If you’ve done any traveling—whether it’s just down the street or across the world—you have a transportation engineer to thank. Transportation engineers help build the roadways, airports, and harbors that enable the movement of people and goods. Their work is crucial for public safety, environmental protection, and the economy. If such impactful work appeals to you, a master’s degree in transportation engineering could be a good option.
Overview for an Online Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering
Transportation engineering is a branch of civil engineering that involves the planning, design, operation, and maintenance of transportation systems. It encompasses streets and highways, waterways, air travel infrastructure, and mass transit systems.
Why Earn an Online Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering?
People who pursue a master’s degree in transportation engineering are typically drawn to the opportunity to apply math and science skills to designing and building critical infrastructure. As with many types of engineering master’s degrees, transportation engineering degrees also provide the chance to pursue a lucrative salary.
The need for transportation is universal. Transportation engineers help create the means for people and goods to travel from place to place, so their work is essential for individuals, businesses, and governments.
Transportation engineers also play a vital role in environmental protection. They work to minimize the environmental impact that transportation systems have on land, air, and water.
Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering Curriculum and Common Courses
Earning a master’s degree in transportation engineering requires courses focused on math and technology. Students will study courses in:
- Construction engineering. These courses deal with the design, planning, construction and operations of infrastructure, including buildings, roadways, bridges, dams and other artificial structures. They may also include other aspects of civil engineering and project management.
- Engineering. Transportation engineers study the technology and scientific principles needed to plan, design, operate and manage various modes of transportation. They may also take courses in other engineering disciplines, such as civil, structural, mechanical and electrical.
- Engineering economics. Courses in engineering economics apply economic principles to the analysis of engineering decisions. They usually focus on the microeconomics of organizations and individuals when deciding the allocation of limited resources.
- Environmental engineering. Courses in this engineering discipline study solutions for protecting the health of living organisms during engineering projects. They may cover many scientific topics, such as chemistry, biology, ecology, geology, hydraulics, hydrology and microbiology.
- Fluid dynamics. These courses describe the flow of fluids, which include liquids and gasses. Specific courses of study include aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, with a focus on applications like aviation, aerospace and petroleum refining.
- Fluid mechanics. Courses in fluid mechanics may cover similar topics as fluid dynamics, but with a greater focus on the physics involved with the movement of fluids. These courses have applications in many branches of engineering, including aerospace, civil and mechanical.
- Geotechnical engineering. This branch of civil engineering is concerned with the behavior of earth materials like soil and rock, primarily during construction. These courses use mechanical principles to solve engineering problems.
- Mathematics. Transportation engineers routinely take courses in mathematics, some of which may be specifically designed for engineers. Calculus is a major part of this education, including differentiation and integration.
- Mechanics. These courses are a sub-discipline of mathematics and physics that deal with the relationships between matter, motion and force. In particular, they explore the effects of force on physical objects, typically in terms of motion.
- Statistics. This branch of mathematics is concerned with the collection, analysis and interpretation of data. It usually begins with a study of populations and models, often for the purpose of designing experiments.
- Structural engineering. This sub-discipline of civil engineering focuses on the form and shape of artificial structures, including stability, strength and rigidity. It may also cover the integration of designs with other members of a construction project, such as architects.
- Surveying. These courses explore the process of determining terrestrial positions in two or three dimensions, typically to create maps or establish property boundaries. The location of structural components is also a common goal for surveyors.
- Transportation engineering. Courses in this branch of engineering apply scientific and technological principles towards the planning, design, construction and operation of various modes of transportation. They may also focus on factors such as safety, efficiency, comfort and convenience related to the movement of people and goods.
- Water resources. These courses explore the use of water as a benefit to humans, including water used for drinking and irrigation. They also cover sources of fresh water such as groundwater, frozen water and surface water.
Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Transportation Engineering
Anyone interested in pursuing a degree for career purposes should ensure that prospective employers will consider it an accurate reflection of the student’s education. Many organizations examine various aspects of secondary education to ensure it meets certain standards, a process known as accreditation. It’s particularly important for students in technical disciplines like transportation engineering to have an accredited education, since employers generally consider formal education to be a critical factor in their hiring decisions.
