Is a Master's in Engineering Management Worth It?
May 23, 2022
Engineering management operates in the intersection between the practice of engineering and the business of managing people working on technically complex projects. While you may not necessarily need an engineering management master’s to pursue leadership in the engineering field, there are plenty of reasons why earning one might be worth it.
To state the obvious, engineering is technical work, while managing teams of people working on technical projects is not. Because the two roles require distinct skill sets, engineers seeking leadership or executive roles don’t always make the transition to managerial positions easily or well without specialized training and education.
Engineers considering pursuing management and supervisory roles should be aware that successfully leading people through technically complex projects requires multidisciplinary expertise that must be learned and practiced.
Of all the paths to gaining these skills, a master's in engineering management can be one of the most helpful. While you may not necessarily need a master’s degree to pursue leadership in the engineering field, there are a host of reasons why you should consider earning one.
So, is a master's in engineering management worth it? We'll answer that by covering the following topics:
- What is engineering management?
- What is an engineering management master’s?
- What can you do with an engineering management master’s?
- What's the difference between an engineering management master’s and an MBA?
- Is an engineering management master’s worth it?
What is engineering management?
As defined by the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM), engineering management “is the art and science of planning, organizing, allocating resources, and directing and controlling activities that have a technological or systems component. Engineers and other technical professionals, whose job requires them to assume management duties, must solve complex problems that require expertise and training in these principles." Or as it’s more directly defined on Wikipedia: “Engineering management is a career that brings together the technological problem-solving ability of engineering and the organizational, administrative, and planning abilities of management in order to oversee the operational performance of complex engineering driven enterprises."
Engineering managers may specialize in technology for a particular field, such as biomedical, mechanical, or structural engineering. Yet, their core skills in business and management are tailored to oversee operations and help employees reach their top productivity level in any environment dedicated to designing and building machines, structures, and other products.
What is an engineering management master’s?
Stevens Institute of Technology’s Master of Engineering in Engineering Management program states that their course of study “equips engineers, technical managers, business operations professionals and others with the skills, tools and methodologies needed to effectively manage complexity across industries. Designed at the intersection of engineering, management and technology, the MEng degree provides students with a strong understanding of the technology involved in engineering projects and the management process—during which the technology is used."
A Master of Engineering Management is an especially appealing option for working engineers who wish to enhance their skill sets, update their training, or improve their qualifications for specialized positions and leadership roles in the industry. They're typically broken down into two different degree types:
_Master of Engineering in Engineering Management:_ The MEng in engineering management is considered a professional engineering management degree, offered as a coursework-based alternative to the traditional research-based Master of Science. Students are typically required to choose a concentration and complete a practicum or final capstone project.
Master of Science in Engineering Management: The MS degree in engineering management and other relevant MS degrees is a requirement for enrolling in Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in engineering, which prepare students to conduct research or teach at the postsecondary level. M.S. programs in engineering management usually require a thesis based on students' original research.
The core courses in master’s-level engineering management programs typically cover foundations of operations research, engineering project management, and aspects of financial management spanning accounting, finance, and performance measures. Many students also will find that their studies dive into the principles of six sigma, a problem-solving methodology used to aid product development and organizational process improvement, alongside a range of industrial software for applications such as 3D modeling, quality assessment, and process simulation.
Often, engineering management master’s programs provide students with the opportunity to further tailor their course of study to suit their academic strengths and career interests by focusing on a concentration or specialization in the field, such as healthcare systems, operations and supply chain management, and process and project management.
Programs also may allow students to complete a graduate certificate in combination with their graduate degree. Like concentrations, certificates are a set of classes grouped around a particular subject. However, where a concentration covers students' primary area of study, certificates typically take a deep dive into a specific area through elective coursework.
Certificate options may be less common, but they're not impossible to find. The Master of Engineering in Engineering Management program at Stevens Institute of Technology provides students the opportunity to complete a range of graduate certifications in advanced systems engineering, logistics and supply chain analysis, and software development, among others.
