How to Become an Electrical Engineer - Steps & Time Required (2023)

Have you ever switched on a light, used a smartphone, had your blood pressure taken, or driven somewhere using GPS navigation? If yes, you can thank an electrical engineer for creating and designing these modern-day conveniences. Electrical engineers are skilled professionals who work in fields related to electricity, electromagnetism, and electronics. They develop technologies upon which people depend every day.

On a larger scale, electrical engineers work with teams that create microprocessors to place in computers, design new satellites to expand worldwide telecommunications; or develop new flight-control systems to help pilots more effectively navigate aircraft. There is no single industry in which all electrical engineers are employed.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the largest employers of electrical engineers are spread out over several sectors, with engineering services (21 percent), electric power generation, transmission and distribution (10 percent), and navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing (7 percent) being the top three largest employers (BLS 2022). In these fields, electrical engineers devise solutions to enhance industries, such as renewable energy, or solve specific problems in microelectronics, such as making online banking easier and more efficient.

Many electrical engineers work in research positions to push the limits of what’s possible in motor, radar, power generation, and communication systems technologies.

Throughout history, electrical engineers have played an essential role in developing devices and technologies on which humans rely daily. Well-known electrical engineers include Thomas Edison, who shaped history by creating the first practical lightbulb, among other accomplishments. David Packard co-founded Hewlett-Packard, which provides hardware and software-related services worldwide. And Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American engineer, helped develop the modern-day AC electricity supply system.

Before embarking on an electrical engineering career, individuals should be fully prepared for what to expect along the way. Here’s a reference guide to learning how to become an electrical engineer and ultimately participate in expanding everyday technologies that provide convenience and save lives.

Skills & Characteristics of a Successful Electrical Engineer

No two successful electrical engineers are exactly alike. It is impossible to define an individual’s character attributes to succeed in this field. That being said, specific skills and abilities will likely prove beneficial to anyone working as an electrical engineer in the future. O*NET OnLine and the BLS list these skills among those most characteristic of electrical engineers:

  • Understanding of electronics: Perhaps a defining characteristic of budding electronic engineers is interest in and familiarity with circuit boards, processors, chips, and electronic equipment, as well as transmission, broadcasting, switching, and control.
  • Knowledge of science, technology, and engineering-related subjects: Of course, to succeed, an engineer must be well-versed in subjects related to electrical engineering, as well as science, technology, and various fields of math.
  • Knowledge of computers and design: Electrical engineers will often find themselves utilizing computer design programs in the modern era, so they should be comfortable with this technology and its application to their work.
  • Ability to solve complex problems: Engineers often identify problems, develop and evaluate options, and implement solutions.
  • Foresight concerning science: A skilled electrical engineer must be able to predict physical principles and laws and their applications and effects on their work processes.

In addition to developing specific skills, aspiring electrical engineers should also take high school courses that prepare them for further education in this field. Specifically, students should excel in physics and other sciences, math at all levels, and computing and computer programming. It may also prove extremely helpful to take courses on electricity and electrical components if available or seek out this coursework at a community college.

Becoming an Electrical Engineer – Role Requirements and Responsibilities

To pursue a career as an electrical engineer, an individual must first meet several criteria. Perhaps most importantly, an aspiring electrical engineer must complete a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university, specifically in the field of electrical engineering (with some exceptions noted below).

And while it is not entirely necessary to obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree from a program that the Accreditation Board has accredited for Engineering and Technology (ABET)—a subgroup of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)—doing so will help an engineer’s future employment prospects.

Indeed, a four-year degree from an ABET-accredited institution is one of the prerequisites for obtaining a Professional Engineer (PE) license, which allows the holder to perform a more comprehensive array of work that generally involves a greater scope of responsibilities.

It is important to note that an individual may find work as an electrical engineer in some circumstances even if he or she didn’t obtain a bachelor’s degree in that specific field. For example, an individual with a degree in civil or mechanical engineering who took courses in electrical engineering and shows exceptional skill in this area may be able to find work as an electrical engineer.

Furthermore, some students may obtain a bachelor’s degree in an entirely different field and then a master’s degree in electrical engineering; these individuals would all be eligible to find work in the field.

Licensing Requirements for Electrical Engineers

After earning a degree in electrical engineering, graduates can begin working immediately. After four years, engineers can pursue a Professional Engineer license through the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). Becoming a Professional Engineer, or PE, allows the holder to work on a broader array of vocations that demand greater responsibility.

There is a specific criterion an individual must meet before he or she can earn this licensure. According to the NSPE, the steps to earn a PE license are as follows:

  • An engineer must complete a four-year degree in engineering from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • An engineer must then pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam;
  • An engineer must complete four years of progressive engineering experience under a Professional Engineer; and
  • Finally, an engineer must pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam

Once an individual meets all of these four criteria, they will be eligible for a Professional Engineer license through NSPE.

