Overview of Online Engineering Degrees
Keeping the world's water supply safe, improving the country's transportation system, and inventing prosthetic devices for people all have something in common: They require the work of an engineer. Whether students are interested in constructing buildings, creating computer systems, or protecting the public, there are online engineering programs available for every career path.
The graduation requirements set by online schools for bachelor's degrees in engineering are similar to those of most other bachelor's degrees. The majority of programs require undergraduates to complete 120-126 credit hours, which typically takes four years of full-time attendance. Online engineering courses often require students to complete projects to gain hands-on experience in their chosen specialty. Many programs lead to a Bachelor of Applied Science, but there are also degrees called Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts in Engineering.
Online Engineering Majors
Engineering is a broad term that describes a method of analyzing and solving problems, more than any specific task or responsibility. The process and techniques used in engineering can be applied to a number of fields, giving prospective students a wide range of engineering majors to choose from. In fact, it's not unusual for a college of engineering to offer eight or more types of online engineering degrees across many areas of specialization, such as petroleum engineering, environmental engineering, nuclear engineering, and agricultural engineering. The most popular engineering specialties that may be of interest include:
These engineers use their knowledge of physics and mechanical and electrical engineering to design and build planes, satellites, space shuttles, and other airborne crafts. Some engineering schools offer master's degrees in aerospace for a more advanced look into this discipline.
Chemistry continues to be important in many of the industrial and consumer products available today, from food to electronics and clothing. Chemical engineers often develop new products or processes in the manufacturing industry, overseeing production in large facilities. Before entering the workforce, students can explore master's programs in chemical engineering.
Whether through a bachelor's or master's program in civil engineering, degrees in this field teach students to design and supervise the construction of large-scale projects, from roads and sewer systems to bridges, airports, and all other manner of civil projects on a large scale. Professional civil engineers are trained to know the technical aspects of the industry in order to calculate the cost and structural stability of the projects they are tasked with designing.
Computer engineering combines hardware, software, manufacturing, and design practices into one comprehensive field. The best computer engineering colleges focus on developing critical thinking skills while teaching advanced math, electronic circuitry, instrumentation, and signal courses. Master's programs in computer engineering allow students advanced learning in computer engineering through a variety of technical concentrations.
Electrical engineers work in a variety of industries, designing and building electrical devices. Subfields of electrical engineering include microelectronics, telecommunications, and signal processing. Master's programs in electrical engineering include concentrations in telecommunications, microelectronic devices, and embedded systems, among others.
Engineering management blends technical engineering skills with business practices and people management. Obtaining a bachelor's or master's degree in this field will set students up to oversee large engineering projects including budget oversight, onboarding staff and completion timelines. Classes may include finance, law, economics, systems engineering and supply chain management.
Industrial engineering is the branch of engineering that determines the most effective ways to use all of the major facets of production, such as the machinery, materials, personnel, and energy. Industrial engineers conduct research on product specifications and industrial methods to figure out how to increase productivity, decrease waste, and utilize time, energy, and money effectively. Many of those who hold master's degrees in industrial engineering move into management positions within their field.
Mechanical engineers design, build, and repair engines and other machines. Heaters, refrigerators, air conditioners, internal combustion engines, generators, and turbines are just some of the systems these engineers construct and troubleshoot. Master's degrees in mechanical engineering explore more advanced mechanics relating to thermodynamics, aerospace, or robotics.
Software engineers develop and test software for computers that will meet the needs of the user. They may explore careers in governmental agencies, businesses, or nonprofit organizations. Advancing your software engineer degree through a master's program in software engineering allows students to deepen their knowledge of agile methods, application programming, and interface design.
Systems engineers develop and oversee complex procedures to organize different angles of a project for maximum efficiency. Their work relates to other engineering disciplines, as parts of these systems may include hardware, software, electrical components, and structural elements. An engineer with a master's degree in systems engineering may go on to explore an advanced career in civil engineering, software development, or cybernetics.
Online Engineering Courses
All engineering programs require a healthy sense of curiosity alongside analytical skills in mathematics and science. At the bachelor's level, most engineering classes online will include STEM coursework in calculus, physics, and computer science. Regardless of the major, students must have a thorough understanding of these core subjects.
There are many concentrations for aspiring engineers to choose from, including software engineering, civil engineering, aerospace engineering, and mechanical engineering. Each engineering major contains a unique curriculum outside of the core coursework.
