Nuclear Engineering Master’s Degree

By Emmet Kyle McMahan

If you possess strong problem-solving and analytical skills and excel in math and science, you may want to consider a career in nuclear engineering.

It’s possible to earn an online nuclear engineering degree in the comfort of your own home, and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering will prepare you for various challenging and rewarding jobs in the field.

Program Overview for an Online Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear engineering is an engineering field that deals with the scientific application of nuclear radiation processes. These processes involve the control and release of nuclear energy, radiation and radioactive materials. They have applications in many fields, including medicine, research, industry and national security.

Nuclear engineering represents a multifaceted discipline since it relies on principles of mathematics and physics.

Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, systems, instruments and tools to obtain the benefits of nuclear energy. The words “radioactive materials” may have a negative and even dangerous connotation. Still, a nuclear engineer may put radioactive materials to use in medical diagnostics or as a power source for a spacecraft.

Some examples of the duties performed by nuclear engineers include the following:

  • Directing or maintaining the activities of operational nuclear power plants to ensure safety standards.
  • Writing operating instructions to handle or dispose of nuclear waste.
  • Designing nuclear equipment.
  • Monitoring nuclear facilities for safety and legal violations.
  • Implementing safety corrections or ordering shutdowns of nuclear plants.
  • Performing tests and experiments on nuclear materials to determine an appropriate method for reclaiming or disposing of nuclear fuel.
  • Gathering data on nuclear accidents to use for analysis.

Why earn an online master’s degree in nuclear engineering?

Were you a student in high school who loved classes like trigonometry and calculus? Do you enjoy the challenge of solving and analyzing problems? Do you also enjoy working with a team and understand the importance of the individual? A master’s degree in nuclear engineering may be the perfect choice to pursue your career in nuclear engineering.

As a nuclear engineer, you won’t necessarily work a 9 to 5 job. The urgency of specific projects and incidents may require you to work overtime hours. But the requirements for a nuclear engineering degree also drive up the salary for these degree holders.

If you’re someone who wants growth throughout their career, a master’s degree in nuclear engineering will prepare you for many career paths. A nuclear engineering degree may open doors in medicine, research, space exploration and more.

Those who pursue a master’s degree in nuclear engineering to fulfill their career goals do so not only for income but also for personal fulfillment, career growth and the chance to make a meaningful contribution to society.

If you’re considering entering the nuclear engineering field, you need to realize that in addition to the requirements for online engineering master’s degrees, most positions also require rigorous training.

If you don’t enjoy academics and don’t want to commit to ongoing education and training, pursuing an online nuclear engineering degree or a master’s degree in nuclear engineering may not represent a good fit. Those who want careers with more social interaction may also consider career options other than that of a nuclear engineer.

Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering Curriculum and Common Courses

A bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering will cover core courses such as math and computer applications, physics and radiation imaging. As the student chooses courses for their master’s degree in nuclear engineering, they will delve into courses aligned with their career goals. Graduate-level courses in nuclear engineering include titles such as:

  • Reactor Engineering. These courses cover the engineering principles of nuclear reactors, with an emphasis on power reactors. Common topics include power plant thermodynamics, the generation and removal of heat and structural mechanics in reactor design.
  • Plasma Science. These courses study plasma theory, including fundamental properties and equations. These equations describe plasma waves and sheaths, fluid and kinetic theory, and electromagnetic waves.
  • Heat Transfer. The courses explore the concepts of heat transfer and fluid flow as they apply to nuclear power plants. They emphasize the ways in which processes can affect a nuclear engineer’s work.
  • Nuclear Fuel Management. These courses cover various strategies for managing spent nuclear fuel, including the decommissioning of equipment, waste disposal and environmental remediation.

Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Nuclear Engineering

Postsecondary educational accreditation in the US is a non-governmental, peer-reviewed process that assures the quality of the education students receive. Both educational institutions and degree programs can volunteer to undergo this process at periodic intervals to ensure they meet the accrediting body’s minimum criteria. Accreditation isn’t a ranking system that attempts to compare institutions to each other.

Institutional accreditation evaluates the overall quality of the institution, and is typically conducted by an accrediting body responsible for that geographic region. Specialized accreditation examines an institution’s specific programs of study, especially those in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) topics.


