What's the difference between electrical and electronic engineering?

Three engineering students working on a project

Electrical and electronic engineering are two different types of engineering, but they share a lot of overlap. They are usually part of the same university department, and are often studied together at both undergraduate and masters level. If you’re thinking about studying one or both of these subjects, it’s important to understand the differences between electrical and electronic engineering so you can make the right choice for you.

What is electrical engineering?

Electrical engineering is the design and application of systems, machinery and equipment that use electricity, electronics and electromagnetism. To give you an understanding of what electrical engineers do, they research and develop electrical products and systems for buildings, transport systems and power distribution networks.

What is electronic engineering?

A sub-category of electrical engineering, electronic engineering is the design and development of electronic circuits and devices that use components like resistors, capacitors and inductors to perform their function. Electronic engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems.

What’s the difference between electrical engineering and electronic engineering?

Comparing these two types of engineering is like comparing the meaning of electric vs electronic. Electrical devices convert electrical energy into other forms of energy, for example heat, light or sound. Electronic devices control the flow of electrons in order to perform a task. While electrical engineering is concerned with the large-scale production and distribution of electrical power, electronic engineering focuses on smaller electronic circuits.

What to expect from an electrical engineering degree

Studying electrical engineering at university will give you expertise across a range of topics that are central to electrical engineering, and a good command of engineering principles. You will cover electromagnetism, electrical machines and drives, motion control systems, power systems and power electronics.

What to expect from an electronic engineering degree

A degree in electronic engineering will give you the knowledge and skills you need for a solid grounding in the subject. You will learn about the circuits and components used in computers and other modern technologies. Topics include computer hardware, analogue circuits, communication systems, power electronics, semiconductors and optoelectronics.

Should you study electrical or electronic engineering?

Whether you study electrical engineering or electronic engineering, your degree will contain elements of both subjects. To identify the right focus for you, consider your interests, traits and the career paths that most inspire you. As an international undergraduate at The University of Sheffield, you can study the subjects together on either the BEng (Hons) or MEng (Hons) Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree programmes. You will cover theoretical and practical aspects of both electronic and electrical engineering. Some of the core modules* on the BEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree at Sheffield are:

  • Communication Electronics
  • Digital System Engineering
  • Electrical Circuits and Networks
  • Electronic Devices and Circuits

There is an extensive range of optional modules* for you to choose from depending on your personal interests, including:

  • Antennas, Radar and Navigation
  • Digital Design
  • Machine Design
  • Semiconductor Electronics

In your second year, you will work on a week-long project devised by one of the University’s industry partners.

You’re not limited to studying electrical and electronic engineering together, The University of Sheffield also offers the subjects individually. You could pursue a degree such as:

  • BEng (Hons) Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • MEng (Hons) Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • BEng (Hons) Electrical Engineering
  • BEng (Hons) Electronic Engineering
  • BEng (Hons) Electronics and Computer Engineering
  • MEng (Hons) Electronics and Computer Engineering

At postgraduate level, you can choose from several masters degrees, such as:

  • MSc Data Communications
  • MSc (Eng) Electronic and Electrical Engineering
  • MSc (Eng) Semiconductor Photonics and Electronics
  • MSc (Eng) Wireless Communications

Places are limited on some degree courses, so you are advised to apply and confirm your place as soon as possible.

Electrical and electronic engineering careers and opportunities

Careers in electrical and electronic engineering are varied, with opportunities spanning IT, renewable energy, aerospace, automotive and manufacturing. Industries with an electrical engineering focus are transport, ventilation, lift systems, power generation and distribution, energy and construction. Electronic engineering careers could involve computer hardware, telecommunications and robotics.

After studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The University of Sheffield, you could secure one of these typical graduate jobs:

  • Cybersecurity consultant
  • Design engineer
  • Electrical engineer
  • Electronics field engineer
  • Energy engineering consultant
  • Nuclear controls engineer
  • Software engineer
  • System engineer
  • Technology analyst 

Well-known employers of Sheffield graduates include ARM, ARUP, BAE Systems, Barclays, Deloitte, Jaguar, National Grid, National Instruments, Nissan, Renault, Rolls Royce, Shell, Siemens, Unilever and Volvo.

Start your electrical and electronic engineering journey in the UK

If you want to study electrical and electronic engineering in the UK, you can begin your journey at The University of Sheffield International College. Our pathway programmes are tailor-made for international students, designed to help you start your degree at The University of Sheffield with confidence.

Sheffield is a world top 100 research university (QS World University Rankings 2021), and the Electronic and Electrical Engineering department is in the top 20 in the UK (The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021). The University of Sheffield International College students have access to world-class facilities, including state-of-the-art teaching space and equipment. The Diamond is the University’s unique hub for engineering education and research, with 19 laboratories used by 5,000 students and 50 members of staff. You can learn more about Sheffield’s campus facilities here.

As an undergraduate, our International Foundation Year in Science and Engineering will help prepare you for a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Sheffield. This programme is tailored to get you ready for your chosen course. You will develop the academic and English language skills needed for undergraduate study.

If you’ve already completed an undergraduate degree in your home country and want to study a masters in the UK, our Pre-Masters in Science and Engineering will provide you with what you need to succeed. You’ll gain the skills, language ability and knowledge to meet the requirements for a Masters degree at Sheffield.


Is electronic engineering a good career?

Yes. Electronic engineering is an ever growing industry with many disciplines to work in; automotive, IT, manufacturing and energy. With so many areas to work in highly skilled engineers are always in demand. 

Depending on the scale of the company and the job role, the average salary for an electronic engineer is in the mid to high range. 

What does electrical and electronic engineering do?

Electrical and electronic engineers design and develop complex electrical systems and electronic products. The roles and responsibilities of an electrical engineer involves:

  • designing the product
  • developing and building the product
  • testing and managing the manufacturing process

Is electrical engineering a good career?

Yes. Just like an electronic engineer an electrical engineer is also highly employable. They are also able to work in many different sectors similar to an electronic engineer. 

*Information correct as of April 2021, visit the University website for up-to-date details.