Common Core Courses in Engineering
Applied Mechanics: Dynamics
Dynamics looks at the way objects move and interact with one another, including systems of particles and rigid bodies, as they relate to physics. This is one of the first few engineering courses students may encounter in their given major.
Principles of Programming
Principles of Programming explores problem-solving through a computer's languages and algorithms. Students will learn to design, code, and implement programs. Many engineering degrees will require a fundamental understanding of programming functionality.
Statics is a common first-year engineering course designed to teach students complex problem-solving by quantifying the force between objects. This coursework will look at motion and shape to help students understand how objects function.
Another first-year engineering course often includes Engineering Foundations. This course covers the basic literacy and history of the field of engineering, including the most important innovations and inventions.
Careers in Engineering
Engineers can be found in a diverse array of industries, from healthcare to construction to information technology and beyond. Many lucrative engineering careers require only an undergraduate degree, although most graduates must also obtain professional licenses to practice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows promising salary and job outlook projections for various fields of engineering, including the following:
Annual Median Salary: $122,270
Job Growth Rate: 8%
In addition to developing new technologies for use in aviation and spacecraft, aerospace engineers design and build airplanes, satellites, spacecraft, and missiles. Their work incorporates knowledge of physics, materials, computer science, and IT.
Annual Median Salary: $95,270
Job Growth Rate: 5-10%
Computer systems engineers design, develop, and maintain the administration systems, networks, and applications that run complex computer systems. These professionals work alongside developers to deal with both hardware and software.
Annual Median Salary: $110,140
Job Growth Rate: 22%
Software engineers work alongside developers and analysts to create the overarching systems that computer software functions within. By designing and implementing the processes for software systems, they ensure all tasks and functions work together as a functioning whole.
Annual Median Salary: $95,300
Job Growth Rate: 7%
Mechanical engineers often find themselves in the energy, research, and development or manufacturing industries where they oversee mechanical equipment. They may develop operating procedures, interpret blueprints, or monitor manufacturing systems.
Annual Median Salary: $95,300
Job Growth Rate: 14%
Large-scale industrial equipment requires the design skills and implementation knowledge of an experienced industrial engineer. They create the systems that operate production facilities while keeping in mind the safety and efficiency of all workers, processes, and equipment.
Annual Median Salary: $101,780
Job Growth Rate: 7%
The job of an electrical engineer is to supervise electrical systems in manufacturing, commercial, military, or telecommunications. They install, construct, and even maintain these systems to meet compliance requirements — all the while documenting their processes.
Annual Median Salary: $128,170
Job Growth Rate: 2%
Computer hardware engineers come in before software engineers to set up the equipment needed to operate complex computer systems. They often work in research facilities where computer technologies are developed and tested. Although the salary is substantial, it's important to note that the job outlook is much lower than the average across occupations in the US.
Annual Median Salary: $88,050
Job Growth Rate: 8%
The construction and installation of roads, railroads, bridges, pipelines, dams and power plants all fall under the purview of civil engineers. They're job is crucial to ensure compliance with safety, governmental and environmental regulations.
Annual Median Salary: $105,550
Job Growth Rate: 9%
Chemical engineers use physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and engineering principles to develop manufacturing processes for a wide range of natural and synthetic products. They troubleshoot performance issues, tackle safety concerns, and ensure the efficiency of equipment.
Annual Median Salary: $152,350
Job Growth Rate: 4%
Engineering managers work for engineering companies to develop and oversee projects. They may prepare bids, calculate budgets, coordinate activities, and negotiate with clients to create project expectations. Their work is needed in research facilities, architectural companies, and industrial plants.
For students planning to enroll in an online engineering program, it's important to focus on schools with accreditation. To be accredited, a college or university must be assessed by an independent agency approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the US Department of Education. By taking an accredited online engineering degree, you ensure that all of the school's programs, learning outcomes, student services, and faculty members meet high standards for academic rigor and excellence.
By taking an accredited online engineering degree, you ensure that all of the school's programs, learning outcomes, student services, and faculty members meet high standards for academic rigor and excellence.
Individual programs within a college or university can also be accredited by other approved agencies. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the accrediting body for technical degree programs in the US, such as bachelor's degrees in engineering, computer science, and other applied sciences. All ABET accredited online engineering programs are vetted using the same standards as on-site programs. To find accredited online programs in engineering, students can visit the ABET, CHEA, or USDE websites.
