If you want to be an engineer, you might have questions about graduate school and the differences between engineering jobs with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Engineering is a popular field of study at both the undergraduate and graduate levels of education. Naturally, master’s degree programs in engineering cover advanced coursework that builds on the engineering concepts, practices and foundations taught in bachelor’s degree programs. Whether you earn a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree affects your future job opportunities.

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Curriculum Differences Between Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Engineering

In a bachelor’s degree program in engineering, you will study scientific and mathematical theories and learn how to apply these concepts to solve problems in the real world. Depending on which specialization of engineering you pursue, solving these problems could mean designing bridges, creating new chemical compounds or even developing aircraft. In addition to general engineering courses and classes in physical and life sciences, you will complete plenty of core coursework in your area of specialization. A bachelor’s degree program in engineering should be accredited by ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) and typically takes four years of full-time study to complete.

Master’s degree programs build off of the engineering foundations a student has learned as an undergraduate and include advanced studies in engineering theory and practice. Graduate degree programs in engineering are similar to bachelor’s degree programs in that they should be ABET-accredited and the core courses required to earn the degree depend on the student’s chosen engineering discipline. Some accelerated master’s in engineering programs can be completed in as little as one year, while others take two to three years.

Some engineering schools offer five- or six-year programs that allow students to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, often at an accelerated pace.

Opportunities for Engineers With Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees

Do you need a master’s degree to work in the field of engineering? Most engineering roles require just a bachelor’s degree. However, graduate degree programs in engineering are popular, especially in disciplines such as civil engineering, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, according to U.S. News & World Report.

A bachelor’s degree in your chosen engineering discipline is sufficient to allow you to get your first engineering job and attain your Professional Engineering (PE) license, if desired. You can work in a role that allows you to develop and design new technologies to solve problems.

However, there are some engineering jobs that you typically can’t do without having an advanced degree. If you would like to teach engineering at a university or work in research and development, you will probably need a graduate degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A master’s degree may also be necessary if you are seeking a promotion into a senior position. A graduate degree, especially a master’s degree in engineering management (MEM or MsEM), can help experienced engineers move into leadership roles as engineering managers.

Engineering manager is a particularly lucrative engineering occupation, with a median wage of $137,720, according to the BLS.

Deciding Whether to Go to Graduate School for Engineering

Is a master’s degree in engineering worth the extra cost, time and work? Believe it or not, the answer depends largely not only on what your career advancement plans look like, but also in which discipline of engineering you work.

If your primary reason for attaining a master’s degree is boosting your income potential, you may need to do more research before moving forward. Generally speaking, engineers do earn higher salaries with advanced degrees, The Washington Post reported. For some branches of engineering, that salary increase can be huge. Software engineers, for example, can earn more than $16,800 above what their peers with only a bachelor’s degree make, according to CBS News.

However, a sizable pay boost isn’t always an effect of going to graduate school for engineering. A master’s degree can help you earn nine to 13 percent more money annually compared to a bachelor’s degree if you become a mechanical engineer, a civil engineering or an architectural and engineering manager, according to the BLS. For chemical engineers, whether or not you have a graduate degree has no significant effect on your median salary. Surprisingly, having a master’s degree was associated in a lower median salary for petroleum, geological and mining engineers.

As engineers are known for their intellectual curiosity, it is unsurprising that many engineers choose to go to graduate school because they simply want to keep learning about new technologies and skills for managing projects, the BLS reported. Additionally, a desire to move into a teaching or research role, regardless of whether that career move would result in a pay increase, can be a factor that motivates engineers to earn a master’s degree.

For some research roles, even a master’s degree in engineering isn’t enough. Instead, a Ph.D. in Engineering is required, according to U.S. News & World Report.