Graduate programs in engineering management require applicants to have an undergraduate degree from a college or university with valid accreditation status. A bachelor's in engineering, math, science, or another STEM field is generally the expectation in most programs, though some may admit applicants with non-STEM undergraduate degrees on the condition that they complete prerequisite courses in topics like calculus, physics, and foundations of engineering. Many programs have GPA requirements for applicants, with most expecting a 3.0 minimum in undergraduate coursework. Additional requirements include:
- Official test scores: Most master's programs in engineering management programs require standardized test scores as part of the application process. Some accept either
GRE or GMAT scores—though the GRE tends to be preferred, as it relates to both engineering and management with its emphasis on critical thinking, reasoning, and analytical writing. The GMAT, on the other hand, is primarily used to gauge readiness for business programs. Prospective students also may find programs that don't require standardized test scores or allow students to submit them as a means of strengthening their candidacy. Other programs waive the requirement in certain circumstances, like when an applicant has a high undergraduate GPA or exceptional and relevant work experience.
- Personal statement: The personal statement helps prospective students tell their stories in ways other parts of their applications don’t, and are typically used to highlight their skills, experiences, and accomplishments, and convey their academic and professional interests and goals.
- Resume or CV: Applicants are typically expected to submit a one to two-page resume or CV highlighting experience, activities, and leadership. This may be in school, in a volunteer setting, a club or organization, or employment. However, applicants are typically required to have at least some industry work experience to enroll.
- Letters of recommendation: Most schools require two to three letters of recommendation provided by a supervisor from work in an academic or professional setting.
- Proof of English language proficiency: Applicants whose native language is not English are typically required to submit scores from English competency exams, such as TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System).
How long does it take?
Master’s-level engineering management programs usually require 30 to 36 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete, or three to four years part-time. Accelerated options are common among online engineering management programs and can be completed in anywhere from one year to 16 months.
What can you do with an engineering management master’s?
Employment opportunities available to engineering management graduates are numerous, spanning management and leadership roles in fields ranging from chemical, civil and electrical, to mechanical, software, and industrial engineering. Degree-holders aren’t solely in high-demand at engineering-focused organizations either. Any business where technical roles intersect with business management needs engineering management experts.
Opportunities also exist in consulting, and research and development. Many graduates also become entrepreneurs, launching high-tech companies and developing their ideas for the market.
Outside of the workplace, graduates continue to grow their network (and increase their opportunities for advancing their career) through a wide range of professional associations and organizations. Some, like the National Society of Professional Engineers, are more general, while others focus on a particular subfield, like the American Society for Engineering Management, the American Society for Engineering Education, and the Production and Operations Management Society. Others cater to particular populations and demographics within engineering, such as the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the Society of Women Engineers.
What's the difference between an engineering management master’s and an MBA?
It's logical for anyone with a STEM-related bachelor's degree and engineering experience to consider pursuing a graduate degree as a means of gaining the expertise and qualifications necessary to achieve their career goals. While some may look to Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs for professional opportunities and career advancement, engineering management programs cater to those who want to grow their business acumen, have a passion for engineering and high-tech innovation, and aspire to build on their existing STEM knowledge and expertise.
Engineering management master’s and MBA programs do overlap in some economics, marketing, and management courses. The interdisciplinary curricula of engineering management programs, however, provide students with a technology focus combined with management, leadership, creative thinking, and decision-making skills in a way that positions them to succeed as leaders and managers at organizations driven primarily by technology. MBA programs, on the other hand, typically focus on a broader study of business management theory and practice and can be applied to management positions at organizations based in industries ranging from finance, accounting, and organizational behavior, to energy, international business administration, and consulting.
Is an engineering management master’s worth it?
The number of businesses needing to fill high-level engineering management roles is vast and growing, and a master's in engineering management offers a significant advantage to candidates looking to fill them. At the same time, earning a degree is a huge commitment, especially for professionals juggling work and family commitments. Students also can expect to spend thousands of dollars a year in tuition before the assistance of fellowship programs or need-based financial aid kick in, which can make deciding to return to school even trickier.
However, the pros of an engineering management master’s are myriad, particularly the advanced knowledge and skills gained, the expansion of your professional network, and the increased career opportunities available to you. Of course, an engineering management master’s also typically leads to higher pay and greater job security. According Salary.com, the average median salary of engineering manager with a master's in engineering management or MBA is $130,708–$139,223. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that full-time engineering managers with a master’s degree earned an average of nearly 16 percent more than those whose highest degree completion was a bachelor’s. Those engineering managers with master's degrees also saw an unemployment rate that was 1.4 percent lower than their colleagues with bachelor's degrees.
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