The 17 Best Master’s Degrees for Engineers

The 17 Best Master’s Degrees for Engineers
Engineers make the world go around, driving the advancement of technologies and infrastructure that pervade our everyday lives. Image from Pexels
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Craig Hoffman May 28, 2021

Many engineering management and leadership positions require a master's degree. Which is the right one for you? We summarize 17 of the most popular fields in engineering graduate education.

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Engineers make the world go around. They drive the advancement of technologies and infrastructure that pervade our everyday lives. The cars we drive, the buildings where we work, and the computers we use to stay connected are all products of engineering excellence. It’s an exciting and rewarding career for those who seek solutions through science, creativity, and problem-solving.

Because of their skills and experience—coupled with the impact they have on driving society forward—engineers are well paid and sought after for top positions at private companies large and small. They also work for nonprofits and governmental agencies. Anywhere there’s a need to design and implement machines and structures, you’ll find committed engineers looking to make a difference.

So, how do you become an engineer? Our childhood experiences as we play with toys and build treehouses in the backyard provide some early training. We may build bicycles or fix lawnmowers as we get older. In high school, vocational coursework introduces entry-level engineering concepts. Undergraduate education offers advanced theory and practice in basic engineering.

Ultimately, you’ll probably need a master’s degree to advance in your chosen engineering field. That choice depends on many factors. Your skill sets and recent experience contribute, and adding your own passions to the mix can steer you in new directions. Interested in computers? There are several computer-related master’s degrees to choose from. Do you love digging in the dirt? Geological engineering may be for you.

We’ve identified 17 engineering master’s degrees as potential landing spots for your talents. Each has a story to tell about how and why they’re right for you. Read on for more insight into advancing your engineering career with a master’s program. In our survey of these degrees, we’ll discuss:

  • Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) vs. Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • The 17 best master’s degrees for engineers
  • Which master’s degree in engineering is right for me?

Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) vs. Master of Engineering (MEng)

Before looking at individual engineering master’s degrees, it’s helpful to understand the difference between a Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) and a Master of Engineering (MEng). Both offer advanced engineering education and many of the same courses, but their approach and students’ ultimate career aspirations are different.

Master of Science in Engineering (MSE)

Masters of Science is often referred to as an MS in Engineering or an MSE. It’s considered chiefly an advanced research degree with a terminal thesis or a research project and can lead to a Ph.D. career track or other academic pursuits. Can you continue your engineering career outside academia with an MSE? Most employers don’t differentiate between the two, but higher-paying management jobs may lean towards the more technical specialties found with an MEng rather than the research-oriented MSE.

Master of Engineering (MEng)

Masters of Engineering (MEng) is a graduate degree that focuses more on the practical applications of engineering as it’s used in the real world. Engineers looking for advanced training in professional employment will want to pursue an MEng. These degrees are more skills-focused, as evidenced by the practical independent non-thesis project that concludes most MEng programs. Programs can take a year or more to complete, depending on the pace of classwork. MEng graduates don’t typically go on to Ph.D. studies; instead, they join (or continue in) the professional workforce. Many engineers pursuing their MEng seek management positions or increased earning potential.



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The 17 best master’s degrees for engineers


The sky is literally the limit with an engineering degree in aeronautics, aerospace, or astronautics. What’s the difference? Aeronautics deals with flight in Earth’s atmosphere, while astronautics takes engineering into outer space. The term aerospace combines the two into one discipline. According to Purdue University, “Aeronautical and astronautical engineers apply their understanding of basic physical phenomena to design and operate aircraft, missiles, and space vehicles.”

Is a master’s degree required to succeed in aerospace engineering? The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that entry-level positions are available to those who hold only a bachelor’s degree. The BLS lists the median annual income for the profession at a hefty $118,610. However, it’s worth noting that aerospace engineers with a master’s degree earn an average annual income of $134,600 to $143,000, according to Higher-paid management and leadership roles within the industry are competitive, so advanced degrees may separate you from the pack.

Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Agricultural and biological engineers work in the natural world. They use engineering methods to study, explore, and improve environmental resources, including food, water, and air. It’s an exciting and vibrant career path with critical importance in providing safe living conditions for our planet.

