Electrical engineers develop and test equipment like motors, communication systems, and power-generation equipment. They work for a variety of employers, including large-scale manufacturers, engineering firms, research institutions, and government agencies. By gaining professional certification/licensure and relevant experience, electrical engineers can also work for themselves in freelance roles or by opening their own businesses.
Those interested in electrical engineering careers typically earn bachelor's degrees, gaining a comprehensive skill set and hands-on training. Regardless of their individual career goals, students should begin the job application process well before they graduate. By starting the search early, they can take advantage of university resources, including resume assistance and career placement programs available through their school's career center.
This guide offers insight into different types of electrical engineering careers, general entry requirements, and occupational factors (like industry and location). Students also gain insight into academic programs, degree concentrations, and skill development and application. The guide finishes with a list of professional development resources.
Skills Gained in an Electrical Engineering Program
Prospective electrical engineers enroll in academic programs to develop core competencies and learn about the opportunities the industry offers skilled professionals. Engineering curricula center on math and science, with students taking required classes in calculus, differential equations, and physics. They apply this knowledge to analyze electrical circuits, explore engineering designs, and program using languages like Python and C++. College programs also train candidates in transferable soft skills, like communication, teamwork, and critical thinking. After graduation, electrical engineers gain specialty skills by taking continuing education courses and earning professional certificates.
- Technical Communication
- Because electrical engineers often work within multidisciplinary teams, they must be able to translate complex theories and methods to nontechnical audiences. To this end, students develop the ability to effectively communicate in oral and multimedia forms. They also learn to write cogently with regard to industry standards, producing research reports, technical documents, and academic papers.
- Project Management
- A standard skill across multiple disciplines, project management is particularly crucial for senior engineers, design engineers, and production managers. College programs train students to work through the entire project cycle. They conceptualize project criteria, conduct cost-benefit analyses, and develop work breakdown structures. Candidates define project scope with regards to stakeholder expectations. Finally, students learn to transfer deliverables to consumers and engage in post-project review.
- Research Methodologies
- Research and development represent the bulk of an electrical engineer's job. As early as in their associate program, students discuss theoretical and applied research methods, including descriptive, interpretive, and correlational techniques. They learn how to gather, evaluate, and cite appropriate literature when writing research reports and scholarly papers. They apply research skills to determine an experiment's feasibility and develop an implementation plan.
- Critical Analysis
- Electrical engineering students develop critical analysis skills by delving into vector mechanics and applying linear algebraic models. These skills enable candidates to make simplifying conjectures and model physical diagrams, techniques that allow them to tackle diverse engineering challenges. Students also learn to use computer software to critically analyze and solve problems as well as clearly present solutions.
- Engineering Design
- Through required coursework, students learn the fundamental concepts of electrical engineering. These topics include AC/DC circuit analysis, analog filtering, feedback and control systems, channel capacity, and semiconductor devices. They apply these concepts to design system prototypes according to defined specifications. Electrical engineering students also examine safety standards, ethical implications, and environmental concerns relevant to the industry.
Why Pursue a Career in Electrical Engineering?
Rapid technological developments and the growth of multinational manufacturing and trade fuel growth in engineering industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 4% expansion for the engineering profession as a whole, adding 65,000 new jobs from 2014 to 2024. Electrical engineering careers are projected to benefit from an even greater increase of 9%. Professionals can find ample opportunities in engineering service firms, where they design and develop distribution systems to support new technologies. Electrical engineers also work within government and in the public sector, creating solar arrays and updating the nation's power grids.
Electrical engineering career paths greatly vary based on industry and individual interest. Although electronics engineers sometimes perform similar functions to their electrical counterparts, these professionals focus on the development of electronics products and components for industrial, medical, and military applications. They also create software and consumer electronics.
By pursuing an electrical engineering degree, students also prepare for careers in aerospace, nuclear, and broadcast engineering. They can apply their skills as computer-aided design (CAD) technicians, information technology managers, technical writers, systems analysts, and management consultants. Candidates who earn doctoral credentials are prepared to work as postsecondary teachers and research scientists. Electrical engineers develop their skills and keep abreast of industry developments well after graduating from college. They often go on to earn their professional engineer license from state government and specialized credentials from organizations like the Project Management Institute.
How Much Do Electrical Engineering Graduates Make?
According to the BLS, electrical engineers earn from $61,190 (the bottom 10% of professionals) to $153,420 (the highest 90%). Degree level also affects pay potential. On average, professionals with master's degrees enjoy more than $12,000 in annual salary than individuals who possess baccalaureate credentials. Those with a master's degree also benefit from a lower unemployment level (2.1%) compared to those with an associate degree (2.8%) and individuals with high school diplomas (4.1%).
