The projected demand for engineers may be one reason that enrollment in engineering programs is increasing. If you care about saving the environment or alleviating human suffering, engineering could be a rewarding career choice. These are the people who create safer cars, and develop new imaging systems that enable doctors to provide earlier and more accurate diagnoses. They find ways to utilize alternative energy sources and help provide access to clean drinking water, improving the quality of life for everyone.
You don’t have to be a technical genius, but you do need to have some aptitude for math and science. If you’re thinking about studying engineering in college, you should take math and science every year in high school. Ideally, students will have calculus and physics in high school, but it’s not required by every engineering school. Taking AP and honors classes also helps you prepare for a college engineering program.
The engineering curriculum is rigorous, and coursework usually starts during freshman year. Engineering programs often include hands-on learning and internships. It is important to know that you want to study engineering when you are applying to college, because not every school offers engineering. Also, if you decide after freshman year that you want to study engineering, it will be difficult to complete the degree in four years.
If you think you are interested in engineering, it’s better to start in an engineering program and transfer into another major if you change your mind. In fact, it’s not uncommon for students to start in an engineering program and switch to business or liberal arts. The engineering curriculum is challenging, and since you don’t learn anything about engineering in high school, it’s hard to know in advance if it is really something you want to pursue. That’s why a number of colleges offer summer programs that give high school students an overview of engineering careers. Attending one of these summer programs is a great way to try out engineering and show that you are making an informed choice when you apply to engineering schools.
There are more than 25 specialties in engineering, and at a big university that has a school of engineering, you can major in mechanical, chemical, civil, electrical or another engineering specialty. There are some smaller liberal arts colleges that offer a more general engineering major.
Another option for students who want both a liberal arts college experience and an engineering degree is a 3/2 program. You spend three years at a liberal arts college, where you complete general education requirements, math and science prerequisites for engineering, and the requirements for a liberal arts major. If you have maintained the required grade point average, you go on to an engineering program at a university for two years. You end up with two degrees, a B.S. or B.A. from the liberal arts college and a B.S. in engineering from the university.
More women are studying engineering, and there are organizations that support women entering the profession, including the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). There are also summer programs for girls who want to explore engineering.
Even if you don’t want to work as an engineer, the curriculum provides great training for many other fields. You develop analytical, problem-solving and communication skills as you work with teammates on projects. Graduates of engineering programs go on to medical, law and business schools, where their analytical and problem-solving skills are valuable.