Accreditation may be classified into two categories, including institutional accreditation and program accreditation. Institutional accreditation examines the qualities of the institution itself, irrespective of its degree programs. This type of accreditation reviews personnel and physical factors like the facility, faculty and student body. It also considers administrative factors like budgeting and admission procedures. Program accreditation looks at the quality of specific degree programs, primarily degree requirements and course content.
These two types of accreditation are distinct processes and therefore performed by different types of organizations. Institutional accreditation is generally performed by an accrediting body responsible for all institutions within its designated geographical area. Program accreditation is typically conducted by organizations that specialize in a particular type of discipline.
The Accreditation Board for Engineeringing and Technology (ABET) is one of the most significant accrediting bodies for graduate programs in transportation engineering. It’s a non-governmental, nonprofit organization that’s responsible for accrediting degree programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. ABET is composed of multiple commissions, each of which is responsible for accrediting a particular subset of STEM programs. For example, the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission accredits degree programs in transportation engineering. In addition, ABET provides STEM students with various academic resources.
Online Master’s Degree Programs in Transportation Engineering
A master’s degree in transportation engineering is typically earned as a Master of Science (M.SC.), although similar degrees also exist. Some of the institutions on this list offer the program directly, while others offer it through a separate school under the same institutional accreditation umbrella. These degrees also have program accreditation for transportation engineering, although the specific name of the program may vary. The programs on this list are classified as online, but some may teach specific courses on campus.
1. University of California, Riverside – M.SC. Mobility Engineering
The M.SC. program in Mobility Engineering program at the University of California, Riverside is a comprehensive engineering program that teaches technical skills and leadership strategy. The College of Engineering – Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) has offered this program for 30 years.
The course work consists of eight credits in core engineering classes in addition to another 24 credits that depend on your specialization, allowing a high degree of customization based on your desired area of expertise. This program is available completely online and doesn’t have a residency requirement, so it can accommodate busy professionals who want to earn their degree while continuing to work. The tuition is $24,230 per year, and full-time students can complete the program in 13 months.
2. North Dakota State University – M.SC. Transportation and Urban Systems
North Dakota State University offers degrees in Transportation and Urban Systems directly under its Department of Transportation, Logistics and Finance, including an M.SC. and graduate certificate. The College of Business awards these degrees in collaboration with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute. The specific disciplines for these programs include transportation engineering and civil engineering & construction.
The M.SC. program requires a minimum of 30 semester credit hours (SCHs) and costs $14,370 per year. The curriculum is taught completely online and requires two years of full-time study to complete.
3. University of New Orleans – M.SC. Transportation
The M.SC. Transportation program at the University of New Orleans provides students with many opportunities for education and workforce development in the transportation industry. It’s intended to create technically advanced professionals who are well qualified to develop environmentally responsible systems for moving people and goods.
This course of study is taught mostly online, although some classes are taught on campus. The specific disciplines available are transportation engineering and transport management. The program requires a minimum of 33 SCHs and will take a full-time student one year to complete. The tuition is $13,678, regardless of the student’s residency.
4. San José State University – M.SC. Transportation Management
The College of Business at San José State University offers an M.SC. and three graduate certificate programs in Transportation Management. These programs are supported by the Mineta Transportation Institute, and the disciplines include transport management and transportation engineering. The M.SC. program requires 30 SCHs and is designed for part-time online study, requiring 2.5 years to complete. The tuition is $5,100 per year.
5. University of Southern California – M.SC. Transportation Engineering
The M.SC in Transportation Engineering offered by University of Southern California provides graduates with an education in the planning, design, construction, management and performance of transportation systems. It also explores the role of these systems in a region’s physical, economic and social structure.
The disciplines in this program include civil engineering & construction and transportation engineering. It requires a minimum of 28 SCHs, which may be delivered online and on-campus. The program requires a full year to complete full-time studies, and tuition is $42,740 per year.