The Accreditation Board for Engineeringing and Technology (ABET) is a nonprofit, non-governmental agency responsible for accreditation of STEM degree programs. ABET’s Applied & Natural Science Accreditation Commission accredits graduate programs in nuclear engineering. In addition to accrediting engineering programs like nuclear engineering degrees, ABET also offers students resources throughout their academic careers.

Online Master’s Degree Programs in Nuclear Engineering

Obtaining an online nuclear engineering degree is the first step towards a rewarding career in nuclear engineering. Many universities across the country offer an accredited master’s degree in nuclear engineering via an online format. Another advantage of an online nuclear engineering degree is that all student work and test scores remain in the archives.

Below you’ll find a sampling of universities with an online format for a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. The location, cost and admission requirements are also listed. The estimated completion time for these programs is about two years, assuming the student already holds a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering.

1. Colorado School of Mines

Location: Golden, CO

Admission requirements:

  • Official transcripts from a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 out of 4.0
  • TOEFL score of 80+ for non-native English speakers
  • Three professional letters of recommendation
  • Students are expected to complete 36 semester credits

Cost: $36, 270

2. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus

Location: Malvern, PA

Admission requirements:

  • Official transcripts from a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering program or comparable program. Students must take NUCE 497, Radiation and Measurement Detection Lab, if the bachelor’s degree isn’t in nuclear engineering. This course is a three-day hands-on lab held at the University Park Campus.
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 out of 4.0
  • TOEFL score of 80+ for non-native English speakers

Cost: $996 per credit

3. University of South Carolina

Location: Columbia, South Carolina

Admission requirements:

  • Official transcripts from a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering program
  • Minimum GPA of 3.2 out of 4.0
  • TOEFL score of 80+ for non-native English speakers
  • Three letters of recommendation with two of the three from professional sources
  • GRE scores
  • Student essay

Cost: $1460 per credit

4. Virginia Commonwealth University

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Admission Requirements:

  • Official transcripts from a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 out of 4.0
  • TOEFL score of 80+ for non-native English speakers
  • Three professional letters of recommendation
  • Class standing is also considered

Cost: $1442 per credit

5. Virginia Tech

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Admission requirements:

  • Official transcripts from a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering
  • Minimum GPA of 3.2 out of 4.0
  • Three letters of recommendation

Cost: $26,825

For more information on finding the right online nuclear engineering degree program, we invite you to visit us here.

What can I do with a master’s degree in nuclear engineering?

Graduates with a master’s degree in nuclear engineering most often find jobs in nuclear power plants and nuclear research reactors as you would expect, but other jobs also require these degrees. These include nuclear regulators, nuclear fuel fabricators and nuclear waste specialists. Nuclear engineers are also closely involved with the production of radioisotopes used in medical diagnosis and scientific research. Government and industrial laboratories that conduct scientific research and development (R&D) also hire nuclear engineers.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job opportunities for nuclear engineers will decline by 11 percent between 2020 and 2030. In 2021, approximately 13,900 nuclear engineers were employed in the United States, which will most likely fall to about 12,400 by 2030. The BLS attributes the decline to utilities choosing the cheaper alternative of natural gas to generate power. Additionally, advances continue in the development and implementation of renewable energy.

However, other opportunities exist for careers in nuclear engineering in fields such as research and medicine. Those with the passion and aptitude for a career in nuclear engineering should not feel dissuaded when obtaining an online nuclear engineering degree. A master’s degree in nuclear engineering will also open more job opportunities.

Even with the expected decline in available jobs, the BLS projects approximately 700 new openings for nuclear engineers each year. The new positions stem from retirees, workers seeking new careers, and those leaving the labor force entirely.

Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear engineers address problems related to the release, control, use and disposal of nuclear energy and materials. They also develop projects and conduct research in this area, including the design of new reactors. Additional jobs that a nuclear engineer may perform include the development of procedures and regulations for handling nuclear materials or operating a nuclear power plant.

The median annual wage for nuclear engineers in May 2021 was $120,380, according to the BLS. The lowest 10 percent of nuclear engineers earned less than $75,460 annually, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $169,000.

