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Many colleges and universities offer computer engineering master's degrees, which typically take two years to complete. Students can earn these degrees to pursue practical, sustainable technology careers. The hands-on nature of the field helps computer engineering stand out from its close relative, computer science, which emphasizes theoretical knowledge.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer hardware engineers earned a median salary of $117,220 as of 2019. However, computer engineering jobs attract competition, which makes earning a master's degree increasingly necessary for learners who want to pursue specialized, lucrative positions.
This guide offers a comprehensive look at degree requirements, selection criteria, and career opportunities for engineers in the field. Explore your study options with our list of the 10 best computer engineering master's programs.
What Is Computer Engineering?
With origins dating back to the 1940s, computer engineering is a relatively young technology field. The first electronic digital computer — the Atanasoff-Berry Computer — took several years to build, relying on a combination of electrical engineering, physics, and mathematics.
After just a few decades of development, computer engineering has become a vital industry for businesses and consumers. More than 71,000 Americans worked as computer hardware engineers as of May 2019, according to the BLS. Thousands of other computer engineering professionals find employment in specialization areas, including software, electronics, robotics, and quality assurance.
Computer engineering tends to attract problem-solvers with a passion for computer hardware, software, and applications. They possess diverse interests in computer design, robotics, aerospace, and electronics.
Due to slower-than-average growth, competition for some technology sector jobs has become increasingly fierce. While a bachelor's degree satisfies minimum education requirements for many opportunities in computer programming and engineering, a master's degree increases a candidate's likelihood of success during the hiring process.
Computer engineering master's graduates play an important role in shaping the capabilities of business technology, consumer electronics, and scientific research — today and in the years to come.
Why Get a Computer Engineering Master's Degree?
Prospective students commonly wonder, "Is a master's in computer engineering worth it?" For the right candidate, a graduate degree can deliver a worthwhile investment.
Compared to other popular post-baccalaureate options, like coding bootcamps, a computer engineering master's offers a more extensive knowledge base and skill set that graduates can apply to their career searches. Computer engineering programs combine coursework in programming, electrical engineering, advanced mathematics, and physics.
Top benefits of a computer engineering master's include:
- Diverse Career Opportunities
- A master's in computer engineering program enables you to compete for opportunities in large computer design firms to work with microprocessors, robotics, mobile devices, and academic research.
- Earning Potential
- Many qualified candidates hope to land lucrative computer engineering jobs. With a master's degree, you can better compete for these positions. The top 10% of computer hardware engineers earn a median income of more than $185,000 each year.
- Network Growth
- A strong professional network can provide job growth, professional development, and unexpected career opportunities. While completing a master's in computer engineering, you receive the invaluable opportunity to network with classmates, professors, and peers working in the field.
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What To Expect From Master's in Computer Engineering Programs
A computer engineering master's degree requires approximately 30 credits of graduate-level coursework. Full-time students typically graduate in two years. Part-time learners usually take longer to earn their degrees, though total completion time varies depending on the number of courses they take each semester.
Computer engineering master's degrees build on undergraduate knowledge, advance practical skills, and increase job opportunities. Coursework explores advanced computer architecture, computer networks, and electrical circuits.
Some computer engineering master's programs offer specialization options in areas like networks or software engineering. When dedicated concentrations are not available, students choose electives according to their personal and professional interests.
The total cost of a master's in computer engineering depends on the school's location and public vs. private status, among other factors. Public universities typically charge less per credit than private institutions, but private universities do not charge higher tuition rates for out-of-state learners. In general, students can expect to pay anywhere from $400 per credit (such as at the University of Florida) to $2,000 per credit (as charged by the University of Southern California).
Computer engineering master's programs generally share similar admission criteria. In many cases, applicants must hold bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering, computer engineering, or other related STEM fields.
Additionally, some universities require that an applicant's bachelor's degree carries accreditation from ABET.
