Online Engineering Degrees

Engineering is a broad multidisciplinary field dedicated to the design, development, construction, and evaluation of different structures and machines. To do their jobs effectively, engineers must have a background in math and science, and they should also have strong problem-solving and spatial skills.

Engineering students almost always major in a disciplinary subfield. Common majors include aerospace, civil, chemical, computer, electrical, industrial, mechanical, and petroleum engineering.

Engineering students graduate with a marketable degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, engineering positions are projected to grow throughout the next decade, and the median salary in the field is nearly twice as high as the average job. While growth rates and salary projections vary between engineering disciplines, a degree in the field prepares all graduates for a rewarding and engaging career.

As online education opportunities have expanded in recent years, more and more students are pursuing their engineering degree online. Our guide below strives to help prospective distance learners evaluate their online engineering degree options. Read on to learn more about the various online engineering opportunities available.

Meet our expert

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Tanya Higgins Engineering

“The flexibility was the biggest advantage for me … I didn’t have to spend additional time in the car driving to and from campus.”

Online Engineering Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $11,671 16.64% 2 years $41,700 $64,900 6.15%
Bachelor's $16,089 9.64% 4 years $63,900 $105,500 3.7%
Master's $17,152 6.62% 2+ years $72,900 $118,800 2.57%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Most engineering positions require students to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field. Students who graduate from a bachelor’s program may eventually earn their master’s degree or PhD. Graduate programs typically follow a specialized learning track, allowing students to concentrate their courses in a specific area of engineering, such as aerospace, biomedical, mechanical, computer hardware, or electrical engineering.

As the above data indicates, educational attainment correlates strongly with annual salary and unemployment rate. Students should carefully research their target field to determine which degree provides the best return-on-investment for them. Pursuing an engineering degree online can help students mitigate costs related to campus-based learning.

Choosing Your Engineering Career

Average Engineering Salaries

$108,430
$93,260
$86,950
$83,060
$105,380

Computer Hardware Engineer

Salary: $108,430
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
3% 77,700 Bachelor's None

Computer hardware engineers are the scientific minds behind the various circuits, wires, networks, and other components of modern-day computing devices and information systems. This innovative field develops and builds products used for commercial, industrial, or military purposes.

Electrical and Electronics Engineer

Salary: $93,260
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
0% 315,900 Bachelor's None

The broad field of electrical and electronics engineering focuses on electrical equipment and machine components. Professionals in the field design a range of products, including motors, communication systems and devices, navigation networks and manufacturing technologies, and software and other computer-aided products. Electronics engineers build and develop products containing electrical components, such as broadcast systems, communication devices, and GPS transmitters. According to the BLS, there were over 300,000 professionals in the field in 2014.

Biomedical Engineer

Salary: $86,950
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
23% 22,100 Bachelor's None

Biomedical engineering combines engineering with the principles of medicine and human health. Here, professionals develop and build tools, machines, and devices for the medical field. Projects may include anything from physician instruments and hospital equipment to artificial limbs and health-related computer simulations. Biomedical engineers may also design new drug therapies or treatment techniques. This innovative field is relatively small, although the BLS projects a growth rate of 23% over the next eight years; the aging baby boomer population ensures that demand for healthcare technology will remain high.

Mechanical Engineer

Salary: $83,060
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
5% 277,500 Bachelor's Must be licensed by state

Mechanical engineering students learn to design and manufacture mechanical objects and systems. They design, develop, build, and test products encompassing everything from a socket wrench to an elevator shaft. Some mechanical engineers work in research and development, while others specialize in manufacturing. Bachelor’s degree-holders are qualified for most entry-level positions in the field, although professionals who plan to offer public services must earn a license. Although standards vary nationwide, many states require licensure candidates to hold a degree from an ABET-accredited program, and to earn passing scores in both the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineering (PE) exams.

Aerospace Engineer

Salary: $105,380
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
-2% 72,500 Bachelor's Optional

Aerospace engineers are responsible for designing, producing, and testing aircrafts and spacecrafts, along with missiles and defense systems. They draft blueprints, create prototypes, and conduct tests to ensure products are safe and financially viable. Median salaries in the field are high, but it should be noted that there’s a predicted decline of 2% in employment opportunities in the next 10 years. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the average salary exceeded $100,000 in the top five aerospace industries in 2014.

Online Engineering Degree in Action

Tanya Higgins Engineering

Tanya Higgins is a graduate of UW-Madison’s online master of Engineering: Engineering Management program. She currently works for John Deere.

Why did you pursue your engineering degree online?

I was working full time, had two young daughters, and my husband worked full time. I wanted to continue my education, but couldn't imagine how I would schedule in time to go to campus every week and still work full time.

What were the biggest advantages for you as you studied online?

The flexibility was the biggest advantage for me. I had two options to attend class, one during the day and one in the evening, and I could switch between them week to week as needed. I didn't have to spend additional time in the car driving to and from campus. I could complete my classes and homework anywhere, whether I was traveling for work or with my family. The professors were incredibly responsive and were committed to the students' success.

What were the challenges or obstacles you faced as an online student?

One challenge was truly feeling like I was a part of UW-Madison -- at least until we went on campus for our residency. Once we went to the campus for the first time and could get our apparel at the bookstore, that was no longer an issue.

How did the online format help prepare you for your career?

Virtual teams are a reality in today's workforce and the frequency of that will only increase. The skills learned in navigating that landscape through the online program at UW are utilized every day at work and enable me to successfully lead virtual teams.

