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Engineering Graduate School via Distance Programs

TCJet1TCJet1 1 replies1 postsRegistered User New Member
edited January 2012 in Online Degrees
Hi Everyone,

I am planning to start a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2012 while working full time. I live in the Seattle area (engineer for Boeing), and have narrowed the college search down to either University of Washington or University of Southern California, the latter would be a distance program. Now, I realize that taking virtual classes at USC is in theory almost identical to taking them on campus. The homework, tests, everything is the same except for the fact that I'm not actually there. I can go to University of Washington in person as a part time student and avoid the distance thing, but USC is ranked significantly higher. Is there still a stigma associated with getting a Master's with a distance program, even when it is backed by a school like USC? Obviously, I want to make sure that my education is valuable down the road. Interested to hear people's opinions on this.

Thanks!
edited January 2012
21 replies
Post edited by TCJet1 on
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Replies to: Engineering Graduate School via Distance Programs

  • Lydia15Lydia15 153 replies19 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    In my opinion if I was about to hire someone I would choose the person with the part-time degree from the university of Washington than the online degree from USC because I would feel like you knew the material better and that you are a team player and not just some guy on a computer, but I could be wrong about this. So get a professional opinion from your boss.
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  • Sam LeeSam Lee 9273 replies176 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    I don't recall USC having a highly ranked aerospace engineering. In fact, I don't recall USC being in the top-10 in any discipline. I think you were thinking about their "overall" ranking in USN. So how does a school with no top-10 department in any area would be ranked in the top-10 overall? It's weird, isn't it? Look closely the methodology of USN engineering ranking and decide for yourself if you should make your decision based on it.

    Ranking of Aerospace Engineering Graduate Schools — PhDs.org Graduate School Guide

    UDubb is ranked higher here.

    I used to be an engineer in LA; some of my collegeues went to USC. I noticed that USC use a lot of "adjunct professors" (industry people that may not even have PhDs; one of the guys in the other department at work was an example) and run a lot of evening classes. The good thing about the program is some of my coworkers were able to obtain their master degrees while working. They didn't really sweat for it and the program (in civil and environmental) didn't seem very rigorous. Also, I wonder if many industry people teach because they can tell others they are "professors" and make some extra cash. You may want to dig deeper to see who are teaching those classes in your program of interest.

    If I were you, I'd go to UDubb.
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  • cltdadcltdad 913 replies24 postsRegistered User Member
    If you are an engineer at Boeing, wouldn't you get better advice from your manager and personnel in the human resources department than from anonymous people here?
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  • happymomof1happymomof1 29489 replies170 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    My MS was live and in person, and I have also completed a distance ed/online graduate level certificate program in another field of study. There is a huge difference between live classes and online classes. Yes, you cover the same material, and yes, the homework and exams are the same. However, the levels of self-discipline and motivation that are necessary for an online program are significantly higher than for a live program. I really missed the human contact.

    Not to mention that in the online world, nothing is private. I could go for coffee with my old lab partners and talk freely about our professors, the textbooks, the ridiculous homework assignments, department politics, etc. In the online environment I was much more cautious about saying anything that an instructor could interpret as negative. Even "private" conversations through personal email with classmates were not as free as they would have been had we truly been face-to-face.

    In my personal case, the online program met a career need and accommodated family responsibilities and finances. I would not have been able to complete the equivalent program in a classroom environment. Take a long hard look at your own situation, and think about which of the two options you have will work best for you.
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  • TCJet1TCJet1 1 replies1 postsRegistered User New Member
    Thanks for the responses everyone. I appreciate the info on the USN rankings as well as the opinions on the programs. I would tend to agree that in person is better, but for me it would make the day to day process a little more time consuming with getting to campus. I'm not sure if any of you are familiar with the Seattle area and I5 around the U-district; it will be a daily nightmare... I guess getting a Master's while working full time isn't going to be easy either way.

    Cltdad: I have discussed this with my manager and others at Boeing. They all indicate that there is no real "glass ceiling" with respect to education level. The mere fact of having a Master's will allow you to progress through the engineering "levels" at Boeing slightly faster. I was more or less evaluating the degree for further down the road, should I decide to move to another company.
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  • rogracerrogracer 1195 replies10 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    A lot of middle-management positions (IPT leads, for example) usually require a technical masters degree as a basic requirement. For these kinds of positions, the master’s degree is a "check the box" requirement, is usually not thesis-based, and I don't really think it matters much which school you attend. On the other hand, if you are targeting a research group as a technical contributor, I would think you would want to pursue a thesis-based masters program where the research best aligns with your intended career path.
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  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley 6084 replies100309 postsFounder Senior Member
    happymomof1 makes some good points about the difference between distance learning and in-person classes.

