Complete Guide to an Online Electrical Engineering Degree
Electrical engineering deals with the design of different types of electrical systems and is considered the largest branch of the engineering fields. Electrical engineers examine issues related to electronics, control systems, signal processing, and telecommunications. They can be found in industries, such as power generation or distribution, automotives, and aerospace. Students interested in the math and science surrounding electrical systems may be a good fit for an online electrical engineering degree.
Students are encouraged to choose an online electrical engineering degree program that has been accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Accreditation from this trustworthy agency helps ensure that schools offering online technical degrees meet superior academic guidelines and offer students a valuable education. This accreditation may be required to offer services to the public in some states. Read More
Comprehensive List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Electrical Engineering Degree
Overview of Available Online Electrical Engineering Degrees
Those who wish to begin their career with an entry-level position should consider an electrical engineering degree online at the associate or 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. Doctoral degree 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.
The two-year associate degree in electrical engineering teaches students the math, science, and engineering concepts necessary to install and test electronics systems. These two-year degrees require a significant amount of hands-on learning, as students must master the fabrication and repair of different sorts of electronics components. Graduates of electrical engineering associate programs are prepared to continue their education in an engineering bachelor’s program or enter the workforce as an engineering technician.
Electrical engineering associate students take math and science courses to provide a framework for learning the applied engineering concepts; they then take courses in various aspects of electricity and engineering design, accompanied by hands-on lab work. All electrical engineering programs contain an upper-level calculus course to demonstrate how basic calculus concepts can be applied to mechanical problems in the real world. A physics course in mechanics is also standard in EE associate degree curricula; mechanics students learn the forces and laws of energy that help us predict how things move.
Associate students will also learn about DC and AC circuits, the two different circuits for relaying energy, as well as circuit theorems and different practical applications of circuits. It’s also common for EE programs to include some computer programming in an applied setting. For example, a robotics and C programming course provides students with an understanding of hardware and software, as students learn how to program robotic movement.
The 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.
Electrical engineering programs at the master's level expose students to advanced technical and management topics in the use and production of electricity. The degree takes two years to complete and requires that applicants have an accredited bachelor's degree in electrical or electronics engineering. Students complete between 12 and 20 courses, depending on the scope of the program; some degrees also require a thesis.
Students in the master's program study advanced applications of circuitry and currents. Common courses discuss electrical design, product development, and management skills and techniques. Many graduate programs in electrical engineering require students to write a master's thesis or complete a culminating project. This project demonstrates a student's mastery of a very specific subject, and most people spend at least one semester working extensively on their project.
With a master's degree in electrical engineering, graduates are prepared for management roles in engineering settings. Engineering services, instruments manufacturing, electric power generation, semiconductor manufacturing, and scientific research and development are industries employing large numbers of electrical engineers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrical engineers will find the best job opportunities with engineering services firms. Electrical engineers who want to further improve their job prospects can earn a Professional Engineer license. (BLS)
Online doctoral degree programs help students gain an in-depth mastery of electrical engineering principles and prepare them for top leadership roles in the engineering field, government, and academia. In most cases, applicants are required to hold a master's degree in engineering or a related discipline. Students are required to earn 60 to 90 credits, which takes three to four years.
The doctorate curriculum emphasizes theory and research in computer science, electrical engineering, and industrial engineering. This allows students to develop a comprehensive understanding of a broad range of engineering fundamentals. Courses include topics such as communication theory, computational electromagnetic modeling, computer-aided circuit analysis and design, computer architecture, computer engineering, computer performance analysis, control systems synthesis, digital communications, electric energy systems, engineering electromagnetics, lasers and applications, microelectronics, physical electronics, and system modeling and simulation.
The curriculum also includes courses in business management, mathematics, and physics. A qualifying exam is administered to students after completion of doctoral coursework. Those who attain a passing grade proceed to conduct dissertation research. Students are required to make a public submission and defense of their dissertation.
Graduates may take up senior positions in computer firms, government agencies, international settings, and universities. Depending on specialization, graduates may practice in areas such as applied electromagnetics, circuits and microsystems, robotics, research, and signal and image processing. Others venture into consultation roles.
The electrical engineering certificate allows students to gain a foundational or advanced understanding of EE topics; students can pursue these programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Certificates typically require 5 to 10 courses, to be completed in one year or less. Admission to the undergraduate certificate requires a high school diploma, as well as coursework in math. The graduate certificate requires an accredited bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, computer science, or a related engineering area.
Undergraduate certificates in electrical engineering introduce students to the hardware and software used in today's technical systems. Common courses include digital communications systems, microprocessors, electronics drafting, and circuits. Students learn the skills for interpreting electrical and electronics plans to help design and build electronics systems. The graduate certificate in electrical engineering provides a more focused course of study in a specialized electrical engineering area. Possible certificate specializations include digital signal processing, sensors and sensor systems, microwaves and antennae, and power and electromagnetics.
Current engineering technicians can use the electrical engineering undergraduate certificate to move into a technical position in electronics and electrical systems. Most of these roles require an associate degree, but applicants with previous training in another engineering area, along with this certificate, can apply for EE technician positions. Current bachelor's-level electrical engineers can use the graduate certificate to prepare for research positions in a particular engineering area. These certificates can also be used to enter supervisory or management roles in an engineering setting. For those who have a knack for the inner workings of electronic devices and networks, an electrician certificate or an electrician degree online may be a great way to utilize those skills without investing in a four-year degree.
For anyone who is considering becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE), it's very important to choose an online bachelor's or master's 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.
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, ensuring 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 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.
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:
This is the most common employer of any engineer. 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.
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed September 22, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm.
- Licensure FAQs. National Society of Professional Engineers. Accessed September 22, 2014. http://www.nspe.org/resources/licensure/resources/licensure-faqs#engineeraccredidation.
- NCEES. Accessed September 22, 2014. http://ncees.org.
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