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Studying The Master of Engineering vs the Master of Science Degree

written by: •edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 3/23/2010

Looking at graduate engineering programs? Is the Master of Engineering or the Master of Science (engr. major) the degree for you? Differences between the two types of engineering masters programs include more research in MS engineering programs and more coursework in Master of Engineering programs.

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    Many holders of a bachelor's degree in engineering start to consider graduate engineering education after a few years of engineering practice, or in some cases immediately after completing the bachelor's degree. One of the choices to be made is between a Master of Engineering degree or a Master of Science degree. There are indeed some differences between these two engineering masters degrees. The best choice for you depends upon your plans and goals following your achievement of the graduate engineering degree. The meaning of Master of Engineering and Master of Science (MS engineering) degrees vary somewhat from country to country. This article is about these two types of engineering masters degrees in the United States.

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    Master of Science Degree

    Master of Science The Master of Science degree is a widely recognized graduate degree, available in many science, engineering and technical fields of study. In a graduate engineering program for example, one might study for a Master of Science degree with a major in electrical engineering or mechanical engineering, etc. Most Master of Science programs have a research emphasis and require a completion of a thesis as a major degree requirement. Due to this research emphasis, Master of Science programs are, in general, good preparation for entry into a PhD program.

    The requirements for an MS engineering (Master of Science with an engineering major) degree typically include about 30 semester hours of work beyond the B.S. degree. A thesis that demonstrates original research, worth 4 to 8 credits is required for most Master of Science degrees. In many cases a comprehensive examination is also required. Some Master of Science programs have a non-thesis option with requirements very similar to those described below for a Master of Engineering degree. Due to the widespread prevalence of MS engineering programs the Master of Science degree with an engineering major is well accepted by employers.

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    Master of Engineering Degree

    The Master of Engineering degree is not a part of all graduate engineering programs, but it is available at many universities. This type ofMaster of Engineering  engineering masters program is oriented toward advanced technical preparation for the practice of engineering. The emphasis in Master of Engineering degree programs is typically on coursework, rather than research. A Master of Engineering degree is well accepted by employers, but it is not typically accepted as preparation for entry into a PhD engineering program.

    This type of graduate engineering program typically requires about 30 semester hours of coursework beyond the B.S. degree. Some Master of Engineering degree programs require some type of capstone paper or report, often based on an engineering design project. Some Master of Engineering programs allow or require credit for an internship or practicum. Some of them have a comprehensive examination requirement.

    Because thesis completion is often a time consuming portion for a Master of Science degree, a Master of Engineering program can often be completed in less time than a Master of Science program.

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    The primary consideration in deciding between a Master of Engineering and a Master of Science program for graduate engineering education, is the nature of your plans and goals upon completion of the engineering masters degree. If you are planning to, or even anticipate that you might want to, pursue a PhD degree, then an MS engineering (Master of Science with a major in your field of engineering) would be the best choice. Even if you expect to work primarily in engineering research, a Master of Science degree might be the best preparation.

    If, on the other hand, you plan to spend your career working in the field of engineering, and are quite certain that you will not decide to go for a PhD degree, then the Master of Engineering degree provides an option, well accepted by employers of engineers, that you may be able to complete in less time than would be required for a Master of Science degree.

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    About the Author

    Dr. Harlan Bengtson is a registered professional engineer with 30 years of university teaching experience in engineering science and civil engineering. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering