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Q: What are some of the different engineering disciplines?
Q: What does it take to become an engineer?
Q: What types of classes do engineering students take in college?
Q: How successful can engineers become?
Q: What can a high-school student interested in engineering do to prepare?

What does it take to become an engineer?

To become an engineer, a Bachelor of Science degree is required. An engineering degree takes four to five years of rigorous study and preparation. Entrance requirements for most colleges are similar. Most require the prospective student to be in the upper half of his or her high school graduating class and have a good ACT or SAT score. Obtain a catalog from the university you plan to attend. It has vital admission and financial aid information. You can receive a catalog from your high school counselor or write to the university admissions office for one. Many schools also have web sites that you may visit, and you may order a catalog through e-mail.

Many schools offer Engineering Technology programs. Engineering technology focuses on applied engineering. The program tends to be more hands-on and focuses on design more than analysis.

Engineers are typically good problem solvers and team players who enjoy working with others to design, construct, and analyze projects. Creativity and innovation are the keys to successful engineering along with sharp communication skills. Mathematics is the language of engineers, and a firm grasp on algebra, trigonometry, and calculus is essential. A knowledge of chemistry and physics are also tools of the trade required by engineers.

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What types of classes do engineering students take in college?

A Typical Freshman Course Schedule

Course Years

Drafting ½

Chemistry 1

Calculus 1

English 1

Physics 1

Computer Science ½

Introduction to Engineering ½

A Typical Sophomore Course Schedule

Course Years

Linear Algebra 1/2

Differential Equations 1/2

Statics 1/2

Dynamics 1/2

Circuits/Electronics 1

Engineering Economics 1/2

Discipline-Specific 1-2

Coursework and Labs

Engineering curricula vary from major to major and school to school, however most disciplines require at least two years of advanced math such as calculus, as well as physics, chemistry, and engineering courses. Junior and Senior level coursework is primarily discipline-specific courses and laboratory work. Many colleges and universities require that an intensive project be completed in the Senior year. Projects may be performed individually or in teams, and can range from developing a complex computer model or program to designing and building a full-scale prototype of a new design. Projects may involve a research report and presentation of results to a committee of students and/or faculty members.

Sometime during the course of an under-graduate engineering program, various other courses must also be taken such as those in the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences, and the arts in order to ensure a well-rounded education.

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Typical Courses

English - English as an Engineering course? Well, not exactly, however English is a required course in most engineering curricula. Engineers spend much of their time writing reports that describe their findings and designs, therefore writing and mastery of language is an integral skill for engineers.

Drafting - These days, most engineers use Computer Aided Drafting to assist them with creating engineering drawings. It is important at the outset that engineers understand how to read and create engineering drawings, which are important to conveying engineering information. A first year drafting class will introduce students to the tools - both manual and computer- that are needed to develop and understand engineering drawings.

Statistics - A branch of mathematics that deal with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of numerical data.

Physics - The study of matter and energy and their interactions in the fields of mechanics, heat, electricity, acoustics, optics, magnetism, radiation, atomic structure, or nuclear phenomena.

Chemistry - Science that dials with the composition, structure, and properties of substances and their transformations.
Calculus - Mathematics concerned especially with rates of change, and the finding of lengths, areas, and volumes.

Computer Science - These days, all engineers need some understanding of computers. In addition computer programming, in languages like C and FORTRAN are commonly used by engineers of all disciplines. Computer Scientists work with computer hardware and software to develop programs, and develop and design integrated computer networks such as the internet.

Mechanics - A branch of the physical sciences that deals with energy and forces and their effect on bodies. Mechanics is further broken down into two disciplines - statics, the study of forces on objects that are not in motion, and dynamics, the study of forces on objects in motion.

A typical statics problem would be "How much weight would a particular roof structure support before it is no longer safe?". A typical dynamics problem would be "What would the trajectory of an airplane be given a certain amount of thrust"

Thermodynamics - A typical thermodynamics is the foundation for designing processes that deal with heating and cooling. The design of heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, and power plants all rely on the science of thermodynamics. A typical thermodynamics problem might be "How would you determine the size and type of air-conditioning required for a theater that seats 1,000 people?"

Heat Transfer - A branch of thermodynamics,

Electronics and Electro-Magnetics - The study of electricity and electrical devices, and the effects of electromagnetic forces.

Materials Science - The study of the behavior of materials. It bridges the gap between chemistry and mechanics. A typical Materials Science problem might be "How much deformation (bending) would occur before cracks started forming in a particular airplane wing?"

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How successful can engineers become?

The field of engineering is so diverse, there is almost no limit to the career opportunities available to engineers. Engineering has historically been considered a dignified and profession. Engineers can go into public or private industry, or academia. Engineers can work on project teams, as independent consultants, as sales personnel, work in the insurance industry, or work for local, state, or federal governments.

The engineering profession has few limits on career path. Engineers can become lawyers and specialize in patent law or the law of intellectual property. Engineers can go into law enforcement and work as forensic specialists. Engineers can go on to gain knowledge of economics and finance and evaluate the cost and profitability of new projects or systems. Astronauts, presidents of large corporations, and even Presidents of the United States have received an engineering education.

Engineers are also compensated well for the hard work that they do. Starting salaries for engineers in industry may range from the low $20,000 to the high $40,000 range, depending on the type of job offered, the location of the job, and the job discipline. Typically, Chemical, Petroleum, and Nuclear engineers' starting salaries are slightly higher than the starting salaries of Civil engineers. Mechanical and Electrical engineers' salary typically fall in-between. Regardless of the starting salary of a given discipline, the salary difference is typically diluted as the engineers gain more experience, and begin to specialize within their sub-disciplines. In time, salaries reflect the level of ability exhibited by the engineer than with their undergraduate major, therefore it is very important that a student select an engineering major that is best suited to her or his preferences and abilities.

What can a high-school student do to prepare now?

If you're reading this now, you're off to a good start. Browse the web to see what different engineering firms, engineering societies, and engineering schools do. Contact local engineering firms and ask if there are any summer internships available. Talk to engineering college students and professors and talk to working engineers to learn more about different majors. If you're in high-school, talk to your guidance counselor about diferent options for majors and colleges. To become an engineer, it is helpful to have certain skills. Simple tools like mathematical manipulation, reading with good comprehension, a broad vocabulary, and a little ingenuity are very useful.

In high school, you are competing against the average high school student, one third of whom go to college. Therefore, in college, you are competing with the afterage good high school student. In college courses, less time is taken in class, and much more is expected from the student outside of class. Thus, the student is responsible for providing adequate time in his or her schedule to be properly prepared for class, but more importantly for a career. Below are outlined subjects that you can take in high school to better prepare yourself for college.

General High School Course work

Subject Years

English 3

Algebra 2

Geometry 1

Trigonometry ½

Biology 1

Chemistry 1

Physics 1

Social Studies 2

Foreign Language 2

It is helpful to take advanced courses in Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics, if your school offers the class. Advanced Placement (AP) courses in these subjects can really help when it comes to starting off in college! It also helps to be a good well-rounded student, and to join any science or engineering clubs in your area.

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Last Updated: 10/7/2003