Engineers design and create machines, structures, and devices. Using mathematics, science, and cutting-edge technology, engineers study how things work and develop new strategies for approaching and solving problems in a variety of settings. Engineering is a broad field that encompasses many different specializations and presents several lucrative career opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for aerospace engineers is $113,030, while mechanical engineers earn roughly $85,880 per year. The BLS also projects steady job growth for most engineering positions. If you are passionate about science and innovation and want a challenging career, earning an engineering master's degree can help fulfill your ambitions. A master's degree in engineering introduces the advanced concepts and professional skills you need to find high-level and specialized positions.
Should I Get a Master's in Engineering?
A master of science in engineering paves the way for career advancement and increased earnings. Building on foundational undergraduate-level concepts, an engineering master's degree curriculum offers challenging classes and the chance to acquire specialized knowledge. Depending on individual program goals, graduate-level courses take either a research-based or a practical approach to study. Many include hands-on projects and experiences that let students develop their professional abilities and implement strategic choices required in specific settings. Graduate programs often provide networking opportunities, help with job placement, access to internships, and the chance to build relationships with a cohort of like-minded students. An engineering master's also opens up many lucrative, high-level job opportunities unavailable to those with only a bachelor's degree.
Every program is different, and it is important to select a school that suits your personal interests and strengths. Traditional on-campus programs often appeal to recent graduates who already have a particular concentration or career path in mind. These learners typically continue their education on site, with the goal of pursuing licensure and entering the workforce immediately after graduation. Online programs, however, tend to attract adult students, working professionals in the process of changing careers or specializations, and those who require a flexible schedule due to other obligations. Distance education allows candidates to pursue a degree from the comfort of home, or anywhere an internet connection is available, without paying additional relocation or transportation costs. In addition, some web-based programs are presented in self-paced or accelerated formats, which lets students complete their education in less time.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Engineering?
Earning a master's in engineering opens up several specialized career opportunities. While civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering are among the most common specialities, graduates may also pursue more specific fields based on their passions and goals. Below, we've covered a few possible career paths for engineers.
- Marine Engineer and Naval Architect
These specialists build and maintain water vessels, from submarines to aircraft carriers. Marine engineers ensure the safety and function of ships by using a combination of computer modeling and on-site testing. They must hold a bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited program, and employers typically prefer candidates with some hands-on experience.
Median Annual Salary: $90,970
Projected Growth Rate: 12%
- Aerospace Engineer
Aerospace engineers design and build air travel machines and devices, including airplanes, spacecraft, and satellites. Some work for national defense agencies, building missiles and researching aircraft technology. Although a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering may lead to entry-level positions, a master's is required to take on advanced or managerial roles.
Median Annual Salary: $113,030
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Environmental Engineer
These engineers strive to develop solutions to environmental problems like pollution, waste, public health crises, and natural resource contamination. They must often combine their knowledge of chemistry and biology to develop action plans, and may work alongside other engineers and urban planners. While environmental engineers are expected to hold a bachelor's degree, many employers prefer to hire candidates with additional education.
Median Annual Salary: $86,800
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Health and Safety Engineer
Health and safety engineers work in a variety of settings and with many types of products. They ensure that furniture, machines, structures, and other items do not cause users harm or damage property. Earning a master's degree with a health and safety emphasis may lead to higher salaries and greater job opportunities.
Median Annual Salary: $88,510
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
- Civil Engineer
Civil engineers design and maintain city infrastructure. Their duties may include designing roads, tunnels, and bridges, or developing and maintaining sewage and water systems. Civil engineers who wish to pursue senior or managerial roles must hold a master's degree obtain state licensure to work on public projects.
