In my last blog, "So You Want to Be an Engineer? How to Tell if This Is (or Is Not) a Good Idea," my goal was to help readers gain an understanding of the Engineering field, including how to do research on the more than 30 college engineering majors offered at colleges and universities and how to obtain, what to say/do at an Engineering Career Information Interview. It was so gratifying to get emails from student readers saying that the blog cleared up a lot of misconceptions they had about engineering in general and also the specific specialty areas.
At the end of the blog, I promised to come back to the subject, this time providing information on how best to prepare for an engineering major while in high school and how to find colleges with engineering schools that best fit you. So here it is!
First of all, let me re-emphasize that engineering is the last thing you should think about if you are looking for a "party-school major." Starting freshman year, engineering students usually take 18 units of hard science every quarter/semester of their undergraduate career. It is a very structured, extremely rigorous area of study. Depending on individual colleges, most students complete their engineering degrees in four years plus a semester, but sometimes it takes five years.
SIDE NOTES FOR ATHLETES AND STUDENTS WHO WANT TO STUDY ABROAD
It is not unusual for student athletes to be told by certain college coaches that they may not major in engineering. No kidding! Some coaches think that it's too difficult to play a Varsity sport in the midst of studying engineering. If you are an athlete who wants to major in engineering, check in with college athletic departments as early as possible to see what their policies are.
Did you know that English is the language of science and engineering throughout the world? What this means is that the chances of your spending time abroad in a university that offers science/engineering in English -- not the native language -- are pretty good. Verrrrrry interesting.
3-2 ENGINEERING PROGRAMS
As you think about what you want in an undergraduate education, you might look into Engineering 3-2 programs that enable students interested in having a more expanded education. In a 3-2 program students spend three years at a liberal arts college, followed by two years of education at a school that offers engineering. In a 3-2 program, you end up with two bachelor's degrees: a liberal arts degree and an engineering degree. Examples of 3-2 programs include Colby College (liberal arts) with Dartmouth College, Mount Holyoke (liberal arts) with Caltech, Reed College (liberal arts) with Columbia, Rensselaer or Caltech. Lists of 3-2 programs can be found here.
You should also know that some forward-looking small, liberal arts colleges offer engineering on their own, including Lafayette College, Smith College, Swarthmore College, Trinity College, and Union College.
WHAT COURSES AND TESTS TO TAKE IN HIGH SCHOOL
To be really prepared for your first semester as an engineering major, college advisors suggest that high school students take the following courses, preferably accelerated Honors, AP or IB:
- Four years of Math: Algebra II, Trigonometry, Pre-calculus, Calculus (even Statistics)
- At least three years of science: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, including labs
- Any Computer Science or Engineering courses offered at your high school
- Four years of English
- Two to three years of a foreign language
- Two years of Social Studies
Be aware the test score expectations, both SAT/ACT and Subject Tests, are higher for engineering majors than most other majors. To be safe, check out individual college websites to ascertain what course and testing requirements are for each of the schools in which you are interested.
WHAT IMPRESSES COLLEGE ADMISSIONS PEOPLE
Admissions and especially Engineering Department people are also impressed when students take advantage of quiz bowl and academic contests, university pre-college programs, and special summer college and other summer science/engineering opportunities. Many colleges offer no fee programs for under-represented, low income, first generation high school students who are interested in STEM subjects, particularly engineering. Other colleges and groups offer special programs for young women.
Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth's Imagine Journal is a rich source in locating those kinds of opportunities. Stanford's Office of Science Outreach lists dozens of special science and engineering opportunities. If nothing else, doing a Google search on "programs for high school students interested in engineering" should bring forth dozens of possibilities. High school teachers and guidance counselors are also good sources of information.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A COLLEGE AND ENGINEERING PROGRAM
The first thing you need to do is sort out what you want from a college in general. I have already written two HuffPost blogs on that topic: "Seven Steps to Putting Together a Great College List," and "5 Biggest Mistakes Applicants Make when Putting Together Their College Lists."
After that, identify and research engineering programs at different colleges. Here are some tips about what to look for:
- Identify the engineering specialties in which you are interested, e.g. Bioengineering and Mechanical Engineering. Read last week's blog, "So You Want to Be an Engineeer" for specific directions.
Just so you know, much of the above information comes from "Navigating the Engineering Pipeline" a talk by Tacy Costanzo, M. ED, Student Affairs Liason, UC Santa Barbara, at a University of California fall Counselor Conference, as well as the National Association of College Admission Counseling listserv. The best information came from chats with engineering professors and practicing engineers.
Finally, you might be interested in an email I received from a father/girls' softball coach who said that he shared my first blog on engineers with his team. Turns out that one of the other softball fathers is an engineer and the two fathers decided to offer an informal get together for the team at which the engineer will tell players what it's like to work in the engineering field. Three cheers for these and other caring, creative, savvy dads!
If you have any stories or special resources for students, please share them in the Comments section below.