Build a Career in Complex Systems with a Systems Engineering Master’s Degree
Meghan Brown posted on August 06, 2019 |

School: Colorado State University

Program:  Master of Engineering with Systems Engineering Specialization, or Master of Science in Systems Engineering

Description: The Systems Engineering Department has two master’s program options to prepare students to solve complex and interdisciplinary problems.  The Master of Engineering is sometimes considered more applied, and can be completed coursework-only, while the Master of Science requires either a project or a thesis and is usually pursued on the way to another degree, such as a Ph.D.  Both programs provide an introduction to systems thinking. Students learn to integrate human, physical, energy, communications, management and information requirements through the application of mathematical and scientific principles when designing solutions to complex problems.

Where is it: Fort Collins, Colorado

Format: Online or On-campus

Degree you get:  Master of Engineering, or Master of Science

Prerequisites:  4-year degree in a technical field (i.e.: engineering, sciences, computer science); math skills at least through Calculus I and a basic statistics course.

Size of the Program: 33 ME students and 31 MS students (as of Spring 2019, including both on-campus and online enrollment)

Credit hours: 30 credit hours for either ME or MS degree

Thesis: Optional for MS degree, required for ME degree

How long will the program take?  Either degree can be completed in as little as 1.5 to 2 years.  Because many students are full-time working professionals taking courses part-time, the average completion time is 3 to 4 years.

When to apply:  Fall deadline is July 1.  Spring deadline is November 1.

Tuition: $1,085 per credit.*  $32,550 per degree. (*Tuition for courses outside ENGR varies.)

Minimum Admission Requirements:

  • Transcripts:
    • Yes, from all post-secondary institutions attended, including those from which a degree was not earned.

    • Minimum GPA 3.0
  • TOEFL:
    • Yes, unless student’s country of origin’s primary official language is English, or student has recent degree from a U.S. institution.

    • Minimum scores: Internet based 80; Paper-based 550

  •   Essay (statement of purpose):
    • Yes
  • Resume:
    • Yes
    • Minimum years of experience: No minimum cut-off, but most master's students have at least two years work experience
  • Letters of Reference:
    • Yes, 3 letters required
  • GRE/GMAT:
    • Only required for students that have not earned a degree from a U.S. institution.
    • Minimum score: No minimum cut-off; scores are incorporated into a holistic application review.

Who should take this course?

  • Engineering or technical professionals who have reached a point in their career where they begin to encounter significant complexity in the systems in which they are working, and want to understand the “big picture” of technical problems.

Claim to fame:

  • Innovative research around complex systems such as licit and illicit supply chain networks, the impact of emerging tech on electric vehicles and transportation systems, machine learning, cybersecurity and more.

  •  Synchronous and asynchronous learning options for online students for convenience and flexibility.

  • Cutting-edge research conducted by faculty is incorporated immediately into lectures.



(Image courtesy of Colorado State University Online.)
(Image courtesy of Colorado State University Online.)

The core of systems engineering is the cross-disciplinary understanding and management of complex systems.  Many companies face challenges that involve multiple areas of engineering, where a solution needs to consider many variables across different engineering disciplines. 

Problem solving in these complex situations requires systems thinking: the ability to understand and analyze each component of a system, how it acts and interacts with other components, using knowledge from different areas of engineering.  This method of examining and solving a problem also considers relationships between other business areas such as finance, sales or stakeholders, in order to understand and manage the entire system efficiently through the full lifecycle of a product.

Systems thinking doesn’t always come naturally, however, which is where a master’s degree in systems engineering comes in.  While many individual engineering disciplines may dip their toes into systems engineering and systems thinking during a bachelor’s or master’s degree, it’s likely only in the context of how that specific discipline fits within a larger system.  To get a true understanding of systems engineering, and the skills to apply systems thinking, pursuing a focused degree is the way to go.

An Online Master’s in Systems Engineering at Colorado State University

The increasing complexity of systems—for business, research, cities and more—means that an increasing number of engineering professionals reach a point in their career where they begin to encounter multi-disciplinary complexity in the systems in which they’re working.

