Online learning is growing at a breakneck pace; more students pursue their degrees through e-learning today than ever before. McKinsey & Company reports that "between 2012 and 2019, the number of hybrid and distance-only students at traditional universities increased by 36 percent, while the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 rapidly accelerated that growth by an additional 92 percent."
Brick-and-mortar universities have responded, in turn, with extensive efforts to convert their programs into distance-learning models. Some programs are more adaptable than others. For example, graduate programs requiring labs or hands-on work are more challenging to convert to online models. Programs that don't include these components—a category that includes most industrial and systems engineering programs—translate to online master's program formats with greater ease.
In-person coursework on a College of Engineering campus was once the only respected standard for engineering employers. But hiring organizations' opinions of online industrial engineering programs have improved dramatically over time. The wholesale transition to online learning during the COVID pandemic has solidified that shift.
This article answers the question can I earn a master's in industrial engineering online? It covers the following topics:
You certainly can. And for some students, it's the only feasible option. Flexible online degree programs are particularly valuable to full-time working professionals and those not living in proximity to universities offering this discipline.
A Master of Science in Industrial Engineering provides expert knowledge to engineers who already have some experience and are looking to expand their skill sets into engineering management or operations research. At Purdue University, for example, students can choose from a Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) or an Interdisciplinary Master of Science in Engineering (MSE/MS) with a concentration in Industrial Engineering with thesis or non-thesis options. Purdue's online program is ranked in the top three of U.S. News & World Report's Best Online Master's in Engineering for 2022, with "a format that allows you to study where you are."
At the Lyle School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University (SMU), students can choose from an MS in Computer Science with AI Specialization, a Master in Data Science, or a Master in Network Engineering. In addition, online students can access all the benefits of in-person learning, including school resources, engineering curriculum, and alumni networks.
Industrial engineers employ a systems perspective, applying advanced math and computer science to large and complex systems and operations. They use computer simulation, statistical analysis, operations management, and quality control initiatives to design efficient, systematic processes that make businesses, governments, and non-profits run more effectively.
Industrial engineers work with optimization models and tools to guide problem solving and decision making in industries as varied as healthcare, aerospace, manufacturing, and supply chain management. They work in areas that include project management, process efficiency, ergonomics, and personnel safety design.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects ten percent employment growth for industrial engineers over the next decade, accounting for about 30,600 new jobs. Annual wages vary depending on the industry, with computer and electronic product manufacturing paying the most (app. $99,000). Fabricated metal product manufacturing pays the least, at an average annual wage of approximately $78,000. The top ten percent earn $129,000 on average annually. Government engineering jobs landed in this range with an average annual income of $120,000.
A master's degree in industrial engineering provides the skills and training required for higher-paying jobs in various industries, including management positions. Your engineering education will make you highly employable in almost any sector.
Indeed.com reports that employers expect industrial engineers to hold a bachelor's degree, preferably in disciplines like electrical, mechanical, or industrial engineering. Degrees with a concentration in supply chain management or operations research can also land you a role in the field.
Once you've graduated, you'll want to spend a few years working in the industry to gain on-site experience. Experience in the field is one of the most valuable assets you can add to your resume, along with industry certifications, graduate certificates, and for some, a master's degree. Some companies offer full or partial tuition reimbursement for pursuing a master's degree.
Your career goals should guide you to your optimal program. You'll want to research industry-specific designs to find the concentration and elective courses to support your career goals. Your choices include systems engineering, healthcare management, regulated industries, operations research, product development and manufacturing systems, ergonomics and design, and mechanical engineering.
For any accredited program, applicants will need to send official transcripts (with a GPA of 3.0 or higher), letters of recommendation, GRE test scores, and any other program-specific admissions requirements.
The curriculum for a master's degree in industrial engineering varies depending on your chosen concentration. Purdue University offers coursework in areas like human factors engineering, manufacturing systems engineering, operational research, and production systems engineering.
Students study probability and statistics, engineering economics, integrated production systems, linear circuit analysis, regression techniques, and industrial control systems. At SMU, students in the network engineering online program can choose from electives that include cloud engineering, software-defined networks, telecommunications network security, and advanced network design.
Bachelor's degrees provide plenty of opportunities for entry-level roles. With a few years of experience in these positions, more doors will open to you. Pursuing a master's degree at this point can lead to significant pay increases.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that advanced roles in management positions typically require a master's degree. Industrial engineers earn the highest annual wages in industries like transportation of oil ($187,000), finance ($149,000), and oil and gas extraction ($142,000). A master's degree can allow engineers to advance from associate positions to management roles.
In the last twenty years, schools like SMU's Lyle School of Engineering have combined a variety of leadership programs and traditional course selections to help train students for jobs in management and entrepreneurship. This level of training helps engineers land higher-paying positions in a range of industries. Employment areas include engineering management, sales, research, education, process engineering, logistics, transportation, enterprise informatics, and operations engineering.
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