Electrical engineers play a crucial role in developing products used in various industries such as medical technology, consumer electronics, robotics, transportation, and energy, among others.
Electrical engineers work in a variety of settings, addressing systems as wide ranging as power grids, automations and robotics, smartphones, and navigation tools.
When pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, you will study electronics, electromagnetism, and the application of electricity. This degree will give you expertise in designing, building, and maintaining essential electrical systems and devices.
Roles and Responsibilities of an Electrical Engineer
Electrical engineers have important roles and responsibilities. They create electrical system plans, ensuring they meet safety standards and regulations. They also design circuits to ensure the smooth and efficient flow of electricity.
Once the plans are ready, electrical engineers supervise the installation of electrical components and systems, ensuring everything is done correctly and safely. They troubleshoot any issues that may arise, from malfunctioning circuits to power outages.
In addition, electrical engineers conduct tests and inspections to ensure that electrical systems perform as expected. They continuously work on improving existing systems and developing new technologies to make electrical systems more efficient and sustainable.
Electrical Engineering Bachelor’s Degree Overview
A bachelor’s degree is required to become an electrical engineer. Students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) or a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering (BSCpE) at many qualified universities.
Before you graduate, there are some important steps and considerations you need to keep in mind. Typically, you must meet certain academic qualifications to start your journey towards becoming an electrical engineer. This often includes a high school diploma or its equivalent. Throughout your coursework, you will need to complete several prerequisites before moving on to more advanced topics.
Electrical Engineering Prerequisites
Prerequisites are the building blocks of your electrical engineering education. These courses provide you with the essential knowledge and skills you’ll use throughout your degree.
While electrical engineering prerequisites vary from one institution to another, most include courses in Algebra, Calculus, and Physics. These courses help you understand important concepts when designing circuits or solving complex electrical problems.
Here’s an example list of required courses from Florida A&M University:
- Engineering Lab
- Mathematics and basic sciences
- General Chemistry I with Lab
- General Physics I and II with Labs
- Calculus I, II, III
- Ordinary Differential Equations
- Applied Linear Algebra
- General engineering core (9 hours)
- Programming I
- Engineering Mechanics
- Introduction to Circuit Analysis
- ECE Engineering Tools Lab
- Advanced Circuit Analysis with Computers
- Advanced Circuits Lab
- Signal & Linear Systems Analysis
- Electronics and Lab
- Digital Logic Design and Lab
- Statistical Topics in E.E.
- Digital Communications
- Micro. Based System Design
- Micro. Based System Design Lab
- Senior Design Project
- Additional courses required of EE Majors
- Advanced Electronic, Electromagnetics, or Power Labs
- Electromagnetic Fields
- Senior Design Project II
- Tier-2 courses
- Technical Electives
- Oral Communication Competency
Electrical Engineering Class Requirements
Once you complete your prerequisites, you’ll move on to more in-depth courses focused on electrical engineering. Most institutions require you to complete a minimum number of major program courses, including departmental essentials and elective courses.
The departmental essentials are the must-take classes, while elective courses allow you to choose additional classes based on your interests and the area you want to specialize in. For example, Northwestern University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science requires its electrical engineering students to complete 21 major program units, with 10 departmental essentials and 11 electives.
How Long Does it Take to Earn an Electrical Engineering Bachelor’s Degree?
A completed bachelor’s degree in engineering typically takes 4 or 5 years, depending on the university and any specialty studies you choose.
Master’s and Doctorate Degrees in Electrical Engineering
Some graduates of the Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering program pursue postgraduate degrees, such as master’s (M.Eng./M.Sc.) or doctorate degrees (Ph.D./Eng.D.) in engineering. These degrees usually consist of coursework and research. Doctorate degrees focus mainly on research and often lead to opportunities in university research and teaching.
Universities with strong engineering departments offer graduate degrees, specialized certificates, as well as teaching and research opportunities.
Can I Earn an Electrical Engineering Degree Online?
While the bachelor’s degree is typically based on laboratory and fieldwork and cannot be completed entirely online, some universities offer online access to master’s degrees in electrical engineering.
Arizona State University, for example, offers an MSE in electrical engineering with online studies in areas such as solid-state electronics, power electronics, mixed-signal integrated circuit design, communications, and signal processing. Online master’s-level courses are also available from several other engineering schools.
How to Become an Electrical Engineer
The journey to becoming an electrical engineer does not stop after you earn a bachelor’s degree. It continues, especially if you want to become a licensed electrical engineer.
