Advice for Students Considering Engineering

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With the rapidly evolving use of technology in every aspect of our lives, pursuing a degree in engineering may seem more attractive than ever. It’s also one of the most challenging college majors to apply to, due to the rigorous coursework and activities needed to be a strong applicant. Furthermore, students must be academically strong and have a sincere interest in their specific field of engineering to successfully finish the courses required for an engineering degree.

The most common undergraduate engineering majors include:

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Software Engineering

Other areas of engineering include:

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Automotive Engineering
  • Construction Engineering
  • Energy Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Fire Protection Engineering
  • Manufacturing Engineering
  • Materials Engineering
  • Robotics Engineering
  • Systems Engineering
  • Textile Engineering

Although some universities allow students to explore engineering as first-year students before they select their specialty, most expect students to apply directly into a specific area of engineering. Students who are interested in engineering should use their time in high school to learn about the various fields. This will help determine whether engineering really is a good fit, while also helping you target the most appropriate type of engineering when you apply. While some universities make it easy for students to switch from one type of engineering to another, it may not always be possible, so making a well-informed choice on the application is important!

For those students that have the passion and motivation to apply to an engineering program, here are some things that you can do to be the strongest applicant:

  • Take a rigorous course load and get the best grades you can. Most universities will want students to complete AP Calculus and AP Physics. AP Computer Science is also beneficial. Students can also take a community college or online course in these areas if they are not offered at the high school.
  • Consider taking advanced math courses like Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, or Linear Algebra at community college or local university. They can also be taken online through platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and EdX.
  • Alllow ample time to prepare for the SAT or ACT. Even with many universities being test-optional or test-free, the strongest applicants at more selective universities have excellent ACT or SAT scores, especially in Math.
  • Participate in activities like math clubs, robotics clubs, or STEM summer programs that show your interest and skills in engineering.
  • If you can participate in an internship or shadow an engineer, take advantage of this opportunity.
  • Show your skills and aptitude for engineering by designing something that interests you, like a computer or a radio. I’ve had students design and build a playscape for a sibling or a raised garden with a watering system for a neighbor.
  • Develop interests outside of engineering. Sports, music, art, leadership, volunteering, or learning a new language are examples of activities that will help you contribute to an engaging student body and workforce later.
  • Be prepared to write strong application essays that highlight your ability to problem solve and your capacity for systemic thinking, as engineers need to think outside of the box and craft solutions to complex problems.
  • Make a good impression on your teachers so they can write strong recommendation letters to attest to your skills.
  • Hone your communication, collaboration, and non-technical soft skills, since you will need to work with others on projects both in school and after graduation.

Engineering is an impacted major at many universities (meaning there are many more applicants than spaces available), and the acceptance rate is below 10% at the most selective schools. While it’s true that many top companies will only recruit engineering graduates out of specific selective universities, engineering applicants don’t need a brand name college to land a job after graduation, as long as they’ve done well in their courses and participated in internships while there.

We encourage students to look outside of the US News and World Report College Rankings, and focus instead on universities in locations with ample opportunities to secure an internship in your specialization. For instance, if you are interested in Automotive Engineering you may want to attend a school in Michigan where there are number of automotive companies. A student interested in Environmental Engineering might want to attend a university in Alaska or California where there are ample opportunities for environmental work. Students interested in Manufacturing Engineering may want to apply to colleges in Ohio where there are deep roots in manufacturing.

It is also worth noting that many engineering students continue to graduate school. Admissions committees for engineering graduate programs are far more interested in the experience applicants have gained, and the grades they have earned as an undergrad, than the ranking of the undergraduate institution the applicant attended.

So, if you have your sights set on engineering, use your high school time wisely! Build a strong engineering-focused resume, and plan to apply to universities with opportunities for internships and research, where you can thrive and earn strong grades. This is a strategy that will surely set you on the path to a successful engineering career!

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