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Studying a STEM master's in the US

Katie Schenk - May 10, 2019

Prodigy Finance looks at MS engineering salaries

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’s 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, is it financially worth it to pursue a master’s in engineering - especially if that master’s is in the US?

The answer isn’t always simple. You’ll need to weigh up a number of factors - pre, during and post-studies. Luckily, we’re here to help.

We’ve got everything you need to know about the salary you can expect after graduation, the costs you might be up against, and the nuances of a STEM master’s in the US. 

Post-graduate engineering salaries

Engineers tend to make a lot of money. 

Sure, there’s a lot of variation in pay scales, but engineering salaries are overwhelmingly respectable.

According to GoodCall¹, an online platform dedicated to higher education news, those with graduate degrees earn an average of $17K more than those without… and that’s across any discipline.

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.

What’s difference between engineering degrees?

There are definite distinctions between the different levels of engineering degrees:

Bachelors degree

You have a general understanding, with perhaps a touch of specialisation (depending on where you study)

Masters degree

You can lead a team of engineers – and, more importantly, you’ve narrowed your focus within the different disciplines. 

PhD degree

You can pursue research and projects at the highest levels within private and public industries.

At MIT, the median starting salary in 2017² for those with bachelor's degrees was $85K; while those with a Master’s in Engineering degree have a median salary of $115K. That’s an enormous difference.

Bachelor of Science

Master of Science

Master of Engineering

Mean salary

$88,381

$87,812

$108,973

Median salary

$85,000

$85,000

$115,000

How much does salary increase after a master’s in engineering?

A Georgetown University study, The Economic Value of College Majors³, conducted in 2015 provides a stunning overview of bachelor’s and graduate salaries according to field. It’s generalised, insomuch as it doesn’t take into account the expected salary per university and only considers American salaries (whether students are international or not).

Bachelor’s

25th %

$65,000

Median

$90,000

75th %

$118,000

Master’s

25th %

$85,000

Median

$112,000

75th %

$144,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$45,000

Median

$70,000

75th %

$98,000

Master’s

25th %

$54,00

Median

$87,000

75th %

$135,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$67,000

Median

$96,000

75th %

$130,000

Master’s

25th %

$77,000

Median

$107,000

75th %

$160,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$61,000

Median

$83,000

75th %

$109,000

Master’s

25th %

$73,000

Median

$101,000

75th %

$134,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$64,000

Median

$87,000

75th %

$114,000

Master’s

25th %

$78,000

Median

$101,000

75th %

$134,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$66,000

Median

$103,000

75th %

$123,000

Master’s

25th %

$85,000

Median

$112,000

75th %

$152,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$52,000

Median

$78,000

75th %

$114,000

Master’s

25th %

$76,000

Median

$108,000

75th %

$148,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$60,000

Median

$76,000

75th %

$101,000

Master’s

25th %

$61,000

Median

$88,000

75th %

$108,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$56,000

Median

$81,000

75th %

$110,000

Master’s

25th %

$75,000

Median

$101,000

75th %

$141,000

Bachelor’s

25th %

$65,000

Median

$87,000

75th %

$116,000

Master’s

25th %

$80,000

Median

$107,000

75th %

$142,000

Petroleum engineering

Bachelor’s

25th %

$89,000

Median

$146,000

75th %

$243,000

Master’s

25th %

$87,000

Median

$128,000

75th %

$207,000

Engineering salaries by field of study

Back in 2010, the (American) National Society of Professional Engineers⁴ reported the increasing engineering salaries:

  • New bachelors degree holders had a median annual salary just shy of $55K. 
  • After a year or two of experience, they could expect that number to bump to $57K. 
  • With a masters degree and a few years of work, engineers took in about $61K.

Over the years, those engineering salary medians have only continued to grow.

Both the growth and difference in income is much easier to see when looking at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering 2018 salary statistics.⁵ 

In some fields, the jump between bachelors and masters salaries is strikingly obvious.


Average

Median

Range

Bachelor's 

$73,750

$74,000

$29,750 – 108,000

Master's 

$83,097

$81,986

$30,000 – 120,000


Average

Median

Range

Bachelor's 

$72,613

$73,500

$29,750 – 102,000

Master's 

$85,191

$77,000

$62,000 – 119,000


Average

Median

Range

Bachelor's 

$64,311

$64,000

$50,000 – 100,000

Master's 

$66,379

$60,000

$28,800 – 120,000


Average

Median

Range

Bachelor's 

$106,575

$110,000

$52,000 - 146,000

Master's 

$111,939

$115,000

$60,000 – 155,000


Average

Median

Range

Bachelor's 

$73,916

$74,250

$50,000 – 95,000

Master's 

$72,786

$72,000

$50,000 – 93,000


Average

Median

Range

Bachelor's 

$70,554

$72,137

$45,000 – 89,500

Master's 

$87,335

$83,000

$50,000 – 130,000

Getting an I-20 form to apply for your visa

Every international student planning to attend an American university for their masters will receive an I-20 form from their school. You are unable to apply for a visa without this form – and even students from exempted countries must supply this form when they enter the United States.

