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Engineering salaries: should you go for your Masters?

Katie Schenk - April 21, 2016

Ratchets with dollars

There are some disciplines where it’s almost imperative to move straight from a Bachelor’s degree into a post-grad education; without the graduate degree, career progression and mobility is restricted.

And then there is the engineering field.

A Master’s degree isn’t a prerequisite for employment. It’s not even necessary to land a good starting salary. So, what’s the point? And is it financially worth it to pursue a Master’s in Engineering? You might be surprised.

What’s difference between engineering degrees?

There are definite distinctions between the different levels of engineering degrees. At the Bachelor’s level, you’ll find that you have a general understanding, with perhaps a touch of specialisation (depending on where you study). With a Masters, you’ll be able to lead a team of engineers – and, more importantly, you’ll be able to narrow your focus within the different discipline. Ph.D. graduates, however, have the opportunity to pursue research and projects at the highest levels within private and public industries.

While you may find these levels across disciplines, engineering is dissimilar to other fields when it comes to pursuing graduate education. Teachers, for example, often need to have completed work towards their master’s before they’re employed. By contrast, an MBA isn’t recommended until you’ve had a few years of work experience. With engineering, you can move straight into a Masters, or you can enter the workforce first – with a very respectable salary.

Post-graduate engineering salaries

Engineers tend to make a lot of money. Sure, there’s a lot of variation in pay scales – as there is in any other field (such as law or medicine), but engineering salaries are certainly respectable.

That’s exactly why undergraduate professors urge students to move straight into their graduate degrees; it’s difficult to find the right time to return to school.

Still, there’s always a difference between Bachelor’s and Master’s level salaries – even if that difference isn’t, perhaps, as wide as it is in other fields.

According to the (American) National Society of Professional Engineers, new undergraduates (those with bachelor’s degrees only) had a median annual salary just shy of US $55K (2010). After a year or two of experience, they could expect that number to bump to $57K. With a Master’s degree and a few years of work, engineers took in about US $61K.

However, those are median numbers… and for the wide umbrella that engineering covers. The difference in income is much easier to see when looking at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering salary statistics. Undergraduates in 2015 achieved a median salary of US$ 100K; those with a Master’s degree had a median annual salary of US$ 110K.

A peek at the highest and lowest reported salaries within the field of electrical engineering is even more revealing. The lowest bachelor’s starting salary was US$ 50K; the lowest for a Masters was US$65K. At the other end of the scale, the highest reported Bachelor’s salary was $125K; the highest for a Master’s degree was US$ 200K.

At MIT, the median starting salary for those with bachelor’s degrees is just over US$ 80K; their Master’s in engineering grads have a median salary of US$ 110K. That’s an enormous difference.

These sharp contrasts have been reiterated across schools and the industry in general. According to GoodCall, an online platform dedicated to higher education news, those with graduate degrees earn an average of US$ 17K more than those without… and that’s across any discipline. For electrical engineers, the median salary for those with electrical engineering degrees is US$ 93K; add $19K for a Master’s degree. They report similar increases for other disciplines within engineering, including civil and mechanical engineering degrees.

Is the cost of a Master’s degree in engineering worth it?

This decision can be tough. You have to weigh up the sacrifices you'll need to make now against the benefits you'll undoubtedly experience in the not-so-distant future. Fortunately, we've developed a tool to help you decide.

Check out our ROI calculator to determine the potential returns of your postgraduate studies.

Learn more about Prodigy’s international loan programmes here.

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