What Does it Mean to Study Electrical Engineering?
Electrical engineers design, develop, and test electrical equipment. The broad field of electrical engineering involves working with all manners of electronic devices, from pocket calculators to supercomputers. Often overlapping with computer engineering, a college degree in electrical engineering can open up the door to a technical career in almost any industry. Since technology is always changing and expanding, the need for electrical engineers is always growing.
Like any other kind of scientist, electrical engineers must also know how to communicate their ideas to others in their field. A successful electrical engineer possesses not only an understanding of his area of concentration, but also a broad grasp of engineering in general. This is why most electrical engineering degree programs begin with the fundamentals of engineering itself. Once the student has mastered these fundamentals, she can start to focus on a specialty.
Electrical engineering students learn through a combination of design and lab work. This mix of theory and practical application allows students to think things through and then apply their ideas in a variety of real life situations. Students also learn to diagnose problems and develop a variety of solutions.
Is Electrical Engineering Right for You?
If you enjoy taking things apart, seeing how they work, and then putting them back together again, electrical engineering might be a good career choice for you. If you've often wondered what makes your computer compute and you have a strong interest in math and science, an engineering degree should be a serious consideration.
Contrary to popular belief, electrical engineers don't just sit in their labs alone, tinkering with their latest invention. Electrical engineers often work in groups, so a great deal of teamwork is required from them.
Types of Electrical Engineering Degrees
Most students looking to break into the field of electrical engineering usually start by earning a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering. Many campus-based and online colleges and universities offer this entry-level degree.
However, many engineering students don't stop their schooling after obtaining a BS. Earning a master's degree in a specialized engineering field is very common, and some students continue on for their PhD in order to teach at the college level.
A typical electrical engineering curriculum spans the math and science worlds. Many programs include the following courses:
- Integrated circuits and solid state devices -- A major part of the entertainment and consumer appliance industries, this area focuses on new products like electronic controls for electronic games, home appliances, and navigation systems.
- Robotics -- Robotics engineers might work with artificial intelligence, design robotic arms or manipulate dangerous substances.
- Power systems -- This field deals with how power grids are set up and how generators work, as well as how to make energy more efficient.
- Communications systems -- These systems underlie basic television, radio, and telephone technology, as well as the more complex forms of wireless and laser transmission.
- Computers -- As computers come to dominate the engineering field, professionals must learn the ins and outs of digital systems, microprocessors, and all manner of computer hardware design and manufacturing.
Online Degrees in Electrical Engineering
Since electrical engineering relies so heavily upon the use of computers, many colleges are offering electrical engineering degree programs online. This allows students to learn while working, and getting the chance to actually implement the kinds of technology that they will soon be designing or improving upon. Distance education also allows professionals already in the field to further their education without having to sacrifice their careers.
General Electrical Engineering Degree Programs
Moat electrical engineers graduate with specialties in one or two areas of study. However, for students still exploring their options, many programs offer general courses of study. These programs do not require students to choose a concentration until they reach the late undergraduate or graduate level. Engineering students who want to try different specializations on for size can enroll in targeted certificate programs. As more people decide to embark on new careers later in life and as the demand for electrical engineers increases, online degree programs in electrical engineering have increased in popularity. These e-learning courses offer essential flexibility to students who already have careers and families, but want to continue their education.
Certificate Programs in Electrical Engineering
On-campus and online certificate programs target people with some experience in the field of general engineering, who want to learn a specific new skill within that field. Many companies enroll their employees in certificate programs in order to improve performance. Certificate programs are available in many areas, including:
- Wireless communications
- Control systems
- Signal processing
- Computer engineering
- Electrical insulation
- Biomedical engineering
Each specialty requires a different degree of experience, so be sure to carefully research the requirements before beginning a class.
Associate Degrees in Electrical Engineering
Associate degrees are usually most beneficial for students who want to complete their education quickly so they can enter the workforce. The average associate degree program in electrical engineering can take as little as two years to complete and touches on skills and knowledge relevant to many different industries, such as:
- Medical equipment
Instead of focusing on a particular specialty, associate degree programs in electrical engineering usually cover a basic understanding of electrical engineering mechanics, circuitry, and industrial systems. Some of them add a vocational emphasis, such as electronics engineering technology, that can help students to seek employment in a specific trade or technology.
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Bachelor's degree programs in electrical engineering are intended to offer students a comprehensive education in regards to the math and physics at the heart of the field. These degree programs typically last four years, or eight semesters. In these kinds of programs, engineering majors often concentrate on subjects such as:
- Computer programming
- Engineering economy
- Numerical analysis
- Engineering mechanics
- Electrical circuits
- Engineering materials
Later in the program, usually during senior year, students may choose an area of concentration within the field, such as power systems or microwave engineering.
Engineering majors may generally transfer course credits (including associate degrees) from one college to another, as long as they earned sufficiently good grades at their previous institutions. In order to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, students usually must maintain a grade point average of 3.0, especially in their upper-division classes.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Electrical Engineering?
A degree in electrical engineering can qualify you to pursue a job in almost any industry you can think of. After all, nearly everyone uses electricity and electrical devices, so industries demand skilled professionals to build, repair, and improve these devices. Electrical engineers work in businesses such as:
- Scientific research and development firms
- Electrical component manufacturing companies
- Power generation, distribution, and transmission
- Manufacturers of navigation controls, medical equipment, and measurement devices
- Architectural firms
Although these industries employ the most engineers, they may not be right for everyone. Electrical engineering majors enjoy many options, more than enough for any student to find a job in a field he loves. The following job titles represent only a handful of the choices available:
Research engineers work in the lab, testing and inventing. This job requires a high level of creativity on the part of the engineer, as well as a great deal of patience. Whether inventing a new optoelectronic device or simply designing a better electric can opener, research engineers are responsible for the discovery-stage technology behind any new electronic product.
Once a new technology is invented, it must be applied. The design engineer uses computer simulations and models to turn innovations like wireless technology into the tiny parts that make up an actual cell phone. Design engineers must visualize how the insides of a future product could look, while inventing several possible scenarios for the applications of new technologies.
The project engineer oversees many specialist engineers throughout the construction of a working prototype of a new product or technology. The project engineer must have natural leadership ability, as well as a high proficiency in a variety of electrical engineering disciplines.
Test engineers design programs to check the functions of electronic devices and to troubleshoot those devices when things go wrong. They keep technology working properly, and understand which elements to test and in what order. Successful test engineers remain sharp, even after long hours on the job.
Power grids, phone lines, and wireless networks all require the skills of a system engineer for proper installation and maintenance. Keen attention to detail is important for graduates who enter this profession. Experienced system engineers rely on their ability to think holistically about the systems they create.
Application engineers work with whatever resources are available, adapting existing equipment and technologies to fulfill the needs of their employers. They need to be resourceful, while counting on their deep understanding of the capabilities and the potential modifications of existing equipment.
Electrical Engineering Certification, Licensure and Associations
Though the law does not require electrical engineers to maintain a license, professional certification does make job-hunting much easier. Because governments and federal contractors require licensure, most engineers follow the licensing procedures in their home states. Students can learn about each state's varying requirements while enrolled in their degree programs.
In general, engineers must pass a thorough examination to receive their licenses. In order to apply for a license, an engineer must already have completed a minimum number of years on the job. Engineers just entering the workforce can register for pre-licensure certification. Once they have earned enough work experience, they may apply for actual licensure.
Many trade and professional associations for engineers help professionals make connections and share ideas. These organizations offer seminars, luncheons, and job fairs so engineers can explore their options and keep current on the latest trends in their field.