Radiation Protection Engineer

A radiation protection engineer is a subspecialty of a nuclear technician. They monitor radiation levels in nuclear facilities, primarily for the purpose of protecting personnel and the environment. They use dosimeters and other devices to detect radiation, which help them map radiation and recommend safety procedures. Radiation protection engineers also monitor worker activity and alert personnel to dangerous areas and unsafe practices.

The median annual wage for radiation protection engineers in May 2021 was $99,340, according to the BLS. The lowest 10 percent of radiation protection engineers earned less than $60,490 annually, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $126,000.

Nuclear Safety Engineer

The BLS classifies nuclear safety engineers as a sub-specialty of health and safety engineers, which may also be known by other names such as product safety engineers and product compliance engineers. Their job is to develop procedures and design systems to protect personnel from illness and injury by nuclear materials and equipment. Nuclear safety engineers also develop and conduct tests that comply with government and industry safety regulations.

The median annual wage for radiation protection engineers in May 2021 was $99,040, according to the BLS. The lowest 10 percent of radiation protection engineers earned less than $58,490 annually, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $150,720.

Nuclear Waste Engineer

The BLS classifies a nuclear waste engineer as a type of nuclear engineer who specializes in the management and disposal of nuclear waste, including used equipment and spent fuel. The waste, treatment and disposal industry has one of the highest levels of employment for nuclear engineers, at 1.13 percent. The median annual wage for nuclear waste engineers in May 2020 was $114,010, according to the BLS.

Nuclear Fusion Engineer

Nuclear fusion engineers are more like scientists than true engineers. They work at nuclear fusion plants, often for the purposes of studying tritium, an isotope of hydrogen used in fusion reactions. These engineers maintain plant operations such as managing the active tritium gas. They also write research papers and present them at conferences.

Nuclear fusion engineers work in scientific R&D, where their salary is the top ten percent of nuclear engineers. Their average salary as of May 2021 was $151,980, according to the BLS.

How much do nuclear engineers make?

Starting Salary for Nuclear Engineers reports that in 2021, the average starting salary for nuclear engineers with little to no experience ranged from $74,800 to $92,440, or $36 to $44 per hour. The bottom end of this range was the salary for the bottom 10 percent of nuclear engineers, while the top end was the salary for the bottom 25 percent.

Average Salary for a Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering provides salaries for nuclear engineers as reported solely by employers. It shows that the median salary for a nuclear engineer with a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is between $116,228 and $122,993. In comparison, the median salary for a nuclear engineer with a bachelor’s degree is $115,349 to $122,027. The biggest variables for this range include geographic location, number of direct reports and years of experience.

What’s the most a nuclear engineer makes?

The top ten percent of nuclear engineers in terms of salary made more than $169,000 per year in May 2021, according to the BLS. The highest-paid industry for this occupation was scientific research and development services, where nuclear engineers had a median annual salary of $151,980 as opposed to a median annual salary of $120,380 across all industries. These median figures apply to all experience levels, so nuclear engineers with more experience can expect to make more. In addition, areas where it’s more expensive to live will generally offer higher salaries, although the salary increase may be less than the increased cost of living.

Tips for Increasing Salary Potential

The most effective ways of increasing salary potential as a nuclear engineer include gaining additional credentials after a master’s degree and gaining work experience.

Licensure as a professional engineer (PE) can qualify you for more lucrative positions with increased responsibilities, depending on your state. This requirement primarily applies to public services, which may also require a security clearance. The specific process for becoming a PE depends on your state, but your local licensing board can provide this information.

It generally begins by taking the computer-based Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam after obtaining your bachelor’s degree through an ABET-accredited program. The FE exam costs $175 and allows up to six hours to complete it. Once nuclear engineers pass the FE exam, they need at least four years of relevant work experience under the supervision of a licensed engineer before they qualify for the Qualification for the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, which is required to become a licensed PE. This exam costs $375 and requires up to 9.5 hours to complete.

The right experience is also crucial for increasing your salary potential. Most entry-level positions in nuclear engineering begin with a training period of up to six months, depending on specialty. Many employers offer professional development activities during this period that provide new engineers with skills and knowledge that will help them advance their careers. In addition, industry organizations like the American Nuclear Society and National Society of Professional Engineers provide nuclear engineers with current lists of training opportunities.

