3 answers

I love engineering, math, and drafting. Having trouble deciding which type of engineer I want to be. Should I take gen ed courses in my freshman year?

Updated Kannapolis, North Carolina

3 answers

Douglas’s Answer

Updated Easton, Massachusetts

Hi Brett,

No, I would not recommend that you take general courses your first year. There are many variations of "Engineering" but they are basically off shoots of the basic types of engineering: Mechanical, Electrical, Civil, Chemical. It has been my experience that the first year courses in all of these are very similar. Do a little research on the Internet and talk to engineers that are "in the field" as to the type of work each of them do and then enroll in the type of engineering which seems most appealing to you. It is very important that you select a branch of engineering that is appealing to you because engineering is not easy and yo will do much better working in an area that you find interesting. A very broad, basic classification of the engineering types is as follows: Mechanical Engineers work on things that move (i.e. airplanes, automobiles, machinery, etc.), Civil Engineers work on things that do not move (i.e. buildings, bridges, roads, structures, etc.), electrical engineers work on things having to do with electricity (i.e. computers, electrical distribution systems, motors, controls, etc.). You get the idea. Once you are in school, you will have the opportunity to talk with students and professors in all of the various types of engineering. If you decide that your initial pick wasn't what you really want to do, you can transfer to one of the others at the end of your first year without "loosing" many or any credits for the classes you have already taken. When I started out in engineering, I initially signed up for Civil Engineering, but after discussions with a few professors, changed my major to Mechanical Engineering and have been very happy with Mechanical Engineering working mostly with large power generating equipment .

Hope this helps,


Lisa’s Answer

Updated Allentown, Pennsylvania

First, I'm assuming you are enrolling to study engineering. If so, most colleges will have a recommended sequence of courses for you to follow, and it's important that you follow it if you want to graduate in 4 years, as each engineering major will have its own specified coursework once you hit your junior and senior years. Some education requirements will be required, and it's likely that you'll have one or two your first several semesters. If you are not enrolled to study engineering, then you'll want to make sure you are taking the appropriate math and science courses expected of a first semester engineering student.

As for deciding what type of engineer to be, you typically don't declare your engineering major until after your third semester. Many colleges offer some sort of introductory engineering courses to help you decide. But if you've taken physics, think about what you studied and which areas you liked best: mechanics is mechanical engineering; statics is civil/structural engineering; and electricity/magnetism is electrical engineering. There are many other types of engineering, but they find their roots in one of the branches of physics.

Another idea is to read thru the course offerings and mark which ones seem most interesting....you may find that your school has a really great program in an engineering discipline you haven't considered. Look at the engineering clubs and groups and what their activities are, and what majors their members have.

As you enjoy drafting, I'd look at mechanical or structural as a starting point.

G. Mark’s Answer


In my undergraduate years, I saw that similar classes existed in both the engineering and liberal arts colleges, and that for the purpose of credit hours, were often interchangeable. But you would want to verify that at your particular college. As for taking gen ed classes, I would say most definitely yes, given that you have the time and funds necessary. If anything has helped me in solving problems and coming up with inventions, it's the fact that I took a lot of general courses in many areas prior to completing my engineering degree. You never know what will come in handy. One of my first patents was the mechanism for reconfiguring faulty packet switching networks, and I got that idea from having studied how the plasticity of the human brain allows it to recover from a stroke. Might never have seen that coming, had I not stumbled into that area, I think. Another patent had to do with verifying switching networks that popped out of thinking about how multiple patterns exist in a musical composition that make it sound so rich. It's always easier to solve problems when you apply a known pattern to a seemingly unrelated system. The Russian system of invention called TRIZ is based on that same idea, which I now know. But at the time, it just seemed like the easiest and most fun way of looking at problems. I'm always reminded of the Yogi Berra quote, "You can observe a lot by watching."