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Salary concerns for Engineers (Degree Level Matter ?)

  1. Jan 18, 2015 #1
    I am not sure if this would deem another thread but I wanted to ask if school and/or degree level (BS, MS,PhD) has meaningful bearing on starting salary with electrical engineering. I know that there are people who can make 100k with BS and people who make 50k with MS. However there is a difference between possibility and probability. I am basically asking how salary correlates with degree level in the most practical sense for engineering careers.
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  3. Jan 18, 2015 #2
    Higher degrees get higher salaries; that's how the two correlate.

    Not sure what you are really asking.
  4. Jan 18, 2015 #3
    I felt that was the general case. However I have heard of cases where people make more with just a BS degree. I guess what I am really asking about is what causes some people to be "special cases" in which they only have a BS degree and make as much as the corresponding masters degree.
  5. Jan 18, 2015 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    One's salary is not a reward for doing well in school. One gets a salary of $X because one's employers would rather have you working for them than an extra $X profit at the end of the year. Simple as that - it's all about how much money you can make for your employer. Some people do that better than others.
  6. Jan 18, 2015 #5
    Thanks Vanadium. That does put things into a better perspective. Then in that case, should one apply for positions that specifically state that graduate degrees are preferred in order to get the advantage for a salary. Or rather should one use their skill set to increase the net profit for the company.

    The only off part of this ideology is that generally, MS people tend to make more on average....unless that is the result of increasing company profit.
  7. Jan 19, 2015 #6
    More comments are always welcome...
  8. Jan 19, 2015 #7
    No, they don't. There are several reasons for this.

    First, Engineering is a very practical field. What matters most is PRACTICE, not education. If you're trying to build something truly revolutionary, of a sort that nobody has ever tried before, then yes, more education may help. However, practical experience usually are the engineers with gray hair who have seen what works, how it works and when it doesn't work. THEY are the people making those big salaries.

    Second, those with education tend to seek less common, more unusual endeavors. The intellectual challenge is what intrigues them. However, those jobs are few and far between. There is a lot of competition for those sorts of positions. They tend to make LESS money.

    Third, Engineers are always studying new things. You don't just go to school and then stop learning so that you can practice what you learned. So your claim about the value of higher education is somewhat mystifying to say the least.

    I know lots of people, some with Ph.D educations, who make less than I do. It is not about education. It's about the capabilities you bring to the table.

    Let me leave you with this, lest you get the wrong idea about what I'm saying here: You go to school to study. You scratch an intellectual itch. And then, having scratched it, you go out in to the real world and try to make something of yourself and your community. There are many ways to do this. But above all you must NEVER stop learning. Educational institutions are supposed to instill a love of learning and an ability to teach yourself more. Getting a higher education isn't necessarily better. It merely means you studied more in a formal class-oriented atmosphere.

    I have studied many things outside the confines of a university. I have learned a lot from many people in many walks of life. That's why they pay me the salary I get.
  9. Jan 19, 2015 #8
    Jake. I understand what you are saying and honestly I feel that experience is worth it's weight in gold for engineering. You also made valid points. My only concern is if what you say is prevalent, why is it cited on multiple job statistics like BLS that masters of engineering make more on average. Also I have seen different job postings where MS were preferred for hiring, despite the fact that the position formerly was for BS people.
  10. Jan 19, 2015 #9
    Not to imply that this is the case for you, but if your only interest is money, then engineering is not a career for you. You will make far more with far less work by heading towards finance or business.

    That said, no. A graduate degree alone does not command a higher salary. The problems you study in school will provide you with knowledge and theory, they will not provide you with experience in the real world. Classes cannot prepare you for the world that engineers actually work in. They won't teach you things like how to negotiate with manufacturers or salespeople, they won't teach you how to work in multi-disciplinary teams (at least not directly), and they don't always emphasize many secondary skills that employers of engineers value like foreign languages or finance.

    However, there is still value in an advanced education in that it can open certain doors for you. You'll be able to tackle more unusual problems that require a deeper knowledge of certain subjects. If the idea of doing unusual work that few other people have done appeals to you, then that's what you need. And at the end of the day, if you love your work the money will come on its own.

    And speaking of money. If your goal is to be rich or at least financially comfortable, then you should be focused on saving and investing rather than earning a high salary on paper.

    Many people do not pursue their Master's degree or PhD until they are older. This means they may have their own firms or have advanced to leadership positions, or they've moved into consulting work. Also, I'm not sure that counts people with Master's degrees who are not working in positions that require them.
  11. Jan 19, 2015 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    Let me say it again, because I don't think it sunk in the first time. One's salary is not a reward for having done well in school.
  12. Jan 19, 2015 #11
    OK. Jack, you made some even more valid points. And to answer your inquiry, I'm not involved in engineering just for money. I really do have a passion for my field of study. My bigger concern has been gaining experience to match what I want to practice.
    That said , I understand that no guarantees come with a BS or MS and that no matter how a class is taught, it doesn't mean your pay or experiences will be the better for it [giving respect for what vanadium has stated]. I am trying to do what I want because I'm passionate in learning more about it and become more skilled with it. That why I am in grad school.
  13. Jan 20, 2015 #12
    That wasn't the question. It wasn't about what matters more; degree or experience.

