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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Communications Engineering

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Explore a Master's Degree in Communications Engineering

Communications engineering is a subfield of electrical engineering that is concerned with communication systems, particularly wireless communications and telecommunications. A master's program is communications engineering may be a good fit for experienced engineers with an undergraduate background in electrical, electronics, or computer systems engineering who want to expand their knowledge base and skills in the communications side of these disciplines. Some programs are more specialized and may focus on a specific type of communications engineering, such as photonic communications engineering, which focuses more on fiber optics, optical communications, and optical devices.

While program length may differ from school to school, some online programs in communications engineering can be completed in as little as one year of full-time work. However, universities may allow up to six years for students to complete the program. Many students enrolled in online master's degree programs in communications engineering are working engineers who must enroll in the program part time, making the program take longer to complete. However, students may be able to transfer in applicable credits from previous graduate work completed at other accredited universities, which can reduce the time it takes to graduate.

Class Curriculum

The curriculum in a master's-level communications engineering program is designed to provide advanced education in communications engineering topics and expose students to the most relevant research in the discipline. Since communications engineering is interdisciplinary, students may take courses and electives related to computer and electronics engineering, telecommunications, electrical engineering, computer science and engineering, information systems and technology, and mathematics and statistics. Required course work may vary significantly depending on the school and whether the program has more of a research focus or a professional practice focus, but a student may encounter the following courses:

  • Wireless Communications. In this course, students learn the essentials of wireless communication theory and how these theories are implemented in practice. Using examples from well-known wireless systems, students look at topics like multiple input multiple output (MIMO) communication, analog and digital modulation, channel coding, space-time coding, and more.
  • Telecommunications Engineering. This foundational course emphasizes the underlying principles of digital communications and networking. Students survey telecommunications systems and explore topics like signal sources and types, information sources (such as voice, data, and video), and signaling and switching.
  • Advanced Optical Communications Systems. In this course, students who are pursuing a photonic communications engineering master's degree learn how to optimize the performance of optical transmission systems. Students may also learn advanced modulation formats.

Students in an online master's program in communications engineering are given a wide range of assignments, projects, and papers, alongside midterms and finals. They may also be required to report to a campus to take part in labs unless they have applicable industry experience that allows them to waive lab requirements. Writing assignments vary; for example, a student may be asked to describe the characteristics of effective communication networks. Research-focused programs will require the completion of a thesis.

Building a Career

Students who complete a master's degree in communications engineering may work as engineers within the telecommunications, computer, transportation, or defense industries, to name a few. Others work as electrical or electronics engineers who specialize in designing and developing broadcast and communication systems. Some will go on to earn doctoral degrees, pursuing careers in research and development, or in university teaching and research.

Slower than average job growth of 8% is expected for electrical and electronics engineers between 2010 and 2020 due in large part to the decline of the manufacturing sector, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, job growth is expected for electrical and electronics engineers who work in computer systems design and wireless telecommunications, as well as in research and development.

Median annual pay for electronics and electrical engineers varies by industry, but in general, electrical engineers reported a $84,540 median salary and electronics engineers reported a $90,170 median salary, the BLS stated. Remember, however, that graduates of master's programs in communications engineering are not guaranteed a job, and that salaries depend on a number of factors, including one's experience, location, and the size and type of employer.