I never considered pursuing an engineering degree, even though I am the son of an engineer. An engineering degree requires a love for math and science that I never had through my K-12 education. I did okay in these subjects. Thankfully, no one pressured me to major in them. Unfortunately, I run into people who are not so lucky.
The rigor of an accredited engineering degree program should never be taken lightly. Regardless of the major, the first two years include Calculus, Chemistry and Physics. Theory comes before practical applications, unless you get into a school such as Olin, Purdue or WPI that offers early exposure to problem solving and design.
It’s important to have enthusiasm for math and science to earn an engineering degree. But people skills are just as important for anyone to successfully navigate an engineering curriculum. The most successful graduates form study groups to solve problems and choose the right team members to complete projects. Engineering is never done solo in a college lab or a workplace.
People skills are also important for finding the co-op, internship or full job that you want. Recruiters have a huge selection of candidates to choose from, all with excellent grades. But their eyes are most likely to go to information about the creative work completed in the major as well as proof of leadership. A recruiter not only wants to know that a candidate can be a “good engineer.” S/he also wants to know that the candidate could be trusted to manage people on a large project.
Engineers move up a corporate ladder by taking on larger projects with larger budgets and staffing. They have to not only develop people skills on the way up; they also have to learn more about business. Only the most trusted engineers will get to learn more about business in a classroom setting at their employer’s expense. Same is true for the engineers who want to remain in research and development, and pursue a master’s or PhD.
Aside from people skills, what else is important to succeed in engineering?
Whenever I advise a student who is considering an engineering degree, I always ask them if they like to write, and how well their teachers believe they write.
I do not expect them to write as well as a prospective English or Communications major. But I also hope that they can get to the point as quickly as possible, not reaching to meet a word count. When you become an engineer you will be asked to write proposals, and you must be succinct. Most likely you will ask for equipment, money and personnel—and the person who can approve your request does not understand engineering.
Don’t believe that writing skills are important for success in engineering? Check out the Average SAT Critical Reading scores at schools such as MIT (740), Georgia Tech (700), Cooper Union (670) and Olin (730). The first two years of the education at our military service academies is in engineering. The average Critical Reading scores at the academies average over 650. Whenever a technically oriented college or a service academy has the luxury of being selective, admissions favor applicants who write well.
Of course, many engineers who did not attend these selective schools have become successful academics, consultants or executives. The education, and the experiences that went along with it, might have a door to their first job. Better people skills and writing skills, along with a lingering enthusiasm for science and engineering, got them into their next jobs.
Need help in planning to earn an engineering degree? Want to compare colleges and programs? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.
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