Education is key for engineering careers, which require knowledge of mathematics, science, technology, computers and electronics, design, management and more, according to the Department of Labor. In addition, engineers need "creativity, entrepreneurial outlook, good communications skills and global knowledge and experience," says Jim Plummer, dean of the Stanford School of Engineering, in an article on the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International website.
Engineering degrees and career paths
Because almost everything has been "engineered" in some way, the engineering field is a broad one. FutureEngineers.com estimates that there are 250 engineer specializations, from aerospace and agricultural engineering to nuclear and petroleum engineering. Although math and science predominate in an online engineering degree, coursework in the arts, humanities and social sciences is also required.
A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum requirement for entry-level engineering jobs; half of all engineers have this degree, according to the Department of Labor, while 22 percent have a master's degree. The majority of students are men; women made up 17.8 percent of engineering graduates in 2009, according to National Center for Education Statistics data.
Associate degrees are available in engineering technology, which can prepare students for a bachelor's degree program or for careers in basic production and practical design. At the bachelor's level, students learn engineering theory and most often select a specialization. Depending on the curriculum, a bachelor's degree can either prepare students for an entry-level career or for graduate work.
A master's or doctoral degree is usually required to teach engineering or for research and development positions. Some combination bachelor's/master's degree programs are available. Complementary programs may offer concurrent master's degrees in areas such as structural engineering/architecture, transportation engineering/city planning, or civil engineering and public policy. Depending on the program focus and school, doctoral programs confer Doctor of Engineering or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) degrees.
Engineering certificates, most often offered at the graduate level, broaden an engineer's knowledge in areas such as logistics, technology management or business for sustainability. Online certificate programs can cover specific topics like air quality and can offer preparation for licensing exams.
Benefits of online degrees in engineering
Computer skills and experience are vital in many engineering occupations, and online courses can offer exposure to the specialized software used in the industry. Analytical software for civil engineers includes hydraulic modeling software, while design programs include Autodesk AutoCAD. Engineers also use map creation software and project management applications. For example, electronics engineers design and tests electronic components and systems for a broad range of industries. Nuclear engineers use high-tech tools including scientific applications, databases and software development environment programs.
Engineers apply theoretical knowledge to solve real-world problems, often with global implications. In an online engineering program, students can learn about other cultures as they collaborate with students around the world or nationwide.
Engineering salaries and career prospects
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that graduates with bachelor's degrees in engineering earn some of the highest starting salaries. Mean annual salaries in 2010 for the top three engineering categories with the highest employment were as follows:
- Civil engineers, with 249,120 employed: $82,280
- Mechanical engineers, with 234,400 employed: $82,480
- Industrial engineers, with 202,990 employed: $78,450
The BLS predicts that engineering employment will grow by 11 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. However, projected rates of growth for individual engineering career paths vary significantly, as in these examples:
- Mechanical engineers: 6 percent
- Industrial engineers: 14 percent
- Civil engineers: 24 percent
- Biomedical engineers: 72 percent
A degree is required for almost all engineering jobs, according to the BLS.
Engineering at a glance
- Employment prospects: Average job growth overall but much higher for some specializations
- Engineering specializations: More than 250 engineering specializations worldwide
- Women in engineering: Women accounted for only 17.8 percent of engineering graduates in 2009