What You'll Do
By Sarah Stevenson
If you want to be on the cutting edge of new technological development, electrical engineering may be the career for you. Whether it's a motor for the latest electric car, a navigation system used in GPS devices, or a wind turbine power system for efficient energy production, an electrical engineer was involved in its design and manufacture.
Though the term electrical engineering is often used interchangeably with electronics engineering, the two areas have slightly different emphases:
- An electrical engineer is responsible for designing, developing, testing, and supervising the production of electrical equipment and systems, in fields ranging from transportation to lighting and wiring systems to power generation and transmission.
- Electronics engineers focus more on communications, signal processing, and other electronics systems.
Job opportunities are good for electrical engineering graduates, despite a few minor obstacles. Cutbacks in government funding for research and defense programs cause slowdowns from time to time in engineering job opportunities. In addition, international competition in product development as well as engineering services has limited employment growth. However, engineers who stay up-to-date with technology and continue their education throughout their careers will remain competitive.
The Future of Electrical Engineering
Looking forward, electrical engineers can find rewarding work in the burgeoning fields of alternative energy, biomedical technology, and personal technology. With an increasing emphasis on secure, cost-effective and environmentally efficient energy solutions like solar and wind power, engineering jobs abound in areas such as wind turbine energy and power system security. Electrical engineering also factors into the development of medical imaging systems and instrumentation, wireless communications devices and consumer products.
Schools & Degrees
The following degree programs are available for students desiring to become an electrical engineer:
- Associate's Degree in Electrical Engineering: Although a bachelor's degree is the standard starting point for a career as an electrical engineer, job opportunities are also available for associate's degree holders. Schools may offer 2-year degrees in fields such as computer programming, electrical technology, renewable energy, and electronics engineering technology, leading to employment at the technician level.
- Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering: A Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) in electrical, electronics or computer engineering generally leads to a job as an engineer, while a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology or a Bachelor of Engineering Technology leads to employment in practical design or production, such as a technologist position.
- Master's and Doctoral Degrees in Electrical Engineering: For those interested in more advanced research and development positions or in teaching engineering—or for those who simply want to broaden their horizons and learn new technology—a master's-level or doctoral degree may be desirable. Common graduate degrees in electrical engineering include a Master of Science (MS), Master of Engineering (MEng), or a PhD.
- Online Electrical Engineering Degrees: Increasing numbers of colleges are offering Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Master of Engineering degrees either wholly or partially online. This can be an ideal option for those already employed in electrical engineering who would like to expand their knowledge of the field.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for electrical engineers is $94,210. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.