The field of engineering is full of opportunity. Qualified engineering professionals are in high demand, which means that a degree in engineering can lead to a wide range of career prospects as well as above-average salary potential. Engineering is a challenging field, and becoming a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) is a lengthy and rigorous process. However, the benefits are considerable, including great job stability, strong earnings, and numerous opportunities for advancement.
Engineering touches on every part of our lives—from the cars we drive and the appliances we purchase to the lifesaving technology in our hospitals and the infrastructure of our big cities—which means that engineering careers are varied and plentiful. Moreover, a growing number of accredited colleges and universities offer online engineering degree programs for remote students and working adults. This means there are more ways than ever before to get started on the path to an engineering career while still balancing your work and family commitments.
Whether you’re interested in becoming an engineering technician, a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) or even a tenured professor of engineering, the very first step is to earn a degree in engineering. To learn more about online engineering degrees at every level, check out:
- What Can I Do With an Online Associate’s Degree in Engineering?
- What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering?
- What Can I Do With an Online Master’s Degree in Engineering?
- What Can I Do With an Online Doctoral Degree in Engineering?
What Is the Career Outlook for Engineers?
An online engineering degree is a good investment, largely because the engineering field is booming with job opportunities, excellent pay, and a wide variety of career paths. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the architecture and engineering sectors are expected to add roughly 74,800 new jobs by 2029. Demand is expected to grow in areas such as infrastructural rebuilding, renewable energy, oil and gas extraction, robotics, and more. And with an annual median wage of $81,440 in 2019, working engineers earned well above the median annual wage for all occupations of $39,810.
It is worth noting that the earnings outlook can vary significantly based on your credentials and qualifications. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the 2019 median salary for Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians—a job which requires only an associate’s degree—was $66,020, whereas Aerospace Engineers earned a median salary of $116,500 during the same time. Aerospace engineers must have earned a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in engineering. A similar gap in pay can be observed between Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians, who earned a median salary of $65,260 in 2019, and Electrical and Electronics Engineers, who earned a median of $101,250. This pay differential demonstrates just how big a role your degree level can play in your career trajectory and earning potential
Your area of concentration can also shape your career outlook. Opportunities and salary may differ from one specialization to another based on factors like demand and the relative scarcity of other professionals with the same skill set. This means that though engineering professionals earn above-average pay in general, some areas of engineering may produce higher salaries than others. For instance, while mechanical engineers earned a median salary of $88,430 in 2019, computer hardware engineers earned $117,220 in the same year. Landscape Architects earned a median of $69,360 whereas Marine Engineers and Naval Architects brought in a median of $92,400.
This means that the specialization you choose could also be a determinant of how much you might be able to earn. A specialization in a high growth area could place you on track for strong long-term earnings. While you should choose your area of focus based on personal interest and skill sets, you will want to be aware of the salary differentials as you seek out your specialization.
What Types of Jobs Do Engineers Have?
Engineering jobs cover an extremely wide range of industries from computer science to automotive design; from telecommunications to shipping logistics; from healthcare to retail shopping. Engineers also work in a wide range of possible specializations, from electrical and mechanical engineering to biomedical and agricultural engineering. Some engineering students may choose to pursue entry-level, assistantship, technician, and drafting jobs within the field, all positions which do not require a license. Others may pursue licensing by first earning a bachelor’s degree, subsequently completing a period of on-the-job training, and finally, sitting for a licensing exam in order to become a Professional Engineer (PE). Those with advanced degrees may also have the opportunity to participate in research or teach at the post-secondary level.
Among the careers you could pursue with an online engineering degree, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) highlights the following, and lists their annual median pay as of 2019:
|Career||2019 Median Annual Pay|
|Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians||$66,020|
|Cartographers and Photogrammetrists||$65,470|
|Civil Engineering Technicians||$53,410|
|Computer Hardware Engineers||$117,220|
|Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians||$65,260|
|Electrical and Electronics Engineers||$101,250|
|Environmental Engineering Technicians||$50,620|
|Health and Safety Engineers||$91,410|
|Industrial Engineering Technicians||$56.550|
|Marine Engineers and Naval Architects||$92,400|
|Mechanical Engineering Technicians||$56,980|
|Mining and Geological Engineers||$91,160|
|Surveying and Mapping Technicians||$45,010|
If you’re interested in any of these career prospects, get started by looking at the very best online degrees in engineering!
What Do I Have To Do To Become a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE)?
A licensed Professional Engineer (PE) is an engineer who has recieved certification from the National Society of Professional Engineers, which is the chief professional association overseeing engineering administration, verification, and renewal of licensing. The majority of higher paying jobs listed above are accessible only to those who are licensed Professional Engineers (PE). The PE license is a critical threshold for performing several key duties in the field of engineering. Among them:
- Only licensed Professional Engineers are permitted to prepare, sign, seal and submit drawings and plans for approval by a public authority.
- Any engineer, whether leading in a consulting capacity or providing project leadership within a private entity, is legally required to hold a license.
- The majority of public opportunities at the federal, state and municipal level—due to their potential to impact large portions of the population—are typically only open to those who hold a PE license.
- Many states require that those who provide teaching or training in engineering be in possession of their state PE license.
- The PE license is a distinguishing credential in the field of engineering, one that separates drafters, technicians and engineering assistants from project managers, team leaders, and independent consultants. And as the professions listed above demonstrate, this is also the most direct path to improving your earning potential in the engineering field.
Earning your Professional Engineering license requires patience and hard work. Indeed, in most cases, earning your bachelor’s degree is only one step toward eligibility. Earning this license will enhance your qualifications,improve your eligibility for numerous professional opportunities, and raise the esteem in which you are held by others in your industry. But in order to reach this important status, you will need to navigate a path that includes education, professional experience, and examination.
According to the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), in order to become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE), you must:
- Complete a four-year college degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET);
- Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam;
- Work under a Professional Engineer for at least four years;
- Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam; and
- Earn a license from your state’s licensure board.
The NSPE notes that you must also take steps to renew and retain your license throughout your career through continual maintenance and improvement of your skills.
For more on earning your PE license including information, resources and links for both your FE and PE exams, take a look at our Guide to PE Licensing.
How Do I Get Started on a Career in Engineering?
The first step toward a career in engineering is to enroll in a college that is accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency, and to pursue a degree within this college through an engineering program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Earning an online associate degree in engineering can put you on track to become an engineering assistant or technician. You’ll gain foundational knowledge in the principles of engineering and you’ll complete basic courses such as physics, differential equations, and electrical circuitry. These skills can be put to use immediately in the workplace, though you would likely not be eligible for licensing as a PE in your state without completing your undergraduate studies at a four-year college.
If you do start with an associate’s degree but you ultimately plan to become a PE, be sure that your two-year school is regionally accredited and that your degree program is ABET accredited. This is critical if you plan to transfer into a bachelor’s degree completion program because non-accredited credits and degrees are unlikely to be recognized. That said, the right associate degree program could provide an affordable and accessible path to immediate paying work, as well as a head start on your way to a bachelor’s degree.
To get started, check out The Best Online Associate Degrees in Engineering.
You can also get started on your path toward a career in engineering by jumping right into a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Again, be sure that your college and program are fully accredited. Rules on PE licensing vary from state to state, but in most cases you are required to have earned a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited program before you can begin the professional process of earning your license.
To begin earning your undergraduate degree, check out The Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Engineering.