Is a Master’s in Engineering Management Worth It? 9 Questions to Ask Yourself

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If you’re an engineer thinking about advancing your career, you may want to consider a move into a management or leadership position. 

As an engineering manager, you’ll be less hands-on with day-to-day work, but take a larger role in leading teams, developing business strategy and making decisions for the organization. Plus, you could also benefit from an increase in salary. According to Indeed, the average annual salary for an engineering manager is $149,530, compared to the average of $79,840 a year for engineers.

However, moving into a leadership or management position requires more than just taking on additional responsibilities or learning more about business management, you’ll need to build up your leadership skills and knowledge about your field or industry. 

Earning an advanced degree related to business management or leadership in engineering can not only provide that knowledge, it can be extremely advantageous in helping you attain a leadership position. But, are those advantages worth the time and effort it can take to attain a degree? According to Zippia, 69% of engineering managers have earned a bachelor’s degree, while a lower percentage — 16% — have earned a master’s degree.

Read on for a detailed look at what an engineering master’s degree program entails, and the important questions to ask yourself while considering if such a program is worth it for you.

What Is Engineering Management?

Engineering management balances the practice of engineering with the business of managing people — often other engineers — that are working on technically complex projects. Engineering managers are the ones who set goals and develop detailed plans, including production schedules, and then make sure strategies are properly executed.

The Engineering Management Body of Knowledge (EMBoK) defines engineering management as the “art and science of planning, organizing, allocating resources, and directing and controlling activities that have a technological component.” Engineering managers will work as part of an engineering or IT team and usually report to a director of engineering within a company.

What Is an Engineering Management Degree?

An engineering management degree program is tailored for working engineers that want to assume specialized positions and leadership roles within their industry. This degree is designed to cultivate leadership capabilities and related skills around team management, including decision making, project management, market knowledge, communication and more.

Unlike other similar programs, such as an MBA with a focus on engineering, an engineering management program is specific to the demands of the engineering or IT sectors. The key differentiator of this degree is its combination of human leadership proficiencies with a deep understanding of engineering management principles and an up-to-date understanding of industry trends and cutting-edge technologies.

The structure of engineering management degrees is meant to synergize the intrinsic abilities of engineers — such as adept problem-solving, meticulous attention to detail and a profound technical knowledge base — with strategic leadership skills and an understanding of business operations. In this way, the degree empowers engineering professionals to drive both individual and organizational success in a rapidly evolving industry.

What does the curriculum cover?

While the exact curriculum of engineering management programs will differ, you can expect most programs to provide direction in how to manage teams and projects, including elements of project management, quality management, operations, ethics and aspects of financial management spanning accounting and performance measures.

Example topics can include:

  • How to set goals and develop business strategies that take into account an organization’s performance, cultural dynamics and constraints
  • Understanding the aspects of technology project management, including the variable risk factors and how to manage challenges.
  • Ways to develop and implement best practices for product development, including plans for design simulations, experiments and prototyping
  • How to recognize and react to emerging technology trends, including understanding the technology life cycle and start-up ecosystem
  • Making management decisions that have implications for ethical, environmental and social responsibilities.

What are the admission requirements?

Specific admission guidelines will vary by program, though in general you can expect most engineering management programs to require:

  • An undergraduate degree from a college or university with valid accreditation status. Some programs will require the degree to be a bachelor’s in engineering, math, science or another STEM field.
  • Applicants with non-STEM undergraduate degrees may be admitted provided they complete certain prerequisite courses, such as in topics like foundations of engineering, calculus or physics.
  • A few years (at least 2-3) of professional experience within an engineering field or as an engineering manager.
  • Additional admission requirements may include:
    • A written personal statement
    • Letters of recommendation
    • Relevant exam scores (GRE, GMAT and TOEFL if applicable)

What is the average length of time to complete a program?

Like most master’s degree programs, an engineering management program will take, on average, two years of full-time study to complete, or three to four years part-time. The exact length will depend on the required number of credit hours, which can vary from 30 to 36 units.

Accelerated degree options are common among online engineering management programs and can typically be completed in a year to 20 months.

What Makes an Engineering Management Degree Worth It?

An engineering management master’s program can be worth your time and investment if you’re interested in the skill sets and experience that can make you a stronger candidate for engineering leadership positions. The benefits you can expect from a engineering management degree program include:

Refined leadership and management skills. Perhaps the primary benefit of these programs is the support and instruction in how to develop strong leadership and management skills. Engineers with a technical background can lack formal training or experience in team management, project leadership or strategic decision-making. A master’s program in engineering management equips graduates with these essential skills, making them well-prepared for leadership positions and the challenges of managing teams and projects.

A leg-up on career advancement. The number of businesses needing to fill high-level engineering management roles is vast and growing, and a master’s in engineering management offers a significant advantage to candidates looking to fill them. Graduates of an engineering management master’s program are often better positioned for career advancement. Graduates can point to their blend of technical expertise and management acumen, which will make them more attractive candidates for leadership positions such as engineering managers, project managers and department heads.

Increased earning potential. Graduates of engineering management master’s programs often have an increased earning potential of up to 13% more than regular engineers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), full-time engineering managers with a master’s degree earned an average of nearly 16% more than those whose highest degree completion was a bachelor’s. Salary.com lists the average median salary of an engineering manager with a master’s in engineering management as being higher than managers with just a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, the combination of technical expertise and managerial skills is highly sought after in the job market, which can lead to better offers and compensation packages.

