How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master's in Engineering?

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The short answer is: it depends!

Most master’s degree programs require approximately 12 to 24 months to complete, and some dual-degree engineering master’s programs require up to 36 months.

In 2022, the U.S. News & World Report showed that full-time students in online engineering programs earn their degrees in two to four years. Some students in accelerated programs graduated in as few as 18 months. The completion time required to earn a master’s degree in engineering depends on several factors: the type of engineering specialization, part-time or full-time enrollment, accelerated or traditional timelines, on-campus or online course delivery formats, and single or dual-degree programs.

For those who enjoy solving problems while putting their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills to use, an engineering career is a sound investment of time and resources. Data from Payscale.com (2022) shows that the mid-career salary of petroleum engineering is the highest, with an average annual salary of $145,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) paints a similar picture with different numbers and predicts that engineering occupations will grow by six percent between 2020 and 2030. These occupational growth statistics translate into the creation of 146,000 new jobs.

While most entry-level engineering positions require a bachelor’s degree, pursuing a master’s degree in engineering makes practical and financial sense. Engineering professionals wanting to specialize in a specific area can immerse themselves in a research-based or professional performance-based master’s degree program that can bolster their qualifications. In addition, engineers getting started in their careers can take on more subject-specific projects in leadership as their careers grow.

Read on to learn more about engineering master’s degrees, part-time and full-time options, accelerated and traditional timelines, dual-degree combinations, on-campus and online degree programs, specialization areas, and engineering program accreditation.

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Types of Engineering Master’s Degrees

While there are several master’s degrees in engineering, most of them can be sorted into two distinct categories: practice-based or research-based degrees.

Master’s of Engineering (MEng) degrees are practice-based and include a practical independent project as part of the degree completion requirements. These degree programs typically can be completed in one year or less. Students in these programs do not typically pursue doctorate studies in engineering and instead work in management positions related to engineering or as team leads for engineering projects.

Master’s of Science (MS) degrees are research-based and typically require a research thesis as part of the terminal degree requirements. In addition, students in these programs can pursue doctoral studies and often need 18 to 24 months to complete their master’s degree.

Other master’s degrees in engineering include:

  • Master of Aerospace Engineering (MSAE)
  • Master of Civil Engineering (MSCE)
  • Master of Chemical Engineering (MChE)
  • Master of Engineering Management (MEM)
  • Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MSECE)
  • Master of Software Engineering (MSwE)

Part-Time v. Full-Time Enrollment

These days more and more on-campus and online degree programs are offering part-time and full-time enrollment options to meet the diverse needs of today’s students. Part-time enrollment options allow students flexible scheduling to complete their degrees while maintaining employment in their current professions.

Part-time enrollment reflects the number of courses a student chooses to take in a semester, typically fewer courses than the typical time-to-completion timeline suggests for full-time enrolled students. Colleges and universities may include a completion deadline for part-time students and require that they complete their degree within a certain number of years.

Full-time enrollment indicates that a student is taking classes at the time-to-completion rate suggested by the academic department. Most master’s degree programs take approximately one to two years to complete full-time enrollment.

Here’s an example of part-time and full-time enrollment: if an engineering program reports its time-to-completion as 24 months and requires 32 credits to complete the degree, students have two timeline options. With the full-time option, graduate students would take eight credits per semester and finish their degree in four semesters or 24 months. With the part-time option, graduate students taking less than eight credits per semester would complete their degree when all 32 credits are earned. Some programs have completion deadlines that dictate the maximum number of years students have to complete their degrees.

Accelerated v. Traditional Programs

Accelerated master’s degree programs are fast-tracked degrees that allow students to pursue degree studies in 12 to 18 months or half of the time typically required in a traditional two- or three-year master’s degree program. Students who want to save time and money without sacrificing academic rigor are ideal applicants for accelerated degree programs.

Accelerated program course formats are both on-campus and online and typically require coursework to be completed during summer semesters and sometimes nights and weekends. In addition, the intensive nature of accelerated degree programs usually requires students to be enrolled full-time.

Dual-Degree Programs

Offering students the chance to apply credits earned toward two separate academic programs, dual degree programs allow students to complete two degrees in closely related disciplines. Dual degree programs typically extend the average time-to-completion of graduate studies by one year or more.

Dual degree programs include the combination of an undergraduate and a graduate degree or two graduate degrees. For example, combining an engineering degree with another related degree, such as an MBA, allows students to apply credits earned from one course towards two degrees.