Attending an ABET-accredited school can have a significant impact on a student's education, career options, and ability to practice as an engineer. For undergraduates, it is a requirement to qualify for financial aid, transfer credits to another educational institution, and be accepted into most engineering master's programs. Also, to earn the professional engineer license, most states require applicants to have at least an ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree. The federal government and many other employers only hire engineers who have degrees from ABET-accredited institutions. Above all, enrollment in an accredited program assures students they're earning a respected, credible degree.
The products engineers design may affect hundreds or thousands of people, so it’s important for professional engineers to be vetted for competence. Certification is one way that the government, private citizens, and employers can be sure of an engineer’s abilities. It’s also a way for engineers to demonstrate the quality of their skills for employers and make themselves more appealing as job candidates.
To legally practice in the engineering field, many types of engineers must earn their state’s engineering license, known as the Professional Engineer credential. Although individual states' licensing requirements vary, the prerequisites for earning this credential are rigorous.
In addition to graduating with an ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree in engineering, candidates must also have at least four years of professional engineering experience and a passing score on the two-part credentialing exam.
Besides Professional Engineer credentials, there are other voluntary engineering certifications that engineers can earn to distinguish themselves in their field. These are usually offered by trade organizations, professional groups, or universities. Before pursuing any specialty credential, engineers should confirm that the certification is widely recognized by employers and professional organizations, such as the Council of Engineering & Scientific Specialty Boards, to avoid wasting time and money.
Financial Aid for Online Engineering Students
Whether they are earning on-campus or online degrees, students who are enrolled in accredited, online engineering programs may be eligible for financial aid. Of the various types of aid available, government, school, and private scholarships or grants are preferred because students do not have to repay them. Some students may also receive assistance through military tuition discounts or work-study opportunities. There are also government and private student loans available, but these have to be repaid with interest so the loan terms should be considered carefully. Federal and state student loans typically have more flexible repayment terms and lower interest rates.
Students can begin the process of applying for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA provides reviewers with detailed financial information used to evaluate each student's eligibility for aid and to determine the amount and types of aid they will be offered. Students should contact their school's financial aid officers with any questions before accepting offers.
Online engineering students may also be eligible for private scholarships created specifically for engineering majors or more generally for STEM majors. A number of scholarships are also available for students specializing in particular subfields of engineering, often sponsored by professional organizations. The following scholarships, which require separate applications from the FAFSA, are just a few examples of the many private scholarships available:
Eleanor K. Buckley Memorial Scholarship: The National Association of Women in Construction awards $500-$2,500 to students enrolled in civil engineering, or other construction-related programs, who have a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Out to Innovate Scholarships for LGBTQ+ STEM Students: The National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals provides one $5,000 scholarship to an LGBTQ+ STEM undergraduate and one $5,000 scholarship to an LGBTQ+ STEM graduate student each fall. Recipients must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Is an Online Engineering Degree Worth It?
Earning a bachelor's degree is generally an essential first step for any career in engineering. Most engineers must be licensed to practice as professionals, and a bachelor's degree is one of the requirements to obtain a license. However, before committing to a program, and particularly to an online engineering program, students may want to weigh some of the additional pros and cons:
Engineers usually earn impressive salaries. Many engineering jobs require only a bachelor's degree to enter the field, and professionals typically work their way up to salaries in the high $90,000s and above.
Advanced engineering degrees often lead to even higher salaries. Graduates who go on to earn online master's degrees qualify for more advanced, higher-paying positions.
Online engineering programs offer several significant benefits. Not only can online students choose from a wider selection of schools and programs without having to leave home, they may pay lower tuition fees and enjoy having the flexibility to schedule classes and schoolwork around other life commitments.
Establishing a network can be challenging in online school. Networking is a valuable part of attending college, and some students find it difficult to build their networks in the distance learning environment. They may have to devote more effort to developing relationships with faculty and peers through digital discussion forums and other online avenues.
Scoring a lucrative engineering position remains a highly competitive endeavor. With average to lower-than-average job growth rates in many engineering industries, as indicated in the career descriptions above, it may be a risky field to enter through 2030.
Some engineering fields have workers who report extremely low job satisfaction. For example, according to CareerExplorer surveys, civil engineers are in the bottom 18% in terms of job satisfaction across all careers, while geotechnical engineers are in even worse shape in the bottom 6%. Of course, other niche professionals rate their job as extremely satisfying, from biochemical to computer hardware engineers. It just depends on your area of expertise.
Students also need to consider the advantages and disadvantages to earning an online engineering degree in terms of their own personal circumstances, such as financial responsibilities, family obligations, and work schedules. Prospective engineering students must decide for themselves whether the benefits they hope to gain are worth the time, effort, and money that go into earning a degree.