What is the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Electrical Engineer?

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When it comes to making major decisions about what field of study to pursue, electrical engineering is typically a good choice for those interested in science, math, and engineering. In fact, senior electrical engineer is among the top-paying jobs for engineering majors. These professionals can earn an annual median salary of over six figures, with enough experience. But, becoming an electrical engineer takes much more than a simple decision. Candidates must earn a college education, earn passing scores on multiple professional examinations, and satisfy state requirements to obtain licensure. Below, we will discuss how to become an electrical engineer and provide specific information about the job outlook and earnings potential for this career path.

Earning an Electrical Engineering Degree

The first step toward becoming an electrical engineer is also one of the most important. If you’ve been wondering how to become an electrical engineer, the first step will be to earn a college degree in electrical engineering or a related discipline, such as electrical engineering technology or electronics engineering. Regardless of minor differences in program titles, the curriculum of any degree program that is designed to prepare students for a career in electrical or electronics engineering should cover subjects like electrical circuit theory, digital systems design, and differential equations. Students should expect to gain knowledge and hands-on experience through classroom lectures, laboratory research, field study, and participation in cooperative programs.

It’s important that students enroll in an accredited engineering program, not only to make sure they are learning valuable information during their studies, but also because many states consider a degree from an accredited institution to be one of the licensing requirements. ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, currently accredits more than 450 undergraduate degree programs in electrical and electronics engineering in the United States. In addition to general education courses, students of ABET-accredited electrical engineering courses will take a minimum of one year of mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physical science courses and one and one-half years of engineering sciences, in which they will learn decision-making and design principles and practices.

If you’re still in high school but have career aspirations of becoming an electrical engineer, it is important to take foundational math and science courses. High-school courses that will prepare you for college-level engineering classes include algebra, calculus, trigonometry, and physics. Drafting courses are also helpful, since electrical engineers often prepare and design technical drawings.

The Path to Getting a License

Once a student graduates from an electrical engineering degree program, the next step is typically to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. Successful completion of this exam allows candidates to officially be considered engineering interns or engineers-in-training. Under this designation, aspiring electrical engineers can find entry-level work under the supervision of experienced engineers. Once they have acquired the necessary amount of work experience, as required by the state in which they are seeking licensure, these engineers-in-training can take a second test, the Professional Engineering examination. Only upon passing this test can they become full-fledged electrical engineers.

For some students, the path to career preparation may vary. For example, some students may decide to pursue an advanced education early on and earn a master’s degree, perhaps even through an accelerated program while completing their bachelor’s degree. Earning a master’s degree may increase opportunities for future advancement. Others may choose to go back to school after earning a license and gaining professional experience. Still others who are less interested in senior-level management, research and development, or academic opportunities will end their schooling at the undergraduate level.

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Advancement for Electrical Engineers

To advance to supervisory or management electrical engineering positions, or to secure a lead role as a technician, an electrical engineer must have extensive work experience under the guidance of a senior-level engineer. Preparation for management roles requires less experienced engineers to work alongside a more experienced engineer. Once the proper experience is earned, the engineer may assume a role as program manager, where they lead a project or team of electrical engineers and technicians. The key to advancement is experience.

Earnings Potential for Electrical Engineers

Once you’ve determined how to become an electrical engineer, it is important to understand what to expect for earnings potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for electrical engineers is $100,830. In this career, even beginning electrical engineers can see favorable earnings, and with some experience earn well over six figures. BLS reports that the highest 10% of earners in this occupation see average annual wages over $159,000.

BLS also reports top-paying industries for electrical engineers, as earnings fluctuate with industry type. According to BLS, there are five top-paying industries for this occupation. The top-paying industry for electrical engineers is research and development in the engineering, life, and physical sciences. In this industry, electrical engineers can expect median annual wages of $116,050. The second highest-paying industry for electrical engineers is semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing. This industry pays $107,680 in median annual wages. Other top-paying industries include navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing; electrical power generation, transmission, and distribution; and engineering services. Four of the five top-paying industries offer above-average earnings of at least $102,510. The industry of engineering services offers electrical engineers an average salary of $98,440, which is slightly less than the overall average pay for all workers in this occupation.

Geographic Location

Another factor that impacts earnings is geographic location. Some states and cities offer higher earnings than others, and many offer higher-than-average wages. The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics data published by BLS indicates five top-paying geographical areas for electrical engineers. These top-paying areas are the District of Columbia, California, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia is the top-paying area for electrical engineers and offers an annual mean wage of $126,840. Electrical engineers working in California can expect an annual mean wage of $124,390, and those in New Jersey can expect $120,140. Vermont and Washington also offer higher-than-average wages of over $117,000 and $118,000 annually.

There are also certain top-paying metropolitan areas for electrical engineers. According to BLS, the San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara area in California is the best-paying metro area for this occupation, as electrical engineers see an annual mean wage of $150,480 there. The Washington, D.C. metro area, including Alexandria and Arlington, offers an annual mean wage of $130,150. The list of other top-paying metro areas includes Idaho Falls, Idaho, which offers annual mean wages for electrical engineers of $125,700, and Fresno, California, which offers $124,380 in annual mean wages.

