Computer Engineering vs. Electrical Engineering: Which is Right for You?
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- Overview of Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering
- Preparing for Computer or Electrical Engineering in High School
- The College Experience: Computer vs. Electrical Engineering
- After College: Computer vs. Electrical Engineering
- Final Thoughts
If you’re interested in a career in engineering, then you likely have started to explore the different types to determine which one may be right for you. These types include mechanical engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, and more. You may be looking at both computer and electrical engineering for career options, and both are great choices.
Figuring out which one best suits you can depend on your skill set as well as what you want to do with your career. Knowing the difference between computer engineering and electrical engineering can help you decide which one is right for you, even if you’re still in high school.
Overview of Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering
Both computer engineering and electrical engineering are closely related. In high school and college, you will likely end up taking many of the same courses to prepare yourself for these careers. You’ll also need certain skills in order to succeed as an engineer, no matter what type you choose. Those skills include:
- Creative thinking
- Problem solving
- Analytical thinking
- Communication skills
- Ability to work well within a team
- Detail oriented
- Strong skills in math and science
You’ll also need to enjoy learning about how things are built and how each part contributes to a working mechanism. While their tracks are similar, computer engineers will go on to learn more highly specialized tasks for their jobs.
Let’s get into the crucial differences between computer engineering and electrical engineering.
As an electrical engineer, you could handle the design of everything from tiny circuits within an electronic device all the way up to machines that run and control power plants. Electrical engineers use computer software to design and create technical documents that outline how a piece of machinery should work.
You’ll obtain a vast amount of valuable knowledge that will continue to be in demand. You may even work to develop new products, as many electrical engineers go into a research and development type setting. Management positions in this role could be attainable as well, but you may require additional licensing for those.
Computer engineering is actually a subset of electrical engineering, which is why many of the courses you’ll take in preparation for your specialty will be similar. You’ll learn about the essentials of electrical engineering, but then go in the direction of learning how computers work, what it takes to put them together, and how to design them.
Along with that, you’ll also discover how to create a network and develop software, as well as create prototypes for computer parts and software. You could end up working in a variety of industries and could potentially advance to become the manager of a department, but may need some management courses under your belt.
Preparing for Computer or Electrical Engineering in High School
Since computer engineering is an offshoot of electrical engineering, the high school preparation track will be fairly similar. You’ll want to focus heavily on your math and science courses, as the material presented there will get you prepared for what you’ll face in college. Plus, any college that will be looking over your application will want to see that you’ve put in good effort in these subject areas. That may include taking AP courses or a gifted/honors course, depending on what your high school offers.
Taking STEM-related electives can also help prepare you for either of these career choices, and it could be good to take ones that relate to both so that you can decide which one you like more. Examples of good electives to take for either major include:
- Computer science
- Computer-aided-design (CAD) classes
- Independent study
Preparing Outside the Classroom
While getting prepared in school is vital, it’s important to prepare outside of the classroom as well. Colleges like to see differentiators among their applicants, so if they see you’ve taken the initiative to do something outside of school, it could be the key to them accepting you. This could involve offering to tutor other students in math or science, mentoring younger kids who have an interest in technology, or actively working to get an internship with a tech company during the summer.
Colleges also like to see that their applicants are well-rounded, so try seeking out some volunteer or learning opportunities that are not just STEM-centered. Take an online creative writing course to develop your writing skills or volunteer to coach a Little League team, for example.
The College Experience: Computer vs. Electrical Engineering
The first step toward a college experience, whether it’s for electrical engineering or computer engineering, is to find a school that has a strong engineering program. Some of the best colleges for engineering include:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- California Institute of Technology
- Stanford University
- Princeton University
- Harvard University
- University of California, Berkeley
- Columbia University
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Duke University
- University of Pennsylvania
If you’re unsure of what school to choose, you can use valuable tools from CollegeVine to help you. Check out our chancing engine to view your odds of acceptance and use our school search tool to find engineering schools near you. You can also filter for diversity, size, and more.
After you’ve chosen your school and applied, you’ll want to sit down and read through the course requirements to ensure that you have all the items you’ll need to successfully complete the coursework.
Electrical Engineering in College
If you choose electrical engineering, you’ll be learning how to use your knowledge of math and science and apply those to designing and implementing electrical systems. While types of courses will vary by school, subjects you may cover during your program can include:
- Computer science
- Device physics
- Device operations
- Integrated circuit design
- Mechanical engineering
Computer Engineering in College
Once you learn the basics of electrical engineering, you’ll start taking that and applying it to the concepts you’ll learn in computer engineering. Computer engineers will design and develop computer hardware and software. Like electrical engineering, courses will be somewhat different at each college, but expect courses such as:
- Computer assisted design
- Computer architecture
- Computer organization
- Digital imaging
- Electric circuits
- Computer programming
After College: Computer vs. Electrical Engineering
Once you’ve earned your undergraduate degree, you can either choose to go into the field immediately or you can go on to earn a graduate degree. Both computer engineers and electrical engineers should earn around a six-figure salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Both fields are growing, but at a slower rate than average. Computer engineering is expected to grow 2% by 2029, while electrical engineering should grow 3%.
The median salary for computer hardware engineers as of May 2020 was $119,560 per year. Some computer engineering majors also go on to become computer and information systems managers, who earned an average of $151,150 in 2020. If you want to build networks, then you could become a computer network architect, and those positions netted $116,780.
Electrical and electronics engineers earned around $103,390 in 2020. If you want to become a manager, then architectural and engineering managers had a median salary of $149,530.
Deciding your major can be a tough process, especially when you’re trying to pick between two that are quite similar. You’ll need to figure out if you want to know more about the overall scope of electrical engineering, or if you want to specialize and work solely in computer engineering. Each one requires a similar skill set, but both will be equally challenging and should give you opportunity for both professional and personal growth. Picking a major will likely dictate the course of your professional life, so make sure you choose the one about which you feel most passionate.