Steps to Becoming an Electrical Engineer

The steps necessary to become an electrical engineer are similar across the board. Those interested in working in electrical engineering should consider following the steps to pursuing this career.

Step One: Graduate from High School (Four Years)

The first step in becoming an electrical engineer is obtaining a high school diploma; or a GED in the absence of a high school diploma. Because a high school diploma or a GED is a prerequisite for admission to virtually any college or university, this is a fundamental step in the process. High school students should take as many math and science courses as possible and drafting or other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes.

Dual enrollment programs may be available through local community colleges, which allow high school students to enroll and earn college credit before graduating from high school.

Step Two: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (Four to Five Years)

After graduating from high school or earning a GED, students should apply to and enroll in an electrical engineering program at a two-year or four-year university or college. Some two-year colleges have PREP (pre-engineering programs) designed to prepare students for four-year degree programs by emphasizing foundational STEM courses at more affordable tuition rates. Upon completing a PREP program at a community college, students consider enrolling in a four-year college or university engineering program accredited by ABET to be eligible for PE licensure.

Arizona State University

An example of a four-year degree program in electrical engineering is the online bachelor of science in engineering in electrical engineering at Arizona State University. ABET accredits this four-year program and offers students the option to earn a concentration in electrical power and energy systems.

The program is made up of 120 credits. Students in this program take courses in introduction to engineering; digital design fundamentals; signals and systems; computer organization and assembly language programming; circuits; random signal analysis; and laboratory design.

Students in this online degree will develop engineering knowledge and skills focusing on the design of electric power systems, signal processing algorithms, electronics, semiconductor devices, and antennas. They’ll be prepared for careers that pioneer new technologies in the energy sector, computing, robotics, and beyond.

This online electrical engineering program concludes with a design lab, during which students will work with their peers to create an original project. Graduates of the program will be prepared for positions such as aerospace engineers, computer hardware engineers, electrical engineers, electronics engineers, energy engineers, nuclear engineers, solar energy systems engineers, and wind energy engineers.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $714 per credit

Some colleges and universities offer a five-year undergraduate/graduate dual degree program, offering students the chance to earn a bachelor of science and a master of engineering in five years. This option allows students to earn two degrees in less time, leading to expanded future opportunities and saving time and money. Read on for details about dual degree programs in step four below.

Step Three: Get Professional Experience (Timeline Varies)

Students pursuing a degree in electrical engineering may wish to find volunteer or work experience in the field during college or university. While this is certainly not a requirement, it can help students understand what to expect in the future and ensure they are prepared for the demands of the occupation.

Many ABET-accredited undergraduate engineering program students include internship opportunities to give students hands-on experience before graduation or in the fourth year in the case of five-year dual degree programs.

Step Four: Enroll in a Master’s Degree Program in Engineering (One to Three Years)

Some common pathways to a master’s degree program in engineering are earning professional experience after a four-year undergraduate degree, enrolling in a five-year BS/MS dual-degree engineering program, or enrolling in a dual MBA/MSE program.

Bucknell University

An example of a five-year dual degree program is the bachelor of science and master of science in an engineering program at Bucknell University. This program is unique because it offers a full-tuition scholarship for students in their fifth year. Students can choose electrical engineering among other disciplines in their master’s level coursework. Students in this program earn an MS degree in one year upon completing their bachelor of science degree.

  • Location: Lewisburg, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; ABET
  • Expected Time to Completion: 60 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $64,418 per year

Arizona State University

As for dual master’s degree programs, Arizona State University (ASU) offers a dual MBA (master’s of business administration)/MSE in electrical engineering. The U.S. News & World Report (2021) ranks ASU’s MBA program among the top 10 in the nation and provides engineering students with the business acumen to lead research and development teams in various industries. ASU offers five unique tracks for electrical engineers in the MBA/MSE program:

  • Electric power and energy systems
  • Electromagnetics, antennas, and microwave circuits
  • Physical electronics and photonics
  • Electronic and mixed-signal circuit design
  • Signal processing and communications

Admissions for dual master’s degree programs are competitive. To be eligible for this program, applicants complete one application for both programs, answer three essay questions, and provide an up-to-date resume. Additional application materials include two letters of reference, official transcripts showing a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the last two years of study or 3.5 for graduates from engineering programs not accredited by ABET, and submit GMAT or GRE scores.

Preferred applicants have an ABET-accredited undergraduate degree and at least one or two years of professional work experience. Dual degree programs at the graduate level typically take three years to complete.

