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Online Master's Programs in Engineering

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Updated on: 01/07/2018

Students in online master's in engineering programs can pursue advanced coursework in areas such as mechanical, nuclear, aerospace, environmental, petroleum, marine, materials, industrial, and agricultural engineering. Graduate programs emphasize independent research and career training. These experiences help candidates demonstrate to employers their commitment to improving the quality of their work and understanding its financial implications. For the majority of engineers, earning a master's degree creates opportunities for leadership opportunities and higher earning potential. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 6% growth for engineering managers from 2016 to 2026 and an 11% growth for construction managers during the same time frame.

This guide provides in-depth academic information, including common courses, program requirements, and financial aid options, along with insight into career and professional development opportunities. Prospective students can use the information below to identify a program that suits their interests and goals.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Engineering Program?

Graduate engineering programs typically require two years and at least 30 credits. Graduate engineering students generally complete rigorous laboratory and field training that leads to a capstone project or research-intensive thesis. Many master's programs also include an internship requirement, during which students work with a university partner or pursue an independent practicum. In addition to in-depth theoretical knowledge and technical training in their chosen engineering field, graduate students learn to synthesize complex information through oral and written reports. They also work extensively in teams, building leadership skills and tackling practical challenges.

For working professionals, distance programs often provide flexible course scheduling and affordable tuition. Online master's in engineering programs offer a great deal of academic freedom, with ample specialization and independent study options that allow students to integrate work experience into the curriculum. Distance learners typically benefit from the same support services as on-campus students, including internship placement, career services, and guidance for students planning to pursue professional certification.

What Common Courses Are Offered in a Master’s in Engineering Program?

Curricula vary by degree type. Master's in engineering programs emphasize technical training and industry-specific skills, while master of science in engineering programs focus on research. Course offerings also differ by area of study. For example, an engineering management degree may emphasize financial planning and risk analysis, while mechanical engineering students take classes in areas such as heat conduction and autonomous mobile robotics. The list below details five popular courses for students in online master's in engineering programs.

Systems Thinking for Engineering Managers

In this course, students explore theories and strategies in engineering systems planning and implementation. Students learn about advanced systems controls, performance maintenance, and ways to improve overall effectiveness. The course covers how to prevent and address systems failures and explores key recovery techniques applied throughout a system cycle.

Applied Biomedical Engineering

Students analyze physiological systems through quantitative frameworks and models. Topics include cell chemistry, membrane tissues, the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system. Depending on the structure of the course, learners may also study the nervous system, the kidney and gastrointestinal tract, and auditory and visual systems. Applied classes usually involve laboratory work.

Preservation Engineering

An important class for civil engineers, preservation engineering involves the examination, upkeep, and repair of physical structures, including protected and heritage sites. Students design and implement preservation projects through field training. They learn how to use durable and economical materials to alter and reuse old buildings, contributing to sustainable architectural efforts.

Information Theory

Required for computer engineers, this course covers topics related to the communication and storage of information systems. Coursework focuses on mathematical models, including error-free data compression, rate-distortion theory, and statistical physics. Students learn how to facilitate effective communication over noisy information channels using a capacity-effective framework.

Automatic Control

This important class for mechanical engineers focuses on the mathematical tools needed to create and maintain single-input-output feedback control systems. Students learn how to identify whether a system can be controlled, and under what conditions and in what frequency range. Additional topics include interconnected systems theory and microscopic and macroscopic biological phenomena.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Because graduate education emphasizes skill development in industry-specific contexts, students should prepare for group projects. These experiences often require learners to analyze and apply research to solve a challenge. Computer engineering students may study security breaches and other cyber threats, while environmental engineering students may explore ways to ameliorate soil erosion caused by deforestation and climate change.

Online master's in engineering programs typically culminate in a capstone experience, during which students synthesize classroom knowledge to complete a project or research paper. Some schools allow students to partner with an organization or current employer to complete a sponsored project. Online master's in engineering programs often include a comprehensive examination.

What Specializations Are Available in a Master’s in Engineering Program?

Colleges and universities generally offer online master's in engineering programs in specific subfields, such as chemical, mechanical, or industrial engineering. Students can also further specialize. For example, a mechanical engineering program may offer tracks in fluid dynamics, solid mechanics, or nanotechnology. Below are three potential specializations for students pursuing an online master's in engineering.

