Electrical engineering is a promising field with great career prospects. However, like other engineering disciplines, it is math and science intensive. If you’re considering a career in this line of work, you’re probably wondering how hard it can be.
Electrical engineering is considered one of the hardest engineering majors due to its high level of abstract theory and heavy reliance on mathematics and science.
It involves many intangible elements that are difficult to understand, such as electric currents, magnetic fields, and electric fields. Understanding these concepts proves difficult for many students.
In this article, I explained why electrical engineering can seem difficult to many students and what to expect if you are considering a career in this field.
What does electrical engineering entail?
Electrical engineering is a broad discipline that studies the design and development of devices and equipment that use electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism.
From household appliances such as televisions and refrigerators to communication systems to computer systems and more, electrical engineers have developed many devices that make the world a better place.
Electrical engineers apply mathematical and scientific concepts to model their work. EE also involves rigorous laboratory practice and abstract theory.
During the first two years of college, all students take general electrical engineering courses. In junior classes, students may then specialize in a branch of electrical engineering.
The different options for students majoring in EE include power systems, robotics, telecommunications, or the study of integrated circuits and solid-state devices.
All in all, electrical engineering is an interesting field with many career opportunities and rewards, but it is indeed demanding and challenging.
What makes electrical engineering so hard?
It is undeniable that EE is a difficult major. Advanced mathematics, rigorous laboratory courses, and abstract theory make it one of the most challenging majors in college.
According to a study done by the International Journal of Engineering Education Vol. 2, the turnover rate of engineering majors is about 50% in the past 60 years. Not only that, but 30% of successful students failed at least once during their undergraduate studies.
Several factors make engineering very difficult. Let’s take a look at why students rank EE as one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult of all engineering disciplines.
1. Abstract theory
In other fields of engineering like civil or mechanical engineering, you can visualize the material you work with. For example, civil engineers can see the bricks, steel, and concrete they use to build houses or roads.
In contrast, electrical engineers deal with magnetic fields, currents, and electric fields, and these fields can be very complex to conceptualize. You will have to understand how this works and provide solutions to the abstract theory in practice.
For example, electrical engineers must use math and scientific techniques to figure out why electrical circuits malfunction. This high level of technical and abstract creative thinking can seem really difficult for many students.
2. It involves advanced mathematics
Electrical engineers use mathematical concepts to understand, test, and design electrical components and devices. Math is essential to calculating things like the amps and volts required for a device.
In fact, electrical engineering is probably the most math-intensive engineering discipline, containing a lot of advanced mathematics, many of which are abstract. Students will face complex mathematical topics such as trigonometry, calculus, algebra, and more.
To excel in EE, students must be proficient in mathematics and willing to work hard to improve their math skills. According to the Engineering Technology Accreditation Council, the Electrical Engineering major requires a minimum of 30 credits in mathematics and science subjects.
3. Academic requirements
Electrical engineering is a highly complex field that requires a solid understanding of technical and electrical concepts such as current flow and electric fields. It’s no surprise, then, that universities accept top-achieving students into the program.
Most universities and colleges require a high school GPA of at least 3.0 or proof that the student was in the top 25% of high school. Many engineering schools also use standardized testing and require the SAT or ACT to include math and science subject scores.
Earning a bachelor’s degree is also crucial to becoming an electrical engineer. While there are some electrical engineers without a college degree, following this path would be really difficult and far less rewarding.
Those without degrees are seen as less skilled and therefore only available in low-level positions. Even with years of experience in the field, without a bachelor’s degree in engineering, you may not be able to advance to a management position or other high-end positions.
Typically, to land a top job, you’ll need an engineering degree and/or certification. However, jobs like software engineering may not require an engineering degree.
In addition to earning your degree, you’ll need to keep abreast of new processes, new technologies, and new ways of doing things to stay relevant as an electrical engineer. Generally, becoming an electrical engineer is stressful.
Engineers often need certification to be recognized as professionals. The process of becoming certified is often tedious and takes time, often years. While the certification process varies by state, most follow a common process.
According to the National Association of Professional Engineers, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering, have worked as a professional engineer for at least four years, pass two intensive competency exams, and be licensed by your state’s licensing board.
The most complex and administrative engineering roles are usually reserved for professionals. Therefore, the top earners in this field are those who paid for the certification.
If you are interested in obtaining high-end electrical engineering jobs, it is important to consider professional certification.
As mentioned earlier, states have slightly different requirements, so make sure to check your state’s requirements.
5. Rigorous laboratory practicals
If you hate the practicality of the lab, don’t major in electrical engineering. This is a career-oriented course, and students must spend most of their time in the laboratory working on projects and solving technical problems.
It involves as much theory as it does practice, therefore, you must be prepared to balance both in order to excel in your studies and become a successful electrical engineer.
Many of these practices also require collaboration with other students. Although working in a team may seem easy, it can be very difficult to get along with others in a group of people with different backgrounds, personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.
Since collaboration is common for engineers in the real world, many projects require working with others on a team. Students need to learn to tolerate each other and find common ground as they design, build, and manage projects for the common good.
6. Long study time
Studying electrical engineering is not a walk in the park. It requires a significant investment of time and effort on your part compared to many other courses.
Due to coursework, laboratory practice, and assignments, you may need to study until weekends to have fun with others.
In a lot of other courses, memorizing concepts might work, but electrical engineering is application based and as such, it will require you to learn and master many concepts.
So, you can’t just memorize formulas and scan topics, you have to take the time to understand the basic concepts behind them.
Is electrical engineering stressful?
Electrical engineers typically work 40 or more hours per week.
Does electrical engineering involve a lot of math?
It uses mathematical concepts to solve technical problems and design devices.
Is electrical engineering harder than mechanical engineering?
EE can be harder if we consider the level of mathematics involved in both areas of study. However, mechanical engineering can be broader and more demanding.
Is electrical engineering harder than computer science?
Computer science does not involve rigorous and complex lab work like EE. Also, computer science doesn’t contain a lot of abstract theories.
Is electrical engineering worth it?
Seeing as EE can be really difficult and demanding, you might wonder if it’s worth all the stress. The simple answer is yes.
Electrical engineering is a very rewarding field, with a median annual salary of $100,420 as of May 2021. Electrical engineers are also in high demand.
Electricity is ubiquitous and new technologies emerge frequently, so electrical engineers are hardly unemployed. From working on airplanes to making cell phones, electrical engineers are involved in just about everything.
If something is powered by electricity, electrical engineers are likely involved in its design.
I hope this article helped. Thanks for reading.