A Guide to Schools forComputer Engineering

The field of computer engineering combines electrical engineering and software concepts, as well as several aspects of computer science. Computer engineers design and develop hardware and software systems, and as a result, can work in a wide range of areas. This detailed guide explores the various computer engineering degree options available and also provides insight and guidance into becoming a computer engineer.

Degrees Offered at
Computer Engineering Schools

Many major universities that have computer science or electrical engineering programs also offer degrees in computer engineering. These programs are offered at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels. Some schools, however, also offer associate degrees in computer engineering technology, which provides a basic foundation of key principles.

Career aspirations can play a big role in determining what type of CE degree to pursue. For an idea of what each degree can potentially lead to, take a look at the degree map below:

Bachelor’s

A bachelor’s degree will prepare students for entry-level careers. Students will obtain a foundational background in science and math, then build on that, learning key computer engineering concepts in both the hardware and software areas.

  • Computer software engineer

    Develops the software that runs on computers. This development process involves determining what the software needs to do, then within the confines of computer hardware available, create the software to accomplish those needs.

  • Computer hardware engineer

    Develops the hardware used in computer systems, such as microprocessors, circuits, networking cards, and information storage devices. Computer hardware engineers can be involved in the design of a particular computer component or entire systems.

  • Electronics engineer

    These engineers design, develop, and test electronic equipment and devices, such as radar and sonar systems and communication systems.

Master’s

A master’s degree is designed to provide an advanced education to students in addition to training in a specific area of computer engineering.

  • Project Development Manager

    Oversees the development of new computer or electronics projects within a company. Serves in a leadership and advisory role for all aspects of the project, leveraging his or her expertise of both hardware and software.

  • Computer network engineer

    Works on the development of networking components for use in computer systems.

  • Manager of VLSI and Microprocessor Design

    Oversees the development of all microprocessor and Very-Large-Scale-Integration circuits. Provides technical guidance as necessary to individual projects and assures they are properly managed.

Doctorate

A doctoral degree gives students substantial research training as well as further opportunities for education in a specialized area of computer engineering.

  • Professor

    Teaches students at colleges and universities specific concepts of computer engineering. Also conducts independent research for publication.

  • Senior Manager of Computer System Research and Development

    Leads the development of new computer systems from the ground up. Manages the process of taking scientific concepts and determining the feasibility of using those concepts to create new technology within the economic constraints of the company and scientific laws of nature.

  • Computer engineering consultant

    Provides technical and scientific guidance of computer software or hardware development and execution by determining their possibility and effectiveness.

Associate Degree in
Computer Engineering Technology

For those who want to save money before moving into the four-year bachelor’s degree or who want to work as a technician, the associate degree could be a good bet. Prospective students should understand that in most cases, a graduate with an associate degree in computer engineering technology will not have the same professional opportunities as a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in the field. As mentioned, a four-year degree is typically the minimum education requirement so an associate degree holder may have limited career opportunities. Still, the degree can be a solid stepping stone for further education and can also provide students with a basic understanding of the field.

FAQs

Below are some questions and answers related to associate degree programs in computer engineering technology:

Who should pursue an associate degree in computer engineering technology?

An associate degree in computer engineering technology is ideal for students who want to enter the workforce as soon as possible and as a computer engineering technician, assisting engineers and technologists with research and development. Another reason to get an associate degree is to use it as a first step towards a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or related field.

How long does it take to pursue an associate degree in computer engineering technology?

Most programs can be completed in two years of full-time study and consist of 63 to 68 credits, depending on the college.

Will my associate degree credits count toward a bachelor’s degree?

Yes, but it depends on the bachelor’s degree program and their transfer credit policies. Many universities that offer associate degrees in computer engineering technology also offer a bachelor’s degree in the same area and allow students to build off of their associate degree, which means they can get their bachelor’s degree in two additional years.

What will I learn if I get an associate degree in computer engineering technology and how is it different from getting a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering?

At the associate degree level, the coursework is less in-depth than at the bachelor’s level. For example, classes will cover the basics of programming and electronics, but, unlike a bachelor’s degree, concepts covered will not be as in-depth and theoretical mathematical and scientific concepts may be omitted. Additionally, curricula will be more hands-on, emphasizing immediate practical application of skills and knowledge.