Nuclear Engineering

Engineering students in this specialization learn to manipulate atomic nuclei through fission and fusion techniques. Students can work with radiation and reactor physics, or they can pursue careers in nuclear technology, including positions in medical scanning and treatment. Additional topics include applied mathematics and disaster mitigation.

Mechanical Engineering

This specialization trains students to apply math, physics, and materials science concepts and skills to develop mechanical systems. As one of the broadest subfields, mechanical engineering students can focus on a specific industry, such as energy production or robotics. Coursework covers topics including thermodynamics, systems control, and reverse engineering.

Civil Engineering

Students learn to design, plan, build, and maintain infrastructures with consideration to public safety and environmental health. The field also includes the restoration of existing structures and buildings. Classes in this specialization include construction management, geographic information systems, and soil and water science. Students can focus their studies on a particular structure, such as airports, irrigation systems, or pipelines.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Engineering Degree?

Careers for graduates with an online master's in engineering vary based on their degree type. Students who specialize in petroleum engineering can pursue some of the highest-paying occupations in the country. Civil and mechanical engineering students enjoy diverse job opportunities due to the broad applications of their fields. Civil engineers often work for government agencies, design firms, and construction companies. Mechanical engineers can occupy positions in the mining, automotive, and manufacturing industries.

With graduate credentials, professionals can also pursue roles as research scientists and postsecondary educators. However, a master's degree does not guarantee job eligibility. Employers may also require extensive and relevant work experience, as well as specific certification or licensure.

Health and Safety Engineer

These professionals develop systems to protect an organization's employees and properties. They apply knowledge of chemical and environmental engineering to assess work environments and ensure machinery and procedures meet government regulations. During inspections, health and safety engineers may review employee activities to offer suggestions and develop training programs that bolster standards. Engineers in this field can specialize in areas such as fire prevention, systems safety, and product compliance. In addition to a master's degree, health and safety engineers generally hold certification from organizations such as the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.

Industrial Engineer

These engineers improve the efficiency of production processes. They develop management systems that integrate materials, machine, and workflow to ensure projects are completed accurately and on time. Industrial engineers also oversee quality assurance, resolving production challenges and minimizing expenses. Professionals in this field may specialize in one part of the production process, such as personnel management, vendor purchases, or project planning. They can also become manufacturing engineers and focus entirely on the automated aspects of production. Industrial engineers generally hold graduate credentials and certification from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Civil Engineer

Civil engineers work in the public and private sectors. They design, supervise, construct, maintain, and assess infrastructure systems and projects, including roads, tunnels, bridges, waterways, sewage systems, and buildings. Civil engineers also oversee permit acquisition to ensure project proposals meet government regulations and environmental sustainability standards. Civil engineers with a master's degree can occupy leadership roles such as construction supervisor, public work director, and city manager. Professionals in this field often pursue certification through the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Marine Engineer

These professionals design and build ships, including sailboats, yachts, submarines, and aircraft carriers. Marine engineers may specialize in internal ship controls, overseeing aspects such as propulsion, refrigeration, or steering mechanisms. They can also work as naval architects, who manage external structures and hull stability. Marine engineers can also pursue careers in the oil and alternative energy industries as part of offshore teams. Aspiring marine engineers can earn their master's degree at a college or university or through a state maritime academy.

Petroleum Engineer

These engineers develop methods to safely extract oil and gas from new and existing deposits. Petroleum engineers design equipment, oversee extraction processes, and evaluate well production using systems analysis and surveys. Engineers in this field can specialize in a single step of the extraction process, such as reservoir estimation, drilling, project completion, or production management. While professionals can secure entry-level positions with a bachelor's degree, senior engineers need a master's or doctoral degree and a professional engineering license.

Engineering Associations and Organizations

Beyond university resources and services, graduate engineering students can gain support from professional organizations. While membership usually requires an annual fee, the benefits include networking opportunities through local chapter meetings and national or international conferences. Many professional organizations also offer career guidance and online job listings, such as this searchable database from the Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers.

National Society of Professional Engineers

Founded in 1934, NSPE supports more than 34,000 members through public policy advocacy, research initiatives, and legislative campaigns. The society also offers professional development resources, including certification guidance and continuing education programs.