Continuing Education after a Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering

Continuing education after receiving your master’s degree in nuclear engineering includes advanced certifications and doctorate degrees.

Advanced Certificates

Nuclear engineers have many certifications available to demonstrate their knowledge of nuclear engineering principles, practices and standards. Professional societies and other organizations specializing in nuclear engineering typically award these certifications, which are often needed to obtain promotions within this industry.

For example, a Certified Nuclear Engineer (CNE) is a certification awarded by the American Nuclear Society (ANS), which demonstrates a generally higher level of expertise. This certification requires an accredited bachelor’s degree and five years of experience, among other educational and experience requirements. Applicants must also pass an exam administered by the ANS.

A Certified Nuclear Safety Professional (CNSP) demonstrates a certain level of expertise in nuclear safety. The American Board of Nuclear Safety (ABNS) awards this certification to nuclear engineers meeting the educational and experience requirements. This process typically takes between six months and a year to complete.

The American Board of Examiners in Nuclear Engineering (ABEN) awards its own certificate to nuclear engineers who meet the highest standards in their profession. In addition to the required education and experience, applicants must receive a passing score on both an oral and written exam. The oral exam covers reactor operations, plant maintenance and personnel training, while the written exam is about general topics like materials science, reactor physics and radiation protection. The entire process for ABEN certification may require up to two years to complete.

Doctorate in Nuclear Engineering

A doctorate in nuclear engineering should provide a set of technical and interpersonal skills that go well beyond the engineer’s specialization in nuclear engineering. These degrees are primarily useful in an academic environment or research, but they also offer other career paths such as construction, commerce and public services, especially policy development. A doctorate degree in nuclear engineering also opens the door for a consultancy, since these degree holders are less dependent upon others for professional expertise.

Financial Aid Information

The generally high cost of obtaining a master’s degree in nuclear engineering means that many students will require some type of assistance in paying for it. Fortunately, many such programs exist, depending on the school, the student’s academic performance and personal characteristics like race, gender and financial need. Financial aid programs may be classified into loans, scholarships and internships.


In the case of loans, the student’s financial status is more important than their academic qualifications. However, lenders may consider the degree you’re pursuing, as it could affect your ability to repay the loan. Nuclear engineers have high salary expectations, so lenders may be more likely to approve loans for these students.

The biggest disadvantage of loans as a means of financial aid is that you must repay them, unlike funds from scholarships and internships. In addition, the lender will charge interest, although the rate is relatively small compared to other types of loans. Rates start below five percent, although they go up from there based on the student’s financial factors.


Scholarships for nuclear engineering students are available from a variety of sources, including educational institutions, government programs, industrial organizations and private individuals. For example, the US Department of Energy (DOE) offers many scholarships for nuclear engineers at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. The DOE announced in 2019 that it would award 45 undergraduate scholarships and 33 graduate fellowships worth a total of $5 million to students pursuing degrees in nuclear engineering and related disciplines. Each scholarship is worth $7,500 for one year, while the fellowships are worth $50,000 per year for three years. The fellowships also include $5,000 to fund an internship at an approved research facility.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) also provides many scholarships and fellowships for promising nuclear engineering students, as well as students in health physics and radiochemistry. The scholarships are for undergraduates and worth up to $20,000 per year for up to two years. A smaller number of fellowships are available for graduate students, which are worth $50,000 per year for up to four years.


Internships have a variety of possible structures, but they’re generally positions in nuclear engineering where the emphasis is on learning rather than income. Government agencies often sponsor internships, with the expectation that the student will seek regular employment there upon the completion of the internship.

For example, the Naval Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) offers internships to nuclear engineering students during the summer. These opportunities to support the US Navy take place in various locations and provide students with professional experience in their field of study. They’re able to work with world-class engineers, researchers, scientists and technicians, who serve as mentors while solving real-world problems. Common tasks include developing processes and procedures, designing and testing software, and analyzing data. NNL interns also earn a competitive salary.

FAQ Section

How much does a master’s degree in nuclear engineering cost?

