What do cell phones, computers, televisions and automobiles have in common?
Electrical engineers and electrical engineering technologists play central roles in designing and building these and other familiar tools we use in everyday life. They’re also at the forefront of creating important new technologies, such as lifesaving medical devices, solar energy, and robots. If you’ve always been fascinated by cutting-edge technologies, majoring in electrical engineering or electrical engineering technology may be a good choice.
Electrical engineering (EE) and electrical engineering technology (EET) are two separate but closely related college majors. Although the course requirements for both majors have some overlap, there are key differences between the two that are important to understand in order to decide which major is the better match for your interests and career goals. One key difference: EE programs focus more heavily on theory and conceptual design of electrical systems, while EET programs focus on the application and implementation of electrical systems.
Graduates of electrical engineering programs are trained to become professional engineers. Their program of study will include multiple semesters of advanced calculus, physics and other sciences, and courses from other disciplines, such as computer science, mechanical engineering, and materials science. In addition to courses in circuits, electronics, digital design and microprocessors, EE majors also take advanced courses in design theory and methodology and in specialized areas such as communications systems, optical systems or medical instrumentation, all with heavy laboratory components.
Upon graduation, EE majors are qualified for entry level positions as electrical engineers, and after gaining several years of experience, they may apply for licensure as a professional engineer. Electrical engineers are typically involved with designing, developing and supervising the manufacture of electrical equipment. They work in a wide range of industries, including the aerospace, biomedical, automotive, semiconductor and computer industries, among others.
Job and salary prospects for electrical engineers are strong. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the median income for electrical engineers is $82,160. A survey conducted by the IEEE, a professional association for electrical engineers, found that the median starting salary for new electrical engineering grads was just over $60,000 a year. Salary ranges vary based upon the size of the company and the industry.
Graduates of four year electrical engineering technology programs are trained as engineering technologists. In general, their coursework is more narrowly focused and application oriented than that of EE programs. While EET students also take courses in circuits, electronics, and microprocessors, these courses will generally deal more with practical implementation versus theoretical concepts. EET students also take several semesters of mathematics in college, but the courses will focus on advanced algebra, trigonometry and applied calculus.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in EET, students typically work in entry level positions applying the principles of science, math and engineering to solve technical problems. They may assist scientists and engineers with finding solutions to technical questions during the research and design phase of product development. Others work in manufacturing and field settings, assuring that production quality is maintained. Some graduates of four year EET programs may opt to attend graduate school to receive a masters in electrical engineering.