Is a Master’s in Electrical Engineering Worth It?
March 31, 2021 | edX team
Master’s degrees allow engineers to dive deeper into a technical specialty, while also broadening their knowledge in the field. The number of graduate students who have earned master’s degrees in the last two decades alone has more than doubled, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A master’s degree is also a great predictor of job security, with the BLS reporting that the unemployment rate for professionals with a master’s degree is lower than the national rate.
The value of a graduate-level engineering degree is especially great for computer and electrical engineers, where there is strong industry demand for well-trained professionals with knowledge of both traditional and emerging topics in the field. In a profession that prides itself on high performance, computer and electrical engineering employers are looking for candidates with a potent combination of technical, problem-solving, and communication..
In this post, we’ll focus specifically on opportunities unlocked through pursuing a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.
Choosing a Master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)
While an electrical engineering graduate program offers a broad view of specializations, an electrical and computer engineering master’s degree unlocks additional focus areas and subsequently job opportunities related to those skills. For example, in Purdue’s electrical and computer engineering master’s degree, students have the option to specifically focus on computer engineering and learn about the full computing stack. Tech company giants and modern companies in domains such as healthcare, national security, space research, and more rely on engineers who understand the software and hardware you’ll learn to design and build in programs like Purdue’s.
An Uptick in Graduate Enrollments and Self-Investment
Graduate enrollment, especially when it comes to online master programs, is an important driver of higher education enrollment. That seems to have only intensified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent trends analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Early- and mid-career professionals became online students because they “were able to continue working, often from home, and maybe even found themselves with a little more free time.”
That mindset is evidenced by some of the students in the Purdue program, who sought to achieve their learning goals through a flexible degree program, prioritizing access to quality coursework and national reputation or esteem of the school, program, and faculty over a full on-campus experience.
Evaluating Flexible Degree Programs: One Engineer’s Experience
Take recent grad Roger Alford, who completed Purdue University's electrical and computer engineering master's degree in December 2020. He knew what he wanted–an online program that would work around his full-time job and family obligations–and did extensive research to find the program that best fit his needs.
“I evaluated every online program available at the time and found Purdue to have one of the best," said Alford. "It was well established, well organized, had many excellent course offerings, and had a good selection of concentrations to choose from. These features, combined with Purdue’s deeply rooted reputation for engineering excellence, made it the clear choice for me.”
One of the program features that stood out for Alford, who works with a team of engineers to develop life-sustaining medical devices, was the Purdue ECE program’s embrace of modular learning. Through one-credit course offerings, students can broaden their exposure to different disciplines and focus on addressing key knowledge gaps.
Both Specializing and Broadening Knowledge
Computer and electrical engineers considering whether to earn a master of science need to have a bachelor’s degree and are likely to have an educational background focused in math or engineering. Some prospective students may have just started their careers and want to develop a specialty, which can range from aerospace to electronics and photonics; from signal processing to computer science and computer systems.
Other professionals pursuing a master’s in computer and electrical engineering may be more seasoned veterans of the electrical engineering field or mechanical engineering. Some are experts in their field and looking to broaden their expertise or refresh skills. Others are looking to make a change or transition from their existing skill set. Still more–or likely all of the above– are lifelong learners who are passionate about learning new things. Areas of specialization within Purdue’s MSECE include:
- Automatic Control
- Communications, Networking, Signal and Image Processing
- Computer Engineering
- Fields and Optics
- Microelectronics & Nanotechnology
- Power and Energy Systems
- VLSI and Circuit Design
Purdue ECE continues to develop new courses for online learners in emerging areas, including data mining, embedded systems, and quantum technologies.
The Financial Benefits of Computer and Electrical Engineering Master’s Degrees
Computer and electrical engineers are among the highest paying job roles in the engineering field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for electrical engineers in 2019 was $98,530, with higher salaries exceeding $155,000. Larger companies that employ large numbers of computer and electrical engineers, such as Apple, Lockheed Martin, and Microsoft, tend to pay the highest, according to the IEEE-USA 2018 Salary and Benefits Survey Report. Sector and specialization also matters, the report found, with defense-related companies and private industry leading the way with median pay of around $153,000. Yet even those making lower-end salaries in civic-oriented sectors like education or local government can still earn nearly $120,000.
The bottom line is that computer and electrical engineering will continue to play a critical role in almost every facet of our society and the global economy. The need to research, develop, and implement cutting-edge solutions and technologies is a major priority for organizations big and small, and computer and electrical engineers will be the people driving many of these innovations forward.
So, is a Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering Worth It?
Without question, earning a graduate degree is widely recognized as one of the best ways to invest in your own development as a professional.
Completing the degree isn’t easy. It requires some prerequisites in math and engineering and a commitment to learning rigorous advanced-degree content. But for many prospective students, the benefits are as much about self-improvement as anything else. Alford, a principal staff scientist at Terumo Cardiovascular Group and Purdue MSECE graduate, he saw how “every course has helped me become a better engineer.”
To learn more about whether an electrical and computer engineering master’s degree is right for you, start by exploring Purdue’s 100% online, top-ranked master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.