CoA definition

What’s the relationship between your I-20 form and cost of attendance? 

Simply put, the I-20 form outlines the cost of attendance (as provided by the university) and demonstrates your ability to financially meet these line items. 

It’s important to note that the CoA provided by the school and your actual budget are likely to differ. 

You must meet the CoA provided by the school to secure your visa, whether your personal budget is lower or higher.

Engineering CoA: How much does an engineering master’s degree cost?

Whether you’re after a Masters in Engineering or a Masters of Science in Engineering, you know it’s going to cost a pretty penny.

If you’re pursuing a master’s degree in the United States, you can expect to pay between $60,000 and $90,000 per year (and that’s a nine or ten-month academic year, not a full 12-month calendar year).

But, you’ll need to work out a more specific Cost of Attendance (CoA) to get the financing - and your F-1 visa

Engineering master’s tuition

There are some universities and courses that provide a flat rate fee for tuition. And then there are the MS Engineering programmes in the US which just don’t offer that luxury. You pay according to credit hours.

Understanding credit hour tuition costs

  • Each course you take has an allocated number of credit hours. Some might be worth two credit hours; others might be four. And, you don’t have complete control over when you undertake particular classes.
  • There are a minimum number of credit hours that you must complete. Most universities also provide some guidelines as to the maximum number of hours you should take per term.
  • Work with these numbers to get an idea of the cost per term, and then round upwards.
  • Be sure to double check the typical rate of increase annually so you don’t make the mistake of underestimating the second year. 

As an international student, you’ll get a tuition figure that you must cover to secure the I-20 form needed for your F-1 student visa. But, you may end up paying more or less based on actual credit hours. 

At USC Viterbi, for example, you should expect to budget roughly these amounts for a single year of study.

  • Tuition - $38,560
  • Mandatory Fees - $2397
  • Room and Board - $18,450
  • Books and Supplies - $900
  • Personal and Miscellaneous - $2394
  • Transportation - $2610
  • Health insurance⁷ - $2041
  • Total - $67,352

However, the costs you must meet for your I-20 forms is slightly different. According to the international office at USC⁸, your I-20 form will list the following expenses:

  • Tuition - $43,890
  • Living - $22,482
  • Total - $66,372

Engineering master’s mandatory fees

Tuition is a mandatory expense whether you live off noodles and cereal in a half-room sized flat for a year or not. But, it’s not the only line item that you must pay. Schools have a few other mandatory fees.

Consider UCLA’s master’s degrees fees for the 2017-2018 academic year⁹. The following only covers tuition, health insurance, and mandatory fees.

  • Tuition - $11,502
  • Nonresident Supplemental Tuition - $15,103
  • Student Services Fee - $1128
  • Graduate Students Association Fee - $39
  • Graduate Writing Center Fee - $18
  • Ackerman Student Union Fee - $63
  • Ackerman/Kerckhoff Seismic Fee - $113
  • Wooden Center Fee - $34
  • Student Programs, Activities, and Resources Complex Fee - $107
  • Document Fee - $80
  • UC Student Health Insurance Plan - $3817
  • Total - $32,004

With the exception of the document fee, which is a one-time fee, each of these are annual expenses for master’s students. And, there’s no way to waive these fees – whether you use the facilities mentioned or not. You’re still paying for the use of the gym even if you never set foot in it. 

Incidentally, UCLA estimates these line items for annual living expenses for master’s students¹⁰:

  • Room and meals - $17,793
  • Books and supplies - $1287
  • Transportation - $1371
  • Personal - $2217
  • Total - $22,668

Calculating housing and other international student costs

Every US university is required to provide a cost estimate that includes tuition, housing, and other common expenses. And, these are a terrific place to start for estimates.

But, they’re a starting point only. You’ll need to dig deep. Reach out to current students for accurate representations of what’s available and how much it will cost.

In addition, food and transport costs rarely (if ever) take into account the need to meet with other grad students for a drink to discuss projects. And, they may not even consider the cost of these activities (including housing) during the summer months when campuses are typically closed.

Some costs you might not have considered:

  • Cellphones and internet connection
  • Electricity and water (if not specifically included in your rent)
  • Household goods
  • Software and stationary
  • Industry associations and club memberships
  • Campus activities

How much does an MS Engineering cost in the USA?

