Getting a computer engineering degree online: What to expect

Considering a computer engineering degree online? This guide prepares you for courses you'll take, skills you'll learn, and expenses you can expect.
Written by Hannah Riley, Contributor

Factors from flexibility to potential savings may tempt you to pursue a computer engineering degree online. 

But researching online programs can be overwhelming, so knowing what to expect before enrolling will allow you to focus on making the best choice.

This page will guide you through online computer engineering degrees, from course difficulty to expenses. 

What is a computer engineering degree?

Online computer engineering courses teach students to combine electrical engineering with computer science. The degree integrates hardware and software and builds critical thinking skills. 

As an online computer engineering major, you can expect to learn advanced mathematics; computer science; and software, hardware, and electrical engineering. 

SEE: Computer science vs. computer engineering: What should I study?

Computer engineering degrees are available at all levels. You can earn a certificate, a computer engineering masters, or even a doctorate. 

Subdisciplines within computer engineering include: 

  • Cybersecurity
  • Software development
  • Hardware and computer architecture
  • Computer communications and networks

This degree can prepare you for careers like computer hardware engineer, computer programmer, or software developer. 

Use our handy guide to the best online computer engineering degrees to find a program that best fits your goals.

What to expect from computer engineering courses

Certificate programs take two to twelve months and teach only the essentials. 

Associate programs last one to two years, and bachelor's run three to four. These program levels teach the discipline's foundations and prepare students for entry-level computer engineering jobs.

If you're interested in continued education for more career opportunities, a master's or doctorate program may be for you. Master's programs take one to three years, and doctoral programs take three to six. 

Each program is different, too, in terms of rigor and courses and specializations on offer.

You will take core computer classes plus electives that you are interested in.

Undergraduate computer engineering students should expect to first take classes on fundamentals like mathematics, circuit analysis, and computer programming languages. 

Essential classes like engineering ethics and business communication prepare you for real-world scenarios you may encounter in your career. 

Once you've mastered foundational courses, you can take electives in your areas of interest, such as: 

  • IT security
  • Advanced digital design
  • Computer architecture
  • Digital integrated circuit design

Courses will be a mix of theoretical and hands-on.

Computer engineering degree programs emphasize both theory and hands-on skills. 

It's important for students to understand the theory behind computer engineering skills. Knowing both what to do and why it works makes you a more well-rounded professional.

These foundational skills also allow you to complete virtual lab work and at-home lab kits essential for your program. 

Close-up of a hand placing a computer component.

Expect to spend time on computer engineering projects.

As a computer engineering major, you can expect to participate in group projects or lab sessions, both individually and in groups.

Hybrid programs require students to spend time on campus, often to complete projects.

Others allow for full virtual completion. 

Many programs require students to complete a major project before graduation to showcase all of your newly-gained knowledge. This capstone project challenges students to solve a substantial problem or design an original computer model. 

You may want to learn and practice skills outside of your degree courses.

You may benefit from learning and practicing computer engineering skills outside class. 

While it's not a requirement, some students choose to prepare for this field by honing their math and science skills or practicing coding problems before applying to programs. 

Hoping to continue working while earning an online degree? Be sure to research the commitment your specific program requires outside of classes.

Students may be required by their program to complete an internship program. Tech internships build hands-on experience to prepare students and may help job prospects after graduation. 

Many schools offer assistance finding an internship program that fits your interests. You can "test drive" your career before you officially start it. 

How hard is a computer engineering degree?

Computer engineering degrees are rigorous due to their challenging math courses and programming language requirements, but they are not impossible. 

Students who already have an interest in the source material may find their courses easier than students who are new to it. Online degree programs require self-motivation and dedication to remain on top of your course load. 

Don't be discouraged about earning your computer engineering degree if you don't have a background in computers. Even inexperienced students can be very successful. 

These courses are still doable if you stay motivated to get your degree and start your new career. 

How much will I be spending as a computer engineering student?

Tuition prices vary based on the program, school, and location. Some schools charge a flat rate for all students, but many colleges and universities charge out-of-state students higher tuition. 

According to NCES, the average cost of public tuition was $13,900 and $27,200 at private institutions in 2019-2020. 

Students can expect to spend money on textbooks, class materials, and other required technology. 

If you're looking to keep costs down, research online schools that provide computers to students.  

In conclusion

Computer engineering degrees are a valuable resource with growing demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology occupations are projected to grow by more than 660,000 new jobs by 2030.

Success in pursuing a computer engineering degree online comes down to skills, motivation, and professional goals. If you're curious about earning this degree, start researching program to find the right fit for you

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