete 60 credit hours of study. Unlike more advanced degrees, curriculum focuses on electronic engineering technology, not electrical engineering. Students gain fundamental skills required in entry-level technician careers, including a fundamental understanding of circuit design, microprocessors, and semiconductors.
Completing an online Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering traditionally requires between 120 and 136 credit hours of full-time study. Although some students are able to earn their degree in four years, some programs may take upwards of six years to finish. Curriculum is progressive, advancing from foundational courses in mathematics and science (e.g. calculus; general chemistry); to core electrical engineering curriculum (e.g. energy conversion; circuit analysis and design; electromagnetics); and into specialized electives (embedded systems; semiconductors; digital signal processing).
The Master of Science in Electrical Engineering is designed to either prepare graduates for advancement opportunities in their professional career or pave the way for future studies at the doctoral level. Most online master’s degree programs in electrical engineering require 30 credit hours of full-time study to
complete. Depending on the institution, students may be able to complete an all-course option or a shorter (24- to 27-credits) thesis option. Students move through core courses that cover the fundamentals of electrical engineering (e.g. linear systems; electromagnetic theory) before transitioning into an academic concentration, such as systems and controls; electric power and energy systems; image systems; or embedded systems engineering.
The majority of electrical engineering programs accredited by the Association Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) are on-campus. And, because of the research-focus of doctoral programs, fully online electrical engineering programs are not available. However, most programs do offer a range of courses online for doctoral students. Students typically complete 72 credit hours of study, conducting original research into sub-disciplines in the field, ranging from electric machinery to lightwave engineering, image processing to Students conduct original research into a specific concentration, ranging from electric machinery to lightwave engineering; image processing to robotics. After completing an original dissertation, graduates are prepared for research and teaching careers in academia, government and private industry.
Academic Concentrations in Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineering students may select to pursue a concentration in both undergraduate and graduate programs of study. These concentrations allow students to gain a depth of knowledge in a specific area and take classes based on their personal and professional interests. Below is a list of common electrical engineering specializations available to students.
- Biomedical Engineering
- Communication Systems
- Digital Signal Processing
- Integrated Circuits and Systems
- Lightwave Engineering
- Power Electronics
- Power Systems
- Telecommunications Engineering
Electrical Engineering College Coursework
Curriculum standards for engineering, including electrical engineering, are determined by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. These standards create consistency among degree programs. Students gain a fundamental understanding of electrical engineering and its components—signals and systems, electromagnetic fields, analog and digital systems—as well as in-depth skills in research and experimentation. Below is a list of classes that are traditionally found in ABET-accredited electrical engineering programs.
This course introduces students to the core concepts of electromagnetic theory, including wave equations, vector potentials, transmission lines, and Maxwell’s equations.
Digital Signal Processing
In this class, students learn about the fundamentals of digital signal processing, including digital filtering, Fourier transforms, linear systems, and windowing.
Digital Circuits and Systems
This course provides students with an overview of digital computing and logic, including the study of system design and operation, memory, logic design, and Boolean algebra.
In this course students study the basic concepts of linear systems, including state variables, stability, time-variable systems, as well as discrete and continuous-linear systems.
Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering
Students gain a fundamental understanding of electrical engineering, including mathematical models used, basic circuit concepts, and are introduced to the study and function of resistors, amplifiers and capacitors.
Advice for Selecting the Right School
Because of the different types of online options available to electrical engineering students, it is important they do their due diligence before making a decision. They should review each program to ensure the curriculum, faculty, and student services meet their personal and professional needs. Here is a list of factors to consider when considering an online electrical engineering degree program.
- Are there technology fees?
Distance and online engineering students may be required to participate in at-home laboratory exercises, which requires additional course materials.
- Is the program ABET-accredited?
Students should ensure their program is ABET accredited to make sure they meet licensing and Professional Engineer designations in the future.
- Does the program offer student services?
Online students require the same access to financial aid support, academic tutoring, and career planning services as their on-campus counterparts.
- What is the program’s PE success rate?
Does the program graduate electrical engineers that become Professional Engineers? What is the passing/fail rate for students taking the PE examination?
Electrical Engineering: ABET Accreditation
Accreditation is a voluntary process conducted by non-governmental organizations to ensure academic programs meet industry standards of quality. For electrical engineering, the primary—and most important—accrediting body is the Association Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accredits individual electrical engineering programs at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels. Before enrolling in a program of study, students should check if that program is accredited by one of two ABET commissions: Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) and Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC). The EAC accredits electrical engineering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, while the ETAC accredits associate and bachelor’s programs in electrical engineering.
For prospective electrical engineering students, attending an ABET-accredited program is important. Most states require engineers to earn an accredited degree to qualify for licensure and many employers prefer to hire candidates with an accredited education and professional license.
Online Master’s in Electrical Engineering
Technological innovation is driving a changing landscape in the engineering profession, making an advanced degree increasingly necessary for employment and career advancement. In addition to preparing for supervisory or management positions, a graduate degree can also be used to satisfy continuing education requirements for licensure. Below is a sample timeline for enrolling in an online electrical engineering degree program at the graduate level.
||Time Before Program Start Date
Complete an undergraduate program in electrical engineering
|4 to 6 years
Gain real world experience through an Engineering Internship
Work as an engineer, take the PE examination, and apply for a Professional Engineer License
|4 – 5 years
Take and pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
10 months to 1 year
Submit an application to master’s degree programs
|8 – 10 months
Earning a graduate degree in electrical engineering can help professionals advance up the career ladder. However, grad school is extremely competitive and candidates must be prepared prior to applying to a master’s degree program. Below are three ways prospective graduate students can make sure their candidacy is competitive as possible.
- Volunteer: Volunteering is a great way to develop additional practical skills the electrical engineering discipline. Volunteering also demonstrates the student’s commitment to and engagement with their community.
