So, your student wants to be an engineer? As a high school student, perhaps they’ve designed circuits with a Raspberry Pi, competed on their school’s Robotics or Technology Student Association team, or taught themselves Python, Java, or one of many other computer programming languages. If so, they are off to a great start to becoming an engineer! And if not, Carnegie Mellon University offers curious students a free computer science curriculum.

But what do engineers actually do? Engineers solve problems, design useful products, and research and implement innovative ideas. To do this, they use math including topics from calculus and statistics, science, certainly physics, but also psychology, and technology as their foundation. Many engineering programs encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration. Northwestern University, for example, offers various Art + Engineering Initiatives that allow students to showcase their creative and technical strengths. To prepare for a broad scope approach to engineering, students might consider Tufts University’s Engineering Design Lab pre-college summer program to learn how to use laser cutters and 3D printers and better understand ‘maker’ approach to engineering.

In my practice as a college counselor, and as a parent of three engineers, future job prospects can factor into the decision to pursue an engineering degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, current job growth for engineers is 7%, double the 3% expected growth for all industries. Engineers often earn excellent salaries often immediately upon graduation. Mechanical engineers can average $96K a year and computer engineers can earn $132K annually. With these salaries, it’s no wonder engineering is one of the most popular majors for college students.

The intensity of competition and rigorous nature of an engineering education, the most prepared students will be advantaged in the process. I know that all colleges want students to thrive. As a prospective engineer, you should demonstrate while in high school that you have been successful in the most challenging classes your high school offers and in those available to you through college courses, summer programs, or online programs. For engineers, the most competitive students should develop a four-year high academic plan. Courses like calculus, (preferably two or three years), plus biology, chemistry, and physics are important to consider. Elective courses can highlight your niche interests. Johns Hopkins University offers talented students a chance to explore Biomedical Engineering while earning college credit.

Beyond success in rigorous coursework, students competitive for admission into engineering will often have competed in robotics competitions; Worcester Polytechnic Institute even offers a $220,000 merit scholarship for FIRST Robotics students. They may also have presented original research at science fairs like the University of Florida’s Junior Science and Humanities Symposium and/or mentored younger students in math or science. Perhaps most importantly, students should demonstrate a deep and long-lasting curiosity about engineering principles through independent explorations. These projects will vary by student but remain an essential element in demonstrating why you will be a right fit for competitive engineering programs.

After exploring the various types of engineering and deciding among a few colleges to which to apply, I suggest a few more questions to consider:

●     Does the college or university admit by major?

●     How many students with similar demographics attend and graduate from this college?

●     Does the college or university offer specialized programs like Boston University’s The Modular Medical Integrated Curriculum (MMEDIC)? MMEDIC is a competitive, early-selection program designed for biomedical engineering students who are interested in becoming physicians.

●     How easy, or difficult, is it for students to switch majors from a non-engineering major to an engineering major?

●     What role do advisors play in guiding students in major selection?

●     Do distribution requirements differ for engineering students, and if so, how?

●     What is the availability of internships, research, and community-based projects?

●     What is the college or university’s engineering philosophy?

●     What is the job placement rate for engineers post-graduation?

●     Is the program ABET accredited?

A high school student interested in engineering may not be aware of the vast range of engineering options. Biomedical, civil, and electrical engineering are well-known to high school students.

Yet, once a student arrives on a college campus, they may learn about nuclear, materials, and systems engineering paths. The best preparation will ensure that you are ready for any potential engineering major. Keep in mind that both high school and college students are free to change their minds as they learn more.

Please reach out to me, or any of the experts at International College Counselors, to answer any questions you might have, or for more personalized guidance at or call 954-414-9986.


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