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What is an electrical engineering degree?
Students of electrical engineering learn how to use physics, electronics, and electromagnetism to design devices that are powered by or produce electricity. Most degree programs in the field start with foundational classes in calculus, physics, and chemistry and then focus on:
- Understanding Basic Electrical Theory
- What is Electricity?
- Understanding Current – the two types of electric current: direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC)
- Series and Parallel Circuits – series circuits are connected in-line with the power source; parallel circuits branch off from the power supply
- The Fundamental Laws of Electricity – Ohm’s Law, Kirchoff’s Voltage Law KVL, Kirchoff’s Current Law (KCL)
A common first year of electrical engineering studies includes the theoretical and practical aspects of:
- Circuit Analysis
- Electronic Design
- Digital Design
Because of the wide spectrum of industries that employ electrical engineers, specialization in a subfield is quite common. These specializations include:
- Power – design of large-scale power systems for residential, commercial, or industrial use
- Systems / Control / Instrumentation – design, development, installation, maintenance of equipment used to control engineering systems
- Electronics – focuses on the electromagnetic circuits that make machines run; and the design and testing of electronic components
- Signal Processing – focuses on analyzing and altering digital signals to make them more accurate
- Telecommunications – information theory, wireless networking, noise suppression, compression, and security
- Computers – software/hardware integration
Associate Degree in Electrical Engineering
In the field of electrical engineering, an associate degree is not considered a ‘terminal’ degree. This two-year program is widely regarded as a stepping stone to a four-year bachelor’s program. While it may open some doors to very junior level jobs, the associate credential is often pursued by students who are trying to decide if electrical engineering is the right fit for them. Typical coursework includes:
- College Mathematics
- Computer Structure and Logic
- AC-DC Electronics
- Introduction to Networking between Computers, Installed Software, and Other Hardware
Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering
At this level, students learn how to design and analyze electrical systems and can choose a specialization. Classes are in electrical theory and hands-on practice with circuitry, mechanics, computer programming, and thermodynamics:
- Probability Theory – how to calculate probabilities and analyze potential variables when making engineering decisions
- Physics – how to recognize universal physical laws and apply mathematical and computational techniques to engineering problems
- Electromagnetic Fields – how electromagnetic devices work; how transmission lines carry alternate current
- Microprocessor Systems – how microprocessors work; how they are used and programmed
Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering
Master’s degree programs expand on the subjects covered at the bachelor’s level. At this level, students focus on their specialization. Upon graduation, they generally qualify for management positions. A master’s curriculum in electrical engineering may cover:
- Power Systems – how to calculate power flow throughout an electrical system; how to install and maintain power control equipment
- Semiconductors – how semiconducting materials are used in circuitry
- Electro-Optics – how to design optical circuit problems; how to design optical amplifiers, oscillators, detectors, and control circuits
- Linear Control Systems – how to assess performance of linear systems; how to design controllers for linear systems
Doctoral Degree in Electrical Engineering
At this level of electrical engineering education, students continue to focus on their specialization and complete a research dissertation. Doctors of Electrical Engineering typically work in research, at the top levels of industry, or as university educators.
Degrees similar to electrical engineering
This field is dedicated to the design and development of aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles. Degree programs include the study of aerodynamics, orbits, launch, flight controls, and engines.
Students of applied physics focus on learning how to use physics to solve practical problems. Whereas mechanical engineering is concerned with design, applied physics is concerned with using physics to solve an engineering problem. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the bridge between physics and engineering.
Simply stated, biomedical engineering uses engineering to solve health and medical problems. For example, a biomedical engineer might look for chemical signals in the body that warn of a particular disease or condition.
Computer Hardware Engineering
Computer hardware engineering students study mathematics, physics and computer science and apply knowledge in these areas to figure out how computers work and to analyze, design, and develop computer hardware.
Computer Software Engineering
Majors in this field study the scientific and mathematical basis of computer software. They learn programming languages and how to design and maintain software.
Students of mechanical engineering learn how to research, design, develop, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, sensors, engines, and machines.
As its name implies, this field uses engineering principles to create and test robots to be used in various sectors. Coursework in the degree program covers robotics and robot design, testing, and repair.
Skills you'll learn
Designing, developing, and testing electrical devices and equipment is complex work. It is not surprising, therefore, that students who study the field gain a diverse transferrable skill set:
The work of an electrical engineer requires the capacity to think logically and analytically
Evolving technology in the field means that electrical engineers ‘learn how to learn’ and keep up with the latest information in their field
Electrical engineering projects are rarely one-person jobs; they call for an ability to interact with others
Managing time, planning, and prioritizing are essential for the busy electrical engineer
The field of electrical engineering can present complex challenges and problems
Thinking out of the box and coming up with innovative approaches to projects is key
Mathematics and Physics
These are fundamental skills in the field of electrical engineering
What can you do with an electrical engineering degree?
In the aerospace industry, electrical engineers are involved in designing the interface that transfers electricity from the engine to the aircraft. They also design board computers, guidance systems, communications systems and networks, radar and ground stations, and satellites.
Automotive electrical engineers design and test the instruments, components, and systems of a car that involve electric power. These include the engine, anti-lock brakes, navigation systems, air bags, electric locks, and electric windows.
Electronics / Manufacturing
In this sector, electrical engineers design and test components (transistors, resistors, and capacitors) and devices that use electricity as part of their source of power. These devices could include things like computers, cell phones, and refrigerators.
Marine electrical engineers are involved in the design, operations, and maintenance of ship engines. Their responsibilities in this field include measuring electrical power generation and distribution.
Electrical engineering contributes to the medical field by designing the electrical circuits and software used in medical devices such as the echocardiogram, the pacemaker, and prosthetics.
Oil and Gas
In the oil and gas sector, electrical engineers design and maintain the electrical systems of refineries so that they meet safety and performance standards.
Power / Energy
In this field, electrical engineers test and implement the elements of an electrical plant: switchgear, transformers, motors, cables, generators.