How will I know when a specific field of engineering is for me?
I am a senior in high school and I have applied to numerous colleges for engineering. My only problem is that I applied undecided engineering and after hearing numerous colleges talk about the different fields of engineering they offer, I still can't seem to lean towards a field that I like. I don't have much experience in engineering so I'm scared that I won't be able to make the correct decision. #undecided #engineering #college #STEM
As a general tip (and this is something I think you're already doing), I'd encourage you and others in a similar situation to keep an open mind. I ended up selecting a discipline that was low on my initial ranking, and it was a great decision in hindsight!
In general, I think there are 3 core considerations for this type of decision between engineering majors:
1) Are you interested in discipline X?
2) Do you feel good / competent at discipline X?
3) Does discipline X lead to the types of careers that you want?
I think it's important to find a major that - as much as possible - is at the intersection of these 3. For #1, interest and passion in the material is important, as it will keep you driven over the course of an engineering degree (which is tough!).
However, you may say that you're interested in many things, which is where perhaps #2 steps in. You also want something that you at the very least aren't anxious about. It's hard to know this in advance, but an adequate proxy can be your performance in first year courses if your university offers discipline-specific courses right away. For example, if you have a first year circuits course and you really struggle with the material, it may be unwise to do electrical engineering, even if it's something you're interested in. Passion can motivate you to compensate for this, but only to a certain extent.
That leaves #3, which is more forward thinking. Remember that university is just 4 years of your life, but your career is 40+. Additionally, most of what you learn won't actually be applied on the job. Now, your major won't completely dictate your career, but it offers a critical launch pad. For instance, think about the type of environment in which you want to work. For example, are you not interested in working in the field in the oil sands? Then perhaps something like chemical engineering would not be a great fit, even if the course content seems interesting to you. On a similar vein, you'll want to select something that has enough job opportunities in a region you're interested in being in. For example, do you really want to live and work in a big city downtown? Then certain engineering fields will almost surely not let you do this.
In some sense, it can help to start in the future and work backwards. What industry and type of position do you see yourself in? Then, what major is the most direct path to that end? For example, some are excited about aerospace. However, there are many different types of engineers that contribute to aerospace, including computer engineering (ex. embedded systems), so your specific major choice in that instant is not as simple as "wanting to be in the aerospace industry means I should study aerospace engineering".
How can you go about uncovering some of this information? For one, try to talk to upper year students in different majors you're interested in. They will give you more honest feedback and reviews about their major and the career opportunities. In comparison, the department representatives are biased - they have a vested interest in convincing you to sign up for their major! Moreover, reaching out to recent alumni in different fields you're interested in can also be a good way to assess the different majors.
Finally, when in doubt, if you really can't decide between specific majors, try to go for the one that is broadest. That way, you'll be closing as few doors as possible. As an example, if I wasn't completely sure about it, I wouldn't go into a more niche field like biomedical or aerospace engineering, since something more general like mechanical or electrical engineering can be viable for those paths (particularly with specialization in a masters degree).
Good luck, Rachel! I'm confident you'll make the right decision for you :)
Herman recommends the following next steps:
1. Use your first year classes to refine your interests
2. Stick with it! That first year can by tough
3. Use the resources at the school and build relationships with other potential engineers
4. Don't sweat it if you major in one type of engineering and your career leads you in another direction you will be able to use your skills and find a meaningful career even if you do take a swerve
I am thrilled A) that you have this interest and B) that you want to know more about different engineering disciplines.
Similar to Herman, I also was a student, who at the start of my college journey, did not know what type of engineer I wanted to be. I knew for sure, though, that I wanted to pursue an engineering degree. It wasn't until I got to the second semester of my second year that I began to clarify for myself on the engineering discipline that would work for me.
Some of the elements I examined to make my decision included how would I be able to use my degree once I finished, how long could it take me to find a job (collegeloans), where would I be working, would I be able to travel, what else could I learn and grow from once I got a job.
I graduated many many years ago but I still remember getting my first job offer...:) After completing my degree in Systems Engineering, I actually got my first job at an investment bank, 2 months before I graduated from college, at a salary that was beyond what I expected, I had the privilege of traveling for some amazing projects and I was able to use what I learned from my first job as a catalyst for many other opportunities since.
I wish you the very best of luck in your journey!
Looks like there's already plenty of great advice here so I'll keep it short. Even if you start and get a degree in one type of engineering, that definitely does not limit your career. I have a degree in chemical engineering but work in the biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering field. You will learn a lot of your skills on the job, but an engineering degree will give you great critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Specialisms in engineering can be based on what your passion is, and where you see yourself in the future. The broad, foundational skills in any engineering discipline will be a great start.
My own personal journey into engineering when applying to colleges was undecided. Should it be electrical, computer, electronic, aeronautical - too much choice and very overwhelming. I did have a passion for creative problem solving and how to apply that passion in industry.
There is a great set of common skills and knowledge through any engineering disciplines, and then one can always further your learning and development through other academic courses, on the job experiences, and volunteer or extra-curricular work.
Look at industries that really interest you and see where those specialist engineering skills apply in those industries. That can help you decide on your specialism.
The common skills that you will learn in any engineering track are relevant and transferable skills. Personally I've worked in industries such as consumer goods, travel, medical, and government, and those common skills sets are very portable.
I found that entering the engineering school gave plenty of time to find out which discipline I preferred. Keep in mind most of your freshman and some of your sophomore year classes will apply to most engineering majors (at least they did at Michigan) and will try to help you understand what each of the majors focus on.
I suggest trying informational interviews to help you decide, this is both a great opportunity for networking as well as to get some candid thoughts on each of the majors. You can talk to professors at your university easily though office hours. I also suggest talking to some industry professionals, Linkedin is a great way to reach out to local professionals for informational interviews.
My final suggestion is to think about the type of work you like to do and what interests you, for example, if you really like cars perhaps think about careers in the auto industry, if you like figuring out how things work perhaps a design career.
I'd suggest three criteria for you to make the decision:
1st What subjects are you good at?
2nd What subjects you're interested in?
3rd What jobs you can see yourself doing for at least 3-5 years after graduation?
You should be able eliminate your options to a handful with this process. Don't forget to talk a school advisor or consular about this.
In my case, I started in Electrical Engineering many years ago. However, after spending 2 years to learn different coding languages, I decided that I don't want to do this for the rest of my life, and I switched to something else.
BTW the reason why I said 3-5 years is because you can always go back to school and take graduate-level courses such as MBA program to pivot to other career paths.
If possible, talk to people you know such as family or friends or friend's parents that are in Engineering.
They can provide pro's and con's to the engineering field they are in. You can also look at companies in a area you would like to work. If you wan to live in the Minneapolis area, there are a lot of companies that have electrical, mechanical and Biomedical Engineering opportunities.
If you can get a internship at one of these companies, it will open your eyes to a lot of different engineering career paths.
Hopefully then, one will stand out and help you focus on one. Good luck.
Once you choose 1 or 2 engineering careers, search online for available positions and read the requirements, sometimes reading the responsibilities of an specific open position gives you the idea of what you would like to work at, or not.