The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for electrical engineers will grow 7% between 2016 and 2026. Electrical engineers work in diverse fields like manufacturing, construction, and information technology. You can expect an online electrical engineering bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university to set you on a rewarding career path with growth potential and advancement.
The following guide explores the process of earning an undergraduate electrical engineering degree online. It provides practical information regarding the application process and essential data about the degree itself, including coursework, core skills and competencies, and career and salary potential.
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Overview of Electrical Engineering Degrees
Electrical engineering applies the principles and theories of electricity in the construction of various equipment, including communications systems, electric motors, power generators, and radar and navigation systems. Several colleges and universities now offer electrical engineering degrees that can be completed entirely online.
In a bachelor's in electrical engineering program, students gain an in-depth understanding of electrical theory and learn how to analyze and design both simple and complex electrical systems. They acquire knowledge in concepts like thermodynamics, electromagnetic fields, and microprocessor systems. This fundamental knowledge base prepares students for entry-level work in the field.
Electrical engineers must demonstrate mechanical aptitude and excellent math skills, such as trigonometry and calculus. They must also possess the creative capacity necessary to develop theoretical concepts into working applications. The electrical engineering field requires professionals to stay on top of emerging trends in the industry, keep their skills current, and develop new applications for traditional concepts.
Many schools with on-campus and online electrical engineering degrees follow similar admission procedures for incoming freshmen. They require online applicants to provide SAT or ACT scores, a high school diploma or GED, high school transcripts, and an application essay. Applicants who attended more than one high school must submit transcripts from these schools as well.
Most electrical engineering programs require applicants to hold higher-than-average GPAs and SAT/ACT scores in math and science subjects due to the rigorous nature of the coursework. In addition, many colleges and universities encourage prospective students to submit a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to receive funding for the school year.
What Will I Learn?
A typical undergraduate degree comprises 120 credits, including 50-60 credits of general education requirements, 30-40 credits in the major, and 20-25 credits for electives. Most online electrical engineering programs follow a similar breakdown of course requirements. Some schools, however, require engineering students to complete 128 credits, which can extend the program length.
You will need both technical knowledge and soft skills to meet the responsibilities of a typical electrical engineering job. Employers naturally look for professionals who possess a keen understanding of the basics, such as mathematical and computational techniques, electromagnetic currents, and field mapping.
Electrical engineering students learn how to work well as members or leaders of a team and acquire well-developed communication, organizational, and reporting skills. The majority of accredited on-campus and online electrical engineering programs offer curricula that give students ample opportunities to develop both sets of skills.
While each aviation program maintains its own unique curriculum, most offer common foundational courses, such as the following:
This course teaches students about the modeling and examination of electric circuits. It covers several key concepts such as the principles of linear circuit analysis, network theory, operational amplifiers, and transient analysis. Electrical engineers use the fundamental skills and concepts from this course when working on circuit board design and basic systems integration.
Students begin this course by studying embedded systems — computer platforms contained in larger systems that control the system's functions, collect data, and perform computations. Then they explore how embedded systems enable the IoT — large-scale interconnections with the ability to transmit or share data over a network without human interaction. This course provides students with the skills to navigate the rapidly expanding IoT arena.
The fundamentals of semiconductors course introduces students to concepts like the conduction process in solids, the characteristics of semiconductor materials, integrated circuit technology, and the different types of solid-state electronic equipment. Students apply these concepts when working with electronic devices like transistors and optoelectronic instruments.
Students gain an overview of the breadth and depth of the electrical engineering field and study topics such as control engineering, instrumentation, power engineering, and signal processing. This course also introduces students to specialized areas in the electrical engineering field, such as nanotechnology, photonics, and magnetic resonance engineering.
Students examine multimedia signals, particularly audio and visual signals, and learn how to design systems to capture, store, and transmit them. They study processing techniques in addition to several signal standards widely used in the industry, like JPEG and MP3.
Students learn about a variety of photonics technology, including holography, integrated optics, lasers, optoelectronic devices, and optical signal processing. This course gives students a broad understanding of the role of photons in electrical engineering. Students also learn how to generate, guide, and control coherent laser light.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering?
A bachelor's degree in electrical engineering can qualify you for jobs in various industries like aerospace, automotive, and telecommunications. Depending on your interests and strengths, you can find work as an acoustic consultant, CAD technician, or control and instrumentation engineer. Students in the electrical engineering field can look forward to a long-term career in a growth-oriented job sector.