6. New Jersey Institute of Technology – M.SC. Transportation
This program provides an education on the legal, regulatory and technological frameworks of transportation. Students will also learn how to negotiate the continual changes that create this complex environment. The disciplines in this program include transportation engineering, strategic management and transport management. The program requires one year of full-time study and requires 30 SCHs to complete. The course work is delivered entirely online, and the tuition is $33,360 per year.
What can I do with a master’s degree in transportation engineering?
For those pursuing a master’s degree in transportation engineering, their career choice is not only about a great transportation engineering salary, but also about being a vital link between commerce and safety.
All countries have transportation needs for goods, services and public safety. A transportation engineer helps to create effective transportation, so businesses can function, goods can be shipped, and public safety workers such as first responders can function to save lives. Any transportation problem can stop shipments, prevent people from getting to work, cause perishable goods to rot, cost billions in lost revenue and endanger public health.
Not only are transportation engineers crucial to economies, they’re also essential to caring for the environment. They work to ensure transportation structures keep land and water clean while facilitating commerce.
The BLS classifies transportation engineers as a type of civil engineers. Employment for this occupation is expected to grow by seven percent, which is the average for all occupations. This figure is based on an estimated employment of 318,300 in 2021 to an expected employment of 340,400 in 2031, for an increase of 22,100. The BLS also expects about 24,200 openings for civil engineers each year during this period. Many of those openings will be workers transferring to different occupations or exiting the labor force entirely.
The continued investment in infrastructure in the U.S. means that civil engineers will find steady employment in projects to upgrade structures such as bridges, buildings, roads and water systems. They will also oversee projects in renewable energy, including solar arrays and wind farms. The number of public projects largely depends on the availability of public funding, which could cause the employment of civil engineers to fluctuate.
The average annual salary for a transportation engineer in the U.S. is $91,023 per year as of April 2023, according to Ziprecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is between $47,500 and $130,000 per year, but most transportation engineers earn annual salaries between $75,000 and $103,000. The bottom 10 percent make less than $62,500 per year, while the top ten percent make over $123,500 annually.
Traffic engineers are a type of civil engineer who deal with moving people and goods on roadways safely and efficiently. For example, these engineers design roads to minimize congestion and accidents, while also ensuring they provide adequate capacity for the expected level of traffic.
The average annual salary for a traffic engineer in the U.S. is $89,758 per year as of April 2023, according to Ziprecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is between $32,500 and $137,000 per year, but most traffic engineers earn annual salaries between $73,000 and $101,500. The bottom 10 percent make less than $61,000 per year, while the top ten percent make over $124,500 annually.
Transportation Safety Engineer
A traffic safety engineer ensures public safety by continuously improving the design, planning and operations of transportation systems. They use multiple strategies to integrate safety data into the decision-making processes for these systems, and they also evaluate safety programs.
The average annual salary for a transportation safety engineer in the U.S. is $59,470 per year as of April 2023, according to Ziprecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is between $23,000 and $105,500 per year, but most transportation safety engineers earn annual salaries between $41,000 and $73,500. The bottom 10 percent make less than $31,500 per year, while the top ten percent make over $90,000 annually.
Urban planners identify community needs and revitalize them through the development or expansion of various facilities. They often assess these plans to ensure their investment will benefit the community, including the forecast of future needs. Some urban planners work on overall strategic plans for a community, while others work on specific projects.
The average annual salary for an urban planner in the U.S. is $64,637 per year as of April 2023, according to Ziprecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is between $41,000 and $112,500 per year, but most urban planners earn annual salaries between $51,500 and $73,500. The bottom 10 percent make less than $41,000 per year, while the top ten percent make over $90,000 annually.
Highway Design Engineer
A highway design engineer designs and maintains roads, bridges and tunnels to ensure safe and efficient transportation. They need to understand traffic flow through a location for both pedestrians and vehicles, in addition to the surface requirements for a particular road. Highway design engineers may work on a new project through its completion or maintain existing structures to ensure they remain safe and functional.
The average annual salary for a highway design engineer in the U.S. is $96,361 per year as of April 2023, according to Ziprecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is between $53,500 and $136,000 per year, but most highway design engineers earn annual salaries between $80,000 and $113,000. The bottom 10 percent make less than $68,500 per year, while the top ten percent make over $129,500 annually.
