I have a friend who teaches an AP engineering class and he wanted actual engineers to give the kids some insight into what an engineering degree and career look like.
Can I start by saying how absolutely jealous I am that this classes wasn't offered when I went there? I really think it would drastically changed the course of my life. Not that my life is bad, but I would have been much more prepared for what was to come. I knew I wanted to be an engineer, but I was very naive to how intricate and complex engineering can be.
I can't remember the last time I was as nervous as I was. It wasn't that bad once I was talking to the kids, but on the drive over, my hands were shaking and I couldn't breathe right. It felt like the first day of school all over again and the nerves were rattling me to my core.
To prepare, the night before I tried to put together a presentation of all the highlights of my engineering career, but quickly gave up on that. Pictures of engineering really aren't that exciting. Look! Another picture of me sitting in a lab!
That being said, this picture of me is amazing and I love it.
I showed them my old solar car pictures and some videos of my robots running from YouTube and we rounded it out with a whole lot of questions and answers. I didn't realize how many questions they would have about college, not just getting an engineering degree. Most of them probably don't have someone who can tell them what the whole college experience is like in recent history.
After 45 minutes, things wrapped up remarkably quickly. I could have talked so much more. There was so much I forgot to say. In case I ever get the chance to do it again, here are all the things I wish someone had told me at 17.
- Only 20 to 30% of your actual work will be designing new stuff. The other 70 to 80% will be trying to fix problems in other people's designs. It will be an effort to find and fix problems in the field with as little time and money as possible.
- No one will tell you this, but if you are concerned about the prestige of your degree, it really only counts on your LAST degree. It doesn't matter if you put time in at a community college or if you get your BS from a big state school, if the name on your degree is very important to you, interviewers only notice the last one. If you don't get into your dream school for undergrad, you may just get your ducks in a row by the time grad school roles around.
- If you think you might even be slightly interested in grad school, learn as much as you can about the process as early as you can. It's like apply for college and a job all rolled into one with an all or nothing shot at scholarships. The more you know, the better.
- TAs are your greatest untapped resource. Not only do they basically give you free tutoring every week, but mostly likely they also took the same classes you're taking. If you don't have any older friends with your major, go to them about which classes to take and which professors are good.
- Even if you're not 100% sure that you want to be an engineer, an engineering degree is a great skill set that can be applied to a lot of different fields. I accidentally went to an interview for the business side of a large engineering company and I've never had an interview go better. Being an 'engineer' means you can solve problems, use logic, and handle a lot of things that are thrown at you.
- 100 and most 200 level engineering courses are equivalent to AP level classes. Expect a similar amount of work. The only main difference is that, in college, the right answer counts for a lot more than the work you put in to get it. This means if you do a lot of work and miss the answer, no one will take the time to go through your work to give you the partial credit you probably deserve.
- Having connections will get you a job after graduate more so than your grades. Most jobs will have a GPA requirement, somewhere between 3.0 to 3.5 minimum, but if you can get an interview, they usually won't hold your GPA against you. That being said, in this economy, experience and networking have become essentials for starting your career. Starting after your sophomore year, if you aren't interning or co-oping, you're behind. Even low paying jobs like grading papers and running labs will get you connections and show you have some ambition. The more related to engineering the job is, the more points you get (internship > retail store, but anything is better than nothing). Pull the strings you have and round out your resume.
- Most engineers really don't need a PhD. The people who will really need to consider them are people who want to go into research or who want to teach at a university level. While being called "Dr." is great, is it worth another three years of hell for it?