    I'll add that night school while working full time may not allow much interaction with your fellow students and profs. I earned my MBA at a well-regarded public U at night, and the drill was pretty much the same every night. First, rush to campus, if you were lucky grabbing a quick bite enroute. Then, three hours of the same class with a short break in the middle. By the end of class, most folks were exhausted (having worked a full day and then been in class for three hours), and had to get up early for work the next day. So, nobody headed for a bar or coffee shop for intellectual sparring or thoughtful conversations; we went home, and maybe stayed awake long enough to catch the late news.

    The only times I had more than cursory interactions with my fellow students were in a few classes that had team projects. I dreaded these, as they required time-consuming meetings outside of class hours and, if you wanted to get an "A," you had to do your own work and make sure that everyone else's passed muster too. I only recall one team that produced some really high-energy discussions and a work product that was better than any individual member could have produced.

    In short, the profs were the same, the classes and grading were the same, but the student interaction was different than what I assume full-time B-school students experienced. I'm not sure that a distance program would have offered less interaction. In fact, with today's web-conferencing tools, I suspect that the onerous team meetings I had to drive to campus for would be replaced with Skype calls or Google hangouts.

    I'd add that's just one anecdote, and shouldn't be taken as proof that in-person night classes are no better than distance classes. I'd suggest talking to students in both programs to learn more about the academic and social experience. Assessing the reputation and rigor of each program is important, too.
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  • BanjoHitterBanjoHitter 1476 replies21 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Is there still a stigma associated with getting a Master's with a distance program, even when it is backed by a school like USC?

    No. When it's a good school, the quality of the education is unquestionable. When it is a for-profit school or a small school that is not known, it is questionable.

    As far as Aerospace is concerned, GT offers an MS in Aerospace Engineering via distance learning and is ranked higher than both USC and Washington in both overall engineering an Aerospace Engineering.
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  • rupert421rupert421 39 replies0 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    First of all I can say that there is no "stigma". I have received both my BS and MS online from a top tier university and have been offered jobs over many of the local college graduates. ( I too live in Washington, up in the Bellingham area.)

    Secondly, I can say that having researched it myself, UW's AE program is ranked fairly high and while USC is a very reputable institution, I think that your experience at Boeing is going to outweigh anything on your resume. I use to work at Hexcel in Burlington and was looking into UW's AE program a few years back, but I decided I didn't want to go into engineering. I’ve been trying to get into Boeing for years (production planning), but can’t seem to even get an interview.

    Third, have you seen that UW offers the MS in AE online? Check it out Online Master of Aerospace Engineering - Online Master of Aerospace Engineering . Also, I have to agree with RogerRacer about going for the thesis based degree as you will get more from it, and your education will be more highly regarded when you have shown research in your field.

    Just my two cents…….. Good luck!
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  • BanjoHitterBanjoHitter 1476 replies21 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Also, I have to agree with RogerRacer about going for the thesis based degree as you will get more from it, and your education will be more highly regarded when you have shown research in your field.

    I really don't think that's the case. Professional MS degrees (coursework only) and research MS degrees (thesis) are generally treated the same by employers unless they are looking to staff R&D positions (and in that case they usually favor PhD's over MS graduates).

    As someone with one of each in engineering (research MS and professional MS), I've found no difference in how people treat them. In fact, I've never been asked if either or both were course-work only or thesis-based.
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  • rupert421rupert421 39 replies0 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    Yes and no……..having an MPS merely shows that you have the experience needed and in any case experience will always hold more weight than whatever degree you have. While this may be the case, having a degree with a completed thesis showing on the resume holds a lot of value for the applicant. It shows you not only have the practical experience, but also the theoretical experience that sheds light to a new way of thinking that would put you above other applicants. If you wanted to take it a step further, get your thesis published. In any case, however, an MS is still regarded as a the better degree at most bigger companies (ie Boeing) as the MPS is still fairly new and unknown by most. Comparing a MS versus a MPS is like comparing a PhD and a DBA. Additionally, if you ever plan to pursue a doctoral degree an MPS is considered a “terminal” degree and wouldn’t hold value in your application to a program, based on my research.
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  • BanjoHitterBanjoHitter 1476 replies21 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    I don't know what you're talking about with "MPS"

    I have two degrees, both say Master of Science in <insert engineering field here>. One was pure coursework, one had a thesis. I've never been asked if either or both had a thesis or not. Both are from top 10 schools, both were on-campus programs.