Median Annual Salary: $84,770
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
How to Choose a Master's in Engineering Program
There are many factors to consider while exploring master's programs. Timeline, cost, and course format all help to shape the graduate experience. Earning an engineering master's degree typically takes around two years to complete, with a few requiring as little as one year of study. Learners who enroll part-time or pursue additional research may take up to five years to earn their degree. Online programs generally cost less per credit than their on-campus equivalents, and distance learners may avoid the transportation and living costs associated with on-site education. Many online programs target working professionals, who benefit from flexible scheduling as well as reduced costs. Web-based degrees come in a variety of delivery formats and methods, from accelerated courses to hybrid programs that feature on-campus residencies. You can explore some of the best engineering master's programs available online here.
Program specializations are another crucial aspect to keep in mind as you consider your options. Your prospective job path, personal interests, and academic goals should play a significant role in selecting a school. Engineering includes many subsections, and students with specific career goals must select a program that will enhance their desired career path. While many schools offer concentrations in everything from aerospace to bioengineering, some programs do not include specializations at all. Others present a variety of elective courses, and allow students to complete area-specific electives. Some concentrations, however, are offered more frequently than others, and certain specializations may not be available online.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Engineering Programs
School accreditation impacts your education, finances, and employment opportunities. During the accreditation process, external organizations known as accrediting bodies evaluate colleges and universities to ensure that each institution upholds the highest academic and ethical standards. Only accredited institutions are eligible to receive federal funding. Schools may hold regional or national accreditation, depending on the body that assesses them. Regionally accredited schools are more prestigious, and credits earned at regionally accredited institutions easily transfer. Many employers prefer to hire graduates from regionally accredited schools.
Additionally, specialized departments or programs within a school can earn programmatic accreditation from subject-specific accrediting organizations. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the only accrediting body dedicated to evaluating engineering programs. ABET sets and upholds industry standards and guidelines. Candidates are expected to hold a degree from an ABET-approved engineering program before applying for professional certification, registration, and licensure.
Master's in Engineering Program Admissions
Both online and on-campus engineering degree master's programs are challenging, and college admissions boards seek candidates with promising academic backgrounds and the drive to succeed. Most engineering programs are also highly competitive, accepting only a minority of applicants. While admissions guidelines tend to vary by program and school, some requirements are nearly universal. Before pursuing a master of science in engineering, prospective students are expected to earn a baccalaureate degree, take the GRE, complete prerequisite coursework, and provide letters of recommendation with a completed application.
Many schools also require that applicants provide a personal goal or purpose statement. These statements present the opportunity to clearly articulate why you are pursuing a master's degree and how you intend to succeed. For example, working professionals who apply to online programs should demonstrate that they can manage their time and complete assignments while fulfilling other obligations.
- Bachelor's Degree: All individuals applying to a master's in engineering program must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited school. Prospective students are usually expected to hold a degree in engineering or a related field, or to have completed extensive coursework related to engineering.
- Professional Experience: Prospective graduate students are not usually expected to hold professional engineering experience. However, a relevant work history may help to set your application apart from other candidates.
- Minimum GPA: Master's programs are highly competitive, and most schools expect candidates to hold a minimum undergraduate GPA; typically, 3.0. Strong GRE scores, professional experience, and an excellent personal essay may help to offset a lower GPA.
- Application: A graduate school application typically asks for a student's basic biographical information, and takes around 30 minutes to complete. While some institutions expect candidates to provide an essay at the same time as their application, most schools let applicants submit their essays at a later date.
- Transcripts: Applicants should provide prospective programs with official transcripts from every school they have previously attended. Transcripts demonstrate that a student has fulfilled all prerequisites and graduated in good academic standing. Most schools can send transcripts directly to prospective institutions for a small fee.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most graduate programs expect applicants to provide one or two letters of recommendation from former faculty or professional contacts. It may be useful to supply your recommending professors with your resume and purpose statement, and request their assistance at least one month in advance.
- Test Scores: Many programs include GRE scores among their standard admissions components, although preferred minimum scores vary considerably between schools. Master's engineering programs tend to focus on the exam's quantitative portion, and students should aim for a competitive score of 160 or higher.
- Application Fee: Most graduate schools charge an application fee to cover review and processing costs. While fees usually average around $75-$85, some institutions may charge as little as $50 or as much as $150.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Engineering Program?