Each candidate's transcripts should demonstrate a minimum 3.0-3.5 GPA, depending on the school. Many computer engineering master's programs require GRE scores, though prospective students can seek out schools without this requirement.
Programs also commonly require letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement. Prepare to pay a nonrefundable processing fee when you apply. Deadlines vary, with some schools admitting just once a year and others accepting new learners on a rolling basis.
A graduate student seeking a computer engineering degree typically pursues a master of science (MS) or a master of engineering (MEng). Both programs provide similar learning outcomes, with a few key differences.
The MS is structured as a standalone computer engineering degree. Schools generally feature an MEng as an engineering degree with computer engineering as a focus area.
The MEng is a terminal professional degree, ideal for students who want to apply their education to specific careers. Depending on the school, an MS may emphasize research for students interested in Ph.D. degrees or practical learning settings, ideal for students interested in industry careers.
Depending on the school, an MS may require a thesis or offer a non-thesis track. MEng degrees rarely require thesis projects, but these students may need to complete internships before graduation.
Comparing Computer Engineering and General Computer Science Degrees
Computer engineering and computer science are closely related disciplines with several key similarities and differences. Both fields cover advanced topics in computer design and function. However, computer engineering degrees generally focus on practical components, while computer science degrees focus on theoretical knowledge.
Students interested in the electrical, mathematical, and physical elements of computer systems may want to pursue computer engineering degrees. Individuals who prefer programming, abstract concepts, and software development often pursue computer science.
Key differences and similarities include:
|Master's in Computer Engineering||Master's in Computer Science|
|Program Length||Two years, when studying full time||Two years, when studying full time|
|Program Goals||Prepares students for careers in hardware engineering, software engineering, and quality assurance||Prepares students for careers in software development, database administration, and scientific research|
|Specializations||Concentrations not always offered; some options include software and data engineering, networks, and embedded systems||Concentrations commonly offered; popular options include networking, cybersecurity, machine learning, and data science|
|Admission Requirements||Commonly requires a bachelor's in computer engineering with a 3.0-3.5 minimum GPA||Commonly requires a bachelor's in a relevant STEM field with a 2.0-3.0 minimum GPA|
Popular Computer Engineering Courses
Compared to undergraduate programs, master's degrees offer increased flexibility and customization options.
Computer engineering master's students typically take core courses covering concepts in computer architecture and networks. The rest of their curriculum explores their professional interests, with opportunities to study digital communication, data security, and power electronics.
Common subjects in a computer engineering master's program include:
How Much Will a Master's in Computer Engineering Cost?
Like all higher education in the U.S., attending graduate school requires a significant financial investment. Prospective graduate students need to budget for textbooks, supplies, fees, and tuition.
Public universities generally charge around $500 per credit for in-state students and approximately $7,000-$900 per credit for out-of-state students. Private universities may charge up to $2,000 per course credit, but out-of-state learners do not pay any additional costs to attend. Depending on the school you attend, you can expect your computer engineering master's to cost between $15,000 and $56,000 in tuition.
Students can use financial aid to reduce their out-of-pocket expenses. To help fund your master's program, first look at securing "free" aid through grants, scholarships, and graduate assistantships, which do not require financial repayment. Low-interest loans provide another popular avenue to pay for your degree.
Jobs for Master's in Computer Engineering Graduates
Graduates can pursue computer engineering master's jobs in multiple fields, such as programming, video game design, electrical engineering, or scientific research.
Though several of the following occupations require only a bachelor's for entry-level employment, a computer engineer master's degree enhances hiring potential, enables specialized work, and often results in higher wages.
Computer programmers earned a median annual salary of $86,550 as of 2019, while the more complex duties of electrical, software, and hardware engineers brought home median salaries of at least $100,000. With proven experience and know-how, computer engineering professionals can pursue careers in research and information science.
Computer programmers write and test the code that controls software functions. Programmers must know several computer languages to write new code, update existing code, and fix errors. A computer engineering degree provides necessary programming skills and additional knowledge useful in software creation.
Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise electrical equipment manufacturing. These professionals perform detailed calculations, complete design tasks, and ensure that projects meet product specifications. A master's in computer engineering provides the transferable skills needed to excel in the development of non-computer electronics, such as GPS devices and communications systems.
Software engineers work in the design and development stages of software creation, helping to turn designer's ideas into program functions. Common responsibilities include analyzing user needs, collaborating with programmers and design teams, and plotting out tasks using diagrams and models. Software engineers may specialize in operating systems, video games, and applications, among other fields.
Computer Hardware Engineer
Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test physical components of computer systems. Common tasks include creating schematics, updating equipment to work with current software, and overseeing manufacturing. These engineers work on devices with embedded computer chips, including mobile phones, medical devices, vehicles, and household appliances.
Computer and Information Research Scientist
Computer and information research scientists develop theories and design new approaches to computing to solve new and existing problems. These professionals work on field-specific problems in business, science, and medicine. This complex career requires both hands-on and abstract tasks to explore issues and invent solutions.
Choosing the Right Computer Engineering Graduate Program
You can begin your program search with our ranked list, but incoming students should make sure to research each prospective school. Critical elements to consider include:
- Make sure your prospective university maintains regional or national accreditation from an agency approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. For an additional layer of quality assurance, look for computer engineering programs accredited by ABET.
- Campus Location
- Location can play an important role in your graduate school experience. If you plan to attend an on-campus program, consider the costs and requirements associated with relocating or commuting. Prospective online students should determine if they want or need to complete any in-person components.
- Cost/Financial Aid
- Graduate school requires a significant financial investment, but you do not need to break the bank to earn a master's degree. Consider whether you want to attend a public or private institution, and evaluate different financial aid options to estimate and compare total out-of-pocket costs.
- Earning Potential
- Many graduate schools post information and data on alumni accomplishments. Before committing to an institution, determine where recent graduates work and, if available, how much they earn.
Should You Get Your Degree Online?
According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, online higher education continues to increase in popularity. More than 35% of all postbaccalaureate college students enrolled in at least one distance education course in fall 2018. Thirty percent studied exclusively online.
Universities now design their online computer engineering master's programs with student flexibility in mind. Common program features include full-time or part-time enrollment, hybrid or fully online options, and thesis or non-thesis tracks. Learners can customize their experiences to fit their schedules, interests, and career goals.
While an online computer engineering master's offers many benefits, remote learning is not for everyone. Before you decide to tackle an online program, take time to consider your at-home learning environment, your comfort level with digital communication, and if you possess the discipline needed to attend class and complete assignments with little oversight.
Top 5 Master's in Computer Engineering Programs
Finding the ideal master's in computer engineering can be a challenging process. To assist, we have narrowed down your search to the top 15 master's in computer engineering programs. Each ranked school boasts regional or national accreditation.
According to ABET,accreditation is a designationthat assures graduates that their college or university program is on par with industry-specific standards. All of the schools on our list hold accreditation from at least one of the following agencies:
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC)
Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
Peruse the list below to help simplify your decision-making.
Frequently Asked Questions About Computer Engineering Degrees
Which degree is best for computer engineering?
A computer engineering master's offers a combined education in computer science and electrical engineering. Graduates possess the knowledge and skills needed to build and program microprocessors, integrated circuits, and other physical systems.
Is a master's in computer engineering worth it?
Yes. The best computer engineering master's programs can help you stand out in an increasingly competitive field. According to the BLS, computer hardware engineers earned a median salary of $117,220 as of 2019.
What can you do with a master's in computer engineering?
A master's in computer engineering provides a diverse skill set in programming, electrical engineering, and mathematics. After graduation, you can find jobs engineering hardware, software, firmware, and other computer system components.
Is computer engineering a good career?
Yes, but it is also demanding. Like all engineering fields, computer engineering pays well but comes with stiff competition, especially for entry-level jobs. Computer engineers can chase their passion by choosing from dozens of specialized career paths.
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