Employers expect graduates from an on-campus or online electrical engineering program to possess a certain set of basic skills. Electrical engineers solve problems and analyze or design complex systems to find solutions or alternative approaches. Therefore, critical thinking and problem-solving skills often top the list of competencies that every electrical engineer should hold upon graduating from a bachelor's program.
Electrical engineers must also understand how electronic circuits work before they can troubleshoot or design the systems that use them. Engineers should have a thorough grasp of how both simple and multifaceted circuitry systems enables electrical engineers to integrate these understandings in different types of electronic or mechanical devices. Electrical engineers often test how various components react to each other and to electrical currents.
A well-designed bachelor's program in electrical engineering hones a student's ability to read, measure, and manipulate electrical instruments. Electrical engineers often work on projects that require advanced coding skills. A solid grasp of programming languages such as C, C++, and MATLAB will prove useful for electrical engineers in a variety of work environments. Graduating from an accredited electrical engineering program with these skills gives you an edge as you begin your career in the field.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Much of an electrical engineer's job consists of designing and testing electrical systems and equipment. They develop innovative solutions to manufacture or improve electrical products that meet client and/or regulatory specifications. Electrical engineers often work with project managers to develop realistic timelines for the completion of projects. Additionally, some online electrical engineering degrees give students the chance to specialize in a specific industry. For example, an electrical engineer with a deep interest in computers can specialize in this area and later work as a computer hardware engineer.
Electrical engineers may also develop manufacturing standards for electrical components to ensure public safety. They supervise the installation of electrical systems and often test, maintain, and update them as needed. Electrical engineers constantly update their skills and expand their knowledge base to keep up with rapid technological advances in the industry.
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Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Electrical Engineering?
Several colleges and universities now offer master's programs in electrical engineering online. An online degree makes it convenient for electrical engineers to earn a master's degree without giving up a full-time job. A postsecondary degree enhances job and salary prospects for many professionals. Although a bachelor's in electrical engineering prepares students for entry-level careers in the field, an advanced degree can open doors to leadership positions and more specialized roles.
Several industries require the skills of knowledgeable and well-trained electrical engineers, including automotive, construction, oil and gas, and pharmaceuticals. Within these industries, electrical engineers work with different electrical devices and components such as computers, navigation systems, wiring and electrical systems, and radars. Some electrical engineers focus on a subfield like microelectronics, instrumentation, or signal processing. Electrical engineering provides plenty of room for bachelor's degree holders to begin and sustain successful careers.
Accreditation for Electrical Engineering Bachelor's Programs
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) as the main accrediting body in the country for the fields of applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. States require all applicants for engineering licenses to hold a degree or certification from an accredited school or program, so students should look out for accreditation when searching for prospective schools. ABET maintains a list of accredited schools and programs on its website.
The U.S. Department of Education disburses financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, scholarships, and work study programs only through accredited colleges and universities. If you plan to apply for federal financial assistance to pursue an onsite or online electrical engineering degree, make sure your program or school holds ABET accreditation. Additionally, accreditation facilitates the transfer of credits between institutions. An ABET-accredited school rarely accepts transfer credits from an institution without this accreditation.
Electrical Engineering Professional Organizations
Professional organizations provide networking and mentoring opportunities, host conferences to promote the exchange of ideas, and maintain active career centers on their websites. The electrical engineering organizations listed below offer career development opportunities and other benefits as well. You should consider your membership fee in one or more of these organizations as a wise investment in your electrical engineering career.
Every year, IEEE sponsors more than 1,800 conferences and events worldwide. It offers several learning and professional development opportunities to its members and supports the communities it serves through various publications that cover current technology standards and emerging trends in electrical engineering.
NSPE provides exam preparation courses, continuing education units, and professional liability insurance discounts for its members. The NSPE Foundation administers several scholarship programs for undergraduate students, including the Auxiliary Legacy Scholarship for $2,500, and the Steinman Scholarship for $5,000.
SWE features an online advanced learning center where members can earn continuing education credits, get career management advice, and download a variety of eLearning courses. SWE also administers scholarship and fellowship programs for women engineers with award amounts ranging from $1,000-$20,000.