Obtaining a master’s degree in nuclear engineering may cost under $25,000 to over $50,000. When measuring cost per credit, achieving a master’s in nuclear engineering through an online program could cost more or less than earning the same degree through a traditional program.

Many students assume online programs are always less expensive, without considering that just as much preparation goes into creating the curriculum and other aspects of an online program compared to a traditional program.

Is a master’s degree in nuclear engineering worth it?

The determination of whether a master’s degree in nuclear engineering is financially worth it generally involves weighing the cost of obtaining the degree against the additional earnings over the lifetime of your career. You also need to consider the effect of delaying your career by a year or more while you earn your degree. This decision becomes much easier when you already have an offer in hand contingent upon having a master’s degree.

In the case of nuclear engineering, employers are increasingly likely to require candidates with a master’s degree for even entry-level jobs. Furthermore, a master’s degree is typically a requirement for academic, research and managerial positions.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s degree in nuclear engineering?

The answer to this question depends on whether a student attends school full or part-time. A student who already holds a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering may finish their master’s program in under two years if they attend full time. Some universities offer dual-degree programs in which the student earns both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nuclear engineering in five years of full-time study. In addition, online nuclear engineering degrees allow employed students to attend classes full-time while remaining employed by studying in the evening and weekends.

Is a master’s degree required to advance as a nuclear engineer?

The most important step in determining the value of a master’s degree in nuclear engineering over a bachelor’s degree is to ask prospective employers. If your inquiries show a significant number of employers who require a master’s degree for even an entry-level position, a master’s degree is clearly beneficial for advancement. In most cases, however, this question will be more difficult to answer. Often, nuclear engineers work in low-level roles that only require a bachelor’s degree for a few years before encountering a managerial position that requires a master’s degree.

Are nuclear engineers in demand?

The BLS predicts that the employment of nuclear engineers in the US will decline by 11 percent between 2021 and 2031. In comparison, employment of all engineers will increase by five percent, which is also the overall job growth expected during this period.

The primary reason for this decline is that the production of renewable energy is becoming increasingly viable, limiting the construction of nuclear power plants. Utilities that build nuclear power plants have historically been the largest employers of nuclear engineers, thus reducing their demand. Despite this decline, an average of about 700 openings per year will become available in this occupation during the current decade. The BLS expects virtually all of these openings to be replacements for existing positions, as these workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force entirely.

What industries are hiring nuclear engineers with a master’s degree?

Nuclear engineers with a master’s degree most often work in utility power generation, where they design and operate nuclear power plants. They may also direct maintenance, especially with regard to safety compliance.

Nuclear engineers also work in military defense, typically on nuclear propulsion systems for naval vessels. They may design or evaluate these systems to ensure their operation meets safety and performance specifications. Additional duties in this industry include the technical review and evaluation of the readiness and storage of nuclear weapons.

Medical facilities need nuclear engineers to perform calculations regarding the dosing and shielding requirements for the production of radioactive isotopes. Nuclear engineers in this industry also conduct experiments with these materials, including analysis and documentation.

Nuclear engineers with master’s degrees are also heavily involved with the research and regulation of nuclear power and materials. These applications include the investigation of nuclear accidents and data analysis needed to design preventative measures. They may also test new methods of using nuclear equipment and reclaiming nuclear fuel. Additional duties in this industry include drafting standards and regulations based on these experiments.

The space exploration industry uses nuclear engineers to design the nuclear batteries routinely used by satellites, spacecraft and rovers. They also may design radiation shielding for these vehicles, which may include the calculation and analysis of cosmic radiation.

Is an online master’s degree in nuclear engineering the same as an on-campus degree?

The differences between an online and on-campus master’s degree in nuclear engineering depend on the educational institution. An online program is typically ABET-accredited if the on-campus program is, but you should still verify this before enrolling. You should also ensure that the courses are the same for both programs, including instructors and requirements.

Educational institutions don’t typically include the degree’s delivery method in documentation such as diplomas and transcripts, but you should still verify this with your university. Assuming this to be the case, terms like “online” and “distance learning” should appear on these documents. As a result, prospective employers normally won’t have any way of knowing how you earned your degree other than by asking you. However, some employers may have a preference for on-campus degrees.



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