One of the four STEM fields, engineering, is in vogue these days as a career destination for high schools students. Maybe you’ve already selected it or are leaning that way, but do you really know how you’re going to respond to the undergraduate regimen – what’s needed to make it through college from both an academic and mindset point of view?
You could start to help answer that question for yourself by taking the 10-question online quiz titled “Should You Become an Engineer?” on thebalancecareers.com site, and while the quiz is limited in scope, it can at least identify those for whom the correct answer is very likely to be “Absolutely not.”
One clue that engineering is your thing tends to come at an early age: you spent lots of time taking apart your toys and other things to see how they worked. Good. You’ve got the requisite level of curiosity, but that’s not enough. Four more traits are critical for academic and career success in engineering:
- Good aptitude for math and science
- Willingness to work extremely hard (even harder than the italicized “extremely” suggests)
- A drive to solve problems
- Excited by the prospect of lifetime learning, because solving problems – the essence of engineering – is cutting edge, is the door to “what’s next”
In an abstract of his book So You Want To Be An Engineer? a guide to a wonderful, mysterious profession, Gareth Padfield, Emeritus Professor of Aerospace Engineering at The University of Liverpool writes
…engineering involves the hard stuff, maths and science, that some people find difficult, but these are just tools that help us conceptualise, design, build, test and operate. Engineering also embraces the eternal mysteries of how things work, or don’t work…. Engineering will shape the lives of generations to come….
How do these suggestions translate into testing your very own hypothesis about becoming an engineer? What does a high school student do in order to best ensure that the bridge to an engineering career is truly solid?
- Evaluate your current high school curriculum to make sure your compass needle points toward advanced math and sciences
- Take AP Calculus and AP Physics (preferably AP Physics 2 or AP Physics C)
- Immerse yourself in an engineering summer program
One very good source of engineering career-related information for students and parents is tryengineering.org. While its sponsor, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), directs its activities toward electronics, there’s lots of information on other engineering fields, including biomedical, industrial, and mechanical, among others. Another very good – maybe mandatory – avenue for gaining information is actually talking with an engineer who’s active in the field that interests you. According to a huffingtonpost.com article titled So You Want to Be an Engineer? How to Tell if This Is (or Is Not) a Good Idea,
While personal exposure is useful for any career, it is especially important for students who want to become engineering majors.
Whether mechanical, electrical, or another area, undergraduate engineering programs are very structured from the moment you start college. You should also know that engineering majors have the reputation for being very demanding, sometimes taking five years to complete. While it is usually easy to leave an engineering major to go into something else, it’s almost impossible to move from a non-engineering major and transfer to an engineering one. Therefore, before you apply to college it’s critical to know something about engineering as a field, what an engineer does and that you want to go into that major.
If you’re not willing to do the hard work to thoroughly research engineering and ensure it’s right for you, you probably don’t work hard enough to belong in the field.
In the same scitechconnect.elsevier.com post, Springthorpe notes that “Getting your engineering degree is a ticket to a rewarding career, and sometimes a handsome paycheck,” but what’s going to give you the drive to make it through the hard work needed to reach your goals? What moves you? What captures you imagination?
According to a post titled 40 Different Types of Engineering Degrees on www.typesofengineeringdegrees.org, engineering is a broad term that covers a wide range of applications and industries, with plenty of potential sources of inspiration. According to a post on engineeringchallenges.org’s Grand Challenges of Engineering website, there are “14 specific challenges in a wide variety of disciplines that engineers have identified as the challenges that engineering can solve in the 21st Century.” Certainly some current high school students will get their degrees in engineering and help solve some of those problems. In fact, some students might well contribute via undergraduate research — and if you’re willing and able to do the work, one of those students could be you.
Get busy, start learning, and work hard.