Is Electrical Engineering right for me?

What do electrical engineers do?

EE Student

This picture shows a senior project presentation that highlights applications of Field Programmable Gate arrays to perform signal processing on radar system signals. 


Electrical engineers study and apply the physics and mathematics of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism to both large and small scale systems to process information and transmit energy. To do this, electrical engineers design computers, electronic devices, communication systems, test equipment, electric power networks, and improve systems through problem solving techniques.

What kinds of jobs and projects can I work on?

The electrical engineering field encompasses several sub-disciplines including: electrical power systems, control, electronics, microelectronics, signal processing, biomedical instrumentation, wireless and wireline communication systems, measurement instrumentation, integrated circuit design, software engineeering and computer design. As an electrical engineer, you can work in the offices, labs, or industrial plants of various industries including: the manufacturers of electrical components and computer equipment, industrial machinery, medical and scientific instruments, transportation, communication, computer related sectors, the federal government, electric utility and engineering consulting firms. The projects you may work on can range from designing a telecommunication system or the operation of electric power stations to the lighting and wiring of buildings, the design of consumer electronics, and the electrical control of industry machinery.

How much money will I make?

IEEE Race Car

This picture shows Electrical and Mechanical Engineers working on a Formula Electric racing competition car.


As of 2009, the average salary of an electrical engineer has been estimated at $88,000 with a range of $53,510 to $126,810. The salary you receive will depend on the industry you work in and the degree type you possess. Electrical engineers in the oil and gas extraction, movie and video, and mining and mining support industries earn the highest salaries with $120,140, $109,960, and $108,250, respectively. The median salary  for Cal Poly's electrical engineers graduates with a Bachelor’s degree was $65,000 in 2010. The salary increases for Cal Poly Master’s degree graduates to $80,000.  A listing of Cal Poly electrical engineering employers can be found at

Electrical Engineering (EE)

The electrical engineering (EE) program had its first graduating class was in 1949.  The graduating class pictures for each class are proudly displayed in our department hallways.  We hope to see your picture here in the future. 

The professional society for Electrical, Electronic, and Computer Engineers is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).  The IEEE web site is at  The theme of the IEEE is “Advancing Technology for Humanity”.  This group constitutes “The World’s Largest Professional Association for the Advancement of Technology”.   The IEEE - affiliated engineering disciplines form the largest branch of engineering in the United States with over 375,000 employed engineers as documented by the bureau of labor statistics at  The breadth of career opportunities for Cal Poly’s Electrical Engineering graduates can be illustrated by reviewing the IEEE-affiliated professional societies listed below.  The field of electrical, electronic, and computer engineering impacts almost all aspects of the modern world.  Graduates can serve humanity by enhancing personal communication tools such as smart mobile phones that are now so pervasive.  The energy infrastructure changes needed of the 21st century will be centered on new methods of electrical power generation and distribution.  The Biotechnology field requires electrical engineers to invent new interfaces between biomedical and electronic systems.  Most technology-based industries utilize the skills of electrical engineers. 

Electrical Engineering is a broad discipline that has many career outcome possibilities.  At first, many perspective students primarily think of traditional roles in the areas of research, development and manufacturing.  Many of our graduate’s careers move toward technical management and business management areas as their careers progress.  Marketing and Sales Engineering are also very compelling areas for electrical engineers.  Graduate degree programs available to electrical engineering also enhance career options.  In addition to electrical engineering graduate degrees, biomedical engineering, computer science, materials engineering, industrial engineering, aerospace engineering, systems engineering, technical business administration, law school, and medical school are common career paths after the BS EE degree.

Cal Poly's Department of Electrical Engineering curriculum offers course work and laboratories in the areas that support the IEEE societies listed above.  At the undergraduate level, students gain a broad engineering foundation both in theory and practice.  The senior year has 12 units of degree specialization enabled by technical electives. Engineering support electives allow EE students to expand their knowledge in adjacent disciplines to EE.   Students can continue their program at Cal Poly by entering the 4+1 Master’s program in electrical engineering.  The EE web site contains the graduate student handbook that outlines this program.  An MS degree allows for an extension of the student’s engineering foundation along with further specialization and research work.

What Makes the Cal Poly Electrical Engineering Program Unique?