Engineering encompasses many different specialities and subfields, all of which require specialized training and coursework. While every master's in engineering program is different, many include concentrations, or specialized academic tracks. Concentrations allow candidates to explore a particular area in greater depth. The following table outlines a few of the most commonly-offered engineering concentrations.
Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Engineering
|Biomechanics||Combining the life sciences with engineering, this concentration addresses topics such as cell biology, tissue engineering, and anatomy. By exploring the relationship between solid and fluid mechanics to the human body, candidates learn to develop innovative medical technologies and devices.||Genetic engineering; disease prevention specialist; researcher|
|Robotics||A robotics specialization provides an in-depth look at mechanics, digital technologies, and electrical engineering. Coursework explores emerging technologies and their implementation methods, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Many programs include courses related to computer animation and graphics.||Robotics specialist; testing technician; researcher; systems controller|
|Environmental Engineering||Environmental engineering concentrations cover sustainable construction techniques, industrial ecology, public health issues, and green technology. Candidates survey air and water quality improvement methods and learn to solve environmental problems through engineering.||Environmental engineer; government environmental consultant; industrial facility inspector|
|Aerospace Structures||Aerospace engineering majors who declare a structure concentration examine material mechanics and how materials may be affected by vibration, fatigue, elemental components, and setting.||Aerospace engineer; aerospace operations technician; materials engineer|
|Forensic Engineering||Many individuals who study civil engineering select an additional forensic engineering specialization. This track explores the root causes behind structural failures and how to prevent collapses from occuring.||Forensic structural engineer; construction manager|
Courses in a Master's in Engineering Program
All master's of engineering programs feature different course offerings and degree specializations, and no two curricula are alike. However, some foundational courses are considered integral to any engineering graduate program. Classes like the examples below impart fundamental concepts and skills, and you are likely to encounter at least one of the following courses in nearly any master's of engineering program.
- Systems Engineering
This class examines how complex systems are conceptually designed, constructed, and managed. Coursework typically covers both hard and soft systems, as well as applied techniques and integral practices commonly used in a variety of professional settings. Ideal for prospective systems engineers, this course may also prove beneficial for students considering managerial positions.
Bioengineering presents a survey of the mechanics, controls, and techniques used to develop physiological and medical systems. Learners interested in cellular and genetic engineering explore cutting-edge technological methods, such as creating artificial tissues and organs for transplantation.
In this physics-based course, learners gain a thorough understanding of heat and energy transfer processes and how they apply to mechanical systems. Lectures discuss gas- and vapor-powered technologies, combustion, and other fundamental topics. Most engineering students must complete a thermodynamics course during their academic career.
- Introduction to Mechatronics
Mechatronics coursework provides prospective mechanical and robotics engineers with an overview of motors, microprocessors, integrated circuits, and electromechanical systems. Candidates develop proficiency in using mechanical and electrical technologies and learn to apply their skills in various settings.
- Applied Mathematics
Engineers use applied mathematics on a daily basis, and all engineering students must master linear and nonlinear equations. This course introduces the mathematical formulas and physics calculations used across engineering disciplines.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Engineering?
Earning a master's degree in engineering requires a substantial time commitment. Most programs require at least 30 credit hours and around two years of full-time study. Depending on specialization and delivery structure, some may take as many as three years to complete or as little as one. In certain instances, part-time learners may be given up to six years to finish their degree.
Many shorter programs focus on a very narrow concentration, or expect candidates to apply transfer credits to their degree requirements. Others offer asynchronous courses presented in accelerated or self-paced formats. Students who prefer a more structured experience may be interested in cohort-based programs, which offer a greater deal of faculty support but generally take longer to complete. As you explore program options and course delivery methods, it is important to consider your own learning style, career goals, and personal preferences.
How Much Is a Master's in Engineering?
