You know that you need a college education to be an engineer. What you may not know is exactly how long you will need to go to school to get the degree you need for your career. There are opportunities in the field of engineering with degrees at every level from associate’s to doctoral. How advanced your degree must be depends on what you want to do with your career.
Factors That Affect Education Requirements for Engineering Jobs
There are plenty of points to consider when deciding what educational path is right for you. For most branches of the field, you can get a good job as an engineer, with or without a Professional Engineering license, with just a bachelor’s degree. However, you could decide to stick with an associate’s degree and become an engineering technician or technologist instead, or to continue your education well beyond the undergraduate level.
If you’re trying to decide what your next step to getting an engineering education is, consider what you want to do. For one thing, you should think about what discipline of engineering you want to pursue. Some branches, such as nuclear engineering, may restrict even some entry-level jobs to candidates with an advanced degree, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. You should also think about where you want to work. Certain employers, including large firms, may consider only applicants with a master’s degree or above. The position you’re seeking affects the degree you will need to earn, as well. The more specialized or senior-level position you aspire to obtain, the more education you will need to get there.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits engineering degree programs at the associate’s bachelor’s and master’s and post-graduate level at 555 institutions in the U.S.
Opportunities With an Associate’s Degree
You can’t become an engineer with just an associate’s degree, so if anything short of officially calling yourself an engineer doesn’t match your understanding of a “good” job, you will need to spend more time in school. However, an associate’s degree can prepare you for a career in engineering technology, which itself can be a lucrative career, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Engineering technicians and technologists work with engineering technology, but they don’t do the innovative design work that engineers do. Technicians work in the service industry, installing, maintaining and repairing technological equipment. Technologists work more closely with full-fledged engineers, implementing technologies into areas such as product design, system development and technical operations. Engineering technicians don’t bring home the high salaries that engineers with more education do, but they can earn excellent wages, especially considering that they only spend two years preparing for the career.
Engineering technicians earn median wages that range from $50,230 to $67,240, the BLS reported. With a combination of specialized skills and experience, salaries can reach six figures.
Engineering Jobs With a Bachelor’s Degree
If you want to work as an engineer in just about any discipline, a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited program will be enough to qualify you for a good job. By the time you graduate with your bachelor’s degree, you will have the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to design successful components, systems and processes in your chosen branch of engineering. You might design computer hardware, roads, medical machines, aircraft or any number of other innovations.
An undergraduate degree is all the education you need to attain your Professional Engineering license, if you choose to do so, the BLS reported.
Graduate Degrees in Engineering
If you can get a good job with a bachelor’s degree, why would you bother going to graduate school? Some better engineering jobs are only available to candidates with advanced degrees. For example, you can get a job as an aerospace engineer with a bachelor’s degree, but if you want to work for NASA and be chosen as an astronaut – a highly competitive opportunity – you are likely to need a Ph.D., according to the BLS. You may also choose to earn a master’s degree to enhance your specialized technical skills or to move up into a leadership or advanced research role.
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Even once you decide that an advanced degree is right for you, you still have some big decisions to make. Do you earn a master’s degree or a doctorate? Are you interested in research that would culminate in a thesis for a master’s degree or a dissertation for a Ph.D.? Alternatively, would a professional master’s degree or Doctor of Engineering program that prepares you for technical leadership roles be a better choice? Any of these advanced degrees can prepare you for a good job, but you want to make sure that the degree you choose is in line with your career goals.
Generally, professional doctoral programs take less time to complete than traditional Ph.D. programs.