Mastery of specialized knowledge: Engineering management programs typically cover a wide range of subjects that are required for business leaders and managers, including finance, economics, marketing and organizational behavior. This interdisciplinary approach broadens an engineer’s understanding of business operations, enabling them to make more informed decisions and contribute effectively to overall company goals. Engineering management programs are also more specialized than a comparable MBA degree program, providing instruction that aims to account for the innovation and disruption that’s so common within tech industries.

Training in effective communication. Successful engineering managers need to communicate not only with their own team, but be able to explain complex technical information to non-technical stakeholders, such as executives, clients and investors. A master’s program in engineering management helps engineers refine their communication skills, enabling them to bridge the gap between technical and non-technical audiences.

Practice with strategic thinking in a business setting. Effective engineering management often requires a step back to consider larger, more strategic questions. Engineering management programs will challenge engineers to think strategically and make decisions that align with an organization’s goals, missions and objectives while accounting for constraints like timelines, budgets and available resources. Strategic thinking is critical for identifying opportunities, mitigating risks and driving innovation within the engineering field.

Greater networking opportunities. Sometimes, landing a good position depends as much as who you know rather than just what you know. Attending an engineering management program allows you to engage with professors, fellow students and industry professionals throughout the program. This experience can enable you to create a valuable network that can provide career opportunities, mentorship and collaborative partnerships for years to come.

Who Is a Degree in Engineering Management Right for?

An engineering management degree is ideally suited for a professional with a background in engineering who aspires to take on leadership roles or specialized positions within any engineering, technology or related industry. In particular, this degree can be well-suited for:

  • Engineering professionals who aim to expand their responsibilities and move toward managing technical teams, spearheading business strategies and overseeing development processes from inception to completion.
  • Technical professionals who want to supplement their existing technical skills with leadership and management knowledge and experience that’s specific to engineering fields, rather than with general business operational experience.
  • Current engineering managers and supervisors who want to continue to build up their leadership skills to advance to higher level executive positions.
  • Engineers who are returning to the field and want a guided understanding of today’s industries, trends and technology development

What Jobs Can You Get with a Degree in Engineering Management?

A master’s degree in engineering management can be worth it if you’re determined to earn a management or leadership role within an engineering or technical field. In truth, any business where technical roles intersect with business management will need engineering management experts.

Your options can range from pure engineering fields, including chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical or software, to industries like healthcare, financial services, IT services or government and the military.

Many graduates of engineering management programs also choose to become entrepreneurs, launching their own high-tech start-up companies and developing their ideas for a chosen market. Example careers include:

  • Engineering director — Responsible for overseeing and managing all engineering activities and projects in a business; the engineering director applies best practices and offers technical guidance to drive successful engineering initiatives and produce high-quality output.
    Earns a salary range of $172,758 to $211,538.*
  • Operations manager — Oversees the daily activities of an organization’s operations by implementing company policies, procedures and initiatives; operations managers monitor a business’ performance to ensure that project or department milestones and goals are achieved while staying within budget.
    Earns a salary range of $97,061 to $125,723.*
  • Process engineering manager — Manages the team that is accountable for designing and implementing manufacturing processes or the development of equipment; process engineering managers are responsible for driving continuous improvement in process efficiency, maximizing cost-effectiveness without sacrificing quality or production output.
    Earns a salary range of $126,617 to $152,114.*
  • Technical consultant — Offers their expertise and guidance in a particular technical field or industry to help clients address their technical challenges or projects; independent technical contractors analyze technical issues, suggest solutions and offer training or support to enhance a business’s infrastructure, processes or operations.
    Earns a salary range of $69,614 and $97,762.*

*Salary estimates sourced from Salary.com and ZipRecruiter on August 2023

Read our companion blog article for more career opportunities, including salary estimates: What Can You Do With an Engineering Management Degree? 12 Careers to Consider.

Why Apply to USD’s Master of Engineering Management and Leadership?

The University of San Diego’s 100% online Master of Science in Engineering Management and Leadership (MS-EML) program was created to specifically address the needs of tomorrow’s technical professionals who are looking to advance into leadership or management positions. As a student in MS-EML, you’ll benefit from a targeted curriculum that’s specifically designed to build the skills needed for your future career in engineering management.

The MS-EML curriculum is designed to provide graduates with a balance of technical ability and the capacity to be adaptable, strategic, innovative and influential. We invite you to review our admissions requirements and curriculum to see how we’re shaping the engineering leaders of tomorrow.

FAQs


Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a degree in engineering management and an MBA?

While an MBA program with a focus on engineering can provide a general understanding of business processes, a master’s program in engineering management will focus on issues and elements that are specific to the engineering field. These programs will pull problems, challenges and examples directly from industry and instruct students how to apply solutions to the engineering space.

What do you learn in engineering management?

The curriculum of engineering management programs is meant to supplement a professional’s existing engineering expertise with instruction on managerial skills, effective communication, an understanding of markets and how to understand and achieve organizational goals.

Why should engineers study management?

Not every great engineer makes a great manager. If you’re interested in advancing to management or leadership roles, especially at the executive level, then you’ll need to master a variety of skills related to team, project and business management.

What kind of experience do you need for this program?

Students who want to apply to engineering management and leadership programs are expected to have at least a few years of experience within the field of engineering — preferably some prior management experience having led teams or projects.

What are some helpful resources for engineering managers?

There are many different organizations dedicated to supporting engineers, offering resources, training and networking opportunities. Some of the most prominent include:


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