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Sunday, October 3, 2010

How to choose Master’s Degrees – MBA vs MSCE?

Master’s Degrees – MBA vs MSCE

This is a debate that has been going on for a long time. And you will find people that defend each side very well. This is also an important question that we, as young engineers, face. This decision will most likely influence our careers in the future.

Matt Barcus wrote a great article called MSCE vs. MBA – Lets Get Ready to Rumbllllle on this question for Civil Engineering Central. More than a dozen people shared their insights. The article covers many of the pros and cons to each degree program. The conclusion that he draws in the end is that even though both are great and can help your career “one should pursue their MSCE first, and then only consider pursuing an MBA after spending a decent amount of time in the trenches.” The basic reasoning behind that seems to come from two main ideas. First, most consulting firms were started and are run by PEs and the MSCE is what your employers will be looking for. Second, no matter what master’s degree you have, you will be expected to spend several years learning design before you are introduced to project management.

I agree with the conclusion and the reasoning when it comes to private consulting firms. Especially when considering small and medium sized firms. However, there a few other important points that I think should be considered when making a decision. I’ve talked with PEs and other engineers working in many types of environments including military, civil service, municipalities, engineering consulting firms, and private firms that employ CEs. I’ve come up with some other things that should be considered.

1) What type of career path do you want to follow?

There are three basic types of career paths that CEs can follow: become a technical expert, project management, and corporate leadership.

Obviously the technical expert will gain the most from the MSCE. Since they are hired to lead teams to solve difficult problems in their field, the more education they have the better.

Project managers have to have more general knowledge. They will oversee projects that cover several engineering disciplines. They will also have to plan, schedule, budget, etc… An MSCE will certainly help them understand the engineering better as well as help them teach and lead their teams better. Because of the management aspects of the job, a good understanding of basic management would greatly help them streamline their projects. An executive MBA or a few carefully chosen classes could help them round out their knowledge.

Corporate leadership is more of a business job than an engineering job, but in the engineering world even the corporate leaders need to understand the engineering side. This type of job works a lot with marketing, public relations, accounting and other business functions. An MBA would be very helpful, but an MSCE would not help as much.

2) Where do you want to work? What kind of engineering do you want to do? How do you want to get there?

When I graduated from college I joined a design firm to do design work, one classmate of mine went to work doing project management on the civilian side of the Air Force, another joined the Navy and another is managing at a quarry.

We all have very different career paths ahead of us. Our employers have different expectations and requirements. It doesn’t matter that we all have the same degree from the same school. Nor that we all consider ourselves civil engineers. So we are all leaning in different directions to meet our employers’ needs and to get us where we want to be.

Because of the employers needs, some employers will pay for one degree or the other. Most consulting firms will pay for an MSCE possibly not an MBA. Many other organizations only see the value of the MBA and will only pay for that.

3) Changes in the rules.

One other important thing to consider is that recently The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) changed its model laws to require 30 hours of engineering classes be taken after getting the BS to take the PE Exam. The goal is for that to take effect on January 1, 2015. The model laws are only guidelines for the states to follow. The state licensing board has the final say in what the requirements are. Currently no state that I know of has made that one of their requirements. But I am sure it is coming. If you are planning to take the PE exam make sure you check your state’s rules when you get close to your time.

It looks to me that the most important thing is to look at your career path, where you want to go and how you want to get there. Then make a decision about a master’s program. What do you think? Anything else that should be considered?


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