Five Questions to Ask About an Engineering Degree
Those who visit Educated Quest often may know that I generally favor engineering degree programs that offer opportunities to learn about the corporate environment and solve “real-world” business programs.. But regardless of the size of the school where you might pursue an engineering degree, there are five questions that you should get good answers before sending in a completed application for admission.
What does it take to get in?
Engineering has always been a direct admission program. You must choose it before starting the freshman year, though you can switch into it after the first semester. That’s provided you have earned good grades in calculus, chemistry and physics. Median SATs for the engineering degree programs tend to be higher than they are for the rest of a freshman class. Only nursing and pharmacy programs have more competitive direct admissions. Engineering deans are under pressure to graduate more engineers. The best way to graduate more students is to admit brighter students at the start.
This is less the case at smaller schools. Colleges such as Loyola-Maryland, the University of Scranton, Lafayette College (PA) and Union College (NY) place the engineering degree within a liberal arts college. Admission is not based on the choice of major. However, high math and science grades are expected of a prospective engineer.
Do I have an opportunity to “do engineering” in my freshman year?
In the past freshmen engineering students took Chemistry, Calculus and Physics, an introductory course to an engineering field and English Composition. They did a lot of problem sets, as well as labs. But none of this was original work. Engineering programs as small as Rowan University’s and as large as Purdue’s offer hands-on project-based classes as early as the freshman year. Purdue students have the opportunity to work with local non-profits on team projects for credit through EPICs, Engineering Projects In Community Service, even as freshmen.
Is the engineering program connected to an internship or co-op?
In a tighter job market, employers who seek the best engineering talent have expect their hires to have built a resume before their senior year. Internships are less structured than co-op programs. They can be for credit or non-credit. But engineering students almost always get paid positions.
Co-op programs alternate periods of school from the sophomore through senior year with period of full-time employment. It’s quite possible to work for the same employer more than once. Co-op programs, add an extra year to the time it takes to finish a degree. But a student can gain better entree’ to an employer of choice.
At least two engineering programs I learned about, one at Virginia Tech, another at the University of Rhode Island, offer paid overseas opportunities. Students also have opportunities to do service projects abroad during semesters and breaks whether they pursue their engineering degree at a large school or a small school. However, the students who take advantage of these opportunities are more likely to come from the smaller schools that allow more electives or allow you to use the project to fulfill a liberal arts requirement.
Do grades matter to employers?
There’s two schools of thought. One is that merely getting through a demanding engineering degree program is an achievement. Excellent grades are as much a function of luck (getting a good professor) as academic effort. The other is that the job market today is a “buyer’s market.” Employers have fewer openings. Therefore they will interview the students with the highest grades in the engineering degree programs first and consider the rest only if there are openings left on the interview schedule.
What is the senior project?
Engineering programs often have a “capstone” requirement, also called Senior Design. This may be an individual or group project. It may have an actual client or be strictly an academic endeavor. These projects have more value when they are evaluated based on business considerations as well as engineering principles. Unless you plan on further education towards a creative research career it might be better to take on a client with a business problem. If you actually solve the problem you can get your career off to a very good start.
What is the job market for your graduates?
This depends on the brand recognition of the school, the major and the experiences and academic records of the students. Smaller schools will be at a disadvantage unless their career development centers have had a long history of working with engineering degree candidates. Liberal arts colleges such as Bucknell, Lafayette and Union have graduated engineers for more than a century. Their reputations are quite respected. It is also possible that the career center will advocate for their students–they’re not as likely to do this at the very large schools–because the counselors will know them better. Graduates of these schools, as well as mid-sized universities such as Lehigh, Loyola-Maryland, Scranton and Villanova are also more likely to have double majors,. Students who have a double major, for example, in engineering and a foreign language, are always in high demand.
The engineering degree can be a draining experience as well as rewarding experience for those who complete it.
College-bound students should consider fit from the standpoint of how they learn as well as the opportunities they are likely to receive. Not every college-bound student is a cutthroat competitor with the smarts that allow them to rise to the top of the heap at a large engineering school. Not to worry; these people do not always turn out to be the most successful engineers. But the ones who choose the right school to fit their skills can.
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