How to Become an Electrical Engineer
Earn Your Degree
Students can access most electrical and electronic engineering technician positions and other entry-level jobs with an associate degree. However, most learners obtain their baccalaureate credentials before entering the workforce. Bachelor's programs in electrical engineering provide comprehensive training and internship experiences that employers expect of qualified candidates.
Instead of a traditional on-campus degree, engineering students can enroll in an online program. Distance education comes with affordable tuition prices that often ignore residency status. Online students benefit from flexible scheduling options that let them earn college credentials while maintaining work and family obligations. Because distance education fosters creative communication and self-motivated learning habits, students strengthen the skills needed to succeed in expanding remote occupations. In a 2018 survey of 18,000 respondents in 96 countries, the International Workplace Group reported that nearly 70% of employees work remotely at least once per week and 53% engage in remote work for more than half the week.
Electrical engineers do not need to obtain certification or licensure to occupy entry-level positions. However, experienced practitioners often pursue state-specific professional engineer licensure. The process requires candidates to hold bachelor's credentials from schools accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. They must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering and Principles and Practice of Engineering exams. Candidates should consult their state's licensing boards for further information.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become an Electrical Engineer?
Bachelor's programs in electrical engineering typically span four years, requiring students to complete at least 120 credits. To court working professionals and other nontraditional learners, colleges and universities increasingly offer accelerated online tracks. These intensive programs operate eight-week asynchronous coursework powered by management software like Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas. By enrolling full time, candidates can earn their credentials in as little as two years.
Curriculum structure also affects timeline. Most schools allow students to individually pace their schedules, taking as many or as few courses each term as they want. However, some institutions operate a cohort learning format that requires learners to take one class or two classes at a time, advancing through the degree plan at the same rate as their peers. This structure facilitates collaboration but can slow down graduation. After earning their baccalaureate credentials, electrical engineers need to work for at least four years before they can apply for professional engineer licensure.
Concentrations Available for Electrical Engineering Majors
- Computer Engineering
- This concentration synthesizes electrical engineering and computer science concepts, training students to develop and manufacture computer hardware and smart devices. Candidates take classes like digital electronics systems design, advanced computer architecture, and multiprocessor synchronization. They also delve into machine intelligence and cybersecurity. A computer engineering concentration prepares students for careers as network architects, information security analysts, and computer programmers.
- Biomedical Engineering
- By pursuing this concentration, students learn to apply electrical engineering principles to transform human-made products and materials. Coursework includes foundations of living systems, instrumentation design, and biotransport processes. Biomedical engineers design new drugs, medical implants, medical equipment, and genetically engineered organisms. In addition to biotechnology, these professionals my work in industries like business, law, and healthcare.
- Engineering Management
- A popular concentration for graduate students, engineering management combines technical proficiencies with skills in leadership and project management. Learners complete classes in continuous quality assessment, budgeting and financial management, and marketing communications. They also learn to effectively manage diverse teams and resolve conflicts. This concentration trains students for positions as senior engineers, production managers, and engineering consultants.
- Within the context of electrical engineering, communications deal with processing, transmitting, and storing information in systems with finite capacities. Students learn to analyze and transform EKG signals, sound signals, images, and videos. They also examine topics like advanced biometrics, coding and information theory, and engineering optimization techniques. A communications concentration prepares candidates to work in the telecommunications and robotics industries.
- Energy Resources
- This relatively new concentration encompasses the production and distribution of energy systems. Students take classes like sustainable electric energy conversion, solar thermal power systems, and wind energy engineering. They also learn to develop more efficient control systems that can extract oil and other fossil fuels without damaging the environment.
What Can You Do With an Electrical Engineering Degree?
Graduates can pursue a variety of electrical engineering career paths depending on their level of educational attainment. Higher education institutions deliver accessible electrical engineering programs for traditional students and distance learners. Candidates who earn associate credentials are prepared to enter the workforce as engineering technicians and administrative associates for manufacturing corporations. A two-year degree also provides the foundational knowledge students need for additional academic preparation.
Professionals with a bachelor's degree can work as full-fledged electrical engineers. Career opportunities vary by the type of degree candidates obtain. With a concentration in aerospace technologies, engineers can design autonomous systems and electric/hybrid propulsion components for astronautic platforms. Electrical engineers can also focus their work in the automotive industry, developing autonomous, connected, and electric vehicles.
At the graduate level, coursework centers on leadership development and research training. These skills prepare students for careers as specialized and senior engineers. With doctoral degrees, professionals in this field often work as postsecondary teachers and applied researchers.
Associate Degree in Electrical Engineering
Associate of electrical engineering programs generally total at least 60 credits, which full-time students can finish in two years. To expedite graduation, candidates can enroll in accelerated online tracks requiring 12-18 months of study. Introductory coursework includes electric circuits, engineering drawings, and general and technical physics.