Public Transportation Planner
A public transportation planner designs public transit systems, usually by working closely with urban planners and various engineers. They develop plans that meet the needs of all travelers, including drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Specific duties of a public transportation planner include analyzing traffic data, assessing proposed land, reviewing local policies and creating detailed proposals.
The average annual salary for a public transportation planner in the U.S. is $56,121 per year as of April 2023, according to Ziprecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is between $27,000 and $82,000 per year, but most public transportation planners earn annual salaries between $44,000 and $76,000. The bottom 10 percent make less than $37,000 per year, while the top ten percent make over $129,500 annually.
How Much Do Transportation Engineers Make?
Starting Salary for Transportation Engineers
OwlGuru.com reports that the average starting salary for a transportation engineer in 2021 ranged from $56,160 to $69,100 per year, equivalent to an hourly wage between $27 and $33 per hour. The bottom end of this range was the salary for the bottom 10 percent of transportation engineers, while the top end was the salary for the bottom 25 percent. These figures assume the transportation engineer has little to no professional experience in that occupation.
Average Salary for a Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering
Glassdoor.com reports that the average base salary for a transportation engineer with a master’s degree is $81,171 per year. The average benefits package is worth $19,767, providing a total of $100,938. The complete range for these transportation engineers on total compensation is between $66,000 and $157,000, although most of these professionals have a total compensation between $81,000 and $128,000.
What’s the Most a Transportation Engineer Makes?
The top ten percent of transportation engineers earn over $133,320 per year, according to the BLS. However, salary varies considerably by geographic location and industry. For example, the average annual income of transportation engineers in California is $109,890, higher than any other state. In comparison, New York is the next most lucrative state for this occupation, with an average income of $99,860 per year. Additional states with above average incomes for transportation engineers include Illinois, Texas and Florida, with average annual incomes of $ 95,670, $ 94,470 and $ 94,050 respectively.
Tips for Increasing Salary Potential
Gaining experience in the right specialties is one of the most effective ways to increase your salary potential as a transportation engineer. Designing highways is one of the highest-paying specialties in this occupation, and analysts expect this to remain true through the end of this decade. Changing employers can also provide you with a quick increase in pay, especially if you work for the government. State and federal governments offer some of the highest salaries for transportation engineers, since they’re primarily responsible for building and maintaining highways.
Additional strategies include obtaining an advanced degree that’s required for a promotion. In addition, positions that require you to supervise other transportation engineers tend to offer higher salaries.
Continuing Education After a Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering
Once you receive your master’s degree in transportation engineering, you may want to continue your education in this field. These forms of education include advanced certifications and doctorate degrees.
Transportation engineers can earn various certifications, which typically indicate specialized training in a particular specialty. These certifications are usually offered by industry or government organizations that promote excellence in transportation engineering, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).
AASHTO Certification recognizes engineers who are specifically qualified to design and maintain highways and related structures like bridges and tunnels. State governments often use this certification when making hiring decisions for their transportation projects. ITE Certification recognizes the overall experience and knowledge of transportation engineers, without requiring expertise in any particular specialty.
Doctorate in Transportation Engineering
Transportation engineers rarely benefit from a doctorate degree outside of a few niche areas. You’ll benefit from this degree if you want to teach at the college level, where it will likely be required. Some aerospace engineers may also find a doctorate degree useful for high-level positions, especially those requiring research. Mainstream consulting and construction jobs in transportation engineering are unlikely to be worth the time and expense of obtaining a doctorate in this discipline.
Financial Aid Information
Students pursuing a master’s degree in transportation engineering will typically require financial aid. The most common exception would be someone who has already been in the workforce long enough to save the cost of tuition. Sources of financial aid for graduate students include loans, scholarships and internships, although the specific types of aid available are highly dependent upon the educational institution and individual student.
