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Studying Electrical Engineering
in the USA
One of the most important decisions a
person makes is choosing the right career. After all, the
average person spends eight hours a day, five days a week,
fifty weeks a year for forty years working in their chosen
field. A career in electrical engineering in the US offers
the potential for a challenging, rewarding, and lucrative
career. More than 1.2 million engineers work in America today,
making engineering the nation's second largest profession.
According to Graduating Engineer magazine, job opportunities
for new engineers are projected to be four percent greater
than they were last year, with starting pay averaging $40,000
a year. An engineering degree also opens doors to other exciting
careers; many engineering graduates have moved into other
professions where their engineering background has been a
valuable asset. Did you know that P.A.M. Dirac, who received
the Nobel Prize in Physics, was an electrical engineer? Alfred
Hitchcock, Neil Armstrong, and Jimmy Carter were likewise
What do electrical engineers do?
Electrical engineers design digital and analogue circuits
similar to the ones on the dashboard of your automobile, and
the control circuitry of the Space Shuttle. They also write
programs to simulate the operation of these circuits on a
computer. Another speciality is the hardware and microcode
design of state-of-the-art microprocessors, like the Pentium
III running at a mind-boggling 500 MHz. One must have a minimum
of a BSc. in electrical engineering to qualify for these jobs.
Another niche for an electrical engineer is to work as professor
in an electrical engineering department at a university. These
individuals love to teach their craft, and also carry out
basic research in specialised areas of electrical engineering.
The minimum qualification for this job is a Ph.D. in electrical
engineering or a closely related field, and starting salaries
can be as high as $60,000.
How can I tell if electrical engineering is right for me?
To be perfectly candid, electrical engineering is not for
every Tom, Dick and Harry! You must enjoy dabbling in mathematics
and science in school, and be able to articulate your ideas
lucidly and write fairly well. You must be in the top 20 percent
of your class. You must be creative and naturally curious
about how and why things work. You must have an insatiable
appetite to tinker with your radio, TV and assorted electronic
gadgetry and an irresistible urge to disassemble (and eventually
reassemble!) these 'toys'. Last, but not least, you must not
be dollarphobic! You can test your creativity in engineering
and proficiency in mathematics and science by sending an e-mail
with the subject line "I wannabe an engineer".
Why should I study in the US?
When a judge asked the bank robber why he robbed banks, the
curt response was "Frankly, your honor, that's where
the money is". US companies like Intel, IBM, and Motorola
are the world's only manufacturers of state-of-the-art microprocessors
like the Power PC and the Pentium III that are the heart of
Macintosh computers and PCs. Frankly, US companies prefer
to hire engineers who have graduated from accredited programs
in the US. Electrical engineering degrees granted by accredited
institutions in America command respect world-wide, and deservedly
so. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
(ABET) demands that universities with accredited programs
meet high standards. More information on the ABET 2000 criteria
can be found by visiting the following web site: www.abet.org.
Membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers (IEEE) brings added benefits. The URL is www.ieee.org.
What are the requirements for an engineering degree in the
It takes an average of four to five years - after 12 years
of high school - to complete the requirements for a BSc in
electrical engineering. This is equivalent to 120-128 credit
hours. Students normally take four to five courses (12-16
credit hours) for eight to ten semesters, with two semesters
(fall and spring) in a year. There are many variations on
the basic theme delineated above; for instance, a 3-2 dual-degree
program can lead to two degrees, one in electrical engineering
and the other in physics, in a total of five years. There
is a lot of overlap between a physics and an electrical engineering
program, making it possible to finish two degrees in five
The BSc. degree is adequate for the majority of job opportunities
in the US; however, there are certain special occupations
where the minimum qualification is a Ph.D. in electrical engineering;
for example, a research faculty position normally requires
a Ph.D. In major US universities, one must take approximately
45 to 60 credit hours of graduate-level courses, in addition
to carrying out research on a topic selected by mutual agreement
between the student and the dissertation advisor. The results
of the research must be reported in a thesis, and must be
defended in front of a committee of around five members. The
completion of the Ph.D. can take from four to six years after
the BSc. degree. Some individuals settle for a master's degree,
which may take about two years after the BSc., and there are
non-thesis options available in most instances.
Where can I find more information about engineering?
The best way to find more information is to surf the net!
There are essentially three genre of web sites you want to
Asif Shakur, Ph.D.
Chair of Physics and Engineering
Salisbury State University