“This could be one to two years into a professional role, or fifteen-plus years,” said Ingrid Bridge, graduate student advisor at Colorado State University Online.  “Our master’s programs equip students with the formal language, tools and methods of analysis to understand and engineer complex, interdisciplinary systems.  This is a skill set that is becoming more and more in demand in companies across many areas, even beyond traditional engineering.”

CSU offers two options for their Systems Engineering graduate degree – an M.S. in Systems Engineering, or a M.E. with a Systems Engineering specialization – both of which provide students with a larger and more diverse breadth of understanding of technical problems.  Engineering professionals who want to piece together complex and interrelated ideas in order to find the “big picture” find an advanced degree in systems engineering to be the ideal support for their career goals.

Between the two degree types offered for the Systems Engineering program, the Master’s of Engineering degree is often considered to be more applied and can be completed as a course-work only program.  The Master’s of Science degree requires either a capstone project or a thesis, and is often pursued en route to another degree such as a Ph.D.  “Master’s students interested in moving on to the doctoral level have the opportunity to transition seamlessly into either an academic (Ph.D.) or applied (D. Eng) terminal degree,” said Bridge.

The Systems Engineering online degree, like all of CSU’s online graduate degree offerings, features options for synchronous and asynchronous learning, allowing engineers already working full-time to attend classes and lectures flexibly at their convenience, in the way that best suits their schedules and lifestyles.  Most classes are held once per week in the evening, so that working professionals can attend synchronously during the live lecture.

“Our synchronous participation rate is usually about half to two-thirds of our online students, and we have received significant feedback that this greatly enhances the online learning experience,” said Bridge.  “Conversely, the asynchronous option allows the flexibility some of our busiest students or students in different time zones require.”

While online students aren’t required to come to the CSU campus, if they happen to be local to Denver and northern Colorado, the campus is available to them to meet with faculty or attend a course session in person. 

This all factors into the flexibility of the program.  Since most students work full-time, they can take as few as one course at a time, depending on their availability and finances.  Depending on the student’s schedule, the Systems Engineering degree can be completed in as little as one and a half to two years with a full course load.  However, since the majority of students enrolled are working full-time, the average completion time is three to four years.

“My advice is to start slowly, with one or two courses, depending o what other commitments you have, and to carve out a regular schedule of about three to six hours per week per course just for course-related activities,” added Bridge.  “Also, if at all possible, try attending synchronously!  This can really enhance your engagement with the course, and your classmates and instructor.”

The Online Learning Experience at Colorado State University

The online and on-campus degrees at CSU are two sides of the same coin, and share the same application process, curriculum, faculty, and final earned degree.  Online students receive the exact same content as on-campus students, as the courses are designed for the synchronous and asynchronous attendance learning structure.  All lectures are recorded, including all student interaction through the online interface, which allows students studying asynchronously to watch the lecture and classroom interaction at the time convenient for them.

Course materials is accessed through Canvas, a common online learning interface for higher education.  All students, online and on-campus, will access recorded lectures and other course materials through the Canvas platform.

Lectures are attended using Zoom teleconference software, which enables remote students to participate synchronously with the rest of the class using their computer’s camera and microphone, as well as a live chat window.  This lets remote students ask questions, comment on lectures and interact with their peers in class – both those studying online, and those physically in the classroom.

All faculty hold office hours for students to discuss course content and assignments, or to ask for assistance with their work.  Online students can connect to their faculty by phone or email, or with a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Many systems engineering courses are more project-based, rather than test-based – though some courses will have midterm exams either proctored online or in a take-home format.  A final applied project will then be presented to the class at the end of the semester.

CSU’s Faculty Research, Curriculum and Courses

CSU’s faculty are experienced at teaching working professionals in both an online and on-campus environment, and possess industry experience that enables them to design a curriculum that is immediately relevant and applicable outside the classroom.  Course curriculum is also shaped directly by feedback from industry partners in Colorado, which ensures that CSU online students are building the skills and knowledge that employers have specifically been seeking.