American Society of Civil Engineers

The ASCE connects members through national conferences and local communities, including groups specifically for engineering students and young professionals. Members can take advantage of on-demand training, certification programs, and a career development center.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Established in 1880, ASME has more than 130,000 members in 150 countries. Membership includes benefits such as career management tools, volunteer opportunities, and a job board. ASME operates a mentorship program to help prospective and new engineers gain hands-on training.

Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers

IISE is a leader in industrial engineering research, training, and application. Through the organization's training center, members access on-site programs and skill-based webinars. IISE also provides resources specifically for students, including academic awards and research competitions.

Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers

Through research and education initiatives, IEEE advances technology for the service of the global community. Members can access certification programs and a library of online resources. The institute connects engineers through industry-specific groups and international conferences.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Engineering?

An online master's in engineering can lead to many career advancement opportunities. However, a single credential, no matter how prestigious, does not guarantee employment or a salary increase. Individual businesses and organizations require candidates to hold different skills, experience levels, and certification or licensure. For example, civil engineers who work for the federal government on dams and waterways need a different skill set than those who work in private construction management. Salary varies based on the candidate's professional history.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Health and Safety Engineer Less than $51,820 $88,510 More than $139,630 +9%
Industrial Engineer Less than $55,230 $85,880 More than $130,930 +10%
Civil Engineer Less than $54,510 $84,770 More than $138,110 +11%
Marine Engineer Less than $63,980 $90,970 More than $145,550 +12%
Petroleum Engineer Less than $74,400 $132,280 More than $208,000 +15%

Source: BLS 2018

According to the BLS, the careers above are the fastest-growing occupations in the engineering field. The BLS projects employment for petroleum engineers to increase 15% from 2016 to 2026, which translates to more than 5,100 jobs. The BLS projects marine engineering and naval architecture careers to increase 12% due to the growing need to modify ships to satisfy new emissions and pollution laws. The BLS projects civil, industrial, and safety engineering positions to grow at similar rates. However, job prospects vary drastically by location. Lucrative employment opportunities also exist outside the United States.

According to a 2015 report from the Center on Education and the Workforce, salary potential varies greatly by engineering industry. Petroleum engineers average the highest salary, $136,000 per year, while biomedical engineers earn the lowest average salary, $70,000. A professional's education level also affects earnings. The average salary for a bachelor's degree holder is $83,000 per year, while professional engineers with graduate credentials earn an average of $104,00 per year.

Online Master’s in Engineering Program Accreditation

Regardless of a student's program type or institution, earning an accredited master's degree is integral to career advancement. Accreditation demonstrates a school's adherence to government educational regulations and current industry standards, both of which employers value highly. Colleges and universities can obtain national, regional, and/or programmatic accreditation. Regional accreditation is the oldest and the most highly regarded type. Schools apply for regional accreditation through one of six organizations, based on location.

In addition to institutional accreditation, a school can obtain specialized accreditation for its online master's in engineering program. Engineering students should look for programs with approval from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Founded in 1932, ABET receives official recognition from the ED and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and accredits nearly 4,000 academic programs worldwide. Online students should also look for accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Engineering Degree

To earn an online master's in engineering, students invest substantial amounts of time and money. Fortunately, funding opportunities exist for all learners, including recent undergraduates and working professionals. This section details four major ways students pay for their graduate education, including government funding and private scholarships.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for multiple awards simultaneously. No age limit exists. Graduate students can access the Federal Grad PLUS Loan, the Federal Stafford Loan, the Perkins Loan, and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Unlike undergraduate candidates, who receive aid based on their parent's financial information, FAFSA categorizes graduate students as independents, calculating award amounts based on their income and their spouse's income, if applicable.

  • Institutional Scholarships

    Students should contact prospective schools about available awards based on merit and need. Many colleges and universities provide funding specifically for engineering students, such as the Force and Motion Academic Scholarship from the University of Maryland. Institutions may also offer lower tuition rates and additional scholarships for distance learners.

  • Organizational Scholarships

    Graduate engineering students can take advantage of private scholarships through professional organizations and national associations. Criteria may include academic performance, degree type, volunteer history, and membership with the facilitating organization. For example, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering offers STEM scholarships for underserved students. ASME also offers award opportunities.

  • Graduate Fellowships

    Students can receive fellowships based on their academic and professional achievements. Unlike scholarships, fellowships include service commitments such as internships or sponsored projects. The American Society for Engineering Education provides four fellowships for graduate students, including a summer program for marine engineers through the Office of Naval Research.