    The question was how degree and salary correlate. There's three possibilities. They correlate, positively. They correlate, negetively. Or there is no correlation at all.

    Obviously a degree is being looked at. So there must be correlation.
    All things else being equal, do you really believe someone with an MSc makes less than if that person would have had a BSc?

    Apparently we are talking about engineering, but surely even with engineering, being less educated doesn't make you a better engineer, right?

    Obviously a degree doesn't fix your salary for life and we all believe you truly make a sickening amount of money, but all that wasn't really relevant.
  14. Jan 20, 2015 #13
    Engineering is not like scouting where you earn merit badges and then move on to other things. It is a practice. Yes, there are bureaucratic toads who look only at merit badges and think that this must mean they're more competent.

    Those motivated to work on a Master's degree tend to be those who would work heavily on technical things. But Engineering is more than that. If you think that people will see that MSc and decide to throw more money in your cubicle just because you have one, keep dreaming. Thanks to utterly blind HR policies, an MSc graduate may start off with more money, but that's no guarantee that you'll continue to improve your income. I'm sure you've seen the economics equations on compound interest...

    The reason why people think an MSc is a good investment is because many HR departments are looking for differentiation methods to weed out some applicants. Thus, you do see a lot of positions where MSc degrees are preferred or even required. This is particularly the case for Civil Engineering.

    However, the actual performance on the job does not require advanced degrees. There are no secret decoder rings that they hand out to MSc graduates that enable them to unlock the magical salary buckets filled with technical proficiency money to take you to the next level.

    Oh and another thing: I make a middle class salary. It's probably closer to upper middle class, but it is still a middle class salary. The reason I'm still practicing engineering is because I enjoy it and I don't mind the lifestyle. If I wanted money, I'd have probably gone for a degree in business, accounting, or some other degree that gets you in to boardrooms these days. I've seen what executive life can do to people. Some handle it better than others. I'm not one of them.
  15. Jan 20, 2015 #14
    Bureaucracy is a funny thing, isn't it? If you were in charge of an HR department and you had no idea how to screen applicants in an open, easily reviewable, "transparent" manner, what would you do? You'd look for more education. So that's what they do. Does it work? I don't think it hurts. But it doesn't help.

    Basically, if the job market is thin and you don't think you can find a job right away, an MSc may help pad your resume or CV to get you an interview.

    However, once you hit the real world, all that becomes irrelevant. But for one case, I have not seen consistent evidence that someone with an MSc in Engineering will outperform someone else without one. The best case I have seen is that Civil Engineers tend to have a lot of higher math courses in a Master's degree than they'd get in a Bachelor's degree. However, most Bachelor's Degree Mechanical and Electrical Engineering students get those classes early in their Bachelor's Degree studies.

    Those who tend to worship proficiency in mathematics might think that a Master's degree is almost essential for Civil Engineering. And for some disciplines of Civil Engineering, such as Structural Engineering, that math really is essential. But that's only one case out of many. Since you were asking broad questions about all engineering, the general answer is no, it really doesn't seem to make much difference in most cases.
  16. Jan 20, 2015 #15
    So jobs where you need a minimum of five years of education pay less than jobs that require three years of education?
    Or you lose skills you learned in those three years in the two years of the MSc, making you lose employability.

    You are typing a whole lot but I don't see why a lower degree is better than a higher degree. Why not get a job without even a BSc and make even more money?

    Apparently you have a BSc and think you did well. That's all fine, but what does performance on the job have to do with your degree? Obviously a guy with an MSc that never even shows up for his job is going to get fired and make less. No one is going to keep him around 'because he has an MSc'. But that's not the point. No one is saying that an idiot with an MSc will do better than a model employee with an BSc.

    Obviously employers look at your degree, so it must have an effect. So does it lower your salary or increase your salary? You say you will earn less with an MSc? So you should never put it on your cv and never mention it? (But secretly use those skills on the job (or are you saying it is all a complete waste of time?))

    I know that the US kind of has a strange system where you earn a BSc as a terminal degree. Where I live you start at the BSc level knowing you will do an MSc and the level of math and pace is uniform across those 5 years.
    There are other studies where the BSc is a terminal degree. Those studies are completely different in nature, while similar to US BSc degrees. But no one here would ever equate these two education tracks as anyone who has come into contact with either knows they really differ a lot.
    The remainder of Europe should be very similar.

    Are you really saying that in the US the average MSc is just a glorified BSc? If so, something is wrong with US education.

    I know that in the US you can be an engineer with a BSc. Here, you need a 5 year academic education with an MSc as terminal degree to be a true engineer. With a BSc you start out as a glorified technician but with more oppertunities.
    Surely you can do really well or really bad during your career. But upgrading your level of math and abstraction while you are doing your job, does that really happen in engineering?
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2015
  17. Jan 20, 2015 #16

    Quantum Defect

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    Look at publications from the Professional Societies if you want more data. In Chemical Engineering, the American Chemical Society publishes salary information (broken up by academia/government/industry) as a function of terminal degree (BS, MS, PhD).