By pursuing an associate degree, students prepare for entry-level occupations as electrical installers, electronics repairs, and electrical engineering technicians. As they cultivate work experience, professionals can work as manufacturing production coordinators and managers. The majority of associate graduates go on to earn their bachelor's credentials, often taking advantage of transfer pathways provided by technical and community colleges.
- Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers
These professionals install and repair equipment in industries like transportation, utilities, and telecommunications. They speak with clients and inspect equipment to isolate and diagnose problems. Installers and repairers disassemble equipment to clean and replace necessary components. Due to the complexity of modern machinery, these professionals often use software programs and advanced multimeters in their work.
- Production Managers, Manufacturing
These organizational leaders oversee the daily operations of a manufacturing plant or production line. They recruit, train, and supervise employees. Production managers also control workload to ensure their team completes projects on time and under budget. They collaborate with business analysts and industrial engineers to come up with strategies that increase productivity.
Source: PayScale, BLS
Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering
Bachelor's programs in electrical engineering span 2-4 years, depending on course structure and the student's prior learning and work experience. Degree plans typically comprise classes like circuit analysis, advanced electronic design, solid-state physics, and linear systems and signals. Students complete internships and field research projects as part of their practical training requirements.
Unlike associate learners, bachelor's students benefit from concentration options that allow them to align degree plans with individual career goals. They can also personalize curricula through guided electives and relevant minors. Furthermore, bachelor of electrical engineering programs better prepare students for the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, the first step in obtaining professional engineer licensure. This six-hour test contains 110 multiple-choice questions covering topics like probability and statistics, properties of electrical materials, and digital systems.
- Electrical Engineers
Electrical engineers design, test, and manufacture equipment like motors, power generators, communication systems, and radar and navigational tools. They establish the specifications and standards for the installation and maintenance of electrical equipment. Electrical engineers often specialize in computer programming and software development. They also work as general and applied researchers.
- Controls Engineers
These professionals improve system functions through the application of automatic-control theory. Controls engineers implement detectors and sensors that gather performance data, providing feedback that the system uses to alter its function according to designated guidelines. Due to the flexibility of their skills, controls engineers can work in a variety of industries, including automotive, robotics, and computer-automated design.
Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering
Students who want to earn a master's degree in electrical engineering complete a minimum of 30 credits. This process typically takes two years, but candidates can graduate sooner by enrolling in accelerated online tracks that allow them to obtain their credentials in as little as one year. Certain higher education institutions operate 4+1 programs that enable dedicated students to earn their bachelor's and master's in five years. These dual-degree options greatly benefit graduates who want to immediately pursue leadership positions in manufacturing companies and engineering firms.
Degree plans vary by concentration. For example, students who specialize in optics and photonics can expect classes in laser fundamentals and fiber-optic communication systems. Electrical engineering students usually round out their training with a capstone project and/or comprehensive exam.
- Senior Electrical Engineers
Senior electrical engineers oversee the full project cycle. They create preliminary designs and systems specifications. These professionals train junior engineers and communicate directly with clients and vendors. Senior engineers also work with project managers to determine timelines, establish budgets, and conduct quality assessments. These professionals often perform public relations duties, responding to customers' questions and requests.
- Radio Frequency Engineers
A subset of electrical and electronics engineering, the radio frequency field concerns any equipment that transmits or receives radio waves. These devices include radios, mobile phones, and Wi-Fi networks. Radio frequency engineers possess expertise in device design, transmission systems, and performance optimization through antenna placement. These professionals also maintain high-power broadcast transmitters for multimedia outlets.
Doctoral Degree in Electrical Engineering
Doctoral programs in electrical engineering offer highly specialized training based on a student's academic interests and career goals. Degree plans generally require 40-70 credits, which doctoral candidates complete in 5-7 years depending on the nature of their dissertation. Learners spend the first two years of their programs completing coursework and gathering resources for their independent projects.
Doctoral candidates dedicate the remaining time to conducting research, publishing scholarly articles, and presenting at academic conferences in preparation for thesis defense. Fellowships and assistantships represent another major component of doctoral training. Here, students work as laboratory assistants and classroom instructors. These experiences prepare them for careers as college professionals, research scientists, and principal/managing engineers.
- Postsecondary Professors
Postsecondary teachers provide classroom instruction and laboratory training in their area of expertise. They help students find internships and plan for graduation. In addition to academic duties, college and university professors pursue their own research projects. They also perform administrative duties within their departments, helping develop curricula and recruit potential students.
- Design Engineers, Analog and Mixed Signal
These specialized engineers design and develop integrated circuits that use analog signals or mixed (analog and digital) signals. They use CAD tools to conceptualize and plan projects. Design engineers assist production teams with silicon validation and device assembly. They write technical reports and modify design specification documents to meet marketing requirements.
