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Your Guide to Becoming an Engineering Major

Have you ever been curious about how a bridge withstands heavy traffic, or what makes your gaming console run without a glitch? If that's the case, engineering might just be your calling. But before you can start innovating and creating, there’s some groundwork to be laid starting right now in high school. As you gear up for our upcoming Major and Career Fair, where you'll have the opportunity to engage with engineering professors and practicing engineers, let's explore the fundamentals of becoming an engineering major.

 

Understanding Engineering

 

First things first, engineering is a vast field. It encompasses everything from the design of tiny electronic chips to the construction of massive bridges. At its essence, engineering is the application of math and science principles to solve real-world problems.

 

The four main branches of engineering include:

 

  • Mechanical Engineering: Focuses on the design, construction, and operation of machinery.

  • Electrical Engineering: Deals with the technology of electricity, including circuit design and power generation.

  • Civil Engineering: Involves the construction and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, like roads, bridges, and buildings.

  • Chemical Engineering: Concerned with the production and manufacturing of chemicals and the design of chemical plants.

 

If you're looking to find out which area of engineering might be the best fit for you, this online quiz can be a useful starting point. Remember, this is just a fun tool to help you think about your options, and it's always a good idea to do more in-depth research or talk to a career counselor or academic advisor for personalized advice.

 

High School Preparation

 

Your journey to becoming an engineering major begins in high school. Excelling in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects is crucial. Here's a roadmap to follow:

 

Math and Science Courses


  • Math: Aim to take Algebra I and II, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, or even Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus if available. Math is the language of engineering, and the more fluent you are, the better.

  • Science: Focus on Physics and Chemistry, as these provide a fundamental understanding of how the world works from an engineering perspective.


Khan Academy and Schoolhouse.world offer free resources for Calculus, Chemistry, and/or Physics:


Course

1) Learn the Material

2) Get Tutoring

Calculus

Chemistry

Physics

 

Technology and Engineering Classes


If your school offers courses in computer science, robotics, or any engineering-related subjects, make sure to enroll. These classes will give you a taste of what engineering is all about and can help you decide which discipline interests you the most.

 

Extracurricular Activities


Join clubs related to math, science, and technology. Participation in science fairs, robotics clubs, math competitions, or research projects can be not only fun but also incredibly enriching experiences that demonstrate interest and ability in engineering.


You can also consider enrolling in pre-college summer programs specifically tailored to engineering. A few examples of free programs include Santa Clara University's Summer Engineering Seminar (SES) and Columbia University's Engineering the Next Generation (ENG). At Bucknell University's Engineering Camp and Virginia Tech's College of Engineering Pre-College Programs, need-based financial assistance is available for those who qualify,


College Admissions

 

Admission to engineering programs can be competitive. Here’s how to stand out:

 

  • Grades and Test Scores: Prioritize achieving strong grades, particularly in your science and math classes, which lay the groundwork for your future studies. When it comes to the SAT and ACT, many engineering programs require or recommend submitting these scores, with particular emphasis on math scores. While the importance of standardized test scores is evolving—with some institutions like Caltech adopting test-free policies through Fall 2025—others, such as MIT and Georgia Tech, still require them. So, check the latest admissions criteria for each school and prepare accordingly. 

  • Personal Statement: Essays that articulate your interest in engineering, how you have pursued this interest, and your career goals are essential. Personal stories that highlight creativity, problem-solving, and resilience can set you apart.

  • Recommendations: Get letters from teachers who know you well, especially those in math and science, who can speak to your skills and potential as an engineer. Note that some schools like MIT and Caltech require two letters of recommendation—one from a math or science teacher and one from a humanities or social science teacher.

  • Portfolio for Certain Specializations: Applicants to programs like architectural engineering or digital media engineering might need to submit a portfolio showcasing relevant work or projects.

 

Choosing the Right College

 

When looking for colleges, consider those that offer strong engineering programs. Accreditation by the ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) is a key factor, as it ensures the program meets the quality standards that prepare graduates to enter the global workforce. Consider these factors, too:

 

  • Curriculum: Does the college offer a broad range of engineering disciplines? Is there flexibility to switch majors if you discover a new interest?