You may find yourself working at corporations, think tanks, or governmental agencies tasked with devising both natural and mechanical processes to improve “power supplies, the efficiency of machinery, the use of structures and facilities, pollution and environmental issues, and the storage and processing of agricultural products,” according to the BLS.

Master’s degrees in agricultural and biological engineering are found at major research universities throughout the U.S. Most entry-level jobs in the industry require a bachelor’s degree. Pursuing a master’s in this field can advance your career to the management level or lead to research opportunities.

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering combines biology and engineering, as its name indicates. Most often associated with medicine and healthcare, biomedical engineers work to “combine engineering principles with sciences to design and create [medical] equipment, devices, computer systems, and software,” according to the BLS.

It’s a feel-good career choice for those that have a benevolentt spirit. Biomedical engineers work in diverse workplaces, including medical equipment manufacturers, research labs, and hospitals. Positions within the biomedical engineering field include specializations in computer systems, genetics, biochemical engineering, and rehabilitation. Practical applications are found everywhere in artificial limbs, medical equipment, and biomedical waste.

Is a master’s helpful in bioengineering careers? There’s a lot to learn with the merger of medicine and engineering for this career. You may gain greater responsibilities with an advanced degree. Research and teaching opportunities or those looking towards medical science careers often need a master’s.

Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering is one of the most popular disciplines on this list. Like their biomedical cousins, chemical engineers combine chemistry and engineering to design solutions for energy, food, drugs, and even clothing and paper. They’re often concerned with environmental concerns and/or the manufacture of new and improved products.

Chemical engineers work at chemical plants, obviously. However, they also work in laboratories at manufacturing facilities, governmental research centers, and energy companies. According to the BLS, they’re among the most highly paid engineering disciplines, earning a median income of $108,54.

Do you need a master’s in chemical engineering? According to a 2016 White House report, American universities mint about 1,700 chemical engineering master’s degrees each year. According to the BLS, there are about 32,000 chemical engineering jobs in the US. You may crunch the numbers differently, but to us, that looks like many, if not most, of the good jobs in the field could go to people who hold master’s degrees.

Civil Engineering

Were you captivated by the television program Mighty Machines as a child? You may be a natural-born civil engineer. Civil engineering is one of the most popular engineering fields, with jobs located everywhere from small, local engineering firms to gigantic international concerns, with many in between.

According to the BLS, “Civil engineers design and build infrastructure projects and systems in the public and private sector.” They work in planning, design, construction, research, and education of numerous systems, including:

  • Airports
  • Bridges
  • Buildings
  • Dams
  • Roads
  • Tunnels
  • Water supply and sewage treatment

This role is highly involved in architecture, construction, and systems design at the local, regional, and national levels. There are many regulations and red tape with civil engineering, as structural and environmental concerns create a lot of paperwork.

What about a master’s in civil engineering? According to the American Society for Engineering (ASEE), civil engineering is a popular destination for master’s recipients. Those looking at engineering management roles may want to consider an advanced civil engineering degree to separate themselves from the competition.

Computer Engineering

There are several computer and technology-related specialties within the engineering field. Computer engineering straddles computer science and electrical engineering; more on those below. It’s devoted to the actual computers and systems and the integration of the two. You’ll deal with the design and manufacture of hardware, including circuits, motherboards, and servers.

Computer engineers work in various industries, including technology-related manufacturing, transportation, IT services, and telecommunications. It’s one of the highest-paid engineering fields, with a median annual income of $119,560 as of May 2020, according to the BLS.

Computer engineering is a growing field with competitive positioning for lucrative jobs, including those with management-level responsibilities. Those looking to advance their career or become involved with research may want to consider a master’s in computer engineering degree.

Computer Science

The second half of computer-related engineering subsets is computer science engineering. Although they’re often called computer scientists rather than engineers, they’re the experts at making computers work efficiently. Computer scientists work with programs to process data through complex algorithms looking for commonalities and differences in decision-making.

