Online Electrical Engineering Degree Overview & Career Information
Those who wish to begin their career with an entry-level position should consider an electrical engineering degree online at the bachelor's level. In addition to general education courses, these programs include topics such as digital systems design, electrical circuit theory, differential equations, and calculus. Those seeking more advanced professional roles as a consultant, researcher, or educator should consider a master's or doctorate program.
Electrical engineering master's degree programs are designed for students seeking advanced knowledge and skills to help them achieve senior employment levels. Doctoraldegree programs help students develop the skills necessary to work as a researcher creating new engineering knowledge. Certificate programs in electrical engineering are available for students with varying levels of experience, from those who are currently enrolled in a degree program to those who have previously earned a degree in a related field. While most courses may be conducted online, certain courses (e.g., labs) may only be conducted in a physical classroom on campus or elsewhere.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Electrical Engineering
An online electrical engineering Bachelor of Science program (BSEE) teaches students fundamental theories in electrical systems, as well as the skills to solve engineering design problems.
Applicants are expected to have high school diplomas and high achievement in math and natural science classes. As with most other bachelor's degrees, the BSEE takes about four years and 120 credit hours of coursework to complete.
Electrical engineering students study everything from circuits, wires, and currents to robotics and theories of electrical engineering design. Students also examine technology topics such as computer-aided drafting, network security and cryptography, and digital imaging systems. Some courses focus on helping students find practical applications for electrical engineering concepts, such as medical instrumentation, patents, or systems design.
Most online electrical engineering programs include at least some courses that require students to visit campus for hands-on lab work. Some labs are separate from the course itself, while others integrate hands-on learning with the text material. All EE students can expect to take a lab in electrical construction, where they learn the actual techniques for wiring, fabricating, and installing electrical systems. Many people also participate in internships while enrolled in electrical engineering bachelor's degree programs. EE students may intern in settings such as telecommunications, manufacturing, computer design, or power production.
For anyone who is considering becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE), it is very important to choose a degree program that has been accredited. Accreditation is only granted to schools and individual degree programs that meet established criteria for academic excellence. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) as an authoritative accrediting agency for engineering and technology programs, as do most state PE licensing boards. Both ABET and CHEA maintain databases of accredited institutions and degree programs.
Accreditation is also important to financial institutions that grant student aid and other schools that you may wish to attend. Most accredited schools will only accept transfer credits from other accredited institutions, and most financial aid and scholarships are only available to students who attend an accredited school or program.
Licensure and Certification Requirements
Although it's possible to find employment as an electrical engineer without being licensed, earning a license, and thus the title "Professional Engineer," will open up many more job opportunities. Electrical engineers must meet a rigorous set of qualifications before they can become a PE, assuring the state government and public and private employers that they are competent and knowledgeable. Each US state has its own PE licensing requirements, but in general, candidates must complete an approved bachelor’s or master's degree program in engineering and four years of suitable work experience, as well as pass two exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
In addition to a state license, electrical engineers may choose to earn voluntary certifications through a trade organization. The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies is one organization that certifies individuals in some specific areas of EE, such as electrical power testing, industrial instrumentation, or audio systems.
Electrical vs. Electronics Engineering
Electrical engineers and electronics engineers share similar work environments, tasks, and technologies, but they have two distinct roles within the engineering profession. Electrical engineers design, develop, and manage the processes of larger-scale electrical systems, such as motors, navigation systems, radar, and power generation equipment. Electronics engineers are involved in designing and developing a variety of smaller-scale electronic equipment, such as mobile, TV, and radio communications, global positioning systems, medical instruments, and industrial machinery.
The generation and supply of power are the main components of everyday work for electrical engineers, and they are involved from the outset until the completion and implementation of electrical products. They design new ways to use electrical power and establish unique and creative ways to improve current systems and products. Manufacturing, construction, and installation calculations are performed by electrical engineers to ensure proper inception and completion; they often work hand in hand with project managers to see plans come to fruition. Electrical engineers play a role in helping to direct workers in the field of manufacturing, installation, and testing so that projects and products come out as specified.