  • Resources: Look for colleges with modern labs, internship opportunities, and active engineering clubs and societies.

  • Faculty: Seek out institutions where the faculty are not just teachers but also mentors and industry professionals.

 

Coursework Engineering Majors Can Expect

 

Engineering students are met with a demanding curriculum, designed to build both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Here’s what to expect:

 

  • Mathematics: Courses in calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations form the mathematical foundation of engineering.

  • Science: Physics and chemistry are crucial, providing an understanding of the fundamental laws that govern the natural world.

  • Engineering Fundamentals: Introductory courses in various engineering disciplines help you understand the breadth of the field and its applications.

  • Design and Project Management: Classes focused on engineering design, project management, and ethics prepare you for real-world engineering challenges.

  • Specialization Courses: As you progress, you’ll delve deeper into courses specific to your chosen branch of engineering.

 

Looking at flowcharts and plans for engineering majors can be a helpful way to decide which area of engineering to study. Several universities offer detailed flowcharts that map out the coursework for each engineering major. These flowcharts can give you a visual roadmap of the required classes, electives and prerequisites and the sequence in which you should take them, thus helping you to stay organized and on track for graduation.

 

Support Through Engineering Societies


For students of color and those from underrepresented groups, finding a supportive network can make all the difference in navigating the challenges of an engineering education. Several engineering societies offer resources, mentorship, and a sense of belonging through their student chapters across various universities. Here are some key organizations that foster inclusion and empowerment in engineering:


  • National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE): With student chapters across the country, NSBE provides Black engineering students with professional development, networking, and scholarship opportunities. Their programs are designed to support students academically and professionally.

  • Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE): SHPE's student chapters help Hispanic engineering students build a strong professional network. The society organizes events, workshops, and academic support activities to enhance students' college experience.

  • Society of Women Engineers (SWE): SWE supports women pursuing engineering through student sections that host educational events, networking opportunities, and outreach activities. They aim to create a diverse and inclusive environment within the engineering domain.

  • American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES): AISES student chapters connect American Indian, Alaska Native, and other indigenous engineering students with leaders in the field and provide resources for academic success and professional advancement.

  • National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME): While NACME itself is not a society with chapters, it partners with universities to provide scholarships and programs for underrepresented minority students in engineering.


Participation in these societies can provide you not only with a network of peers but also with access to industry professionals, potential mentors, and opportunities such as internships and job placements.


Career Paths

 

Engineering opens doors to countless career opportunities. Graduates can pursue a wide range of careers, depending on their specialization and interests. Here are just a few paths you might take:

 

  • Aerospace Engineer: Design and test aircraft, spacecraft, and satellites.

  • Chemical Engineer: Develop and design chemical manufacturing processes, work on safety procedures for handling chemicals, and innovate in areas like energy, food, and medicine.

  • Civil Engineer: Plan, design, and oversee construction and maintenance of building structures and infrastructure, such as roads, railways, airports, bridges, and dams.

  • Electrical Engineer: Design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, or power generation equipment.

  • Environmental Engineer: Develop solutions to environmental problems, such as pollution control and sustainable development.

  • Biomedical Engineer: Design equipment, devices, and software for healthcare.

  • Mechanical Engineer: Design, analyze, and manufacture new devices, develop engines, and thermal sensors, or create mechanical systems.

  • Software Engineer: Develop and maintain software systems, ensuring functionality and efficiency in various applications and digital platforms.


Beyond these roles, engineers are also found in consulting, education, and entrepreneurship, using their skills to advise companies, teach the next generation, or start their own ventures. Uprooted Academy’s YouTube playlist of videos of college majors gives valuable insights and tips from college graduates on their experience with their majors in Engineering.


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To further help you in navigating your journey to college, don't miss out on our upcoming FREE virtual Major and Career Fair on March 16th. This is a fantastic opportunity to connect with professors and industry professionals and gain a clearer perspective on your future academic and career paths. Make sure to sign up today and mark your calendars!

 

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