Computer science finds its way into most industries, especially manufacturing and financial services, where predictive outcomes are needed to forecast market trends and revenues. But data science is now moving into other fields like robotics and retail services, where artificial intelligence and machine learning represent critical computer science applications. It’s a wide-ranging field with outstanding prospects for growth and upward career movement.

Master’s degrees in computer science provide advanced theory in computer languages, software development, advanced algorithms, and cybersecurity. Those looking to improve job performance and move up the ranks while continuing to work may want to consider an online master’s in computer science.

Cyber-physical Systems

Cyber-physical systems (CPS) engineering is a relatively new field that aims to use the Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial internet (II) to design and create interconnected devices and systems in manufacturing and computer technology. These systems are internet-driven, merging networks to critical infrastructures, home utilities and appliances, robots, autonomous vehicles, environmental sensor networks, traffic control, and even smart toys.

Although the field borrows from mechanical, civil, electronic, and computer engineering, CPS engineers are coming into their own. You’ll find burgeoning CPS departments in transportation, health, energy, and agriculture organizations. If you want to be on the cutting-edge of technology and engineering, this may be the career path for you.

A growing number of educational opportunities are directly tied to CPS at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Many in the field come from other engineering disciplines as undergraduates and rely on graduate programs in CPS to augment their skillset.

Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering is the second-most popular engineering master’s, surpassed only by school of engineering-conferred computer science degrees. Anything plugged into an outlet needs to be designed and manufactured; electrical engineers are tasked to make them efficient and safe. You’ll find them in various industries, including construction, manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy.

Note that there is a subset within electrical engineering called “electronics engineering.” It’s typically explicitly focused on the design, optimization, and management of electronic devices, whereas electrical engineering also encompasses power systems, signal processing, and communications.

Electrical engineering is one of the highest-paying engineering disciplines, yielding a median income of $100,830, according to the BLS. Advancement into management and higher-paying roles at larger corporations is competitive. A graduate degree is always noteworthy on an engineer’s resume.

Environmental Engineering

If you’re passionate about our ecosystem and finding solutions for polluted waterways and overfilled landfills, this is the field for you. It begins with engineering principles and adds sciences, including biology and chemistry, to engineer new systems for waste disposal and management of erosion and water and air pollution.

With increased awareness of environmental concerns centered around climate change and contaminated landscapes, governmental agencies are leading the charge of employing environmental engineers. Energy companies involved with the extraction of oil and natural gas also seek environmental engineers. Clean energy resources like solar and wind are also growing, along with their need for more environmental engineers.

What about a master’s degree? If you’re looking for advancement into management roles or perhaps research and teaching, an advanced degree in environmental science is prudent.

Geological and Mining Engineering

Geological and mining engineering is a niche field with a powerful impact on extracting metals, oil, and coal from the ground efficiently and safely. According to the BLS, only a few schools offer master’s degrees in mining engineering or geological engineering programs. Sometimes related degrees like civil or environmental engineering may be acceptable to start entry-level employment. Master’s degrees usually concentrate on a specific area such as petroleum or a particular field such as geomechanics.

Materials Science

Another of the smaller engineering fields, materials engineering is, according to the BLS, “the study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances in order to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.” Examples of materials science include computer semiconductors, carbon fiber reinforced plastics, ion batteries, and nanotechnology.

While it’s not a requirement to practice and is primarily targeted for engineers looking to work in research, teaching, and development roles, higher education can significantly boost one’s resume for any materials engineer. Some schools offer dual bachelor’s and master’s (or master’s and doctoral) degree programs.

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering is one of the most popular specializations. Mechanical engineers work with anything mechanical, including our cell phones, cars, refrigerators, computers, or just about anything else that makes noise or uses electricity. It’s one of the popular engineering choices for a reason. Mechanical engineering skills are highly portable.

You’ll find mechanical engineers in many workplaces, including construction, manufacturing, transportation, and defense. But do you need a master’s in mechanical engineering? Some employers encourage their engineers to pursue post-baccalaureate education in advanced systems and technologies, especially with the rapid rise in computers and analytical systems.