    And it gets more complicated because at some schools, Master of Science is the thesis and Master of Engineering is the non-thesis, at some schools Master of Engineering is the thesis and Master of Science is non-thesis, and at most schools Master of Science is both the thesis and non-thesis degree.

    Then it gets even more complicated because I have a master's degree that I got via test (from a different top 10 school). I took no courses, just passed an exam (the comprehensive for my PhD) and was awarded a Master of Science degree. So that makes three master's degrees, all of which look identical, none of which I have ever been asked about, and one was thesis, one was coursework, and one was by exam.

    The moral of the story is that a master's degree is a master's degree is a master's degree no matter how you get it (unless you're going into a doctoral program or R&D position).
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  • rupert421rupert421 39 replies0 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    When you wrote above about a "professional masters", I thought you were referring to a Master of Professional Studies in Engineering which is completely different than an MS.
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  • Time2Time2 675 replies33 postsRegistered User Member
    Since it sounds like you are mainly interested in the degree for future job hunting efforts, I would vote against the distance learning program. On a resume, it would look better to have attended the college offering the degree. All Master's degrees are not created equal and on a resume you want things that stand out in a good way.
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  • rogracerrogracer 1195 replies10 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    For R&D positions with less than 5 years of experience we will ask to see a copy of the thesis (and other publications), so, as usual, there are no stock answers and depends on the particulars. I do agree for many positions it does not make a difference.
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  • BanjoHitterBanjoHitter 1476 replies21 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    No one ever asked to see my MS thesis, or my doctoral dissertation in my entire life and I've worked in R&D for some of the most prominent companies in the country. In fact, I don't list the title of either on my CV and I've never been asked about either.
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  • rupert421rupert421 39 replies0 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    Going to need a lot more information before you see recommendations. There are many great schools that do MS in Engineering online. What area of engineering? GPA? Previous university attended? Test scores? Professional experience? So on and so forth. These credentials will determine what schools you should look into applying to.
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  • gsteingstein 1460 replies33 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    To clear up some discrepancies: For many schools, there is not a single difference on paper (e.g. your Resume and diploma) between distance learning programs and in-person programs for a MS. I just started my online MS in Aerospace Engineering, actually. When I get my degree it will read no different than had I attended the school in person and done so: both are MS degrees specializing in Aerospace Engineering. Nothing on the degree will say "online" or "distance learning". The only difference is the experience.

    For online programs, try looking into Purdue and Georgia Tech's AE programs. Both are very well renowned programs that many people in the aerospace industry look in to (for both in-person/online).
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  • Time2Time2 675 replies33 postsRegistered User Member
    Resumes are always pre-screened by the HR departments for any large company. If it shows you worked full-time in Washington @ Boeing while getting a degree from some other part of the country.....they will know you obtained your degree online, regardless of what else your resume tells them. You need to decide if that distinction matters where your main concern is applying for a job at someplace other then where you now work.
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  • gsteingstein 1460 replies33 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Time2 wrote:
    If it shows you worked full-time in Washington @ Boeing while getting a degree from some other part of the country.....they will know you obtained your degree online, regardless of what else your resume tells them.

    If your degree isn't from some place like ITT-Tech, do you honestly think said company will care? Let me give a real-life example:

    In Dallas, Texas under a specific leadership development program at engineering Company X, Engineer Y is required to get a technical Master's degree to successfully complete the program. In the position he is in, he can attend night class for his M.S. in Systems Engineering at nearby school SMU, or he can choose to study for his M.S. in Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech, through their Distance Learning Program. Both degrees will equally contribute to his job at Company X, but which sounds and looks more impressive? (Keep in mind, nothing on the degree will say "online" or "distance learning")

    In the OP's case, Washington is a respected school for AE. But don't think that the HR department (or management) will view your degree, in which you received by taking online classes at a respected school, negatively.
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