*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer Hardware Engineers, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm (visited March 24, 2022).
A Bachelor's degree is usually earned through a four-year program, so if you take a full load of classes it will take you four years to complete. If you already have your associate's degree, it will take two more years of full-time school. Of course, if you take less than a full class load it will take longer and if you take summer courses or extra classes it may take less time. Taking your classes online can allow you to finish your degree more quickly if you stick to a constant schedule. However, most people who are taking courses online, do so for the flexibility. So, if you have other commitments, you will probably take longer to complete your degree than four years.
The total cost of your degree will depend on where you live, what school you choose, and whether you qualify for any financial aid. According to the U.S. Department of Education the total cost for a computer hardware engineering degree is between $22,000 and $50,000; some or all of the cost may be offset by grants, scholarships, or employer educational funds.
While this may seem like a moot point, the major you wish to take may be camouflaged within a degree that has a different name. For example, a Bachelor's degree in computer science, electrical engineering, or computer engineering may offer different concentrations that include the major you wish to pursue. Look for the specific curriculum in each program to determine whether it offers the major you want. If you have trouble determining this, make sure to call the department in the school you are considering and ask.
Some schools focus more on enrollment than graduation, so look for the statistics on four-year students. This metric is called “Graduation Rate” and can be found on the College Scorecard website created by the US Department of Education. This will give you an idea of how much support you can expect from the school if you have problems with one or more classes. A good school will have an excellent graduation rate because they offer tutoring, counseling, and similar services designed to help every student succeed.
Accreditation is important because it shows the school has met the standard expectations. Your future employers will look for accreditation to determine the quality of your degree, and student aid is usually tied to accreditation. Regional accrediting is the norm for most schools; for computer hardware engineering you should choose a school that is also accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), as that is the most commonly accepted accrediting agency in the country.
Your degree won't be worth much if you can't find employment after you graduate. Look closely at each school's website and find out what post-graduate job placement assistance they offer. Look for statistics on graduate employment to verify a high percentage of graduates are successful after they finish school. If you can't easily find the information it may be a red flag that the school is more interested in enrolling new students than seeing them succeed, so don't hesitate to contact the admissions office and ask for the information. If it's not readily available, you might want to cross that school off your list of options.
A school that is vested in their students' success will use that information as a selling point, so look for partnerships with area corporations and testimonials from former students. You can also look for alumni groups and online student forums and social media pages to get a feel for the employment rates after graduation.
The overall national rankings of each college is another area that has pros and cons. While a school with a highly regarded computer science program will be an asset to your resume, it may not have a long-term effect on your career and salary. A smaller college that offers a program with ABET accreditation may give you the same career results as a school with a high national ranking if you combine your education with excellent experience. Your best bet it to compare individual ABET-approved programs, see what internship opportunities are offered at each school, and check with peers or mentors within your field of choice to verify the school you're considering has a program that is respected in the field of computer hardware engineers or computer software engineers.
Remember, by taking some extra time to go over details before you enroll, you can save time in the long run. By narrowing your career field, vetting your school of choice, and determining the best program for your interests and aptitudes, you can plan your career with confidence and pave your path for future success.
As you narrow your school choices your first step should be to verify that each school on your short list is accredited. Regional accreditation shows the school has met financial and academic standards on a regular basis and is typically a requirement for federal aid, scholarships, grants, and employer college programs.
In addition to regional accreditation, your school of choice should be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), as this organization sets the standards for the industry. ABET is recognized worldwide as the organization that oversees individual programs rather than colleges, so you know an ABET-approved program will be respected by your future employers as well as your peers.
ABET programs graduate over 85,000 students each year from almost 800 different colleges in over 30 countries. If your school of choice doesn't offer ABET-approved programs you should cross the college off your list of options.