Do Engineers Need Graduate Degrees?

You spent five years equipping yourself with the math skills, the anatomy and physiology experience, the familiarity with machines and other critical knowledge and abilities necessary to become an engineer. Even before that, you prepared for your undergraduate studies by toiling in math and science classes in high school. Now that you are finally qualified to enter the engineering profession, do you really need to return to school for a graduate degree in engineering?

The quick and easy answer to this question is and always will be “no.” After you earn your bachelor’s degree in engineering, you are certified to work in industry as an engineer. However, if you have certain career goals — such as reaching a management position within a few years or specializing in a unique field of engineering — you will benefit greatly by earning graduate-level credentials.

So, is graduate school on your horizon? What can you expect from continuing your education? Read on to find out.

Engineering Master’s Degrees

Once you have a few years of work experience, you should strongly consider returning to school for a master’s degree. As is true in other professions these days, few employers promote lower-level employees without good cause; they tend to look externally for qualified employees to place in management and director positions. Thus, if you want to move out of your entry-level engineering position within the decade, you need to earn a graduate-level credential.

Not only is a master’s in engineering necessary for career advancement. It also helps you refresh your engineering knowledge and skill as well as gain new insights into emerging techniques and trends. Because engineering is a STEM field, highly influenced by new developments in science and technology, it is imperative that engineers engage with continued education throughout their careers to understand and integrate new ideas and methods into their practice. A master’s degree offers the perfect opportunity to explore new theories in a safe and guided academic environment — while gaining a powerful credential for your career.

Plus, if you are eager to pivot your engineering career into a new field, you might need a master’s degree to provide that specialized training. There are dozens of engineering fields that do not have associated bachelor’s degree programs; for example, if you want formal training in

  • petroleum engineering,
  • environmental engineering,
  • aerospace engineering, 
  • nuclear engineering,
  • agricultural engineering,
  • robotic engineering,
  • mining engineering, 
  • industrial engineering, 
  • sports engineering, 
  • military engineering or
  • project engineering


You would likely need to pursue a specialized master’s degree. Even fields in which there are dedicated bachelor’s programs, it remains beneficial to seek additional education.

What’s more, because advanced engineering programs are less hands-on than bachelor’s programs, you can begin pursuing your graduate credential while remaining at work full-time. For example, you might enroll in a biomedical engineering master’s online, enlisting your employer to help cover tuition and fee costs in return for a tour of duty or some other commitment. Most employers are eager to see their current employees improve and likely will support your advanced studies however they can.

Technically speaking, an engineering master’s degree shouldn’t take you longer than two years to earn if you are a full-time student. Your studies will be heavily focused on the field you choose, and most master’s programs are taught in units with exceedingly involved project assignments, so you can flex your new engineering skills and knowledge as soon as you gain them.

Ultimately, an engineering master’s degree isn’t essential to becoming an engineer, but it is important to earn if you want to climb the engineering career ladder.

Engineering Ph.Ds.

Conversely, an engineering doctorate degree won’t do much to improve your career prospects. In fact, most engineer Ph.Ds. leave industry for good, remaining in academia to teach and develop new engineering practices.

The reasons for this are manifold: First, few engineers who want to stay in industry bother remaining in academia long enough to earn their Ph.Ds.; because engineers can begin practicing with just a bachelor’s degree, there is little incentive to continue studying at higher levels when the work is what they enjoy. As a result, only those who prefer experiment and study over engineering work pursue doctorates. Additionally, typical engineer employers can hardly afford to pay engineering Ph.Ds. what their level of education demands.

Engineers don’t need graduate degrees — but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing those that interest you, anyway. A master’s degree can influence the trajectory of your career, while a Ph.D. will take your career on a completely different tangent. Even if you choose not to pursue a graduate degree now, you can always return to school in the future to boost your credentials, renew your knowledge and skill and change your career.

This post is sponsored by Case School of Engineering.