Where Can I Work as an Electrical Engineering Graduate?
The types of electrical engineering careers available to professionals depend on their individual qualifications, location, and industry. According to the BLS, architectural and engineering services employ the largest numbers of electrical engineers, while companies that focus on power generation and distribution boast the highest employment concentration. Ample career opportunities also exist in industries like electrical, navigational, semiconductor, and communication equipment manufacturing. Electrical engineers earn the best salaries when working in the oil/gas extraction and mining industries.
To access entry-level work, electrical engineers do not need to obtain certification/licensure. However, career advancement in this field usually requires engineers to earn professional licensure. Because these credentials are state-specific, they may not automatically transfer across state lines. Professionals who want to relocate should seek the guidance of relevant state agencies and industry organizations.
Location affects employment opportunities and pay potential. Based on BLS data, California houses the largest numbers of electrical engineers, followed by Texas, New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Engineers enjoy the highest salaries when working in Alaska, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. On top of job prospects, individuals should factor in quality of life when deciding where to reside. Nonmetropolitan areas like northeast Virginia and southeast Minnesota offer lucrative electrical engineering careers and a relatively low cost of living.
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
This industry consists of engineering firms that provide design and development services to individual clients and corporations. Electrical engineers may also work in drafting organizations, creating detailed layouts based on specifications.
Average Salary: $100,900
- Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution
Electrical engineers who focus on the power-generation side of this industry often work to create renewable energy resources. When working in distribution and transmission, engineers improve the efficiency of transformers, electric lines, and smart-grid technologies.
Average Salary: $98,280
- Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing
In this industry, electrical engineers design and develop aeronautical instruments, control mechanisms, and navigation and guidance systems. With a concentration in biomedical engineering, professionals can also create electromedical devices and laboratory analytical instruments.
Average Salary: $106,260
- Scientific Research and Development Services
Research engineers and dedicated scientists conduct experiments and use the findings to help solve pertinent challenges in manufacturing, healthcare, and energy distribution. Biotechnology is one of the fastest-growing fields for researchers, who work to develop life-saving medicine and efficient industrial processes.
Average Salary: $111,450
- Semiconductor and Other Electronic Component Manufacturing
Companies in this industry produce computer chips and other components used in electronic devices. To access these positions, electrical engineers often gain specialized skills in computer programming and software development.
Average Salary: $104,490
How Do You Find a Job in Electrical Engineering?
Electrical engineering careers span diverse and expanding industries. More than 4.3 million electrical engineers currently work in the U.S., with approximately 20% of workers employed by computer systems design companies and architectural/engineering firms. A significant number of electrical engineers also occupy roles as consultants and researchers.
Job seekers should start the application process as early as possible to give themselves enough time to adequately research major employers and open positions. They should also leave room to properly reflect on immediate and long-term goals, which helps them better answer interview questions. As they begin completing application materials, job seekers can use document templates to help initially organize information. However, applicants should tailor final resumes, CVs, and cover letters to specific job requirements and each employer's mission.
Electrical engineering students and working professionals expand their opportunities by engaging with industry associations like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE.) IEEE operates a vast e-learning library and delivers certification programs. Students access scholarship opportunities and networking events through university chapters. Members receive specialized career guidance by joining industry-specific groups, including the IEEE Computer Society and the IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society.
Professional Resources for Electrical Engineering Majors
Boasting over 100,000 members, ACM is the world's largest computing society. The association connects students, practitioners, and researchers through local chapters and special-interest groups that center on areas like computer architecture and software engineering. ACM provides resources for graduating students, including a digital library, fellowship opportunities, and a career center.
AES was founded in 1948 and operates 96 chapters all over the world. Student members benefit from discounts on engineering software and hardware. Engineers and researchers collaborate through technical committees and interest groups. In addition to a job board, AES maintains a vast e-library of over 17,000 audio engineering research documents.
As a nonprofit organization, EPRI conducts public-interest environmental and energy research on electricity generation and distribution. The institute provides professional development resources, including research publications, job listings, and on-site workshops. Members can also access continuing education courses in areas like repair technology and equipment qualifications for nuclear power plants.
Established in 1871, IET supports more than 168,000 members in 150 countries. The institution offers professional registration in areas like chartered engineering, engineering technology, and chartered management. Engineers and technology professionals engage in global events and develop specialized skills through online courses. IET delivers mentorship programs, awards and scholarships, and dedicated career guidance.
SPIE serves over 257,000 constituents by advancing light-based technologies through research and development initiatives. The society facilitates conferences in areas like medical imaging, advanced lithography, and defense and commercial sensing. Members access post-degree fellowships, job listings, and a professional development webinar series. SPIE operates a digital library that contains conference presentations, e-books, and research journals.