A. How long does it take to become an engineer?
At the present time the typical period of academic study required for entry into the engineering profession is four (4) years. However, some programs (especially in Europe) require five (5) years.
Most currently-practicing engineers in the United States and Canada started their careers after earning a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in one of the engineering fields (e.g., electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical) from an accredited program that required four years of study. This is true in many other regions of the world as well. However in some European countries, typical engineering programs require five years of study. The general trend in Europe (based on the Bologna Declaration) is toward a program of three (3) years of studies toward a B.Sc. degree followed by two (2) years of studies toward a Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree. Only M.Sc. holders are considered ready for engineering practice.
It is estimated that about 77% of practicing engineers with engineering degrees in the United States hold a B.Sc as their highest degree (requiring on average 4 years). 19% hold an M.Sc. (requiring additional 2 years on average), and the remaining 4% hold a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) (requiring on average 4 years of study after the B.Sc. degree).
The number of years of college it would take you to prepare for entry into the profession depend on the career path you choose and the specific type of work you wish to do. Most engineering jobs still require only a B.Sc. or equivalent. However, if you desire to do advanced development work, an M.Sc. is likely to be required; if you wish to engage in state of the art research, you probably would need a Ph.D. degree.
Needless to say, entry to the profession is only the beginning. Engineering is a dynamic and fascinating discipline that advances and changes all the time. Engineers are therefore always engaged in study, either formally (through graduate university courses) or informally (through continuing education courses and by participating in professional conferences and workshops). The majority of employers of engineers understand that learning is an integral part of the engineer's job, and provide opportunities and time to facilitate this goal.
B. What kind of preparations should I make so that I can study engineering in college?
- Understand what interests you
You can gain understanding of what interests you by reading on science and engineering. Our site TryEngineering.org is a good place to start, and many useful links are also available here. Other good sites include: NASA for kids, Greatest Engineering Achievements of the Twentieth Century, US Army Corps of Engineers Education Center, Discover Engineering, Optics for Kids, NOAA education, Engineergirl, and JETS.
Watch TV programs on science and engineering. For example, Wired Science, Science Investigators and the 22nd Century on PBS. Other programs of note are Nature, NOVA, and Scientific American Frontiers. There are many interesting programs on science and technology on the Discovery Channel.
Of course there is a lot you could read. Examples include: the Oddessy magazine,YES Mag, Science News for Kids, and Ranger Rick.
We recommend that whenever possible, you visit science museums. They offer a wealth of activities and many useful demonstrations. Three of our favorites are the The Franklin Institute Science Museum, the Exploratorium, and Deutsches Museum.
- Take action
You can take a more active role by participating in relevant activities at your school and in your community. Such activities include science clubs, model air plane and rocket clubs, and scouting organizations. Get involved to determine your real level of interest. Participation in leadership positions in these organizations will be of value when you apply for entrance to college.
Take part in a science fair. Find a competition where you can test your interests and skills, and meet young people who share your interests. See if there is a summer camp you can participate in. Check with local universities - quite often they have camps and open houses for young people.
- Ask around
Identify friends and associates of your parents, relatives or neighbors who work as engineers or scientists. Talk to them. This is a particularly good source, as the information comes directly from people who have chosen engineering careers; they are experiencing daily the rewards, frustrations, and challenges of engineering. If you can, talk to university professors who teach engineering. Get their opinion on the different fields and on what they consider "hot" or "up and coming."
- Visit web sites of colleges and universities
Use our Find a University feature to surf the sites of engineering departments and schools in your locale. You may be able to learn a lot about the subjects they teach, and gain an understanding of their requirements and the different tracks they offer to students.
- Make the right course selections
Discuss your course choices with your school counselors, and visit the Become an Engineer section of this site that offers preparation tips. Among the advice given there are courses you want to consider and programs and projects that can help. For additional advice see the Sloan Career Cornerstone Center.
- Commit yourself to learning
During the next few years of your pre-university education try to develop good study habits that will be of benefit throughout your life. Define your educational goals and make plans to reach them. Understand your weekly "time budget" and make adjustments to ensure that enough time (and the right time) is allocated to study, problem solving, and enrichment. Allocate your study time wisely between the different subjects and assignments, and make sure you give yourself the opportunity to develop and learn new subjects.