Want to get a feel for MS engineering costs? Take a look at some current CoA figures provided by universities - and how they’re broken down:

MIT¹³

Tuition

$48,432

$34,038

$49,580

Fees

$1755

(inc in tuition costs)

$312

Room

$16,018

$18,156

$18,135

Board (food)

$5420

(inc in room costs)

$5150

Health fees and insurance

$4332

$3683

$3000

Personal expenses

$3700

$4692

$5250

Transportation

$1089

(inc in personal expenses)

$2736

Books and supplies

$2100

(inc in personal expenses)

$2816

Total

$82,846

$60,569

$86,979

Caltech¹⁶

Tuition

$48,440

$29,234

$50,487

Fees

(inc in tuition costs)

(inc in tuition costs)

$1746

Room

$19,330

$17,332

$15,300

Board (food)

$8000

$7902

$8614

Health fees and insurance

$6488

$5240

(inc in personal expenses)

Personal expenses

$8300

$2678

$5700

Transportation

$1740

$3110

$2400

Books and supplies

$1300

$620

$1400

Total

$93,598

$66,116

$85,647

What’s the ROI on international MS engineering programmes?

It’s one thing to know that your salary could increase by 20 or 30 percent over time. But, what does that really mean? This calculator makes it much easier to determine the ROI on your engineering degree.


Calculate the 20 year returns from studying a Master’s degree.

Please enter a number between $ 20,000 and $ 225,000.
Please enter a number between $ 2,000 and $ 200,000.
Please enter a number between $ 2,000 and $ 250,000.
Please enter a number between 0% and 5%.
%

Total 20 year earnings

You would earn Help over 20 years if you did a Master’s degree.

Without a Master's degree

With a Master's degree

Remember, ROI isn’t always financial. Some students have dream careers that require a master’s, even if it’s not going to provide them with a salary increase of 32%.

Others may want the opportunity to work in another country, which is generally easier when recruiting on an international campus. 

Getting a job after your US MS Engineering degree

There’s an additional piece of this puzzle that every international master’s student in the United States must consider – the ability to work in the United States. That means another visit to the international student office. As they work with the university to assist international students in obtaining their visas, they are versed in post-grad visa options as well. Indeed, they may even know which visiting companies have applied for H1-B visas in the past. (Alternatively, you can use the research tools provided by Cornell University.)

You’ll need to keep your career in mind as it’s your responsibility to find a job after you graduate.

In some parts of the world, an advanced degree comes with a job placement. But, it doesn’t work like that everywhere. Students from India, for example, may be shocked to hear that American universities aren’t responsible for finding their MS Engineering graduates a job.

But, that doesn’t mean US universities don’t facilitate the process to some extent. American universities maintain offices dedicated to assisting students to improve their resumes and interviewing skills. They also host career fairs.

1. Making the most of career fairs

Typically, the largest career fairs are held during the fall semester, though you will find some during the spring semester. If you begin your studies in the autumn, you’ll need to be remarkably quick to take advantage of these opportunities.

Different universities attract a diverse set of companies. And, likely, you spend hours drooling over the recruiting companies while narrowing down your options for MS Engineering programmes, so you have a few ideas about which ones you hope to meet when you’re on campus. 

It’s impossible to understate the importance of researching companies and preparing yourself prior to career fairs. If there are 400 businesses recruiting on campus during the course of a few days, you simply won’t have time to market yourself to every single company!

2. Doing your own company research and outreach

You’ll need to pursue companies that interest you; that means sending letters of interest, submitting your resume through online platforms, and regularly checking with your programme’s career services department for opportunities. Even if it’s not the university’s job to find you a position, they will bend over backwards to assist you.

Above all, if you’re hoping to take a position in the United States after completing your MS Engineering degree, spend as much time as you can learning about the career and international student services offered by your university before arriving on campus. And remember, a position with a company is the same as acceptance into an American university – it doesn’t guarantee you a visa. You’ll need to make sure you’re on the right side of immigration at all times, so there aren’t any questions when you land your dream job. 


Can't wait to further your education and increase your salary?

Prodigy Finance provides loans for international MS and ME students pursuing their degrees at top universities. Your dream programme could be on the list.

¹ goodcall.com/news/how-much-more-can-you-make-with-a-masters-degree-01529

² web.mit.edu/facts/alum.html

³ cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/valueofcollegemajors

⁴ nspe.org/resources/press-room/press-releases/engineering-salaries-continue-rise-despite-concern-over

⁵ cmu.edu/career/about-us/salaries_and_destinations/2018.html

⁶ financialaid.usc.edu/graduates/prospective/how-much-wil-my-education-cost.html

⁷ viterbigradadmission.usc.edu/programs/masters/tuition-funding/tuition-funding-masters

⁸ gradadm.usc.edu/lightboxes/international-students-financial-documentation

⁹ registrar.ucla.edu/Fees-Residence/Overview

¹⁰ financialaid.ucla.edu/Graduate/Cost-of-Attendance#495261512-off-campus

¹¹ sfs.columbia.edu/sfp-grad-engin

¹² nyu.edu/content/dam/nyu/globalServices/documents/forms/students/estimatedExpense/Graduate2019.pdf

¹³ gradadmissions.mit.edu/costs-funding/expenses

¹⁴ gradadmissions.stanford.edu/admitted-students/financing-graduate-study/estimated-expense-budget

¹⁵ financialaid.berkeley.edu/cost-attendance

¹⁶ gradoffice.caltech.edu/documents/328-2018-19_estimated_budget.pdf


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