Network Engineering

Network engineers work mostly in IT, designing and operating computer network systems, both hardwired and in the cloud. Network engineers use their talents to connect computers and computer networks to the grid and make them run smoothly.

Network engineers primarily work for computer systems companies or organizations with large IT departments in need of specific network architects. Educational facilities and healthcare systems need network computing services as well. Look for network engineers in telecommunications too.

Network engineers are highly paid. According to the BLS, they earn $121,730 annually. Engineers with master’s degrees typically earn higher pay and hold more responsibility.

Product Design and Manufacture Engineering

The Boston University College of Engineering says that “product design and manufacture engineering encompasses everything from the mechanical and electrical components of the products, to automated assembly processes, to the supply chain that gets materials to the factory. It takes aspects of mechanical, electrical and industrial engineering and creates a hybrid field mostly used in manufacturing and technology industries.” This type of engineering uses CAD design and robotics to accelerate their designs and innovations.

One of the most exciting developments in product design and manufacturing engineering is additive manufacturing, often called 3D printing. Corporations are devoting more resources to this growing area for its ability to speed up the design of prototypes and parts.

Although there are just a handful of colleges that offer a master’s in product design and manufacturing engineering, the list is growing. It’s often associated with industrial engineering. This is one engineering specialty where advanced education can really impact your ability to solve complex problems related to product design and manufacturing.

Software Engineering

Software engineers develop the programs that many of us use everyday or specialty systems for advanced tasks. They also work with network engineers to connect computer systems.

Software engineers are found almost everywhere, including technology, healthcare, transportation, sustainability, aeronautics, and finance. To work as a software engineer, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, computer science, or a related field.

Does one need a master’s in software engineering? If you’re interested in upward mobility, getting an advanced education in software may be the right call. You may see a significant increase in pay of more than $20,000 more annually with a master’s than without one. You’ll also have opportunities to become a Chief Technology Officer or Cyber Security Manager with some advanced training.

Systems Engineering

According to NASA, systems engineering “is defined as a methodical, multi-disciplinary approach for the design, realization, technical management, operations, and retirement of a system.” These systems can include computer hardware and software, equipment, facilities, personnel, processes, and procedures. It’s all about achieving efficiencies in system-related functions. Systems engineers can work in almost any industry but are often found in manufacturing, technology, and transportation.

What about a master’s in systems engineering? Like many smaller or growing engineering fields, getting an advanced degree is excellent for specializing in one of the many subsets of system engineering like control, cognitive systems, safety, or security engineering.

Textile Engineering

Textile engineers work with polymers, fibers, and textiles to improve their quality and efficiency in manufacture. It’s considered an offshoot of mechanical engineering specializing in fibers, yarns, fabrics, and finishes. It’s a highly specialized field using chemistry and industrial design along with computer science and molecular synthesis.

According to Career Trend, you’ll work “in factories and design studios with raw materials and finished textiles. Or, you could land at chemical companies that produce the polymers and fibers. Firms that use biomedical materials, composites and sports textiles use textile engineers to research and develop high-performance fabrics. Some textile engineers spend their entire careers in the lab researching complex materials.”

There are a few master’s programs in textile engineering throughout the U.S. An advanced degree is likely to help you research or teach in the textile field or at the government level.

Which master’s degree in engineering is right for me?

If you have an aptitude for science and mathematics and a passion for solving complex problems, engineering could be the right career for you. Most engineers begin with a bachelor’s program, through which they’re exposed to most of the specialties on this list. The choice is usually made during undergraduate learning to decide where they feel most comfortable.

But many engineering fields overlap, including in the technology-related industries and more scientific specialties like chemical and environmental. That means many master’s degrees in engineering provide flexibility to take on various roles in many different industries. Also, consider the many integrated five-year bachelor’s and master’s degree programs that enable you to earn both a BS and MS in engineering in five years.

Ultimately, it comes down to goals. What do you want to achieve in your career? If you’re looking to advance into management positions or engage in research, obtaining a master’s is beneficial. There are also highly advanced technologies for which only a master’s degree can provide the training necessary to succeed.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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