BS in Computer Engineering

A bachelor’s degree in computer engineering is the minimum academic requirement for computer engineers. For some, a bachelor’s degree may be the only degree they need. At this level, students get a broad overview of the field and drill down on the most important theories and knowledge. Below are some questions and answers relating to computer engineering schools and their bachelor degree programs.

FAQs

Who should pursue a BS in computer engineering?

Anyone looking for an entry-level job as a computer hardware or software engineer or as a design engineer should get a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. If an individual wants to further specialize in a certain area or teach at the university level, a bachelor’s degree will be the first step toward reaching those goals.

How long does it take to earn this degree?

Most CE bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete, assuming a full-time, non-accelerated program. Total credits needed for graduation will vary by school, but typically range from 120 to 140 credits.

What are the prerequisites?

Beyond the admissions requirements to get accepted to the school, there are usually no prerequisites. However, upon entering the program, foundational math and science classes must be taken. Examples of such courses include differential and integral calculus, probability and statistics, and physics, to name a few.

What will I learn if I get a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering?

Depending on the school, general education classes will be required and provide a strong academic foundation. Beyond that, students will gain extensive knowledge in electrical engineering, electrical circuits, software engineering, computer networking, operating systems, microprocessors, and signals and systems. Students will be prepared to design, execute, and trouble shoot a range of hardware and software systems.

MS in Computer Engineering

A master’s degree in computer engineering provides an opportunity for students to go even more in-depth into specific computer engineering areas of study. Certain employers may require a master’s degree given the level of experience, specialization, and training needed for higher-level positions, especially in the private sector. Additionally, many master’s programs offer two avenues of study–a thesis and non-thesis track. The former requires a research project while the latter calls for a comprehensive final examination.

FAQs

Who should pursue a master’s degree in computer engineering?

A master’s degree in computer engineering is tailored for students who want to engage in advanced research, eventually gain a doctorate degree, and/or desire specialized study in a particular area of the field.

How long does it take to pursue a master’s degree in computer engineering?

Most master’s degree programs consist of approximately 30 credits and take two years to complete. Some master’s degrees are part of a joint BS/MS program, where the master’s can be obtained in five years. Not all colleges offer such a program, however.

What are the requirements for a master’s degree in computer engineering?

Most institutions expect that students will have fundamental knowledge of computer engineering and math concepts. As a result, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in CE or a closely related field. Some schools will allow students to enter the master’s program with deficiencies in certain computer engineering theories, but they must be addressed during the first year of the master’s program.

What will I learn in a master’s-level program?

Graduate students will gain advanced, more specialized technical competence and also have the opportunity to pursue a concentration area, such as network security or computing hardware and software. The majority of the coursework will be dependent on the specialization chosen. However, core courses typically focus on key topics such as computer architecture and algorithm analysis. If the student choses the thesis track, they will also conduct a research project which will culminate into a thesis and presentation of that thesis towards the end of the master’s program.

Concentrations

Unlike the bachelor’s and associate degree, the master’s degree curriculum revolves primarily around specialization. Depending on the school, roughly two-thirds of the coursework will be in a chosen concentration. Common concentrations include:

  • Computer Architecture

    Focuses on the design and implementation of computer systems. Students learn how software and hardware technology interacts and also learn how to troubleshoot common issues that arise.

  • Computer Networking

    This subfield of computer engineering studies the communication process between the various types of computing devices and systems that are linked together to enable the exchange of information, resources, and data.

  • Software Engineering

    In this concentration, students learn how to analyze a client’s needs in order to design, develop, implement, and troubleshoot software applications to address those needs for large, complex systems, such as those used for businesses and organizations. Knowledge of software development and programming languages are emphasized.

  • Computer Security/Cyber Security

    Focuses on the techniques, systems, and devices necessary to keep computer data and information secure against a wide range of vulnerabilities. Topics may include data encryption, access control, risk assessment, penetration testing, and vulnerability management, to name a few.

  • Gaining additional education in a specific area is ideal for computer engineers who desire higher level positions and career advancement.

information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected job growth from 2012 to 2022 for computer engineers focused on software is expected to be 22 percent–that’s double the expected job growth for all other jobs in the United States.

Doctorate in Computer Engineering

A doctoral degree in computer engineering provides students with an opportunity to become experts in their field. The most common doctoral degree for computer engineering is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Most CE professions do not require a PhD, unless the job focuses on extensive research or teaching at the postsecondary level.

A PhD program includes intense, complex field research, which ends in the presentation and defense of a dissertation.

FAQs

Who should pursue a doctoral degree in computer engineering?

