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.
Survey results published by the U.S. News & World Report (2021) show that 55.4 percent of students completed a two-year master’s degree program in engineering within three years. The 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. While most entry-level engineering positions require a bachelor’s degree (BLS 2020), pursuing a master’s degree in an engineering field makes practical and financial sense.
Engineering professionals wanting to specialize in a specific area have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a research-based or professional performance-based master’s degree program which can bolster their qualifications and enable them to take on more subject-specific projects in leadership as their careers grow.
Read on to learn more about the types of master’s degrees, part- 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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While there are several types of master’s degrees in engineering, most of them can be sorted into two distinct categories: practice-based or research-based degrees.
Master of engineering (MEng) degrees are practice-based and include an empirical independent project as part of the degree 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 go on to work in management positions related to engineering or as team leads for engineering projects.
Master of science (MS) degrees, by contrast, are research-based and typically call for a research thesis as part of the terminal degree requirements. Students in these programs have the option of pursuing doctoral studies and often require 18 to 24 months to complete their master’s degree.
Other master’s degrees in engineering include:
These days, more and more on-campus and online degree programs are offering part- 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 is reflective of the number of courses a student chooses to take in a semester, obviously fewer than that of full-time students. Colleges and universities may require that part-time students complete their degrees 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 in full-time formats.
An example of part-time and full-time enrollment would be as follows: if a master’s in engineering program reports its time-to-completion is 24 months and requires 32 credits to complete, students have two options for completing their degree. Full-time graduate students would take eight credits per semester and be able to finish their degree in four semesters or 24 months. Part-time graduate students taking less than eight credits per semester would complete their degree when all 32 credits are earned or before the completion deadline (typically eight years or less).
Accelerated master’s programs are fast-tracked to allow students to complete their studies in 12 to 18 months—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.
Traditional program course formats are both on-campus and online and typically require coursework to be completed during summer semesters and, on occasion, nights and weekends. The intensive nature of traditional degree programs usually requires full-time enrollment.
Accelerated degree programs continue throughout the year, mostly with no breaks between academic years or even semesters. Bachelor’s degree programs can be earned in 12 to 18 months, while a master’s degree can be earned in 1 to 3 years. A master’s degree may be combined with a bachelor’s degree to earn two degrees in less time compared to traditional degree programs.
Offering students the chance to apply credits earned toward two separate academic programs, dual-degree programs allow students to complete two degrees simultaneously. Dual-degree programs typically extend the average time-to-completion of graduate studies by one year or more, although it may be shorter than the two degrees separately.
Dual-degree programs include the combination of an undergraduate and a graduate degree or two graduate degrees. Combining an engineering degree with a 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 benefit from being able to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in five years, rather than six, and dual-degree graduate students can earn two degrees in three years as opposed to four. 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 program at Northeastern University. Students enrolled in this dual degree program have the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in eight different professional schools on campus, including the College of Engineering, and graduate with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in as few as five years.
An example of a dual master’s degree program in engineering is the Wharton School of Business, which offers graduate students enrolled in the systems engineering degree program at the University of Pennsylvania the option of earning a second master’s degree in business administration (MBA). Students in these programs have the option of finishing a dual degree program in four or five semesters.
Dual degrees in engineering and business administration give students a competitive edge in searching for jobs with their combined technical and business leadership skills.
Other typical dual-degree combinations in engineering include:
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. 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 that colleges will now be looking forward to delivering more online offerings and will also be 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 in 2021 show the following trends to watch in online education:
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 a variety of educational institutions.
The number of specializations available to prospective engineering students is vast and often combines well with other related fields in science and technology. Below is a list of some of the specializations available to students bound for graduate engineering programs.
Please note that some specializations may take longer than others to complete.
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 some might take just one year to be completed. In certain cases, part-time students may be given up to six years for finishing their degree.
Several shorter programs usually focus on a very specific concentration or might also expect their students to apply for transfer credits towards 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.
Upon completion of a dual MBA and engineering degree program, students will hold master’s degrees in two of the most coveted fields. They may be eligible to take up leadership roles such as vice president of engineering, chief technical officer, and chief operating officer.
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