While engineering is a lucrative field, pursuing an engineering master's degree requires a significant financial investment. The total cost of a degree ultimately depends on numerous factors, including course delivery method and program length. Online programs typically cost less per credit hour than on-campus programs, and distance learners avoid many expenses associated with campus living, such as housing, transportation, and facility fees. Some institutions charge online students a per-credit technology fee, however, and distance learners must still pay for books and other necessities. Residency also influences cost, and students attending on-campus programs in their home state generally pay lower tuition rates than nonresidents. However, many schools charge all distance learners the same per-credit rate regardless of residency status.
A school's public or private status is another variable to consider. Because public schools receive state and federal funding, they are able to charge less for tuition. Private colleges obtain funding through tuition and external public contributions, and tend to feature higher tuition rates as a result. Fortunately, many private schools offer generous financial aid packages, which often cover a significant portion of tuition costs, and most institutions, both public and private, offer need-based scholarships and aid opportunities.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Engineering Prepares For
- Associate Engineering Manager Certification
Intended for recent graduates and new professionals seeking supervisory positions, this credential designates competence in technical management. Students may apply to take the exam through the American Society of Engineering Management. Testing fees run between $100 and $250, depending on which engineering master's degree program a candidate has completed.
- Professional Engineer (PE)
PEs are licensed by the state to provide public engineering services. Prospective PEs must first obtain an undergraduate degree, although earning a master's degree is considered a best practice. Candidates may apply for licensure after completing several years of professional training and passing competency exams.
- Professional Engineering Manager
This credential validates both technical skills and managerial competence. To qualify, candidates must earn a master of science in engineering and complete at least three years of professional experience before sitting for the certification exam.
- Ocean Engineer (Board Certified Diplomate)
This unique credential allows PEs to combine their interests in engineering, oceanography, and technology. Along with completing twelve years of professional experience and earning a master's degree, candidates must demonstrate advanced knowledge of maritime engineering and pass a board examination.
- Environmental Engineering Certification
To become a certified environmental engineer, candidates must pass both written and oral examinations. First, however, they are required to obtain state PE licensure. Applicants must also hold an advanced degree with an environmental engineering focus and complete at least eight years of professional experience, including mandatory activities in the field.
Resources for Engineering Graduate Students
This organization offers numerous resources for engineering students, including scholarships, licensing information, and professional advice. Student members may enroll in one of several free online courses.
Coursera provides free university-level courses on a variety of subjects, including mathematics, science, and engineering. Learners may supplement their master's curriculum by completing courses on their own schedule.
MIT's engineering program offers free access to a variety of programs and tools, as well as sample lectures, online textbooks, and other resources.
From test prep to coding, this free, public site hosts educational videos and other learning resources on every subject imaginable. Engineering students can explore and review topics in physics, electrical engineering, circuits, and other relevant topics.
The Engineering Toolbox compiles many helpful tools for engineers, such as unit converters, convenient lists of equations, and drawing sheets.
Professional Organizations in Engineering
Whether you are currently pursuing a master's degree in engineering or a recent graduate, professional organizations offer valuable resources to help you excel academically and professionally. Engineering organizations like those below host networking opportunities like conferences and seminars, and many sponsor mentorship programs that pair students and graduates with seasoned professionals. Members may enroll in continuing education programs, apply for certifications, and explore exclusive job boards.
Ensuring public safety and ethical work through advocacy and certification, the NSPE is the premier organization for professional engineers in all disciplines. Known for offering prestigious credentials, the NSPE also presents members with career resources and networking opportunities. The organization also hosts an annual conference.
This global nonprofit organization serves mechanical engineers through continuing education, professional networking, training, and research. ASME members also receive discounts on courses and books.
This organization offers board certification for environmental engineers, as well as training, workshops, and reference materials. The AAEES also helps connect young professionals with experienced academy members.
A global organization for engineers, the ASCE focuses on advancing public safety standards and professionals. The association publishes civil engineering journals and guidelines. Members may attend technical and professional conferences and take advantage of continuing education programs.
The IEEE is one of the largest technical professional organizations focused on electrical engineering. The institute compiles information on computing, engineering, and technology and provides members with access to publications, conferences, and educational and networking opportunities.