What Can I Do with a Degree in Electrical Engineering?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in electrical engineering. Find information on electrical engineering careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in electrical engineering.

Overview

The growth and development of high tech products has required the talents of individuals with a degree in electrical or electronic engineers. In its most basic terms, this is the engineering field that concerns itself with electricity. Electrical engineering first became a discipline in the late 19th century, as the telegraph and commercial electricity were invented. In many places, there is a distinction between electrical engineering, which deals with electricity on a large scale, such as power grids, and electronic engineering, studying electricity on the small scale, such as in computers and microprocessors. However, modern technology encompasses both the small and the large in using electricity to transmit both power and information, so that in the United States today, both fields are part of the same discipline.

Electrical engineers, like other engineering disciplines, require extensive university training. Many engineering bachelor’s degrees take up to five years for completion, along with course work in mathematics, computers, and physical science. Frequently, modern electrical engineers utilize computers for designing and testing their projects. Electrical engineers create the systems that power the aerospace industry. Electronics engineers developed many of today’s portable technologies, such as GPS devices and mp3 players. Most of these devices, especially televisions, require power electronic conversion systems (AC/DC converters), developed by electrical engineers.

Careers

In 2008, there were about 301,000 electrical and electronics engineers in the United States. Frequently, these individuals worked for corporations that make electronics, communications or medical equipment. Wired telecommunications and semiconductor manufacturing were among the two top industries employing electrical and electronics engineers. The wireless telecommunication industry is a growing segment of employment for engineers.

Employment at various government levels comprised about 12 percent of engineering careers in 2008. At the federal level, electrical engineers can be found at the Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Aerospace guidance, instrument controls and propulsion control systems for rockets are one of the fastest growing career areas available for electrical engineers. Modern electrical engineers are also able to combine their scientific knowledge with business and management responsibilities. The increasing complexity of modern scientific disciplines, such as engineering, will require precise technical knowledge along with the skills required to operate a business and its personnel.

Salary

Although salary will vary according to geographic location, expertise and industry, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 the annual average wage for electronics engineers was $88,670. This ranged from a low of $55,330 for the bottom ten percent to a high of over $129,000 for the top ten percent. Engineers with only a Bachelor’s degree earned, on average, $59,000, while those individuals with a Master’s degree earned more on average, or $87,300. The highest salaries for electrical engineers were found in scientific research companies and specialized design services, averaging well over $100,000 per year. Engineers working for the federal government fared well, with an average salary of $102,000. Wireless telecommunication carriers paid their electrical engineers an average mean wage of $88,960 per year, while the communication equipment manufacturing industry saw annual average wages of $94,070. By location, electrical engineers were paid the highest in New Jersey, earning an annual mean wage of $109,740. This was followed by California ($102,910), Texas ($88,790), Illinois ($83,750) and Florida ($83,750).

Job Outlook

According to the United States Government, demand for electrical engineers will remain at a lower than average level of just 6 percent in the coming decade. Demand for electronics engineers will be an even bleaker picture, with the field experiencing little or no job growth. The highest demand for qualified engineers will be in the wireless systems industry, along with increased demand among companies manufacturing power generation devices. International competition in the field of electrical engineering will limit the available number of job openings for American electrical engineers. Engineering firms that provide both engineering expertise as well as design services to manufacturers will have the best prospects for job growth. There will be continued demand for electronic goods on a global scale, but much of the design and manufacture of these goods will be outside of the United States. Engineering service providers will be best positioned for continued sources of employment.

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