A graduate degree is not required for most engineering positions, but it is advantageous — especially for individuals interested in conducting research at a company or working as a college professor.
Getting either a master’s degree or doctorate in engineering can lead to higher salaries, specialized skill development and career advancement.
“While undergraduate degrees provide a general overview of the field with some opportunities to dig a little bit deeper, a master’s program really allows them to go one step further,” says Doreen Edwards, dean of the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “Students will get more information and learn more skills related to a specific topic, and take their analytical and critical thinking skills to the next level.”
There are two options for degrees: a master’s of engineering and a master’s of science in engineering. Curriculum varies by graduate program, but a master’s of science typically revolves around research, while a master’s of engineering focuses more on projects and developing workforce-relevant skills.
[Make an informed choice between a master’s or Ph.D. in engineering]
“There’s a lot of overlap so it depends on the individual and what their career aspirations are,” says Kristina Ropella, dean of the Opus College of Engineering at Marquette University in Wisconsin.
Whether or not a student chooses to obtain a master’s degree, engineering graduates are highly sought after.
Among all engineers, the average job growth rate projected between 2020 and 2030 is 7%, with the median salary in 2020 being $96,310, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is slightly below the average national job growth rate of 8%, but more than double the median annual salary of all U.S. occupations, which is $41,950.
Here are six engineering career paths that either demonstrate faster than average job growth rates or offer a high-paying salary. While a graduate degree isn’t always required for these jobs, having one would likely give you a leg up.
Hot Jobs for Engineering Graduates
— Software Developer
— Computer and Information Research Scientist
— Industrial Engineer
— Chemical Engineer
— Aerospace Engineer
— Petroleum Engineer
Given the popularity of technology and artificial intelligence, software developers are needed in nearly every sector, says Luay Nakhleh, a computer science professor and dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University in Texas.
In 2020, there were more than 1.8 million jobs for software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers. That number is projected to increase by 22% from 2020 to 2030, according to the BLS.
“The world runs on software these days,” Nakhleh says, so the growth in this area is “not surprising.”
Software developers design and create software to meet users’ needs, while software quality assurance analysts and testers implement tests to identify software issues. Not only are these jobs expected to grow, but they’re also high-paying. The median annual wage for software developers and quality assurance analysts and testers was $110,140 in 2020, BLS reported.
Computer and Information Research Scientist
The heavy reliance on technology and the internet has also led to growth in related fields, including computer and information research scientists. Employment in this area is expected to grow 22% over the next decade, with 40,200 jobs predicted in 2030, according to the BLS.
Computer and information research scientists develop solutions and models to address computing problems, with many working for the federal government. The median annual salary in 2020 was $126,830, about $36,000 higher than the median for all computer occupations, BLS reported.
Many employers require at least a master’s degree in computer science or a related field, like computer engineering, but some favor candidates with a doctoral degree.
Consumers and companies alike have recently have been struggling with supply chain issues. Industrial engineers — who aim to increase efficiency in workforce processes and eliminate waste of raw materials, money and time in production — are steeped in these challenges. Most work in manufacturing, in areas such as transportation, computer and electronic products and machinery.
Though the median annual wage of industrial engineers, $88,950, is slightly lower than the average among all engineers, BLS predicts that the number of jobs within this sector will rise 14% between 2020 and 2030.
Rather than pursuing industrial engineering as an undergraduate, many start in other disciplines, like electrical or mechanical engineering, experts say.
“Students take their technical base and they add to it this hot topic that’s needed in the industry,” says Ed Hensel, associate dean for research and graduate studies at RIT. “That cross-fertilization between undergrad in one field and grad in another field is becoming increasingly popular.”
Chemical engineers play a role in the current transition to renewable energy, which is leading to an uptick in jobs, experts say. The BLS projects employment will grow 9% by 2030, to 28,700 jobs.
Individuals in this discipline use concepts from chemistry, biology, math and physics to solve problems related to the production or use of products, like fuel, food and drugs. The median salary for chemical engineers was $108,540 in 2020, with the highest paid area being petroleum and coal products manufacturing, according to the BLS.
With a rise in commercial spaceflight — like the recent launch from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin — and a demand for more fuel efficient airplanes, there is a need for aerospace engineers.
Specializing in either aeronautical or astronautical engineering, aerospace engineers design and create prototypes for aircrafts, missiles, satellites and spacecrafts. A security clearance may be required for projects related to national defense.
The job growth rate is projected to be on par with other U.S. occupations, with 66,500 positions predicted by 2030. But the median 2020 salary, $118,610, is nearly three times the national median for all U.S. occupations, according to BLS data.
Petroleum engineers design methods for extracting oil and gas from reservoirs below the Earth’s surface or older wells. They work with specialists to learn about the geological formation of the rocks before designing and implementing the drilling plan.
The median annual pay for petroleum engineers — who travel often to drilling and well sites — was $137,330 in 2020, well above the median salary for all engineering disciplines, according to the BLS.
There were 28,500 petroleum engineering jobs in 2020, with more than one-third of those being in the oil and gas extraction industry. Over the next decade, the discipline is expected to experience average job growth, BLS data indicates.
“It’s a stable industry because the world is running on energy and we always need energy,” Nakhleh says. “The prices can go up or go down and that impacts hiring. But in general, it’s a segment that’s not going to go away anytime soon, even when we talk about about an energy transition” away from fossil fuels and petroleum.
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