Full-time undergraduate students in dual degree programs earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in five years rather than six years. Dual degree graduate students can earn two degrees in three years rather than four years. For students who want to save time and money, dual degrees allow “double-dipping” by earning course credit that counts towards two degrees rather than just one.

An example of a bachelor’s and master’s dual-degree program is the “PlusOne” accelerated Master’s in Engineering Management at Northeastern University. Students enrolled in this dual degree program can earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. In addition, a master’s of science in energy systems program is also available and can be completed through the PlusOne program in five years.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Five years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Tuition: $541 per credit

An example of a dual master’s degree program in engineering is the Purdue University College of Engineering which offers engineering graduate students the option of earning a dual Master of Science in Engineering (MS/MSE) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) through Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Students in this online dual degree program earn valuable skills that prepare them for engineering management careers.

In addition, students in this program save approximately $100,000 in tuition and take 80 credits fewer than they would in a non-dual degree program.

  • Location: West Lafayette, IN
  • Duration: Five years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)
  • Tuition: $1,139 per credit (resident); $1,430 per credit (non-resident)

Dual degrees in engineering and business administration give students a competitive edge in searching for jobs with combined technical and business leadership skills.

Other typical dual-degree combinations in engineering include:

  • Bachelor of Engineering (BE/BEng) and Master of Engineering (ME/MEng)
  • Master in Engineering or Systems Engineering Management (MEM/MSEM) and MBA
  • Master of Science (MS) and MBA

On-Campus and Online Degree Programs

In recent years, educational institutions have followed economic trends and started offering online degrees in addition to on-campus degrees. Data from U.S. News and World Report shows that in today’s world where we are shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, online delivery of education shined brightest in 2020 and beyond. As many campuses closed down, colleges were made to shift their courses to remote delivery and were made to finish out their semester online.

Education experts believe that this sudden shift will further accelerate the growth of distance learning and will show its true potential. Due to this forced trial, experts say colleges will now look forward to delivering more online offerings and developing new degree programs.

If current trends hold, more students are opting to earn their degrees online to remain in their current jobs and avoid relocating themselves and their families. Online degree programs expand educational access for students who are unable or unwilling to disrupt their earning potential while completing their degree. A list of online engineering degrees can be found on this site’s online engineering degree programs page.

U.S. News & World Report shows the following trends to watch in online education:

  • Colleges will be adding new online programs.
  • Learning online will be increasingly data-driven.
  • Virtual reality will make it possible to offer hands-on programs online.
  • Better technological advances and course design will diminish the digital divide.
  • Badges, micro-credentials, and certificates will continue to grow.
  • Virtual programming and student spaces will expand.
  • Stackable online credentials are likely to become more popular.
  • Massive open online courses (MOOC) are on the rise.
  • Students will be making online learning their first choice.
  • More online learning options will require students to do their due diligence.

For students who live near a college or university, who can relocate, or who can attend classes in person, on-campus degree programs in engineering are also available from various educational institutions.

Engineering Specializations

The number of specializations available to prospective engineering students is vast and often combines with other related fields in science and technology. Below is a list of some specialization fields available to students bound for engineering graduate programs, which can affect program duration.

  • Aeronautical Engineering
  • Biotechnology Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Science Engineering
  • Design and Innovation Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Energy and Sustainability Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Lean Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Nanotechnology Engineering
  • Nuclear Engineering
  • Product Design and Development Engineering
  • Robotics Engineering
  • Systems Engineering

Conclusion: How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master’s Degree in Engineering?

With all the information provided above, it is clear that a substantial amount of time commitment is required to earn a master’s in engineering. Programs mostly require a minimum of 30 credits and approximately two years of study (full-time).

Depending on the delivery structure and specialization, some programs may take three years, while others might take just one year to complete. In certain cases, part-time students may be given up to six years to finish their degree.

Several shorter programs usually focus on a specific concentration or might expect their students to apply for transfer credits toward their degree requirements. This tends to cut down the program duration even more.

Others might offer asynchronous courses which are presented in self-paced or accelerated formats. Students preferring a more structured experience might be interested in pursuing cohort-based programs, as these programs offer great faculty support but are generally longer in duration. As you go on to explore your course delivery methods and program options, it is essentially crucial to consider your career goals, personal preferences, and learning style.

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