An engineering bachelor’s degree seems like the perfect credential. After just four to five years of study, you are equipped to obtain some of the highest-paying and most rewarding entry-level positions on the job market. Engineering careers tend to be long and satisfying, and that’s without the addition of an advanced degree.
So, why would any engineer consider returning to school? What are the benefits of advanced engineering degrees, if you can be certain of good salaries and fulfilling work without them?
Advanced Degrees Advance Careers
Just as an MBA will rocket a business professional from an entry-level position into management, a master’s in engineering helps lower-level engineers gain access to more advanced positions with higher pay and more desirable responsibilities.
Though engineers of all levels enjoy enviable salaries and benefits as well as fulfilling work, the higher you move up the engineering career ladder, the better your work conditions can get. Engineering managers don’t contribute directly to individual engineering projects; rather, they interface with clients and higher levels of management, develop budgets and timelines and supervise lower-level engineers. For this, managers typically earn at least 10 percent more than the grunts, which can amount to several millions of dollars over a lifetime of work.
Plus, even if you currently enjoy your engineering work, it is unlikely you will enjoy performing the same duties for your entire career. Eventually, you will crave a challenge — or at least greater autonomy in your work. Earning an advanced degree like a master’s or Ph.D. will give you the tools to move up the career ladder and find positions that provide the working conditions you crave.
Advanced Degrees Enhance Networks
Many young or aspiring engineers harbor misconceptions that engineers need nothing more or less than hard skill to find paying, rewarding work. You might be disappointed to learn that engineering careers, like every other career field, are highly influenced by your professional network.
Though your credentials and personality might get you your first job, you will likely find that moving any direction in engineering is difficult without an influential connection. Your network can alert you to new job openings, encourage your personal and professional growth, point you toward career resources and otherwise guide you onwards and upwards in your career. However, though you might have hard skills in spades, you might lack the soft skills that make it easy to cultivate a valuable network.
Advanced engineering degree programs almost guarantee you a broad professional network. Like you, other engineering students in master’s and Ph.D. programs are ambitious and eager to connect with potential movers-and-shakers. Additionally, you will become a member of your school’s vast alumni network, and you will have access to the knowledge and contacts of your professors and guest speakers. By the time you earn your advanced degree, you will have a wide-reaching network sure to help you improve your engineering career.
Differences Between Advanced Degrees
Before you throw yourself at any advanced engineering program, over-enthusiastic to earn the above benefits, it is important that you choose the right program for you. There are two broad paths in graduate engineering study: master’s programs and Ph.D. programs. While both alter the course of your career, they do so in different ways. Here’s how to know which degree you need to achieve the engineering career of your dreams:
Master’s degrees prepare students for careers in industry. This means you should pursue a master’s in engineering if you are less interested in research and more concerned with acquiring higher-level positions at corporations.
Often, master’s degrees offer greater specialization into a certain field of engineering. The most popular master’s engineering programs target engineering management, but you can also obtain an advanced degree in data engineering, systems engineering, environmental engineering and other relatively niche fields. With this specialized training, you can qualify for jobs in relatively small, competitive markets.
Some engineers aren’t eager to solve problems or build products for clients; some engineers want to research solutions to larger-scale problems, making more of an impact on the world. If you got into engineering to try new things, you should pursue a Ph.D.
Ph.D. programs prepare students to work in research or government laboratories, where they experiment with brand-new substances, technologies, techniques and more. However, Ph.D. programs span several years, and employment opportunities for engineers with doctorates are fewer than other types of engineers. You must be certain that Ph.D. engineering work is your passion before you seek this degree.