Advising students on choosing a course: Engineering
1st April 2014
Any of your students interested in a degree in Engineering? What should they think about before applying? Engineering graduate Mat Ward explains...
If you were to tell someone in Britain that you are an engineer they may assume that you are a car mechanic or that you repair washing machines. The reality is that you’ve probably completed one of the most challenging degree courses possible. Fortunately, the misconception is not universal and many employers know what it takes to become an engineering graduate. If you hold an engineering degree, you have demonstrated that you are highly numerate, an excellent problem solver and have strong time management skills.
Why might engineering be for you?
Every class of engineering students will contain individuals that grew up with a passion and a flair for engineering. There will probably be someone who spent part of their childhood taking apart and reassembling their parents’ Land Rover. However, this does not need to be the case for everybody. If someone has a keen interest in maths and / or science but is uncertain about pursuing one of these as a ‘pure’ subject then engineering could be for them. Also the design aspects of engineering may appeal to those looking for more a creative aspect to their further education. Ultimately, engineering is a pursuit that provides intellectual stimulation but does not lose sight of the fact that it is looking to add value in the ‘real world’.
What sort of experience will I have?
One of the features of an engineering degree that will appeal to some is the variety in the learning material. Whilst there will be a strong emphasis on topics such as Pure Maths, there will be plenty of scope to explore other areas. These might be a technical subject, like computer programming, or something completely different, such as management or accounting. It is likely this opportunity will come in the later years of your course when there is greater scope to choose your subjects.
In addition to traditional lectures and tutorials, engineering students will also take part in laboratory based experiments, group projects and potentially even workshop courses. This means that the academic life of an engineering student is a demanding one and managing the workload is a key challenge.
What kind of engineering do you want to do?
The term ‘Engineering’ is a very broad one and covers several sub-categories e.g. Aeronautical, Chemical, Civil, Electrical and Mechanical. There will be some overlap, particularly between the likes of Mechanical and Aeronautical, but in general these are very different disciplines. Some universities (e.g. Cambridge, Durham and Oxford) offer a more general Engineering Science degree which may be suitable for students who are unsure of what route to take.
Most applicants are likely to lean towards one particular subject based on their strengths and interests. Reading as much as possible about degree courses is helpful as is attending department open days. Universities tend to be very supportive of anyone who wants to gain experience in industry and spending a ‘gap’ year doing this can be very valuable. It may even result in a student being sponsored by a firm throughout their degree.
Do I have to become an engineer when I graduate?
Definitely not. Engineering is a vocational degree, which is part of the appeal to some, but it might not be the right career path for everybody. Of course engineering departments want to produce the next generation of talented engineers and be well represented in industry but they acknowledge that their graduates are desirable in a large number of fields.
Do you have the right entry requirements?
This will depend on what type of engineering a student is applying for. Nearly every course will ask for Maths A Level. Then, for example, Mechanical Engineering will nearly always ask for Physics A level and similarly Chemical Engineering will require Chemistry A level. Further Maths is unlikely to be necessary but it would probably be viewed favorably by most departments.
If a student is invited to attend an interview they may be asked some technical questions. These tend to be based on an element of their school studies that can be applied to some aspect of engineering. Most interviewers acknowledge that an applicant will not have significant engineering knowledge at this point. The purpose of the interview will also be to gauge a student’s interest in the subject and institution and to determine their motivation for attending the course. A university is looking for the enthusiasm to undertake the challenge that lies ahead.
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