Electronic engineering involves work with signal processing or control systems in an effort to apply the supply of power, with projects such as global positioning systems, portable music players, broadcast systems, and much more. Electronics engineers design electronic components and software for industrial, commercial, medical, military, and other such ventures. They also develop and test different procedures for both electronic components and equipment and assist in repairing or designing diverse modifications for failing or improperly working systems.
Where Do Electrical Engineers Work?
Electrical engineers play an important role in any industry that requires electricity, wires, circuits, relays, and power systems. They are responsible for some of the most vital devices we use today, and they work in a variety of fields to support and expand the functionality of these devices. Here are some examples of the types of companies that require the work of electrical engineers:
Engineering firms concentrate a broad selection of engineers in different specialties, or focus on a specific realm and form a team of specialists. Either way, when an outside company has engineering needs, they contact an engineering firm. The firm analyzes the company's needs and responds with a team that can accomplish the task. Electrical engineers in these firms contribute their valuable knowledge and experience when the situation calls for power or energy systems analysis. They may also coordinate their efforts with computer engineers when designing power systems for large-scale computer, network, and database setups.
Instrument manufacturing and electronic component manufacturing are good examples of engineers helping engineers. Instruments and delicate components must meet very specific requirements in order to be of use to engineers and technicians of all kinds. When manufacturing specialized equipment, electrical engineers are responsible for both designing and maintaining the machines that will physically produce the items, and also for testing them to make sure that they meet quality control standards. Instrument manufacturing is a great field for people who love learning how things are made and who have an eye for detail in a finished product.
Everyone needs access to electricity nowadays, and if they want to make sure that their systems are safe and efficient, then they need an electrical engineer. When power companies build a new plant, they have electrical engineers there making sure that the systems are in order and connect to the grid correctly. Cities and development companies bring civil engineers together with electrical engineers to design power delivery systems that can meet the needs of their citizens. Mass transit systems, like NYC's subways or Seattle's electric buses, also need electrical engineers to make sure that these systems have the power they need to keep a busy populace up and running.
Electronic Component Manufacturing
Many electrical engineers are tasked with building delicate components. Engineers need to have an eye for detail and an understanding of the complex parts that come together to make a system work. The machinery that makes electronic components is even more delicate and needs a dedicated professional at the helm.
Scientific Research and Development
Research and development is focused on taking existing products and making them better, designing brand new products that solve a problem (new or old), or building a new product based on a cutting-edge discovery in the electrical engineering field. R&D is never the same day twice. If you want to get into this field, be prepared to work hard and face a lot of competition.
Frequently Asked Questions About Electrical Engineering Degrees
How much can I earn with an online degree in electrical engineering?
Entry-level jobs in electrical engineering require a bachelor's degree, and professionals in the field earn a median annual income of $98,530 based on data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2019. The best-paying jobs for electrical engineers are in research and development, although there are also lucrative positions in manufacturing, especially of semiconductors, electrical components, and various types of instruments.
What is the job outlook for electrical engineers?
Despite the heavy emphasis on technological innovation in so many industries, the demand for electrical engineers is expected to remain fairly constant over the next decade. Opportunities are being phased out of some industries, but there are new, emerging growth areas, especially in the research and development of energy resources, production automation, consumer electronics, and telecommunications. Electrical engineers may also find more job openings in engineering services firms, since many manufacturing companies are opting to outsource work to services firms instead of using internal resources.
What is the difference between an electrical engineer and an electrical engineering technician?
Electrical engineering technicians assist electrical and electronics engineers in designing, developing, and testing electronics and electrical devices. Becoming an electrical engineering technician requires an associate degree, while a bachelor's or more advanced degree is required for higher-level positions as electrical engineers. An electrical engineering technician can expect to earn an annual salary of about $65,260.
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