- Join a Professional Association: Networking is important and engineers should join the local chapter of their engineering society and attend luncheons and other events. These contacts can lead to recommendations for graduate school and even employment opportunities after graduation.
- Have professional experience: An engineering internship, work experience, and Professional Engineering license shows the graduate application committee the candidate is serious about their career and are using the master’s degree to advance their professional skills.
Professional Opportunities in Electrical Engineering
The electrical engineering profession offers numerous potential employment avenues, whether in signal processing or hardware development. Below is a list of five example career paths open to students that complete online electrical engineering degrees.
Electrical Engineering Technician
Working under the supervision and alongside electrical engineers, electrical engineering technicians are responsible for designing, building, and testing a range of electronic equipment—from computers to medical devices. A majority work in manufacturing and research laboratories, building electrical circuitry and control equipment. An associate degree or technical training diploma is traditionally required for employment in the industry.
Electrical engineers are multi-disciplinary professionals that blend the study of physics, mathematics, and electricity to drive technological innovation. They design and build electronic and computing devices for a broad array of industries, such as telecommunication, software/hardware, signal processing, and energy and power. A bachelor’s degree, along with a Professional Engineer license, are traditionally required for employment as an electrical engineer.
Computer Hardware Engineer
Computer hardware engineers design and develop computer technology systems and components, such as circuit boards and networking devices. Working closely with software engineers, they rely on their creative and technical skills to develop solutions to get computer equipment to work with software. Examples range from embedded computer systems in automobiles to automated manufacturing systems. To enter the field, individuals typically most possess either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in electrical engineering from an ABET-accredited institution.
Industrial Production Engineering
Industrial production engineers are concerned with efficiency, devising new ways to improve production processes—bringing together organizational management skills with technical knowledge. They create manufacturing systems that help workers, materials, and information work more effectively to help companies reduce costs and waste. Employed across industry, such as manufacturing and healthcare, industrial production engineers may evaluate workers’ job performance, find novel approaches to scheduling, or implement updated design processes to improve product delivery. A bachelor’s degree in engineering from an ABET-accredited program is recommended.
Electrical engineering managers are charged with serving as supervisors, leading electrical engineering projects. They are the principal architects for the design of new products or construction projects. They determine staffing and equipment needs, project budgets, liaise with clients and suppliers, and monitor the timeline and quality of each individual project. Although mostly based in offices, electrical engineering managers are employed across industries, ranging from software development to biotechnology. An advanced occupation, a majority of electrical engineering managers either have advanced degrees or significant years of experience, along with a Professional Engineer license.
||National Median Salary (2014)
||National Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)
|Electrical Engineering Technician
|Computer Hardware Engineer
|Industrial Production Engineer
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook;
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Wage Estimates 2014
Earning Certifications and Licensure
Certification is one way for electrical engineers to remain relevant in their profession and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the field. Below is a list of three example certifications for electrical engineers.
Certified Electrical Inspector
Offered by the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, this certification is a nationally recognized credential. Designed for individuals in the electrical inspection profession, the certification requires the successful completion of a computer-based examination. Candidates must have an associate or bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a PE in Electrical Engineering and hold between 2,000 and 8,000 hours of professional experience, based on the level of certification: Certified Electrical Inspector Residential or Certified Electrical Inspector Master.
Certified Power Quality Professional
Sponsored by the Association of Energy Engineers, this certification is for power quality professionals who demonstrate advanced knowledge and experience in the field. To qualify, candidates must work requirements that vary by educational attainment. Individuals with a PE license or four-year engineering degree must have at least three years of experience, those with a four-year non-engineering degree must have five years of experience, those with a two-year degree must have at least five years of experience, and individuals without a degree must have at least 10 years of experience. In addition to academic and professional experience requirements, candidates must also pass an examination and attend a three-day seminar.
Certified Software Development Professional
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers offers a Certified Software Development Professional designation. It is designed for individuals in mid-level positions in software engineering and development. The designation includes exam-based testing, employment requirements, and continuing professional education requirements. Candidates must demonstrate an understanding of four knowledge areas (e.g. Software Engineering Construction, Software Engineering Testing) and complete two practical, experience-based applied modules.
The electrical engineering practice—like most engineering occupations—is licensed at the state level. Individual state boards determine the qualifications, education, and examinations candidates must pass in order to become licensed electrical engineers in the state. Typically, electrical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering from an ABET-accredited program, meet work experience requirements, pass comprehensive examinations, and submit an application and fees to their state board. A list of state licensure boards and their requirements is available from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
It is important to remember that entry-level engineering technicians and electrical engineers do not need to hold Professional Licensure for entry-level employment. However, a PE license can impact employability, promotional opportunities as employers typically prefer to hire and advance individuals with licensure.
Other Engineering Disciplines to Consider
Engineering is broad profession, one that covers a number of interrelated areas of practice in related fields. Below are three examples of engineering programs in growing industries that may be of interest to prospective engineering students.
An online degree in civil engineering offers students the opportunity to develop knowledge of and skills in various disciplines, including structural, geotechnical, water resources, and environmental engineering. Graduates of these programs can pursue employment in a range of professional settings, including municipalities, transportation departments, consulting firms, and government agencies.
Mechanical engineering exists at the intersection of innovation and manufacturing. One of the field’s broadest disciplines, an online degree in mechanical engineering can prepare graduates for career paths in nearly every industry, such as aerospace, computers and electronics, renewable energy, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing.
The increasing demand for energy positions individuals with an online degree in petroleum engineering for long-term career success. Students develop an understanding of petroleum and natural gas extraction, production and refinement and gain skills to navigate the waters of environmental issues and public policy.
Electrical Engineering Student Resources