Student loans are readily available for graduate students since lenders generally consider them to be relatively low risk for an unsecured loan. The interest rates start at below five percent, assuming the student has an ideal financial picture. The student’s credit rating and debt-to-income ratio may affect the interest that lenders actually offer. Lenders may consider the student’s degree type and discipline when assessing their ability to repay the loan. In the case of a transportation engineer, the high likelihood of obtaining a job with a good salary should result in a loan with favorable terms.
Scholarships are usually tied to a particular institution or discipline, and are often awarded by an organization within that industry. In the case of transportation engineering, the board of the American Public Transportation Foundation (APTF) offers a number of scholarships directly to students in these degree programs. In addition, the APTF awards scholarships in transportation engineering from many other organizations and individuals. For direct scholarships, students must generally demonstrate continued interest in pursuing a career in public transportation, along with high academic achievement and financial need. The APTF doesn’t consider personal characteristics such as race, religion and gender when awarding these scholarships.
An internship provides students with an opportunity to learn about transportation engineering in a real-world setting from experienced professionals in that field. Internships are often paid positions, although the wage may be below the market rate. Graduate students will typically earn a higher wage than undergraduates. Schools that offer degree programs in transportation engineering usually have multiple internship programs in this discipline. In addition, internships are typically held during the summer to avoid conflict with regular classes.
How much does a master’s degree in transportation engineering cost?
Costs for graduate programs in transportation engineering vary, depending on the educational institution. Expenses include tuition, supplies, and other fees. According to U.S. News and World Report, per-credit costs for an online civil engineering degree range from $450 to $1,100. The total tuition for a 30-credit program would therefore fall between $14,000 and $33,000. Online degrees are often less expensive than attending on-campus programs because the tuition doesn’t include costs like student activity fees and residency fees.
Is a master’s degree in transportation engineering worth it?
In purely financial terms, determining the value of getting a master’s degree requires you to estimate your lifetime earnings with and without the degree. In addition to the cost of earning the degree, you must also consider the effects of delaying your career by at least a full year if you study full time. Ideally, you want your employer to pay for as much of the costs as possible, which is much easier if you’re already employed. In general, your best strategy is to get a job with a bachelor’s degree first. Once you gain enough experience to show that you’re an asset for the company, you’ll have more leverage to negotiate a graduate degree at little to no cost for you.
How long does it take to earn an online master’s degree in transportation engineering?
The time needed to earn a master’s degree in transportation engineering primarily depends on whether you attend full-time or part-time. A typical program requires at least 30 credits after you earn your bachelor’s degree, which will take at least a full year. If you have a job and can only study part-time, it will take at least two years to earn your master’s degree. If your bachelor’s degree isn’t in transportation engineering, you may need to take additional courses first before you can take the core curriculum. Specialization may also require you to earn more credits than the minimum required by the program.
Is a master’s degree required to advance as a transportation engineer?
Once you have a job as a transportation engineer, the value of a master’s degree for advancing your career will primarily depend on your employer. If you see available positions requiring a master’s degree that you would otherwise be qualified for, this is a strong sign that a master’s degree would be helpful for advancement. You’ll typically find these positions in upper management, where a competitive candidate needs leadership and managerial skills as much as technical knowledge. Academic roles in transportation engineering are also more likely to require advanced degrees.
Are transportation engineers in demand?
Overall, the demand for transportation engineers is expected to remain about the same as the average demand for jobs until at least 2030. State and federal governments have the highest demand for this occupation, especially in areas with aging infrastructure or rapidly growing populations. In addition, the growing interest in renewable energy sources creates the potential for greater demand in transportation engineering.
What industries are hiring transportation engineers with a master’s degree?
Infrastructure development is one of the most popular industries for a transportation engineer with a master’s degree, including planning, policymaking and funding. This is particularly true in the U.S., given the amount of roadways and bridges in need of replacement or significant repair. Additional industries currently hiring transportation engineers include mass transit, lobbying and public advocacy.
Is an online master’s degree in transportation engineering the same as an on-campus degree?
Educational institutions that offer online and on-campus master’s degree programs generally provide the same coursework and instructors for both programs. Official documents from these institutions such as transcripts and diplomas don’t typically indicate how a graduate obtained the degree.