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Engineering Bachelor's vs. Master's

by Kate Prudchenko

The engineering field is extremely broad and touches on numerous aspects of the economy and our daily lives. Engineers are highly sought after by employers in the government and private sector because of their expertise in critical technical areas like energy generation and delivery, computer systems design and maintenance, as well as the design of complex mechanical systems. Engineering is diverse in its applications, but is built on common cores of physics and mathematics.

Engineering Options

The variety of specialties in the engineering field and the depth of knowledge required to be successful in any particular area mean that students in bachelor’s programs need to decide on a major concentration almost from the beginning. Some of the major options include electrical and computer engineering, biomedical and chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and aeronautical engineering. At the master’s level, students do advanced work in their chosen subject area, though it may be possible to enroll in a master’s program which is different from, but related to the undergraduate degree.

Bachelor’s Requirements

Engineering is a demanding undergraduate major and a bachelor’s degree in any engineering field involves a substantial amount of coursework in the major, along with mathematics and science prerequisites. Some of these courses include calculus, linear algebra and differential equations, general chemistry for engineers and statistical methods for engineers. Core engineering courses depend on the area of engineering, but may include topics like thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer and statics.

Bachelor’s Career

The potential career options for a graduate from a bachelor’s program in engineering depend upon the particular area of concentration, but are generally very good. Biomedical engineers, who work on problems in biology, medicine and pharmaceuticals, earn an average of $81,000 per year. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, a broad discipline involving design and development of mechanical devices like tools or engines, can earn an average of $77,000 per year. These careers are also generally stable because the skills the engineer brings are essential to the success of the agency or enterprise.

Master’s Requirements

Universities offer master’s degrees in engineering with the same variety of concentrations as are offered at the undergraduate level. Most master’s degree programs require students to have an undergraduate degree in the particular engineering area or a related field. In addition to the coursework, which can take a year or 1.5 years, students are often required to complete a thesis or capstone project on a relevant problem in the field. Examples of master’s courses include design of composite structures, digital control of physical systems and electronic structure of materials.

Master’s Career

Graduates from master’s degree programs in engineering are highly qualified professionals who are able to take managerial positions in engineering firms and departments. When they work directly as engineers, they may earn more than engineers graduating from a bachelor’s degree program. The advanced education allows master’s graduates to work in research and development in private engineering and manufacturing firms, or for the federal government. The area of concentration of the master’s program will normally define the range of employment opportunities that graduates encounter.

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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