Comprising 56 credits, the program includes courses such as advanced silicon processing; artificial neural computation systems; digital systems and circuits; ethical issues for managers; fast computing electromagnetics; financial performance reporting; nuclear reactor theory and design; and operations and supply management, among others.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,022 per credit

Step Five: Earn Professional Engineer Licensure (Four or More Years)

After earning a degree from a four- or five-year program, an individual can begin working as an electrical engineer. After four years of working under a licensed PE and meeting other criteria, an individual can apply for a Professional Engineer license, which, as discussed above, can lead to expanded career opportunities.

For more information about online engineering programs, please see our guide to online electrical engineering degree programs.


How to Become an Electrical Engineer - Steps & Time Required? ›

Typically, electrical engineers earn bachelor's degrees before they enter the field, which can take up to four years to complete, depending on the program. Some programs can take as few as three years with the right time commitment.

How many years are needed for electrical engineering? ›

Typically, electrical engineers earn bachelor's degrees before they enter the field, which can take up to four years to complete, depending on the program. Some programs can take as few as three years with the right time commitment.

What is the first step to electrical engineering? ›

A bachelor's degree is your first major step toward an electrical engineering career, so your choice of college is paramount. Look for a school like North Central College that offers a comprehensive program, access to cutting edge technology, and hands-on experience.

How long does it take to master electrical engineering? ›

Master's in electrical engineering programs typically require 30-33 credits. Full-time students can graduate in one year, but most programs take two to three years to complete. Some schools offer joint bachelor's-master's programs that allow students to graduate with both degrees in five years.

Is electrical engineering school hard? ›

Electrical engineering is a wonderful field with lots of job options, but some people might be wondering how complicated or difficult it is. Electrical engineering is quite hard. It is thought to be the hardest form of engineering, mostly because it requires a lot of abstract thinking.

Which degree is best for electrical engineering? ›

To pursue an electrical engineering degree, aspiring engineers typically need a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or a related field such as electronics engineering. These programs encompass a blend of classroom instruction, laboratory work, and practical field studies.

Can you be an electrical engineer without a degree? ›

While most electrical engineers have a bachelor's degree, electrical engineering is one of the most accessible engineering fields to join without a college degree.

How easy is it to learn electrical engineering? ›

Although electrical engineering is one of the hardest subjects, its level of difficulty completely depends upon the aptitude of an individual. While electrical engineering might be dry and boring as compared to the other engineering majors, it is without a doubt the most important of them all.

How long do electrical engineers work a day? ›

Most electrical engineers work between eight to nine hours daily, five days a week. Those who put in extra hours to finish a project, complete a report, or fulfill other electrical engineering responsibilities might work more than eight hours a day for one, several, or all days of the five-day work week.

Is getting a masters worth it electrical engineering? ›

Break Into a New Field

A master's program in electrical engineering can offer you the opportunity to uncover new fields, interests, industries, and more, all while building up your credibility in that new area. Focus on the medical, consumer, and/or industrial spaces.

Is electrical engineering one of the hardest degrees? ›

Electrical engineering is a common engineering major for college students, but it is still ranked as one of the hardest. There are so many small systems to learn within electrical engineering so it can be difficult to see what you're physically doing.

Are electrical engineers in demand? ›

Job Outlook

Overall employment of electrical and electronics engineers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. About 22,700 openings for electrical and electronics engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

What skills are required to be an electrical engineer? ›

Skills and knowledge
  • knowledge of engineering science and technology.
  • maths knowledge.
  • knowledge of computer operating systems, hardware and software.
  • design skills and knowledge.
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail.
  • analytical thinking skills.
  • persistence and determination.
  • excellent verbal communication skills.

What is the difference between an electrician and an electrical engineer? ›

To be clear, electricians handle electrical issues and equipment failures. Meanwhile, electrical engineers help design and install large-scale electrical systems by applying engineering principles. Both electrical engineers and electricians enjoy excellent earning and growth prospects.

What is the best career after electrical engineering? ›

Here are some different career paths you can pursue as an electrical engineer:
  • Computer engineering.
  • Advanced automation and robotic systems. ...
  • Aerospace and space defense systems. ...
  • Automotive advanced driver assistance systems. ...
  • Communication. ...
  • Biomedical engineering.
  • Engineering management. ...
  • Consider work-study.
Jun 24, 2022

Is electrical engineering major worth it? ›

The value of a graduate-level engineering degree is especially great for computer and electrical engineers, where there is strong industry demand for well-trained professionals with knowledge of both traditional and emerging topics in the field.

Will electrical engineers be needed in the next 10 years? ›

Overall employment of electrical and electronics engineers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. About 17,800 openings for electrical and electronics engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Am I too old to become an electrical engineer? ›

Age by itself should not be prevent you from studying engineering. The challenge will be your science and math preparation and your ability to learn.

What is the average GPA for an electrical engineer? ›

The average GPA for EE is between 2.6 and 2.9 depending on the universities surveyed. You can find this information by googling "average GPA of an EE undergraduates". However with any statistical sampling, it depends on the universities used in the survey.


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