The main reason for pursuing a PhD in computer engineering is to teach at the university level. Most academic teaching positions are only given to those with a doctoral degree. Additionally, professors who teach at universities will be expected to conduct independent research that helps to advance the field. A PhD degree will provide the necessary tools to conduct in-depth academic research.

How long does it take to earn a PhD?

Most PhD programs take several years to complete. Depending on the school’s policies and the drive of the individual student, the PhD can be completed in four years or can take over eight. Much of this variation is due to the dissertation, which sometimes gets drawn out over several years.

What are the prerequisites?

A bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a related field is the minimum. Some schools offer bachelor’s to PhD programs in addition to the more traditional master’s to PhD. As a result, a master’s degree is not always required. Also, even though a PhD program may not have an explicit requirement for acceptance, the school may test the student to confirm he or she has the requisite computer engineering knowledge to successfully complete a PhD program.

What will I learn?

Most PhD programs require a few core classes with the remaining courses focusing on research. Common core classes can include advanced computer architecture, operating systems, computer networking, and advanced data structures.

Finally, there is the dissertation, a major research project that includes presentation and defense at the end of the PhD program. By completing the dissertation, students will learn how to effectively communicate research findings as well as engage in substantial, significant, and credible research.

How to Find a Quality CE Program

Prospective computer engineering students have many choices at various academic levels. Therefore, choosing the right programs can be overwhelming. To aid in the decision of which school to attend, consider the following questions when researching and evaluating schools and programs.

Is the computer engineering program accredited?

While the school may be accredited, it is also important to ensure that the program you are interested in is also accredited by an appropriate accrediting organization. The industry accepted organization for computer engineering is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). The functional purpose of accreditation is to ensure graduates of a given program will have received a quality education.

What is the faculty quality like?

High quality professors provide high quality education. But how can you tell if a program has great professors? One way to tell is to visit the school and meet with the professors. However, more quantitative methods can include researching whether the faculty members have terminal degrees, what kind of research they have engaged in and what they have published in peer reviewed journals. This is especially important when choosing a master’s or doctoral program.

What research opportunities are available?

For students interested in research and graduate studies, this is especially important. At the bachelor’s level, the opportunity for research will be relatively limited, at least when compared to graduate programs. However, some schools offer summer research programs for its undergrad students.

For graduate programs, especially PhD programs, a significant portion of the degree will concern research. While the research outcome will largely depend on what the student makes of it, a school’s status as a research institution and the availability of research and technology facilities can be an important factor in the quality of research education the student will be able to receive.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected job growth from 2012 to 2022 for computer engineers focused on software is expected to be 22 percent–that’s double the expected job growth for all other jobs in the United States.

Interview with a Graduate

What better way to learn about what a degree in computer engineering can do than to ask a computer engineering graduate himself? Below is an interview with Tim Segraves, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Revaluate.

Q&A with Tim Segraves

What led to your decision to become a computer engineer?

I’ve always really enjoyed problem solving and knew that a career in an engineering field would be perfect for that. My first major was Architectural Engineering but after about a semester of that I became much more interested in the technology side of engineering. I had a friend that was majoring in Computer Engineering and after talking to him I decided to switch majors.

There are so many options for degree
programs in computer engineering —
what made you choose the school you ultimately graduated from?

I’d planned to go to school in-state so that limited my school choices to three. I chose the University of Kansas because it had a strong engineering department with a lot of different degree options since I wasn’t sure which branch of engineering I wanted to pursue.

What were some of your favorite courses and why?

My favorite course was easily our senior design class. It was the two-semester capstone course for the program in which we designed and built an autonomous soccer playing robot that competed against other teams in the program. I felt like this course encompassed everything we learned in the program including both the hardware and software side. I also really enjoyed our database class because we got to build an online store, which in the year 2000 felt really advanced.

What does your day-to-day work entail?

As CTO and co-founder of a startup, my day-to-day work varies a lot. I still probably spend around 70 percent of my time writing code, but I also spend a lot of time configuring and managing our servers, working on SEO strategy, and helping the rest of the team with strategic decisions. I still enjoy coding the most but it is also fun to get involved in other areas of growing a business. I also get to mentor junior developers, which is a fun and rewarding experience.

Advice for Success

In order to be the most marketable at graduation, become an expert in both hardware and software. This will also give the most flexibility in choosing an ideal job.

Schools with Computer Engineering Programs

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