Online Engineering Degrees

Associate

Most engineers hold at least a bachelor's degree, though an associate program may still be useful, as they allow aspiring engineers to build foundational knowledge and skills in the discipline. Associate degree-holders typically qualify for technician roles in areas like mechanical, civil, industrial, and electrical engineering.

Sample Courses
Students pursuing brick-and-mortar or online engineering degrees will typically enroll in entry-level courses in Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and other STEM-related fields, as well as a required writing course. Many engineering degree online programs include lab components.
Common Majors
There are no traditional engineering majors at the associate level. In most cases, course credits earned in an associate program will be applied to their bachelor's transcript if the student chooses to pursue a four-year degree. Additionally, associate-level courses may be used to obtain an entry-level certification, such as the Associate Engineering Manager (AEM) certificate offered by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).
Potential Jobs
Aerospace Engineering and Operating Technicians, Civil Engineering Technicians, Electro-mechanical Technicians, Industrial Engineering Technicians, and Mechanical Engineering Technicians
Average Income
$63,780 for aerospace engineering and operating technicians, $48,340 for civil engineering technicians, $53,070 for electro-mechanical technicians, $53,370 for industrial engineering technicians, and $53,530 for mechanical engineering technicians
Employment Prospects
From 2014-2024, 4% increase for aerospace engineering and operating technicians, 5% increase for civil engineering technicians, 1% increase for electro-mechanical technicians, and 2% increase for mechanical engineering technicians

Bachelor’s

Most engineers can qualify for entry-level employment with a bachelor's degree. Collegiate engineering programs nationwide are certified by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET). Prospective students should check that their online engineering bachelor's degree program is fully accredited by ABET. Engineers who offer public services must obtain a license in all 50 states, and should review the next section for more information about licensure requirements.

Sample Courses
Engineering majors take the same prerequisite courses as associate degree students. They also take major-specific classes.
Common Majors
Computer (Software and Hardware) Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Civil Engineering
Potential Jobs
Agricultural Engineer, Civil Engineer, Environmental Engineer, Industrial Engineer, and Petroleum Engineer
Average Income
$71,730 for agricultural engineers, $82,050 for civil engineers, $83,860 for environmental engineers, $81,490 for industrial engineers, and $130,050 for petroleum engineers
Employment Prospects
From 2014-2024, 4% increase for agricultural engineers, 8% increase for civil engineers, 12% increase for environmental engineers, 1% for industrial engineers, and 10% increase for petroleum engineers

Master’s

A master's degree can help aspiring engineers further specialize in the field. A master's-level education also prepares students for managerial responsibilities; graduates from these programs often qualify for supervisory roles within the industry. An on-site internship is often required for both brick-and-mortar and online engineering degree programs at the master's level. Most schools also require students to pass a comprehensive exam to graduate.

Sample Courses
Master's degrees in engineering are highly specialized, and courses cover advanced concepts and applications related to the student's area of focus.
Common Majors
The fields of study for master's students are generally the same as for bachelor's programs. Master's students generally study a more granular component of the field they majored in as an undergraduate.
Potential Jobs
Chemical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Computer (Software and Hardware) Engineering
Average Income
$72,362 for hemical engineers, $71,909 for industrial engineers, $71,747 for electrical engineers, $71,600 for biomedical engineers, and $70,650 for computer engineers
Employment Prospects
From 2014-2024, 2% increase for chemical engineers, 1% increase for industrial engineers, 23% increase for biomedical engineers, and 3% increase for computer engineers

Doctorate

Very few entry-level engineering positions require a Ph.D. However, students should consider a doctoral program if they want to teach college students or if they want to conduct research.

Sample Courses
Course requirements in engineering programs at the doctoral level will vary by institution and specialization. Most require a dissertation or other capstone project.
Common Majors
There are no majors for doctoral programs
Potential Jobs
Postsecondary Education, Policy, Scientific Writing, Consulting, and Finance
Average Income
N/A
Employment Prospects
N/A

Professional Requirements

Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

The Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (FE) is typically required to earn licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE). The exam is intended for students who have recently graduated from an undergraduate engineering program or are set to complete one. The FE includes 110 multiple-choice questions.

Is it required?

Required for professional engineers who wish to provide public services

How long will it take?

Typically six hours to complete, including an eight-minute tutorial session and 25-minute break

The Principles of Practice of Engineering Exam

Unlike the FE (which tests general industry knowledge), the Principles of Practice of Engineering exam (PE) focuses on specific areas of engineering. The exam is designed for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and have completed at least four years of post-collegiate employment in the field. Exam-takers can choose from 25 different engineering specializations for their exam.

Is it required?

Required for professional engineers who wish to provide public services

How long will it take?

Eight hours, most exams are divided into morning and afternoon sessions

Product & Personnel Certifications

Some professional organizations offer certifications for engineers in certain specialized areas. Most of these are not required to obtain entry-level employment in engineering, although certifications can bolster a candidate’s hireability and provide job security in advanced positions. For example, ASME provides certification in a variety of fields, including nuclear material organization, nuclear quality assurance, and bioprocessing equipment. Duration for certification varies. For example, ASME certifications generally require a six-month commitment, beginning with application submission and ending with certificate issuance.

Is it required?

Required for select specialized positions; not required for state licensure

How long will it take?

Varies by organization and specialization

Maintaining Certification

Several states require professional engineers to renew their license with continuing education courses. PEs must renew their license annually in some states, while others mandate license renewal every two years. Additionally, many states allow engineers to transfer their licenses from other states. Engineers should contact their state’s licensing board to learn about specific requirements.

Is it required?

Licenses must be annually renewed to remain valid

How long will it take?

Varies dependent on whether or not continuing education courses are required