My brother wants to switch to Electrical Engineering and possibly do a Master's degree (with thesis). He also has a BSc and MSc degree in physics but not much formal training in EE (except some basic electronics, solid-state physics and advanced electromagnetism courses).

Since the most important factor in grad school applications is research, he has tried to contact professors and labs so many times for even non-paid internships, with no results. The other option is to apply to BSc degree or just about any MSc degrees in order to take the prerequisite courses.

How should he proceed? What are some advantages or disadvantages of getting a BSc in EE (using some credits from the previous degree) vs doing a Master's program in EE with thesis that accept him and take the prerequisites courses?

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    Does he want to work in industry or do research? "Engineer" is a professional designation in the US; he won't be able to call himself an engineer without a BSc from an accredited program, which can make it hard to work in industry.
    – user6782
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 3:24
  • He wants to do research. How about if he continues to PhD in EE and then wants to work in industry?
    – trxw
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 16:47
  • I put my reply into an answer.
    – user6782
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 16:30
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    actually @lmi, many people call themselves "Engineer" in the US without a BS. it varies by state, but some states require a Professional Engineer license for someone to hang their shingle out with "Engineer" on it and, in that case, the BS is not even enough. i would downvote your comment for its inaccuracy if we could downvote comments. Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


It depends on his goals. Since he wants to do research, it doesn't matter that much whether he has a BSc or a master's as long as he can convince the department he applies to for his PhD that he has the necessary knowledge. A master's might be slightly better since he will naturally get more research experience, but it is possible to get research experience as an undergrad by volunteering in your professors' labs. The disadvantage of going straight to a master's is that he won't have the same background as the other students. This means that either (a) the department will ask him to take prerequisite courses, at which point the master's program will take almost as long to finish as the BSc, or (b) he will be expected to catch up with the other students on his own time, which will be a lot of work.

If he thinks he might want to work in industry at some point, I would recommend doing the BSc. Engineering is a professional designation in the US, so without the BSc, he can't call himself an engineer. This doesn't mean he can't get hired, but it means he will get hired under some other job title ("technician", say) and may get paid less than he would if he were hired as an engineer. Considering that this would affect his whole career, I would recommend investing the extra time up front, especially if he can shorten the BSc by reusing some credits from the physics degree.

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    lmi, your claim "... so without the BSc, he can't call himself an engineer" is false. you really need to check your facts. Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 19:04
  • @robertbristow-johnson You really need to check your reading comprehension. I said that a BSc is necessary, not sufficient, and linked to an explanation of what "professional designation" means. In nearly all states, you must have a BSc to take the licensing exam and (legally) call yourself a professional, licensed engineer.
    – user6782
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 0:10
  • there are tens of thousands of people in the US who call themselves "engineers" who have neither a PE license nor a BS degree. sorry, lmi, you're just wrong on the facts and my reading comprehension has nothing to do with that. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 15:02
  • @robertbristow-johnson You can call yourself whatever you want, that's true. That's why we have garbage collectors who refer to themselves as "sanitation engineers". However, if you claim to be a licensed, professional engineer when you aren't, you'll get into legal trouble. It's exactly the same as claiming to be a doctor or a lawyer without the proper training and accreditation. If you think describing your job with a particular title gives you legal permission to do that job, then Dr Dre is a physician.
    – user6782
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 18:27
  • you didn't say: "... so without the BSc, he can't call himself a licensed professional engineer", but even if you had said that, it still wouldn't be fully true. getting the BS and passing the EIT exam helps a lot in a speedy acquisition of a PE license. but it is still is not absolutely required in most US states. lmi, the issue is not my reading comprehension, it's your command of the facts. Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 17:13

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