Plus, CSU’s program is always in development, with new courses touching on more areas of the engineering field, including some which haven’t been taught at other institutions.  “Historically, many of our courses had a focus on aerospace and defense fields, or electrical/computer engineering fields such as power systems,” said Bridge.  “Over the past three years especially, we have added significant variety to our coursework, and now also include areas such as human factors, cybersecurity, advanced analytics, advanced model-based systems engineering, and cost optimization.”

The program curriculum is also structured so that students can take the courses most relevant to their interest and professional expertise, with flexible elective options that enable students to also pursue non-departmental courses with relevance to their main area of study – such as computer science, business courses, or mathematics.  This lets students tailor their program to suit their current needs and future goals.

(Image courtesy of Colorado State University Online.)
(Image courtesy of Colorado State University Online.)

CSU’s faculty are not only experienced in their industries, but their independent research provides great opportunities for students to learn from and participate in new and innovative projects.  A few highlights from current research in the Systems Engineering department include:

  • Research into the analytics of licit and illicit supply chains to determine their differences and similarities, as well as to identify the vulnerabilities of illicit supply networks.
  • Supporting research into microgrids for developing countries, DC-only and hybrid AC/DC microgrid power systems are being developed and validated for a non-linear magnetic model for electrical transformers used in arc welding applications in Africa.
  • Machine learning approaches are being used to enhance system reliability, using both real-time and pre-deployment test measurements including pattern recognition and probabilistic techniques to proactively predict failure occurrences.  Recent examples are predicting motor failures in gas turbines, and classification of failure-prone electrical batteries.

Interested in learning more about a graduate degree in Systems Engineering?  Find the program for you with our Graduate Degree Finder tool.

Master of Engineering Requirements (30 credits)

  • ENGR 501 Foundations of Systems Engineering
  • ENGR 502 Engineering Project Management and Program Management
  • ENGR 530 Overview of Systems Engineering Processes
  • ENGR 531 Engineering Risk Analysis
  • ENGR 510 Engineering Optimization: Methods and Applications
  • ENGR 520 Engineering Decision Support/Expert Systems
  • ENGR 532 Dynamics of Complex Engineering Systems
  • ENGR/ECE 565 Electrical Power Engineering
  • ENGR/ECE 566 Energy Conversion for Electrical Power Systems
  • ENGR 567 Systems Engineering Architecture
  • ENGR 569 Cybersecurity Awareness for Systems Engineers
  • ENGR 570 Coupled Electromechanical Systems
  • ENGR 571 Analytics in Systems Engineering
  • ENGR 602 Systems Requirements Engineering
  • ENGR 603 Introduction to Systems Test and Evaluation
  • ENGR 667 Advanced Model-Based Systems Engineering
  • MECH 513 Simulation Modeling and Experimentation
  • CIS 610 Software Development Methodology
  • ENGR 695 Independent Study Capstone Project (OR another SE course)


Master of Science Requirements (30 credits)

  • ENGR 501 Foundations of Systems Engineering
  • ENGR 502 Engineering Project Management and Program Management
  • ENGR 510 Engineering Optimization: Methods and Applications
  • ENGR 520 Engineering Decision Support/Expert Systems
  • ENGR 530 Overview of Systems Engineering Processes
  • ENGR 531 Engineering Risk Analysis
  • ENGR 532 Dynamics of Complex Engineering Systems
  • ENGR/ECE 565 Electrical Power Engineering
  • ENGR/ECE 566 Energy Conversion for Electrical Power Systems
  • ENGR 567 Systems Engineering Architecture
  • ENGR 569 Cybersecurity Awareness for Systems Engineers
  • ENGR 570 Coupled Electromechanical Systems
  • ENGR 571 Analytics in Systems Engineering
  • ENGR 602 Systems Requirements Engineering
  • ENGR 603 Introduction to Systems Test and Evaluation
  • ENGR 667 Advanced Model-Based Systems Engineering
  • MECH 513 Simulation Modeling and Experimentation
  • ENGR 695 Independent Study
  • ENGR 699 Thesis



Colorado State University Online has sponsored this post.  All opinions are mine.  –Meghan Brown

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