    Engineering is a very big field.
  18. Jan 20, 2015 #17
    You're reading things in my comments that aren't there. I'm not saying you'll earn less. I'm just saying that a Bachelor's degree with two years experience is just as good in most Engineering fields as a Master's degree. So why would one get a Master's degree? Well, for a very few engineering endeavors, such as structural engineering, it is necessary because the standard curriculum does not cover it.

    However, in most Engineering endeavors, A BSc and two years experience is about equal to an MSc. In other words, unless you're trying to scratch an intellectual itch of some sort, or you have some specific endeavor in mind that is primarily theoretical, there is usually not much to be GAINED by spending the extra time and money on a Master's degree. And if you're thinking about a Ph.D in Engineering, you must be looking to teach others because honestly, there isn't much that a Ph.D in Engineering is BETTER for.

    In a practical field like this, educational foundations are important. However, practical experience is what you bring to the table when negotiating salaries.
  19. Jan 20, 2015 #18


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    @OP. There has been a lot of talk about what makes a good engineer and how much your degree level effects LONG TERM salary. That being said there is a truth that i don't think anyone has pointed out yet.

    On average out of college with no experience phd makes more than MS makes more than BS. Period.
    after you are in the work force for a few years this is not necessarily true.

    for example at my company entry level engineers with no experience come in at pay grade 8 if they have a BS and pay grade 9 if they have a MS. there is a lot of variation in the bands, but at the end of the day the MS people will make more than the BS people.
  20. Jan 20, 2015 #19
    That has, in fact, been pointed out. However, it isn't meaningful. The question isn't whether an MS makes more than a BS right out of college. The question is whether an MS right out of college makes more than an entry level BS with 2 years of experience. Or whether a PhD right out of college makes more than a BS with 5 years experience.
  21. Jan 20, 2015 #20
    A little reminder: comparing salaries is a terrible way to compare the financial value of two careers or career paths, as it doesn't take into account the time value of money or opportunity cost.

    So I question whether the OP is really asking the question they mean to ask.
  22. Jan 20, 2015 #21


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    @OP. There has been a lot of talk about what makes a good engineer and how much your degree level effects LONG TERM salary. That being said there is a truth that i don't think anyone has pointed out yet.

    On average out of college with no experience phd makes more than MS makes more than BS. Period.
    after you are in the work force for a few years this is not necessarily true.

    for example at my company entry level engineers with no experience come in at pay grade 8 if they have a BS and pay grade 9 if they have a MS. there is a lot of variation in the bands, but at the end of the day the MS people will make more than the BS people.
  23. Jan 22, 2015 #22


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    It is also interesting to note that in some industries it may be actually harder to get a position with a MS as opposed to just a BS. The reason being that having a MS generally commands a higher starting salary, but someone with an MS is usually no more productive than someone with a BS for the same experience level, so the value to the company is less.
  24. Jan 23, 2015 #23
    Where I live people with an MSc will have a different mentality and background because the place where they do their BSc is completely different from where BSc terminal degree people do their degree. There are many more high achievers and you get an academic background, and much more well-versed in math and fundamental theory. Everything is rigorous and no short-cuts are taken while at the BSc terminal degree programmas it is all about getting the job done and filling in the skillsets-profile your profession/future employees require.

    I think that in the US it should also be the case that only top students go on to get an MSc, right? But otherwise it is similar?
    So yes here, an MSc will make it easier to get a job that is usual done by a BSc. But that doesn't mean you get paid more.
    Often I see vacancies with "8-10 years of experience for BSc, 4-6 for MSc", almost always the experience gap is bigger than the additional time spend in university.

    Also, comparing someone with a BSc and 2 years of working experience to someone with a fresh MSc degree is no more fairer than comparing both just out of school, for many reasons.
    They both start getting salary at a different point in time, they both start off at a different salary, but they also both have different salary curves throughout their career.
    This is obvious when you add a third case of someone with no degree whatsoever. When he has 5 years of working experience he probably earns the most out of all 3. Yet no one in his right mind would suggest that not having an education at all makes you more money.

    Also, when you take a BSc graduate and add 2 years of valuable working experience you are already skewering the comparison because not everyone, BSc or MSc, will have a job giving valuable working experience right out of university.

    And when it come to the US, and some other places, we aren't taking into account maybe the most important factor; how much debt did one take out to get that degree.

    Only when you come at PhD level employee's may feel you are overqualified; they will think you have no long-term interest in the mundane job profile they have to offer you. In that case they rather have an BSc or MSc take the job, leading to better continuity.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2015
  25. Jan 23, 2015 #24
    All of these supposed issues can be solved by considering the time value of money and the cost of education.

    So in the case of the BS vs Masters, find the net present value of the BS's earnings at 2 years into their career. Then find the NPV of the masters at start date and subtract the PV cost of the MS.

    That is absolutely a fair way to compare those two. The same process can be done for the no degree case.
  26. Jan 23, 2015 #25
    You can use some model from finance or economics, but in the end it is just another opinion.
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