Becoming licensed opens up more opportunities and responsibilities in your career. With a license, you have the legal authority to take on certain responsibilities that unlicensed engineers cannot. For instance, you can approve and sign off on engineering plans, designs, and projects.
Here are the steps to becoming a licensed electrical engineer:
Graduate with an Electrical Engineering Bachelor’s Degree
The first essential step to pursuing a career as an electrical engineer is earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a closely related field. To graduate, you must complete a minimum number of units and attain a minimum GPA (usually around 2.0).
Take the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination (FE Exam)
After earning your electrical engineering bachelor’s degree, you must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. This standardized test assesses your knowledge of engineering fundamentals. Passing the FE exam is necessary to become an Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineer Intern (EI).
Get an Entry-Level Job
With your EIT or EI status, you can start looking for entry-level positions in electrical engineering. These jobs often have titles like “electrical engineer associate” or “junior electrical engineer.”
Take the Professional Engineering Examination (PE Exam)
To become a licensed electrical engineer, you must pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. This exam is more in-depth and covers advanced engineering topics. However, before taking the PE exam, it’s best to gain several years of work experience (usually around four years) under the supervision of a licensed professional engineer.
Once you pass the PE exam and meet other requirements set by your state, you’ll become a licensed electrical engineer.
What are Some Jobs for Electrical Engineers?
Electrical engineers have a wide range of job opportunities in various industries. They work in laboratories, corporate consulting offices, and onsite at mines. They may supervise scientists, electricians, computer programmers, or other engineers.
These engineers are involved in:
- Power generation
- Transmission and distribution (high-voltage transformers)
- Electronic circuits
- Controls (electrical circuits, digital signal processors, microcontrollers)
- Nanoelectronics (microelectronic components)
- Satellite dishes
- Cell phones
- HVAC systems
- Flight control panels
- GPS technology
- Electric power generation
- Space travel technologies
With the rapid advancement of technology, the demand for electrical engineers is projected to grow 6% between 2010-2020. Electrical engineering has been at the forefront of every technological gain of the past century. This field offers positive career possibilities for qualified professionals.
How Much Money Do Electrical Engineers Make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), electrical engineers earn an average annual salary exceeding $100,000.
While the salary may vary based on factors such as experience, location, and industry, electrical engineering offers good earning potential.
Are There Professional Associations for Electrical Engineers?
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is the largest professional association for the advancement of technology in the world. IEEE makes significant contributions to improving global conditions for technical professionals.
There are also numerous electrical engineering societies worldwide that provide valuable resources and networking opportunities.
Electrical Engineer Characteristics
Electrical engineering, while deeply rooted in technical expertise, requires a blend of both hard and soft skills. Being a good fit for the role isn’t just about understanding complex electrical systems; it’s also about having the personal traits and professional characteristics to navigate, innovate, and communicate within the field. Here’s a breakdown of essential attributes:
- Technical Proficiency: A solid grasp of electrical theories, mathematics, and principles is fundamental. This includes understanding circuit theory, signal processing, and electronics.
- Problem-Solving: Electrical engineers constantly face challenges, from troubleshooting circuitry issues to innovating new solutions. Being adept at identifying problems and determining solutions is crucial.
- Computer and Software Skills: Familiarity with software like CAD for circuit design, MATLAB for data analysis, and other specialized engineering tools is essential.
- Project Management: Many electrical engineers lead projects, requiring skills in planning, budgeting, and overseeing various project phases.
- Continuous Learning: The field is ever-evolving, so staying updated with the latest technological advancements and industry trends is vital.
- Attention to Detail: Overlooking a minor detail can lead to significant issues in electrical engineering projects. A meticulous approach is key.
- Communication: Whether it’s explaining complex technical details to non-engineers or collaborating with a team, clear communication is imperative.
- Teamwork and Collaboration: Engineers often work in teams, comprising members from different disciplines. Being able to collaborate effectively ensures the project’s success.
- Critical Thinking: Beyond just solving problems, electrical engineers must anticipate potential challenges and think several steps ahead.
- Creativity: Innovation drives engineering. Coming up with new solutions or improvements to existing designs requires a creative mindset.
- Ethical Judgment: Given the potential consequences of electrical system failures, engineers must adhere to a strict code of ethics, always prioritizing safety and reliability.
For those considering a career in electrical engineering, reflecting on these characteristics can offer insights into their suitability for the field and areas they might need to develop further.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering is a fulfilling endeavor. This degree equips you with the necessary knowledge and skills to pursue a successful career in a wide range of industries. With attractive earning potential and a strong demand for electrical engineers, obtaining this degree opens up exciting opportunities for personal and professional growth.