In certain metro areas, the cost of living can impact net earnings. As a result, some electrical engineers choose to work in non-metropolitan areas. According to BLS, you don’t have to live in a metro area to earn top pay as an electrical engineer. There are five top-paying non-metro areas for this occupation that offer earnings well above the overall average. These top-paying non-metro regions include Northern New Mexico ($121,900 annual mean wages), Southwest Alabama ($116,870), West North Dakota ($115,880), Southside Virginia ($115,300), and West Kentucky ($114,800).

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Job Outlook for Electrical Engineers

A favorable and stable job outlook is anticipated for electrical engineers over the next decade. According to BLS, the overall employment for electrical engineers should grow seven percent through 2030, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations, including all engineering jobs. BLS projects about 22,700 openings for electrical and electronics engineers each year over the next decade. These openings are expected to result from the need to fill vacant spots that have been opened by individuals who retire or transfer to another engineering role. As current electrical engineers exit the labor force, new electrical engineers will be needed.

Some industries, however, may show tempered growth. BLS suggests that manufacturing and utilities industries will experience slow growth due to a number of factors. However, job growth for electrical engineers is projected to grow steadily in the professional, scientific, and technical services industries. As more companies lean on the expertise of electrical and electronics engineers and seek to develop more sophisticated consumer electronics, more electrical engineers will be needed. Also, due to the rapid rate of technological innovation, BLS reports a strong demand for this occupation in research and development. Engineers will play key roles in the development of communications technologies, semiconductors, and solar arrays.

Overall, the job outlook for the next 10 years promises to be favorable for electrical engineers. Now is an ideal time to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.

Other Jobs for Individuals with an Electrical Engineering Degree

Earning a degree in electrical engineering usually paves the path for a role as an electrical engineer, but you aren’t locked into this job title. The work of electronics engineers is often very similar to electrical engineers. Both roles utilize design software and equipment to complete various engineering tasks. Both engineering types work closely with other engineers to troubleshoot and discuss engineering products, projects, and possibilities.

Other jobs for those with an electrical engineering degree may include the following:

Computer Hardware Engineers
Computer hardware engineers often hold bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering or electrical engineering. The computer engineering major is similar to an electrical engineering major, but with a heavier emphasis on computer science and hardware engineering. As a computer hardware engineer, you will design, develop, research, and test computer systems and their components. Computer hardware engineers work with circuit boards, memory devices, networks, processors, and routers. They also oversee the manufacturing process for all computer hardware.

Electrical Installers and Repairers
Electrical installers and repairers install and repair electrical equipment in various industries, including telecommunications, transportation, and utilities. There are different types of electrical installers and repairers, such as commercial and industrial, electric motor, and powerhouse electrical installers. Modern manufacturing plants utilize these installers and repairers on the assembly line. On the job, they repair, maintain, and fix complex pieces of equipment.

Electricians
Electricians are responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing communications, control systems, electrical power, and lighting. While a bachelor’s degree is not required, some electricians do opt to attend technical school or complete a four-year degree in electrical engineering. As an electrician, you will collaborate with more experienced electricians, and you may work closely with building engineers and electrical engineers to help design electrical components and systems of new construction. Tasks may include identifying electrical problems, inspecting electrical components, installing lighting systems and wiring, reading blueprints and technical diagrams, and repairing and replacing old electrical components.

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Electro-mechanical and Mechatronics Technologists and Technicians
An electro-mechanical and mechatronics technologist is responsible for maintaining, operating, and testing electro-mechanical or robotic equipment. They must have knowledge of electrical circuitry, be able to operate equipment, and have an ability to diagnose problems. In factories, they test and operate machines. They also document tests performed and record results. At worksites, those in this occupation are responsible for maintaining robotic equipment. Some of the equipment that electro-mechanical and mechatronics technologists work with include aircraft, unmanned submarines, and types of equipment used for ocean exploration and drilling. While a bachelor’s degree is not required for this job, a certain level of knowledge is. As a result, some technologists are seeking bachelor’s in engineering degrees in areas of specialty like electrical engineering.

Sales Engineers
Sales engineers hold bachelor’s degrees in engineering or a closely related field. Sales engineers with an electrical engineering degree may specialize in the sale of electrical components, lighting, and wiring systems. Promotions in this field are often contingent on proven sales and education. As a result, more sales engineers are heading back to school to obtain a degree in a specialized area of engineering, such as electronics or electrical engineering. Sales engineers are responsible for collaborating with sales teams to understand customer requirements, helping clients solve complex problems with installed equipment, and securing new orders. Since some of the equipment sold is technically and scientifically advanced, sales engineers should have vast knowledge in their area of specialty.

BDP Staff
November 2021

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This concludes our article on what is the best degree path to becoming an electrical engineer.

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