Electrical Engineering Versus Computer Engineering

The Electrical Engineering (EE) department is closely aligned with the Computer Engineering (CPE) Program.  Both EE and CPE majors share much of the same curriculum and facilities.  The department offices are located adjacent to each other.  EE and CPE also share the same professional society, IEEE.   Computer Engineers take more coursework in the Computer Science Department than will the typical Electrical Engineer.  Computer Engineers do not take the advanced electronics courses that an Electrical Engineering would take.  Computer Engineers do get a larger software exposure compared to Electrical Engineers (See software options for Electrical Engineers below)


Electrical Engineering Degree with Computer Science Minor

Electrical Engineering (EE) students can obtain a minor in computer science to augment their Electrical Engineering courses.   Electrical Engineering students use their Engineering Support Electives to take CSC classes and thus double-count requirements within the EE flowchart.  If students come in with significant AP credit, it is possible to complete EE plus CSC minor in a 4 year period but more often 4 years plus one quarter.   This option allows Electrical Engineers to graduate with a strong software background along with the full Electrical Engineering hardware foundations. 


Electrical Engineering Degree with Computer Engineering and Software Emphasis

Electrical Engineering (EE) students can obtain additional exposure to computer design and computer science topics to augment their Electrical Engineering coursework.   Electrical Engineering students use their Engineering Support Electives to take CSC classes and thus double-count requirements within the EE flowchart.  The most common additional courses would be CSC102 and CSC103.    This option allows Electrical Engineers to graduate with additional software background along with the full electrical engineering hardware foundations.   Senior Level Technical Elective choices could include the Very Large Scale Integrated Circuit Design Sequience, Advanced Embedded Computing Electives or more software systems courses.


Electrical Engineering versus Computer Science

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science are related disciplines.  The department buildings are adjacent to each other.  Computer Engineering forms a intermediate major between Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Cal Poly.  Electrical Engineers often emphasize more of the electrical, electronic and computer hardware aspects of modern electronic systems.  Computer Science often emphasizes a higher-level approach to electronic systems with software development responsibilities and abstraction from the electronic hardware.  Computer Science students do not take any required Electrical Engineering coursework but have options to do so. 


Electrical Engineering with Biomedical Emphasis

Many of our Electrical Engineering student are interested in the world of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society career path.   Cal Poly has an entire Biomedical Engineering department that covers a broad range of topics in Biology, Materials Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering.   Another option is to get foundational Electrical Engineering knowledge in the EE department and use 9 units of Engineering Support electives and 12 units of Technical Electives that are targeted in the biomedical area.  Your EE senior project can also be targeted in the biomedical field.  The Biomedical Engineering Department at Cal Poly has a Biomedical Instrumentation Concentration that includes a significant number of EE classes in its required course list.  

The 9 units of Engineering Support Courses and 12 units of technical electives can also be used to meet all of the required courses for transfering into an M.S. program in biomedical engineering as part of a 5th year at  Cal Poly.  


Electrical Engineering with Power Systems Emphasis

A significant fraction of our  Electrical Engineering student are interested in the IEEE Power and Energy Society area.  Cal Poly Electrical Engineering has a very strong technical program in this area.    At the sophomore level students take a required Engineering Conversion Electromagnetics lecture and laboratory course.   Here they learn about single phase and three phase power systems and Electric Machines.  At the senior level, students in this area would normally take EE406 (Power Systems I) and EE407 (Power Systems II).  They might also take the power electronics series EE410 (Power Electronics I) and EE411 (Power Systems II).   We have so many other electives in the power systems area that students often decide to stay for an extra quarter to complete more electives or too stay on for extra year to complete a M.S. degree in this area.


Electrical Engineering with Communications/RF/High Speed Electronics/Microwave or Photonics Emphasis

A significant fraction of our  Electrical Engineering students are interested in the IEEE Microwaves Society, IEEE Communication Society, IEEE Antennas and Propagation and IEEE Photonics Society.  Cal Poly has well equipped laboratory facilities and curricular offerings in this area.  Our 20-116 high frequency design laboratory is one of the finest in the U.S..  Please stop by as you will be impressed.  The pictures on our EE facility web page really don't do it justice.  We also have a new communications systems laboratory across the hall in 20-113 that is going through transformational changes this spring due to large investments by our corporate sponsors.  Our new communications systems laboratory will be dedicated on May 6th, 2016.    The Photonics Lab in 20-134/135 is also an outstanding example of our departments committment to superior teaching/research laboratories. The department will update the facilites page once the laboratory is fully updated this spring.  Key undergratuate courses include EE415 (Communication Systems Design), EE416(Digital Communications), EE405 (Microwave Amplifier Design), EE456 (Digital Communication Laboratory), EE412/456 (Advanced Analog Design Lecture Laboratory).  Many students will take an extra quarter to take additional electives beyond what is required or decide to take an extra year to get their M.S. degree in this area.


Electrical Engineering with Your Emphasis

The Cal Poly Electrical Engineering department can give you a foundational hands-on Electrical Engineering experience with many options to pursue your interests in this broad engineering discipline.









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